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From Competitions to the College Campus... What to Expect in Your First Year

Making the transition as a first-year student in a college dance program can be exciting, and yet a bit scary, after spending years at a local dance studio with all the competitions that go with it. So what should someone expect in their first year as a dance student in college?

Man In Motion interviewed three students who have just completed their first year in a college dance program. Their experiences, advice and tips should be helpful to young dancers and their parents as they prepare for college, or consider whether or not college dance is right for them.

Dance Helps Make the Personal Adjustment to College a Little Easier

While most new students have an adjustment period getting used to college in their first year, Renea Rossi believes that being a dance major helped her make the transition a little smoother because she’s been dancing from a very early age. Renea recently completed her first year at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J.

“In the beginning, it was hard because college is a big adjustment for anyone,” she said. “But I feel like being in the dance program really helped with that adjustment - because dance is something that I know, something that I’m comfortable with, and something that I can adapt to fairly easily.”

Jared Sprague, who just finished his first year at Pace University in New York City, admits that most of his initial feelings turned out to be unfounded: “When I came here I was kind of nervous, just like a kid going to elementary school for the first time. But once you step into class, it’s so welcoming. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

How Your Local Dance Studio (and Competitions) Can Prepare You for College

Renea says that since her local studio growing up (Dance Expression Dance Arts in Hamburg, N.J.) is so family-oriented, she was pleased to discover that the dance program at Montclair State is much the same, with everyone helping each other and wanting her to succeed.

“The upper classmen are always there for you – and the faculty is very open and welcoming,” she said. “If I need to talk to one of the professors about something, they’ll just schedule a time for me to come by their office to talk for a bit.”

A common thread among all three students was how their local studios helped them to develop the discipline necessary to pursue dance in college. Tara Youngman recently completed her first year at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance - after dancing at Center State Dance & Theatre School (East Brunswick, N.J.) since the age of 2.

“I’m pretty fortunate to come from a studio that helped me to develop a great work ethic and discipline and motivation – because I feel like without these things, I wouldn’t be able to excel in my dance program,” said Tara, who is focusing on concert dance rather than commercial dance. “We were always performing, so I was always on stage – and now I use that experience in the classroom. I’m also able to move in a variety of different ways, thanks to what I learned at the studio.”

Renea agreed: “At my studio, you couldn’t miss a rehearsal unless it was absolutely necessary. If you had a lot of homework, for example, you could miss a class, but they still wanted you to be there and be present as much as possible. The whole concept was that we were there because we wanted to be there, not because your mom or your friends would think you should be there. That discipline followed me here – and it was easier to understand how to be even more disciplined as a college dance student.”

When it comes to dance competitions, Jared points out that they help the participants develop the confidence to dance in front of others. As a tapper himself from Highland, N.Y., he feels there’s one aspect of the evaluation process that was the most beneficial for him now as a dance student in college.

“Honestly, I believe that the judge’s critiques are more important than any of the competition awards,” he said. “Some people focus too much on the titles and getting the highest score. Yes, that is great and all, but really it should be about the opportunity to perform on a stage in front of so many people that are willing to support you and see what you have to give to the world.”

Some Differences to Expect Between the Studio/Competitions and College

While your local studio can help you become more disciplined, Renea points out probably the biggest change that occurs with college: “Now, it’s important to attend every class. You can only miss four classes per semester here or it affects your grade. But you are getting a grade, and that’s the big difference. It’s not just an activity where you want to be with your friends; now, you’re on the path to a career.”

With intense study comes lots of hours. Just ask Tara: “I didn’t expect my days to be so long. I was used to dancing five hours a day – and that sounds like a lot – but here I’m dancing double the amount of time. I’m doing 10-hour days of rehearsals and three different technique classes, and I also have academics. So it’s even more than I expected I would be doing. I thought I would be taking classes, just like I used to do, but now it’s at a whole other level.

“An instructor said to me, ‘College is like the big leagues. It’s the real world now.’”

Jared can testify to the same: “The curriculum is very intense. It is very often more than an eight hour day. This whole year, I’ve had classes either at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and running all the way to 11 o’clock at night sometimes, just due to rehearsals and extra performance opportunities going on. It’s a very long day and it can be tiring, but it’s worth it because this is what I love to do.”

And most likely the biggest difference between dancing at the local studio and entering a college dance program is that each student is traveling further along their path to pursuing dance as a career…and just growing up.

“In college, there’s a lot less structure – and they expect you to act like an adult, because you are an adult,” said Tara. “You don’t have time to mess around – because everyone you work with could hire you someday. When you’re at your home studio, some people aren’t going to pursue dance for a career, which gives them a different attitude about it. Here, everyone wants the same things that you want – so it makes you more motivated to do well.”


Part of the upcoming DANCE IN NEW YORK CITY One-Day Intensive includes a seminar for young dancers and their parents considering college for dance. Chris Bloom, graduate of The Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. Program and company member of Ballet Hispanico, will offer vital information and pose key questions that will help you to make informed college decisions.

DANCE IN NEW YORK CITY will be held June 26, starting at 10 a.m., at DANY Studios 305 West 38th Street in NYC. Seminar Fee: $20. Pre-registration required. A college level dance class and partnering class are also available for advanced dancers.

For more information or to register, visit the or click here.

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