Suzannah grew up in Brookline, MA, where she took ballet and jazz at her neighborhood studio, and developed a love for all things musical theater. At Barnard College, she explored tap and modern, and began to combine her interests in dance and writing. She graduated with a major in English and a minor in dance, writing a senior thesis on the role of dance in Jane Austen's work. She has written about dance for various online and print publications.
When it comes to college admissions, there's perhaps nothing more confusing than being waitlisted. It sends a mixed message, the middle ground between a "yes" and a "no." You may be elated that you still have a shot at your dream program, or discouraged that you weren't a school's first choice. But is it worth sticking it out, or are you better off accepting another school on your list? We asked program directors for candid advice.
The schedule of a college dancer is no joke: Between academics, studio classes and rehearsals, getting the fuel you need to power through it all is essential. But unless you live off-campus or have a kitchen in your dorm, you may feel like you're at the mercy of your school's dining hall.
"College is often the first time that dancers are on their own, without the help of their family to make sure they are fueling their bodies adequately," says Monika Saigal, a registered dietitian nutritionist at The Juilliard School who has worked with college dancers across the country. "These changes can feel overwhelming, but the college years are also a great time to build new habits that will help dancers have long and healthy careers." So how do you make sure you're getting the nutrients you need? Here are our best tips for tackling the dining hall.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
With a style that fuses tap dance, Lindy hop and vernacular jazz, Caleb Teicher has quickly proven himself a choreographic force to be reckoned with. After becoming known as a Bessie Award–winning member of Michelle Dorrance's company (and a DM "25 to Watch" pick in 2012), Teicher started his own troupe in 2015. Since then, he's presented at high-profile venues like The Joyce and Jacob's Pillow's Inside/Out stage, and last year he was commissioned by New York City Center's popular Fall for Dance festival. This month, Caleb Teicher & Company will premiere its first evening-length work, More Forever, commissioned by Works & Process at the Guggenheim.
At first glance, Times Square might seem like a near-impossible location for a site-specific dance performance. Between tourists posing for selfies, flashing billboards, New Yorkers rushing to work and people in Batman costumes trying to make a buck, it can be completely overwhelming and overstimulating. But that also makes it interesting.
"At its essence, Times Square is bodies moving through time and space," says Andrew Dinwiddie, acting director of public art at the Times Square Alliance. It's also a place with a rich dance history, from vaudeville to Broadway musicals to dance halls and studios.
Dinwiddie worked with Judy Hussie-Taylor, the executive director and chief curator of Danspace Project, to create a program of original works in Times Square this fall that reference the history and experience of the place. An estimated 33,000 people passed through the area each day during the four-hour program—most just happening upon it. What they saw was unique even for Times Square.
Margaret Selby never dreamed that her passion for dance would lead her everywhere from working on live TV specials like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to producing hip-hop musical Jam on the Groove, from Columbia Artists Management, Inc., to public TV's "Great Performances: Dance in America."
Now, through her company Selby/Artists MGMT, she helps clients like Dorrance Dance, MOMIX and Pacific Northwest Ballet navigate the behind-the-scenes elements that get their work onstage, like booking tours, marketing and planning upcoming seasons.
As an audience cheers, three teenage girls cross the stage in a line, to the high-energy beat of The Chainsmokers' "Don't Let Me Down." They're dressed in head-to-toe black, but each of their shirts is decorated with bright bulbs, flashing and blinking in various colors as they move.
The performance is a product of STEM From Dance, a New York City-based nonprofit founded by Yamilee Toussaint—an MIT grad who's been dancing since age 5. The program targets middle and high school girls of color, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and might not otherwise see STEM as an option or be encouraged to try it.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
Through his work on shows like In the Heights, Bandstand and the game-changing Hamilton, Andy Blankenbuehler is pushing Broadway choreography into new territory. He continually reveals dance's ability to tell stories that matter to contemporary audiences, with movement that's meticulously detailed yet seamlessly integrated into the show's world. In his work, dance becomes not just important, but indispensable.
Last year, it looked like "So You Think You Can Dance" might be on its final season. Viewership and ratings were down, and the show seemed to be trying to hang on by switching up its format, focusing on young talent ages 8 to 13 instead of the adult dancers audiences were used to.
But this summer it's back to its traditional formula, and embarking on a 14th season starting next Monday. That means we get another summer where dance gets an audience numbering in the millions.
That much exposure for that many seasons begs the question: What kind of mark has the show made on the dance world?
