BFAs for the Great White Way
Three college programs for aspiring triple threats.
Singing. Dancing. Acting. For college-bound students hoping to become the next triple threat, it’s often hard to find a dance program that nurtures all three—and few musical theater programs offer enough challenging courses for seriously trained dancers. Choosing the right school takes some digging and creative planning. For instance, dance majors can sometimes take advantage of a musical theater minor. Or, they can look for a musical theater major with a dance emphasis, such as Roosevelt University’s newly launched program. Below are three strong schools for aspiring triple threats to consider. —Amy Brandt
OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY
Located: Oklahoma City, OK
No. of dance majors: 193
Degrees offered: BPA (bachelor of performing arts) in dance performance, BS in dance pedagogy, BS in dance management
Audition required: Yes (ballet, jazz, tap); voice presentations optional
Dance classes required: Tap, jazz, ballet, theater dance
Voice and acting classes required: Music fundamentals, class voice, private voice, acting
Performance opportunities: American Spirit Dance Company (2 main-stage shows, plus local performances and touring), 4 musicals (2 full-length), 4 operas, student choreography show
Opportunities for outside study: Students are encouraged to perform in summer stock theater/theme parks, including Music Theatre of Wichita, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and Busch Gardens. Summer internship organizations include Broadway Dance Center and Jacob’s Pillow.
Alumni: Broadway, Las Vegas, national tours, cruise ship productions, Radio City Rockettes, television, film, music videos
Above: OCU’s American Spirit Dance Company. Photo by John Bedford, Courtesy Oklahoma City University.
Located: Chicago, IL
No. of dance majors: 18 (22 incoming freshmen expected for 2014–15)
Degrees offered: BFA in musical theater—dance emphasis
Audition required: Yes (ballet, jazz, song, monologue)
Dance classes required: Ballet, jazz, tap, modern, hip hop, partnering, navigating song and dance, anatomy and kinesiology, dance pedagogy
Voice and acting classes required: Ensemble singing, piano, music theory, private voice, acting for the musical stage
Performance opportunities: 3 main-stage musicals, 3 main-stage plays, 4 freshman showcases, 4 musical theater showcases, 3 acting showcases
Opportunities for outside study: RU has internship programs with Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Lookingglass Theatre and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Juniors and seniors may audition for outside productions.
Alumni: Broadway, off-Broadway, Chicago theater, national tours, film, television
Above: Roosevelt students in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Photo by Zeke Dolezaleck, Courtesy Roosevelt University.
POINT PARK UNIVERSITY
Located: Pittsburgh, PA
No. of dance majors: 240
Degrees offered: BFA in dance, BA in dance, BA in dance pedagogy, minor in musical theater. Many musical theater dancers pursue a BFA (jazz concentration) and a musical theater minor.
Audition required: Yes (ballet, modern, jazz); audition for musical theater minor occurs sophomore year.
Dance classes required: Ballet, modern, jazz, anatomy, kinesiology, dance history, music fundamentals. Ballet concentrations take pointe/men’s class, pas de deux. Jazz and modern concentrations take contemporary partnering.
Voice and acting classes required: For musical theater minor: voice, private voice lessons, acting, musical theater techniques, piano/theory fundamentals, sight-singing fundamentals
Performance opportunities: 6 main-stage productions a year (including one full-length) plus The Nutcracker. Dancers can also audition for the theater department’s full-length musicals.
Opportunities for outside study: Dancers may pursue outside opportunities, but because of Point Park’s rigorous class and rehearsal schedule, they must be selective. Students may also study abroad for one semester.
Alumni: Broadway, national tours, Cirque du Soleil, ballet and contemporary companies, film, television
Above: Point Park University students in Oklahoma!. Photo by Jeff Swenson, Courtesy Point Park University.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.