For most students, the last year of college is bittersweet—saying goodbye to friends, professors and campus grounds while eagerly awaiting the next stage of life: financial independence, a different city, new connections and more. This year, however, seniors are preparing to graduate into a labor force facing historic levels of unemployment, competing for limited opportunities with those who have far more experience.
This holds especially true for college dance majors, who are applying to jobs that are even more scarce because of rapid downsizing and the closure of dance companies and organizations. Never before have dance students had to navigate the job search almost entirely online in an industry that depends on in-person collaboration.
Although many companies have adapted with digital programming, most final-year college dance majors are unsure of their future. Dance Magazine spoke to six soon-to-be graduates about how the pandemic has impacted their career plans.
Jordan Wynn, 20, New York University
Rebecca Flisnik, Courtesy Jordan Wynn
Before the pandemic began, NYU Tisch School of the Arts student Jordan Wynn had built extensive professional experience that included off-Broadway shows and sold-out concerts. She had also developed a robust network: In her last year of high school, she auditioned for the Broadway cast of Cats and went through to the final round. Although she wasn't selected, casting agents told her that they would keep in touch.
"Going into college, I felt secure in my connections and my ability to get jobs," she says.
Wynn had only wanted to audition for dance jobs after graduation, but the pandemic persuaded her to consider other options more seriously. In addition to her dance major, Wynn minors in social and cultural analysis and works at the nonprofit You Can Too, a mentorship program for minority youth. Wynn says her passion for diversity and inclusion work has persuaded her to also apply to college advising and mentorship jobs.
Wynn's dedication to diversity also extends to the dance industry. "I think that with the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and COVID-19, a lot of dancers have realized that the dance world is problematic in so many ways. There's a really focused anti-Blackness," she says. As she continues applying for both dance and mentoring jobs alike, Wynn hopes dance majors stay encouraged. "Art deserves to have a real resurgence after the pandemic, and we're a critical part of making that happen."
Jane Krause, 21, Agnes Scott College
Courtesy Agnes Scott Dance Program
Jane Krause loved dance from a young age because of its ability to boost her confidence and reduce her anxiety. When she joined Agnes Scott College in Georgia, she decided to major in dance because of the welcoming community that the college dance company Studio Dance Theater provided.
Last year when Krause entered her junior year and began interning at Core Dance, she made plans to pursue stage management or something similar after graduation. Then the pandemic hit and Krause was sent back home, which was when she started considering other careers. "It's made me want to find something that's a little bit more stable," Krause says.
She began applying for elementary-school teaching jobs, hoping to one day earn a teaching degree and become a dance teacher. Although the pandemic altered her plans, she is confident that dance will still be an integral part of her life. "Your experience as a dancer is really valuable no matter what you go into."
Sidney Chuckas, 22, University of Southern California
Sidney Chuckas, a dance major specializing in choreography at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, had hoped to get a job at a concert company in the U.S. or Europe after graduating.
After the pandemic started, Chuckas decided to focus on his architecture minor. He applied to graduate schools and has been accepted into three architecture programs on scholarship. He is still deciding whether to defer or accept admittance, carefully watching vaccination efforts and progress against the virus. "It might make more sense right now to continue to learn as much as I can about the arts and then jump into a professional career once I have that degree," he rationalizes.
Chuckas—who hopes to be a creative director or choreographer one day—is still auditioning for companies and teaching dance classes. "Architecture is something I want to do alongside dance, so it's not a backup plan. The two are intertwined into my identity as a dancer," he explains.
Although he's aware of the adverse impacts the pandemic has had on dance, he's happy that the Black Lives Matter protests during lockdown called attention to the need to increase diversity in dance. "Innovation requires diversity, it requires different voices, it requires people to be challenged on their own perspectives," he says. "I think if company models continue to be homogenous in terms of their hiring process, it's really going to hurt the dance world."
Colton Woods, Courtesy Sidney Chukas
Samantha Chapa, 21, New York University
Chelsea Rose Williams, Courtesy Samantha Chapa
Growing up on the border of Texas and Mexico, Samantha Chapa started formal dance training at 13 and knew she wanted to pursue it, but had to convince her family first. "It took a while to convince my parents that I wanted to major in dance, because the general consensus in Mexican-American culture is that you can't make a living out of the arts and that it's more of a hobby than a career," she says.
After graduating, Chapa says, she wants to be a freelance choreographer and teach university classes. However, she applied to acting schools in the New York City area and was accepted to a two-year associate program at New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts on a scholarship. She cites this as her backup plan if she doesn't secure enough choreographic work in a few months.
What worries Chapa the most about her future as a choreographer is the financial component. However, she says the changing dance industry is the main reason why she is pushing through. "What I see for the future of the dance world is that it will be more forgiving. I think people are going to be more sensitive and more reflective in our generation."
Camryn Pearson, 22, University of Southern California
As soon as the pandemic began, Camryn Pearson scrambled to email everyone he knew in the dance world about jobs. It paid off: With the help of USC faculty member William Forsythe, he was asked to join a new ballet company in Germany as a soloist, and plans to leave the U.S. in July to move there with one of his best friends, a fellow USC dance major who was also offered a position with the company.
Lee Gumbs, Courtesy Camryn Pearson
Even though Pearson has already signed a contract, he is continuing to build his professional network by auditioning for other companies.
As someone who has spent the past year dancing virtually, Pearson is excited for studios to open soon and for shows to commence. "I see a resurgence of fire creativity and feeling appreciative of being in a studio because now we know what it's like when we don't have that," he predicts.
He surmises that the dance industry will come back stronger, since audiences and corporations that miss live performances might increase their monetary investments in dance. "There have been a lot of constraints this past year, but we've seen the resiliency of dancers, and that's a true testament to our strength of character."
Malcolm Miles Young, 21, New York University
When Malcolm Miles Young was just 4 years old, his cousin looked at him and said to the room "That boy is going to be a dancer." Seventeen years later, Young is now a dance major at NYU and is proud of what he represents. "I'm the first in my family to really pursue dance, and I want to be that example for other young men, because I didn't have that growing up," he says.
Young's dream is to be on Broadway, specifically in the cast of The Lion King, and he has been auditioning for theater jobs since his freshman year. Then, the pandemic hit. "For us to have our whole industry stripped away, it's definitely scary and eye-opening," he says. He spent this time in lockdown virtually interning for American Ballet Theatre, working for his college professor Cherylyn Lavagnino's dance company, and serving as a rehearsal director and company member for Padierna Dance Project while contemplating his next move. Alongside auditioning for dance roles, Young is looking at jobs outside the dance world, like acting and modeling. "In the state we are right now, I can't afford to turn a blind eye to any opportunity."
"Dance has been and always will be my main focus—it's what I was meant to do, and nothing, including the pandemic, has changed that," he states. He knows he's not alone. "While you're adjusting, don't give up on your dream. The show must go on!"
Travis Magee, Courtesy Malcolm Miles Young