Who said you can’t dance your way through life? These 10 prominent performing art colleges say you can. They have impressive dance programs, famous alumni and movement classes you never knew existed. Here, dance is as an art preserved and treasured through teams, competitive departments and one electric performance after the next. These dance colleges encourage you to transition from dancing alone in your room to dancing around the globe on world-renowned stages. If you find yourself at any of these schools, there’s no need to retire those dancing shoes.
Get the latest ranking of Top 10 Schools for Dance 2019 here.
Practice your technique—you’ll need it to get into one of the 10 best dance colleges.
10. Towson University
If the thought of becoming a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and dancing in front of a large NFL audience excites you, then you will fit in well with the Towson dance team. The team performs during football games and brought home 14 consecutive National Dance Association national championships. Students can audition for this team even before they send in their university application and get accepted to the school. If you want a little more dance in your life, you can also major in Dance Performance and receive a dance K–12 teacher certificate that trains you to teach dance in Maryland public schools. TU is the only school that offers a B.F.A. in dance performance and choreography in the Maryland State higher education system. Musical Concepts for Dancers and Scientific Basis for Movement are just two of the classes students can take to achieve this degree. Be sure to check out prerequisites for other classes before you register. Junior Dance major Sarah Degler said that teaching dance is one of her passions and Towson has been able to offer her “a variety of courses, job opportunities and even student teaching internships” to prepare her for the professional world.
9. Skidmore College
A unique aspect of Skidmore is that an audition isn’t required for admission to the dance team. Instead, students apply using the Common App and submit a personal essay. One of the cool projects that dancers get to be a part of is the Swan Song, where students dance with New York City Ballet dancers as a part of Saratoga Dances II, organized by the one and only Justin Peck, Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet. A pilates class is offered without requiring any previous experience. The course emphasizes working at everyone’s own pace; what’s better than a work out without a trainer yelling in your face? Feel free to take an Independent Study class to work on more advanced research with a help of a professor. Besides the vigorous dance program that’s sure to keep you on your toes (pun intended), Skidmore has plenty of dance organizations on campus for those who need a little dance in their free time. There is Stompin’ Soles for the happy feet tappers and Terpsichore for the fluid modern dancers and ballet dancers.
8. University of North Carolina School of the Arts
There’s no doubt that this exclusive arts conservatory in conjunction with the American Ballet Theater made the cut. UNCSA Dancers have the option of receiving a BFA with a concentration in ballet or contemporary dance while also taking academic classes outside of the dance major. Classes within the major include Ballet Partnering, Theatrical Concepts and Ballet Emerging Choreographers. The school’s prestige is maintained by only selecting the best 43% of applicants. For those who solely want to study dance without the extra academic courses, UNCSA offers an Undergraduate Arts Diploma. UNCSA even has a Pilates studio and a dance studio with sprung floors, so serious dancers can find their way to be the next Susan Jaffe, former principal dancer of ABT and the Dean of Dance at the university.
7. Butler University
The Department of Dance under the Jordan College of the Arts is home to Butler Ballet. Taking classes in Laban Movement Analysis and Choreography, students are prepped to dance in lead roles in legendary ballets like The Sleeping Beauty and Coppélia that the school puts on every year. This company and college are special because former dance faculty member George Verdak performed with Ballet Russe. Verdak kept costumes and backdrops from years ago and allows them to be used in performances at Butler. This fact alone makes dancers want to chase and grand jeté to Indianapolis. But before you get to your dance classes be sure you come dressed in the appropriate attire. That could mean a black leotard and pink tights for girls or full black tights and a white or black fitted T-shirt for the guys.
6. Point Park University
While dancing in a big city is nice, dancers know it’s better in a big studio. Students at Point Park University earn a BA in dance requiring 120 credits or audition for eligibility to earn a BFA in dance, which requires 130–134 credits. Whichever is chosen, dancers get to rehearse and perform in George Rowland White Performance Center and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, appropriately equipped with high ceilings and grand pianos. The intense training will occasionally feature guest teachers, including Marina Stavitskaya, who trained with the famous Rudolph Nureyev. Classes in the ballet major include Body Alignment while in the modern major you can take a class in Cultural Dance Forms. It’s no surprise that with this type of training Point Park alumni have gone on to open their own studios like Velocity Dance Center and win Tony awards for choreography in films such as Thoroughly Modern Millie. Alumnus Pearlann Porter went on to become the artistic director and principle choreographer of The Pillow Project.
