Ballet at University of Utah. Photo by August Miller, Courtesy University of Utah.

This fall, the University of Utah's School of Dance welcomes the first class of candidates to its newly reinstated Master of Fine Arts in Ballet program, currently the only ballet-specific MFA in the country. Geared toward those with professional ballet experience, it requires courses in pedagogy, choreography and scholarly inquiry. Melonie Murray, the director of graduate studies, says, "We want to support students in understanding ballet in a deeper way."

Brent Smith. Courtesy Butler University

Can't choose between college and a professional ballet career? It's possible to have both! (Four artistic directors told us so.)

But this path comes with extra challenges. The university you choose can make all the difference. So how do you find the right program?

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Get your degree while working alongside a company.

Ailey/Fordham BFA students in Carolyn Dorfman’s Echad (An Adaptation). Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy Ailey.

Deciding between going to college and starting your career early is one of the hardest decisions young dancers face. But what if you didn’t have to choose? Some schools have affiliations with dance companies so students can earn a degree while getting an inside look at the career. By pairing high-level training with professional performance opportunities, students get the best of both worlds.

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, UT

Degree offered: BFA in ballet, with optional teaching emphasis

No. of majors: About 120

Company connection: A two-year joint trainee program with Ballet West by invitation only. About five BFAs are chosen after enrollment.

How it works: Trainees spend at least three days a week at Ballet West taking class with non-university trainees. The other three days are spent at the university. At the end of their second year, students can audition for companies or complete their degrees.

Performance opps: Trainees perform corps work in some BW productions, which have included Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. They’ve also performed in university shows in works by Balanchine, Fokine, Gerald Arpino and Val Caniparoli.

Alumni in the company: One full-time, one supplemental

Where others have gone: Colorado Ballet, Sarasota Ballet and Oklahoma City Ballet

Extra credit: University of Utah and Ballet West hold a joint summer program. Participants can earn U of Utah credit.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond, VA

Degree offered: BFA in dance

No. of majors: 80–100

Company connection: VCU offers a joint trainee program with Richmond Ballet. Typically three to five dancers are selected after enrollment.

How it works: Trainees spend six hours a day at Richmond Ballet taking ballet technique, partnering and pointe with non-university full-time trainees. At the end of two years, they are considered for Richmond Ballet II, or they can finish their degree, taking on a full course load at VCU.

Performance opps: Trainees dance in the corps in some RB productions, which have included The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Cinderella and Serenade. At VCU, they’ve danced work by Kate Weare and Nathan Trice.

Alumni in the company: One in Richmond Ballet II

Where others have gone: CityDance and Company E

Final stretch: In their fourth year, VCU dancers work on a solo with a professional choreographer.

Fordham University and The Ailey School

New York, NY and

Degree offered: BFA in dance

No. of majors: 105

Company connection: Fordham University and The Ailey School offer a joint BFA program. Students must apply to both schools for acceptance.

How it works: Students take dance classes at The Ailey School and academics at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.

Performance opps: All BFA students perform in a fall concert. Students may be selected to audition for Memoria in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s City Center season. Company members, most recently Hope Boykin and Kanji Segawa, choreograph for student shows.

Alumni in the company: Ten in Ailey; two in Ailey II (plus two current Ailey/Fordham BFA seniors)

Where others have gone: Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Ballet Hispanico and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Partnering up: BFAs can apply for mentorships that pair them with Ailey dancers. The program includes workshops, improv jams and opportunities to watch company rehearsals.


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