What is it like to bring one of your heroes to life on stage? That’s what Robert Creighton experiences eight times a week as the star of Cagney, the off-Broadway musical currently playing at the Westside Theatre. Creighton conceived and co-wrote the show, which tells the story of James Cagney, from his humble beginnings on New York’s Lower East Side to his reluctant start on the vaudeville stage to his rise to Hollywood stardom, where he became known as the quintessential “tough guy.” But dance was also a major part of his life, and the show is full of infectiously energetic tap numbers, expertly performed by the six-person cast. Creighton talked to DM about dance’s role in the show, his love of tap, and how to play an icon.
Robert Creighton and the cast of Cagney. PC Carol Rosegg.
What first drew you to Cagney’s story?
My obsession with Cagney started over 20 years ago. I was in acting school, and a teacher said “You remind me of Jimmy Cagney.” I started watching his films and just thought he was so mesmerizing. And I, too, felt this connection like, “Wow, I do kinda look like him and move like him.” And then I started reading about his life. I had this fire lit in me that this needs to be a story and it needs to be a musical. He became famous as a tough guy, playing mostly gangsters, but inside he was a song and dance man.
How do you approach the role of Cagney? What is it like playing a real person?
Cagney won an Oscar for playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, which was a bio pic. And he said, “I don’t believe in imitation, because then you can only do what they did. You take their essence and then you play it for real.” So I take Cagney’s advice on how to play a biographical character. When he danced, he moved his hands in certain iconic ways. He always sort of had his index finger pointed out, and he was very forward and up on his toes a bit. I do bring that element to it, but I just sort of let that wash over me and then play it as me.
What was it like working with Joshua Bergasse on the choreography?
He did the choreography starting with our second production, so he’s been with us since 2010. He really uses the strengths of his dancers—he doesn’t just dictate every single step. And we had to pepper in the iconic Cagney moves throughout. The people who are real fans of Cagney would be unsatisfied if we didn’t have some of that in the show.
Creighton and Jeremy Benton. PC Carol Rosegg
Where does your love for tap come from?
My parents loved old movies, so I was really into Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. My neighbors used to keep a hat and cane out, and I’d go over after church on Sunday and make up dance routines for them. I never really had any formal training growing up, although I danced a lot. When I moved to New York, I went nuts on tap dancing. I was in acting school, but on the side I would take tap class all the time. Then when I finished school, I would go to probably four or five classes a week. That’s when I really advanced to a different level.
Do you have a favorite dance number in the show?
I really love the tap duet with Jeremy Benton, who plays Bob Hope. Two-thirds of it we do a capella, so it’s just pure sound. And Jeremy is an amazing tap dancer—it’s like playing tennis with someone who’s better than you; it elevates your game. We literally sound like one person while we’re dancing and it brings me such joy to go for that perfection every time. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.
When the curtain comes down on a Broadway musical, what happens to its choreography? That's the question Broadway dancer and choreographer Lee Theodore sought to address when she launched American Dance Machine in 1978. Her goal was to create a “living archive" of musical theater choreography, so that great works—and the techniques behind them—would be preserved. The original organization folded after Theodore's death in 1987, but in 2012, Nikki Feirt Atkins revived it as American Dance Machine for the 21st Century. The current incarnation seeks to continue Theodore's vision and educate younger generations on musical theater history. In the years since, ADM21 has staged several well-received shows at New York's Joyce Theater, and gained increasing recognition.
When Diane Grumet, co-artistic/managing director of Steps on Broadway, approached Atkins about teaming up, she jumped at the opportunity. Through the new partnership, which began in September, ADM21 is in residency at Steps, offering repertory classes and a Ballet for Broadway class for intermediate and advanced dancers. “If we're going to reconstruct work and preserve it, we need to teach it to today's dancers and choreographers so they can experience it," Atkins says. “It's so important for dancers to have that history, even if they're doing new work."
A rotating faculty of dancers, choreographers and directors—many of whom have staged work for ADM21's performances—teach the repertory class, which begins with the original ADM warm-up created by Theodore. The program launched with Donna McKechnie teaching “Tick-Tock" from Company, originally choreographed on her by Michael Bennett. Others, like choreographer Warren Carlyle, have taught historic works by luminaries such as Carol Haney, Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. Ballet for Broadway is taught by former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet principal Robert La Fosse, who was Tony-nominated for his role in Jerome Robbins' Broadway and has staged Robbins works for ADM21.
The courses are generally geared towards pre-professional dancers, and the repertory classes are required for Steps' conservatory program students. “I think it's creating a great sense of community," Grumet says. “It's important to have working artists working with students, developing them, mentoring them." She hopes it will also lead to networking and hiring opportunities.