5. Indiana University
Do you have dreams about being the Swan Queen? Do you have a love/hate relationship with your pointe shoes? If so, then Indiana University might be your home. Within the Jacobs School of Music is IU’s Ballet Department. “I appreciate that IU generally keeps our classes focused on ballet, as that’s how a professional company is run,” said senior Allison Perhach. Dancers follow in the steps of alumni like Guoping Wang, who was a principal dancer at the Joffrey Ballet, and Abby Kahn, who worked as the Assistant to the Director at the American Ballet Theater. The guest teacher that stood out the most for Perhach was Julie Kent. “She was very open and honest and spoke to us as adults instead of students.” Dancers are required to take five ballet classes a week, plus a pointe class for women or a men’s class. Better make sure you pack your lamb’s wool and toe pads!
4. The University of the Arts
The City of Brotherly Love is filled not only with passion for sports and Philly cheesesteaks, but also the arts. Philadelphia is home to The University of the Arts, which has the largest undergraduate dance program in the country. The school has 14 dance studios and students study styles including jazz, ballet, modern and improvisation. Some of the required courses include Body Pathways, Extended Practice Lab (where students can experience tap, pointe work or another discipline of dance) and Contemporary Art Practices. At his time at UArts, Modern Dance Performance major Connor Senning was involved in an aerial acrobatic company called JUNK led by former professor Brian Sanders. “Brian is one of the handful of teachers at the schools who have connections to jobs for working dancers all over the world,” said Senning. Current sophomore Rudy Abreu and seniors Bridget Whitman and Stanley Glover made the Top 20 on season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance. You can check the admissions website to see when the School of Dance is holding off-campus auditions.
3. The Ailey School
Any dancer wanting to pursue the art on a higher level knows who Alvin Ailey is—one of the most popular modern dancers of all time. From summer intensive programs to an actual high school performing arts program, when it comes time to earn a professional degree, dancers can do so through connectively with the Ailey School and Fordham University. Prospective dancers must apply and be accepted to both schools in order to participate in the competitive program that admits 35 students each year. The best dancers are sometimes offered to dance as apprentices or members in professional companies, an experience that comes from connections at a prestigious dance school. Graduating in 2014, Jacquelin Harris was able to dance in a touring company all while earning a degree. “I learned how to work with different choreographers, adapting to different styles and ideas,” she said. Harris is now a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Be ready to experience the styles of Martha Graham and Lester Horton in modern-based classes.
2. New York University
There is little that NYU doesn’t do right, dance included. The Tisch School of the Arts teaches students not only how to move to the beat of the music, but also how the body moves with classes like Kinesthetic of Anatomy and Production Crew in Dance, where students will learn about lighting and stage equipment and the more technical side of producing a show. The dancers have the opportunity to study in the Big Apple and NYU campuses in Asia. For high school students deciding if this artistic avenue is right for them, Tisch invites rising juniors and seniors to a summer dance program to improve their technique, practice their choreography and refine their performance skills that will be put to the test at the end of summer performance open to friends and family.
1. Juilliard School
Does Juilliard even need an introduction? In the midst of the city that never sleeps, the name screams prestige and honor. Accepting only 12 men and 12 women each year, Juilliard is known for selecting dancers who already have a strong understanding of the demand and rigor of ballet and modern dance. With ballet masters such as Alfredo Corvino, who toured and directed with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Juilliard is known as the premier arts school in the country. Though majoring in more than one area (ex. dance and theatre) is not allowed, classes such as Music Studies for Dancers and Voice for Dancers are offered so students can graduate with a well-rounded arts education. By junior year, six lucky students receive the opportunity to choreograph their own piece in collaboration with music composition students. Not many can add that to their resume.
Thinking of going to one of these dance colleges?
If you’re auditioning or applying to be a part of any of these schools, or maybe even a different school for dance consider this:
- Some of these schools offer a straight path right into a dance or performance company while attending a different school can make it more difficult (but not impossible) to join a prestigious company.
