Perspectives on Dance and College: Part 1

If you are in high school or know someone who is, you know that making choices about higher education can be tough. If you are a dancer, you know that allowing dance training to play into that decision can make the process even more challenging! There are so many factors - and opinions - to take into account. You have to ask many questions that don't always seem to have clear answers, like: 

  • Can majoring in dance at a college be a helpful stepping stone for my career? 
  • Is college the only way to receive post-high school training in dance? 
  • Can I go to college and major in something besides dance? 
  • Is it best to go to college right out of high school?

With these and similar questions in mind, we asked Ballet 5:8 Company Artists and School of the Arts instructors to reflect on their traditional or nontraditional experiences in college. Throughout the series, you'll see a variety of stories from different perspectives. Hopefully, this will help you as you consider questions about dance and higher education for yourself!

Summer Smith

Summer Smith danced with Ballet 5:8 as a trainee and then apprentice last year and is returning to Ballet 5:8 as a Company Artist for the 2015-2016 Season! You will also be able to find her teaching classes at Ballet 5:8 School of the Arts. You can read her full bio here.

So, what did you do for college?

After highschool, I took a year off, using the time to train intensively at The Rock School. I then attended The University of the Arts in Philadelphia where I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ballet and Painting. UArts has one of the biggest dance programs in the country and I was really fortunate to live nearby. 

What made you decide to do this? When did you decide what you would do for college? 

I sort of attended college accidentally. I hadn't planned on going, because I'd hoped to join a company after highschool, but when that happened my parents encouraged me to get a degree. I found the idea of training for longer attractive and I knew UArts was a place where I could work on my ballet technique, while also becoming well rounded in case ballet didn't work out. 

What top pro’s and con’s stand out to you about doing what you did for college? 

I loved my school. I found the artistic environment to be especially important to me, because it helped me grow in all aspects of my understand of art. I don't think I would have grown as much as a dancer if I hadn't had other forms of art stretching me as well. I also discovered, while being surrounded by so many talented dancers, that I hadn't yet received the maturity required to be in a company. Working with many different choreographers in school helped me with this, while also improving my ability to quickly learn choreography. The downside of my school was the extremely liberal, relaxed environment. I found it easy to be swept up in the culture, and not focus as much on dancing as I could've. 

Are you currently using your degree? If so, how, and if not, what are your hopes for the future? 

I feel that I use my degree daily. I learned so much about the body while in school, and this information has been vital to me, as I've been through a lot of injuries. I learned a ton about different choreographers, dance history, and developing my own style of choreography. These things changed my narrow mindedness towards non-ballet forms of dance, allowing me to value them as art. I was also taught many things that helped prepare me for a life outside ballet, studying psychology, kinesiology, literature. Just overall broadening my perspective of the world. College also made me realize I may like to pursue a career in the medical field. I'm not exactly sure where God will want me in the future, but I hope at some point to return to school, and become a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor. 

What is one piece of advice you have for student dancers considering higher education?

Be open to it. Don't make the mistake of closing yourself off without considering all that it could be for you. Dancers tend to think of college as a setback, something they do only if they can't find a job. In truth, it's not that at all. Tons of dancers are out there, receiving all of the experience gained in college, working with amazing choreographers, going abroad, broadening themselves, and STILL having a successful dance career upon graduation. Sure, in the 90s, it was true that dancers were considered "old" for hiring around 22, but that time is long gone. Consider it, allow yourself to see it as an option. Everyone has a different college experience, so it is possible that it could work out for you.