Talks of expanding the offerings are already in the works, and Atkins has a long list of artists she'd like to bring in, including choreographers from some of Broadway's more recent productions, like Andy Blankenbuehler, Joshua Bergasse and Josh Prince. Lorin Latarro is already on board. ADM21 is expanding in other ways, too—a possible Broadway production of their Joyce show is in the early stages of development, targeting a fall 2017 opening.
In the meantime, the partnership with Steps is opening new doors for both organizations—but it's also, in some ways, a reunion. When Steps opened its studios at 74th Street 32 years ago, founder and artistic director Carol Paumgarten still remembers who taught the very first class: Lee Theodore. “I feel as if it's gone full circle," she says.
Women's colleges foster female leadership and empowerment.
On the surface, the offerings at women's colleges are similar to those of other small liberal arts colleges. But Lynn Garafola, co-chair of the dance department at Barnard College, notes the intimate settings are tailored to meet the specific needs of women. These dance departments view the field from a female perspective, and help students thrive as leaders. “They get a heightened awareness of women's place in the universe," says Garafola. Jordan Wanderer, a rising senior at Mills College majoring in dance and biology, says she's found that students become more empowered: “We are not afraid to speak our minds and to stand up for ourselves." That approach can change how dancers see themselves in the studio and beyond. “As women, we're socialized to be small," says Paris Williams, a rising junior dance major and social justice minor at Hollins University. “I've learned how to take up space and be okay with that."
At a Glance
Jordan Wanderer, a rising senior at Mills, and Paris Williams, a rising junior at Hollins, share their experiences.
The All-Woman Environment
Jordan Wanderer: “As dancers, we are empowered to claim space and understand the power of our weight. It's a welcoming environment rooted in unapologetic exploration."
Paris Williams: “There's a different intimacy. It allows me to really focus on what I want, and practicing that mind-set is preparing me for when I am in a bigger place."
A Typical Day
JW: Technique class; lunch; rehearsal; dance theory or composition classes; science lecture or lab; rehearsals for student work.
PW: Dance class; a gender and women's studies class or sociology class; rehearsal; weekly RA meeting; dinner; repertory class; possible rehearsal.
JW: “We work very closely with the coed grad students. We are always taking classes with men and potentially dancing in each other's work. Contact improv or partnering of any kind is gender-fluid."
PW: “Our graduate program is coed—some grad students are here year-round, and there are a lot of male dancers here in the summer."
JW: Wanderer is an ambassador for the undergraduate dancers at Mills, acting as a resource for prospective students and answering questions about the department.
PW: Williams is the external chair for the Hollins Repertory Dance Company, and is earning a leadership certificate through the school's Batten Leadership Institute. “It's a way for us to navigate and redefine what leadership means. With pretty much any situation, you can think of yourself as a leader, big or small."
Dance History Connection
Lynn Garafola, co-chair of the dance department at Barnard College, points out the close connection between some women's colleges and the early development of modern dance. Schools like Mills and Bennington (now coed) were among the first places to establish modern dance programs and give women professional training in the form. Today, the schools' dance departments cover a wider variety of genres, but she finds that these roots have made them good places for women to explore choreographing. “Composition has historically been a very important part of a modern dance program," she says. “I think this is one of the reasons why women's colleges prepare students to take part as performers but also to create their own work."
Women's Colleges Offering Dance Degrees
Agnes Scott College
New York, NY
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, PA
Cedar Crest College
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, MA
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar, VA
Picture a group of dancers who can do it all. Place them in an unlikely musical about America's first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton—think city streets pulsing with revolution, battlefields and ballrooms, political intrigue and scandal—and watch them go. In one moment, their hands look almost Fosse-like; in another, they're soldiers in full battle regalia, all whirling physicality and sharp movements; in still another, they sweep across the floor in formal gowns, the style aptly reminiscent of an 18th-century courtship dance.
This is the world of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit Broadway musical, where cabinet meetings are rap battles, bullets are personified through movement and an ensemble of triple threats weaves seamlessly through it all, tracing and shaping our understanding of the action. Since it first exploded onto the off-Broadway scene with a sold-out run at New York's Public Theater, the show has taken the nation by storm. Big names—from Stephen Sondheim to Busta Rhymes to President Obama himself—have flocked to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in droves. The show has attracted a following from people all over the country, many of whom never would have thought of attending a theater performance otherwise. Those who can't get their hands on a highly coveted ticket experience it through watching the free #Ham4Ham shows the cast puts on outside the theater during lottery drawings, listening to the Grammy-winning soundtrack on repeat and following the cast on Twitter.
