Considering a Gap Semester or Year? What Dance Majors Should Take Into Account

December 15, 2020

Much like it’s changed everything else in the world, COVID-19 has completely upended dance training in higher education. While some students are attending technique classes in masks, and others are doing tendus from their dorm rooms, many dancers are wondering if it still makes sense to keep going—or if they should take a semester or two off until training returns to normal. But how feasible is it really for a dance major to step away from school in the middle of college?

What’s Your “Why”?

Before sitting down with your advisor or dance chair, you should be able to clearly explain the reason for your gap year. Once you articulate why you’d like to take some time, they can help you determine if it’s the best course of action for you, personally and academically.

I have an injury.
If a serious injury sidelines you from movement classes, a leave of absence can allow you to pursue other interests. But before you make a decision that sets back your graduation date, ask your advisor if the curriculum can be rearranged to focus solely on academic courses while you heal, suggests Karen Stokes, director of the dance program at the University of Houston.

I’m dealing with a difficult personal or family situation.
Maybe you need to help an ill family member, or take care of your own mental well-being. Stepping away from the pressures and responsibilities of school can sometimes help you better cope with hardships in other areas of your life.

I want to perform professionally.
It can be easy to view every professional opportunity as a once-in-a-lifetime experience when, in reality, it’s just the first of many. “If you are a very beautiful dancer and you have the skills that it takes to be disciplined, those opportunities will still be there when you graduate,” Stokes says. “They’ll increase, actually.” Make sure it’s truly a dream job before putting school on the backburner for it.

I want to travel.
Pre-pandemic, many students who took a gap year before college did so to explore the wider world. But there are many ways to scratch this itch without fully stepping away from your courses. Look into study-abroad programs and touring dance groups at your university, or plan a trip during your semester breaks.

I can’t take another Zoom class.
Stokes encourages students not to overlook the importance of structure and support when the world feels chaotic. Taking college courses, even if they’re online, can provide that. “Even though it’s a completely different format, it is providing a community,” she says. “And right now, it seems to me, we all need that.” As you make the decision about whether or not to enroll in your spring courses, think about all the ways that your schooling—even if it’s entirely remote—has helped provide connection, routine and purpose in your days.

The Logistics

In many dance programs, taking a gap year or semester isn’t as simple as not enrolling. At the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment at Oklahoma City University, dancers need to request a leave of absence if they want to take time off, says associate dean Melanie Shelley. These are typically only granted for extenuating personal circumstances, and if they’re not approved, the dancer will have to reaudition for the program upon return. When you sit down with your advisor, ask them what the policy is, and how it will affect your progress through the curriculum as well as your graduation date.

Know the Risk

In her 32 years of working at OCU, Shelley says very few students who take time off actually return to finish their degrees. Before you step away, have a candid conversation about your goals, and make a plan for returning to school, not just for leaving. While you’re gone, maintain a strong relationship with your program so the faculty and staff can offer you the support you need to come back when the time is right.