There are many different faces of the dance world. I experienced a few first hand but currently I’m knee deep in the college world of dance. If you’re a college freshman going to school for dance, here’s what you can expect:
College dance, particularly at a major 4-year University, is not a glamorous ride of commercial dance. At least not at first. Freshman technique class is about leveling the playing field. So that means starting with a lot of basics. Ground work might be the strength of some dancers but not for others, therefore modern class could center around the beginnings of inversions at a snail’s pace to allow the others to catch up. At the same time, ballet class might take extra time to really breakdown the fundamentals of tendu work at the barre to allow some dancers to beef up and/or enhance their classical technique.
Since you’ve arrived at a place of academia as an assumed educated adult, you are also expected to analyze these basics at a more microscopic level. Dance class will move slow and you won’t be flying right away because the professors are verbally articulating the finer details of your technical training. I urge you to not only push through this phase but approach it with a curious, open mind. Many of the concepts covered during this first year helps dancers to iron out bad habits that would otherwise inhibit the application of much more complex methods. It also helps to have a new understanding of why dancers do the things they do. The “do as you are shown” approach to learning was great when you were still picking your nose but college dance is the time to find the functionality of concepts like your turnout. Additionally, better explanations of dance technique can help you in your own pedagogy of dance. One of the best ways to make money as a dancer is to pass on your knowledge to others. With economic times being as tough as they are, it helps to have every advantage as a dance teacher as you can get.
Being a college freshman has a great advantage that other senior level students don’t have. College freshmen, dance major or not, have full permission to try out any organization without pressure for commitment. It’s an unwritten expectation that most freshman in a club will probably not come back next year or even the next meeting. Take advantage and try out everything, including other dance clubs and organizations. It’s a great way to network with dancers outside of your style/discipline. A little breakdance training goes a long way in modern class in the same way that ballroom could assist your alignment in ballet. Coming in as a hot shot dance freshman also doesn’t mean that you’ll be picked for any dance pieces for your first semester. So take advantage of that free time to keep your body flying in other dance outlets on the days that seem especially slower than other days in technique class.
The biggest and most important thing you should know as an incoming dance freshman is that your freshman year doesn’t last forever. All of the good and the bad changes the minute you get to your sophomore year. Technique class REALLY picks up once everyone is on the same level. You can’t experience all of the beautiful wrong without knowing the difference between that and what’s right. Once your own personal technique “clicks” for you, dance becomes so much easier and a lot more fun. The friends you make during your freshman year will be your partners in future choreographic projects and the older students who know you will cast you for their next masterpiece. With a year of college under your belt you will be expected to take on more responsibility, but the upside is that you will also be trusted with more responsibility. By the time you get to your senior year you might wonder how you ever would have survived college without dancing your life away.
My own experience comes from working at Florida State University. Yes we have a top notch dance program, but my experience comes from taking advantage of the full college life as well. Not every University is created equally so not every experience is the same. Conservatory and company dance lives come with a certain degree of difference too. But for the college freshman who really wants to take advantage of their college dance major, these are the things that I hope help you through that first tough year.
Study hard. Rewards are coming.