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How to Feel Confident When Committing to a College Dance Program

You might think that applying to colleges is the most stressful part of the application process. But some students find that the pressure is heightened once acceptance letters start rolling in. Making a decision about which program to choose doesn't have to feel daunting—you just need to follow a few practical steps.

Important Factors to Consider

Location: Think about how far you're willing to be from your family, if you prefer a small or large city and what the weather is like. "Young dancers don't realize how much location is going to affect them if they're going to be here four years," says Michael Vernon, the chair emeritus of the ballet department at Indiana University.

Style: Thoroughly research the program's curriculum. Are you looking for a school that specializes in the Vaganova method or would you rather spend your days in Graham classes?

Faculty: Who will be teaching can tell you not only about the techniques you'll learn, but also about the quality of instruction, Vernon says. Look to see if the college has any faculty members of note or professionals in your desired style. Also research what kind of guest teachers and choreographers the program brings in.

Culture: Think about what kinds of experiences you want to have outside of the classroom. Are you looking for a large university with a football team and Greek life? Or would you rather be at a smaller liberal arts college with close-knit cohorts?

Performances: Find out what kind of performance opportunities the college offers (both in the dance program and in any clubs or teams) and how often you can participate.

Cost: Different colleges come with different price tags. Compare financial aid packages and scholarships, and talk with your parents about the feasibility of paying for each school.

Action Steps

Still feeling stuck? Try these five strategies:

1. Visit the school. If you can, explore the campus, meet faculty members and watch a class. Sarah Wroth, chair of the ballet department at Indiana University, says this is also a good opportunity to get a feel for the school's culture. Watch how students behave, dress and interact with one another, she says.

2. Leverage social media. If you can't physically visit a school, do a deep dive on social media. Look at the university's profiles, browse photos of the campus and maybe even reach out to a current student.

3. Speak to a faculty member. If you're hesitating because you don't have enough information yet, pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone on staff.

4. Make a pros and cons list. This tried-and-true tool helps you get your thoughts and feelings on paper so they're easier to process, Wroth says. Make one for each school and then compare lists.

5. See a show. Get a live look at what you would be doing as a student, or ask for a video of a recent concert.

How She Decided

Annelise Ritacca extends her left leg in a high battement side, supporting leg in pli\u00e9, supported by a lunging male dancer behind her.

Ritacca performing at Pace

Eduardo Patino, Courtesy Ritacca

Name: Annelise Ritacca

School: Pace University

Major: BFA in commercial dance

The turning point: As a senior in high school, Ritacca says her college decision became clear the moment she stepped onto Pace University's campus. New York City captivated her, the faculty excited her and she felt an immediate sense of belonging.

Her advice: Trust your gut. "You'll know where you fit in," Ritacca says. "Once you find the place, there will be something that clicks in your head, maybe even in your heart."

Having Second Thoughts?

Apprehension is normal, especially during transitions, says Indiana University's Sarah Wroth. Consider if your nervousness is just in response to change. You'll likely feel more settled into the program and your schedule after a few weeks. If the feeling lingers, don't panic. Transferring is always an option.

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020