Dance has made waves in a fair number of musicals recently, from Christopher Wheeldon's balletic An American in Paris to Joshua Bergasse's fresh take on On the Town. Choreography often thrives in revivals or more traditional shows. But Hamilton—and its movement—feels different: It's at the forefront of something game-changing, and truly of-the-moment.
This isn't the first time dance has been integral to a landmark show. Agnes de Mille's dream ballet for Oklahoma! in 1943, often considered the first major instance of dance moving the plot forward in a musical, revealed the inner workings of the main character's psyche. Jerome Robbins, in shows like West Side Story, made the movement an essential tool for understanding who the characters were. In Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line, which pulled back the curtain on show business, dance—and the struggles of dancers trying to make it on Broadway—was the story. And in the same way that Hamilton, which is sung-through, feels saturated with words, it's also chock-full of movement. Like an engine that propels the action forward, the ensemble moves almost nonstop through the nearly three-hour show, embodying the emotional arc of the plot and staying in constant dialogue with the music.
Emmy Raver-Lampman, Seth Stewart and Carleigh Bettiol
“Hamilton ends up being sort of like a ballet in many respects," says choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler of movement's weight in the show. The choreography, though, is a mash-up of styles, incorporating everything from jazz to hip hop to swing to jitterbug. To Blankenbuehler, each movement onstage is a piece of choreography—even those as simple as a person standing still on a turntable as it rotates them around. And every one of those moments furthers the story in some way, placing a huge responsibility on the dancers. “We're all greatly involved in giving the experience its detail," says ensemble member and Hamilton understudy Jon Rua. “We're translating it. We become a medium for you to take in what's going on."
Blankenbuehler's process was about finding the right way to build movement from the show's action. “I think there's a challenge to throw away the idea of steps, because steps are based on an idea that has already happened," he says. “Hamilton was really from the ground up brand-new." There are recognizable shapes sprinkled throughout: turns, kicks, isolations. But as quickly as you think you've noticed a specific step, it's blended with something else. He emphasizes that the score allowed him to make the movement feel so fresh and contemporary—and to draw from so many rhythmically driven styles. The music, which tells much of Hamilton's story through rap, also incorporates elements of jazz, British pop and classic Broadway show tunes, and references a melting pot of artists, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to The Notorious B.I.G. “Just the fact that I'm imitating Lin's music makes the imitation really current," Blankenbuehler says. “Lin doesn't write stagnant music. Even when he writes a slow song, it moves."
But what's making Hamilton resonate with so many people? After all, hip hop has been brought to Broadway before with mixed success—including by Blankenbuehler and Miranda, who worked together on the Tony-winning In the Heights and the shorter-lived Bring It On: The Musical. With Hamilton, it's the way hip hop makes this particular world recognizable, and speaks to our current moment in history. And it's the visual, in addition to the music, that lets audiences see a story they can relate to. “Social dance reflects how people are feeling at the time," Blankenbuehler says. “Hip hop gives a sense of expression to humongous groups of people who are struggling with social injustices." By using hip hop, the show filters the action through a lens that feels directly relevant to the anxieties our own culture is facing. “Our history is repeating itself," Blankenbuehler says. “We have things that are important to fight for. We are demanding for our voice to be heard—that's happening more than ever."
Sasha Hutchings, Voltaire Wade-Green and Ariana DeBose
By making contemporary movement essential to such an influential musical, Hamilton may also help give it a definitive place on the Broadway stage. Along with inspiring future artists, which it's sure to do, Blankenbuehler points out that the show has helped people to “believe that real stories can be told in new ways. Important stories can be told through dance, important stories can be told through rap." If a new generation of theatergoers grows up with this in mind, the revolution is really just beginning.
Student choreographers and musicians get collaborative.
You might think only professional dancers and choreographers get to perform with a full orchestra, or commission scores for their compositions. But some college programs offer opportunities to work directly with music students, giving dance majors a chance to learn from artists outside their department. “We are moving into an era where the lines between disciplines are blurred,” says Cathy Young, director of the dance division at The Boston Conservatory. “Learning how to collaborate is an invaluable experience in preparing for success as a 21st-century artist.”
A doctoral student from the Jacobs School of Music accompanies IU dancers. Photo Jeremy Hogan, Courtesy IU.