- Even if you don’t make it past the audition rounds, there are always dance classes and clubs to join on campus to stay active on constantly allow you to work and improve your technique.
- If you thought your studio ballet teachers were strict, these dance instructors definitely top them. Be prepared with the right attire.
5 Items Every Aspiring Dancer Needs
1. Dance Basics
Black leotard for girls
Black tights for boys
5. Toe Pads
What it’s Really Like to go to one of the Best Dance Colleges in the Nation
1. Your body will be challenged all day, every day.
“My dance classes are intense. Every class is challenging but in different ways. I would say one of the most challenging classes I’ve had at Point Park is jazz/modern with Jason McDole. He is an amazing dance teacher who pulls the best out of you. However in doing so, your body is more exhausted than ever. He challenges us to use every single muscle in our body.” – Jessica Scherr, Point Park University, dance major with jazz concentration, senior
2. You’ll learn to audition and land a gig before even graduating.
“After completion of only one year I was already able to work under a professional contract over the summer. I had no idea how to audition for a professional gig before coming to Point Park; they do everything in their power to make sure you are ready to work in the industry.” – Adam Flagella, Point Park University, dance major with jazz concentration and a minor in musical Theatre, sophomore
3. You’ll get the clout—and expectations—that come with your college’s prestige.
“When I went to American dance festival winter intensive in New York last winter, many of the teachers knew my professors because they have worked with them before. Because they know who I train with, they had high expectations of me. – Eleanor Weir, Towson University, double major in dance performance and anthropology, junior
4. You’ll strengthen your body and your mind.
“Point Park taught me how to trust myself more when I dance, how to be more confident and how to keep believing in your dream no matter what people tell you. Point Park is making me a stronger (mentally as well as physically), better… dancer.” – Katja Rochat, Point Park University, dance major, sophomore
5. You’re expected to act professionally from day one of class.
“Point Park has prepared me to enter the professional world by already treating our learning environment as a professional one. They don’t want us to be students and therefore treat us like professionals.” – Scherr
6. You’ll find your niche and lots of opportunities in the dance industry.
“Some dancers choose to a K-12 certification during their time here which allows them to teach in public schools after graduation. This allows dancers to have a job right out of college and to start a teaching career… The dance major graduates go on to dance in many different companies such as Ailey II and the Rockettes and to also pursue other dance pathways such as opening up their own studios or choreographing across the country” – Weir
7. You’ll be forced to learn and master time management.
“Towson’s dance curriculum is similar to a conservatory dance curriculum, on top of the fact Towson… is a Liberal Arts College. [You] get very busy very fast, and being able to manage that helped me for what I am doing now post-graduation, which is working two retail jobs while auditioning and working paid dance gigs.” – Darnell Williams, Towson University, dance performance and choreography major, class of 2016
8. You’ll explore more genres than just ballet and modern dance.
“All dance majors take ballet and modern alongside electives such as jazz and tap. My favorite elective I have taken has been aerial dance which has inspired me to explore aerial dance more by performing more aerial pieces and going to the Aerial Dance Festival last summer in Boulder, [Colorado].” – Weir
9. You’ll even learn about what happens off the stage.
“Towson takes you through all the different areas of dance from administration, to performance, composition, backstage and tech, Advocacy, and Anatomy in Movement which are all things you need to know for work in this industry.” – Williams
10. You’ll need to build a strong community to survive.
“Dance is not an easy major. In addition to our course load, we often had long hours of practice and rehearsals, irregular hours when working with others and scheduling around other responsibilities… Dance is a very personal form of expression and to create, explore and grow you need a safe and supportive environment. I think we realized early on that, in order to succeed, we needed to be there for one another.” – Kristin Alessandroni, Towson University, B.F.A. Dance Performance & Education Cum Laude 1992, Awarded at graduation for “Most Outstanding Contributions to the Dance Department”
Be prepared for hours of rehearsal at these dance colleges. Need practice gear?
Also researched and written by Paulina Isaac.
*Updated July 6, 2016 to include tips and items to wear.
*Updated by Celina Pelaez on October 31, 2017 to include “What it’s Really Like to go to one of the Best Dance Colleges in the Nation” and “5 Items Every Aspiring Dancer Needs.”