In Training: Dancing to Hollywood and Beyond

December 31, 2014

Three degrees for commercial dancers

Students of Columbia College Chicago. Photo by Bill Frederking, courtesy Columbia College Chicago.

A few years ago, students pursuing a commercial dance career might have come up short in the college search. But today’s programs more than meet their needs. “I want students to be as technically strong and versatile as possible,” says Rhonda Miller, director of Pace University’s commercial dance program, “so they have the ability to be in a contemporary or modern company, but also have all the tools necessary to work in commercial theater, television or film.” By offering a wide range of courses and bringing in working professionals, these schools prepare students for the demands of the commercial world. —Suzannah Friscia

Pace University

Pace undergrads dancing Ginger Cox’s Inside Out. Photo by Whitney Browne, courtesy Pace.

New York, NY

Degree offered: BFA in commercial dance

Program founded: 2012

No. of dance majors: 135

Curriculum: Students must concentrate in performance, choreography, pedagogy or dance for the camera. All tracks have a strong ballet and jazz focus and require acting and singing classes. Some include Limón, contemporary, hip-hop, tap, theater dance, aerial, improv and partnering.

Networking: In January, students spend three weeks in L.A. working with choreographers, culminating in a performance for local agents.

Faculty: Scott Jovovich, Kat Wildish, Chloe Arnold and Ginger Cox. Recent guest teachers/choreographers include Mandy Moore, Tiler Peck, Jessica Lang and Jason Samuels Smith.

  • Some students have worked while in school, performing in a Broadway show and with the Rockettes.


Columbia College Chicago

Chicago, IL

Degrees offered: BFA and BA in dance

Program founded: 1969

No. of dance majors: About 200

Curriculum: The program is based in modern, ballet and West African dance. Other classes include hip-hop, tap, jazz and somatics.

Networking: Columbia’s Dance Presenting Series brings in working artists to perform, lecture and teach. The department holds a hip-hop festival called the B-series each semester with hip-hop battles, classes, workshops and panels. Members of Chicago’s underground street dance community perform and judge.

Faculty: Trae Turner, artistic director of Boom Crack! Dance Company, is on faculty, and current and former students often perform with his company. Recent Dance Presenting Series artists include Bill T. Jones, Susan Marshall, Reggie Wilson and Jackie Lopez.

  • Many students are active in Chicago’s dance community, competing in hip-hop battles and teaching in local elementary schools.


Relativity School

Los Angeles, CA

Degree offered: BFA in commercial dance

Program founded: 2014

No. of dance majors: 15

Curriculum: Students of this brand-new school take courses in four core categories: entrepreneurship, dance technique, commercial dance and acting. Dance classes include ballet, world cultural dance, hip-hop, jazz funk, contemporary, tap, ballroom and partnering. All students complete interdisciplinary projects with film and acting students.

Networking: The school is located on a working film lot, and has a partnership with film studio Relativity Media. Students can audition for dance-related projects such as music videos or dance films, and interact with outside professionals. The entire inaugural class has guaranteed summer internships at the studio to gain experience in fields like music and fashion.

Faculty: Students are paired with faculty advisors who work in the industry they are most interested in. Guest artists include directors and choreographers drawn from film, television and Broadway.

  • Relativity School is the first four-year degree program in history created on a working film lot.