University of Maryland students are encouraged to take outside classes. Photo by Geoff Sheil, Courtesy University of Maryland

6 Things Dance Majors Should Do As They Prepare to Graduate

As graduation day looms, college seniors might find themselves reeling with both excitement and dread. "They have to navigate this tender moment where they're opening their wings and about to jump out of the dance department and wondering if the ground is going to catch them," says Courtney Harris, interim chair of the dance and choreography department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Today's job market is no cakewalk, but there are meaningful steps that students can take throughout college to make the transition easier.


Strategies for Success

1. Lean on faculty. Take advantage of the professionals at your fingertips. Sit down with a professor who has expertise in the field you're interested in. Use their insight to set realistic goals, and get their advice on how to achieve them.

2. Cultivate diverse skills. At VCU, dance students are exposed to courses in everything from choreography to dance criticism, Harris says. These classes allow dance majors to explore different parts of the industry and potentially fall in love with something new. Use your college years to develop a diverse set of skills and even test them out at an internship, if possible.

3. Make connections. Take time to invest in relationships with your peers, professors and other professionals. Alvin Mayes, head of dance performance and scholarship at the University of Maryland, encourages his students to attend master classes, summer dance workshops, conferences, community dance events and outside classes. Not only will this refine your dancing, but the ties you build could help you score a job.

Geoff Sheil, Courtesy University of Maryland

4. Prep for auditions. Susan Jaffe, dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, suggests compiling a list of all of the companies you're interested in dancing for. Then, whittle it down to about five realistic options, and meet with a faculty member to discuss your strategy for setting up auditions and possibly connecting with those directors. Jaffe advises her students to look for companies with dancers that have a similar style and body type as they do.

5. Assemble the essentials. Before you graduate, get your dance reel, headshots, resumé and cover letters ready to go. If your college doesn't have a class that helps you compile these, ask for feedback from a professor.

6. Build your pluck. To make it in the professional world, dancers need grit and perseverance. Take time to identify your strengths and practice exuding confidence whether you're taking a casual technique class or standing in front of a director. "Nobody makes it to the top by not liking how they dance themselves," says Jaffe.

Johnnie Cruise Mercer/TheREDprojectNYC

Ellen Kilby, Courtesy Mercer

Carve Your Own Path

Throughout his time at VCU, Johnnie Cruise Mercer often experimented with movement, producing concerts on his own. By his senior year, he had created an evening-length piece with a peer and performed professionally with Charles O. Anderson. Although he had his sights set on New York City when he graduated in 2014, he recognized that there weren't many company contracts available. "I'm pretty relentless," he says. "I'm not someone who waits." So he focused his efforts on building his own company. Within a year, Johnnie Cruise Mercer/TheREDproject premiered its first show in Richmond, Virginia. Today, Mercer has transitioned the company to New York City, achieving his goal by creating his own opportunity.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

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Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

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Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

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