Degrees offered: BFA and minor in dance through the department of theater, drama and contemporary dance
No. of majors: 50–60 total
Collaborative coursework: In a required course called Choreographic Projects, dancers work with artists in various departments, including composers from the Jacobs School of Music. Student musicians also accompany many dance concerts and musicals on campus, and are often involved in the annual concert produced by senior dance majors.
Music for dancers: All majors take music theory, and some study voice.
Additional opportunities: Each year, a group of student composers and dancers spend eight months collaborating on short original works, which they present at a local theater. A student-run dance group and choreography lab also offers chances to work with musicians on independent projects.
Degree offered: Three-year BFA in dance
No. of majors: 15–20 total
Collaborative coursework: Each year, Stephens choreographers collaborate with composers from University of Missouri’s Mizzou New Music Initiative to create original works. The process culminates in a student-produced performance accompanied by the New Music Initiative orchestra. This is the capstone project for the dance major.
Music for dancers: Dancers are required to earn three credits in music through music theory, piano or voice lessons, or music history.
Additional opportunities: Stephens recently expanded its interdisciplinary offerings by introducing a dance-for-camera course during the summer.
TBC dancers in Francesca Harper’s Maladjusted Pride. Photo by Jim Coleman, Courtesy TBC.
The Boston Conservatory
Degree offered: BFA in contemporary dance performance
No. of majors: 130 total
Collaborative coursework: In the school’s Junior Composition course (required for majors who choose the composition-and-improvisation emphasis), student choreographers create an original work with a composer from the music division or Berklee College of Music, which is merging with TBC. Many of the school’s dance performances are accompanied live by music division students—sometimes a full orchestra.
Music for dancers: Dance majors are required to take courses in Western music, time and rhythm, and voice. They can take additional music courses at Berklee.
Additional opportunities: Dance students have choreographed for music videos, participated in improv jams with music students and been part of the informal student-run performances that take place regularly at Berklee.
College programs dive into outreach.
Oberlin College Dance Diaspora students performing at a street fair. Photo by Adenike Sharpley, Courtesy Oberlin.
College is a time to explore not only your own dance journey, but how the form fits into the outside world. Through outreach programs, students venture off campus and bring dance to their local communities, while honing their skills in teaching and performing. “Interacting with students through Q&As gave us time to share and reflect on our experience at Hunter College,” says Kristina Dobosz, an alum who participated in the school’s lecture-demonstration program that works in New York City high schools. “The ‘real world’ and our dance lives in the department crossed.”
Degree offered: BA and minor in dance
No. of majors: 12–18 total
Outreach opps: Dance Diaspora, a by-audition group, explores African dance and culture. Oberlin also runs Girls and Boys in Motion, a mentorship program that partners with local schools and a Boys & Girls Club.
The details: Dance Diaspora students perform in community centers, churches, prisons and schools; lead youth summer camps in Cleveland and Oberlin; and travel internationally to work with performance groups in the communities they visit. Past destinations include Cuba, Puerto Rico and Nigeria. For Girls and Boys in Motion, Oberlin student mentors teach after-school movement-based workshops to elementary- and middle-school students.
Related coursework: Dance Diaspora students are encouraged to take jazz, blues, West African, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian dance. They also perform in two on-campus shows each year. Girls and Boys in Motion mentors take a course on community engagement through dance and a training course taught by student leaders.
Bryn Mawr, PA
Degree offered: BA and minor in dance
No. of majors: 2–4 per class
Outreach opps: Bryn Mawr has a Dance Outreach Project, open to all students, and offers a course on teaching the arts in educational and community settings.
The details: The ensemble performs an original work each year for over 1,000 students in Philadelphia schools. The performance connects to the schools’ curriculum, and is often used as a teaching tool. As part of the arts education course, students are placed in schools or communities where they assist and teach arts programs four to six hours per week.
Related coursework: In the Dance Outreach Project’s classroom component, students learn the history of arts education and education approaches.
A Hunter College lecture/demonstration. Photo by Maura Donohue, Courtesy Hunter.
New York, NY
Degree offered: BA and minor in dance
No. of majors: 50–60 total
Outreach opps: All dance majors are required to participate in Hunter’s lecture/demonstration program for one semester. It gives New York City high school students an idea of what it’s like to study dance in college, and teaches them about different dance forms.
The details: Hunter students visit six high schools over the course of the semester. They perform two student-choreographed works, plus ballet, hip-hop, West African and folk pieces choreographed by faculty members.
Related coursework: Students are required to take two levels of contemporary dance and one level of ballet technique before participating, and it’s recommended that they also take hip-hop and West African dance.