Should You Spend a Semester in New York City or Los Angeles?
Studying abroad typically involves customs, visas and foreign transaction fees. But dance majors sometimes opt for a closer option: Los Angeles or New York City. For students hungry for real-world experience in the heartbeat of the industry, spending a semester in one of these dance hubs can act as a launchpad for your next step after graduation.
Spending time in a major dance city as a college student can come with useful payoffs.
Meet the gatekeepers.
In their junior year, all commercial dance majors at Pace University spend a semester in Los Angeles, where they meet agents, casting directors, choreographers and producers. “A lot of people think that they can just roll into Los Angeles or New York and accomplish what they want,” says Rhonda Miller, director of the commercial dance program at Pace. But a bit of prep offers a big leg up, she says: “You need to know who the players are.”
Hone your city senses.
Dancers often underestimate the importance of learning the little things, says Sally Sommer, who founded Florida State University’s ARTS in NYC program. It’s much easier to figure out the difference between express and local trains, find a decent rental and hunt down the best local studios when you have someone to guide you.
Build an impressive resumé.
The curriculums of these programs typically include real-world work experiences that can beef up your resumé. The Pace program, for instance, includes choreography for the camera with Mandy Moore and Dominique Kelley, and dance on camera with Jennifer Hamilton and Ray Leeper. Students also produce a film that’s shared with agents. Other colleges require you to complete an internship with a local dance organization.
Grow in emotional and artistic maturity.
Each year, Miller sees this semester lead to significant improvement. “The students’ dancing becomes quite sophisticated and textured, and they understand what they need to do for camerawork,” she says.
Not every college dance program offers the chance to spend a semester in Los Angeles or New York City. If it’s something you’re interested in, inquire about opportunities during the application process. Ask whether the program is voluntary or mandatory, which students are eligible and about the financial breakdown of the semester.
Don’t overlook the value of virtual semesters. Danie Etienne, a second-year choreography and performance MFA candidate at FSU, didn’t think she’d be able to participate in the ARTS in NYC program due to the demands of her graduate degree and financial constraints—until it went virtual. Instead of boarding a plane to the Big Apple last spring, FSU students completed remote internships with New York City organizations. For Etienne, this meant she got to intern with lauded choreographer Camille A. Brown, where she gained firsthand experience with fundraising, writing grants and attending company meetings with Brown herself. “I was able to be in this room and hear about all of the great things that are happening for people of color. It was just very special,” Etienne says.