For dance students with dreams of pursuing their art form professionally, the high school years are a crucial time of preparation. Whether they go to dance camps over the summer or attend competitive dance high schools, many students use this time to take important steps to prepare for higher levels of dance. You may be wondering if you’ve outgrown your local dance studio, or whether you want to continue juggling a hectic schedule that requires you to commute back and forth between your school and your studio. If you’re looking for other options, here are five reasons why you should consider attending a boarding school for dance.
The top reason to join a dance boarding high school is the rigor of training you’ll receive. The best dance boarding schools have programs specially designed for students who are interested in dancing in college and/or professionally. The boarding school difference is evident in the caliber of the material you learn, the faculty who work with you, and the fellow students who become your peers.
“My local company was somewhat intense, but I definitely felt that I could be pushed more and I could be challenged more,” says Maxwell Pfluger, a junior at Interlochen Arts Academy majoring in Dance. “I wanted to go to a place that could meet my needs.”
Lindy Sloan, a freshman studying dance at Interlochen, explains another major difference: the opportunity to work with dancers at higher levels.
“Because it's such a small program, we're with the other levels a lot,” she says. “Most studios are very separated by age and level. But frequently, we have company class, in which we're dancing alongside seniors. I think that's really pushed me, and the training is a lot harder because of that. They expect everyone to be dancing on a pre-professional level.”
As you look into boarding schools with dance programs, see what you can find out about the faculty at each school. Where did they train? What competitions have they judged? After all, your instructors are the ones who will be mainly responsible for shaping you as a dancer. Well-regarded boarding schools hire faculty with experiences and connections from around the globe. Their expertise will help set you up for success.
At Interlochen Arts Academy, Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey draws from years of experience that took him from the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, Germany to the Hong Kong Ballet. Sloan described how his background has impacted her training:
“With Joseph, it's really nice because he's had so much experience in professional dance,” she says. “He has insane connections. He's always saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I danced there. I danced this role, I've done this.’ And he's friends with all these people that are principals at the biggest ballet companies in the world or top judges at competitions. It's crazy!”
Pfluger says he appreciates the chance to get an international perspective from his instructors, including Jurijs Safonovs, who hails from Latvia, and Rachel James, who is Canadian.
“Rachel James, one of our dance instructors, is originally from Canada and trained at the National Ballet School of Canada. There’s such a different type of style than here in America or anywhere else. Learning from those different aspects of our teachers and the different knowledge they have from their past teachers is really cool,” he says.
Support from academic teachers
Dance schedules are undeniably rigorous. Especially when it comes time to perform, a dancer’s life may go into upheaval, with classes and rehearsals almost around the clock. That’s when attending a dance boarding school can be a major advantage. At a boarding school for dance, academic instructors know that their students have commitments to their art form and are likely to be more accommodating to their needs.
“I have lots of support from my academic teachers,” says Pfluger. “I can go into office hours and see them whenever I want. With the dance major, we’re putting on shows, and we have rigorous techniques and rigorous performance, but our teachers understand that if we communicate with them about what we need.”
“They really get that you're here to do your art form and school, but sometimes you need to prioritize your opportunities to perform,” Sloan adds. “They can be very considerate with all the academics.”
While instructors are understanding, they’ll also challenge you to excel. College matriculation statistics at many boarding schools show that students receive an excellent academic foundation that grants them access to top colleges and universities, from Columbia University to the Juilliard School and more. You might think you have to choose between college-prep academics and professional dance training, but at a dance boarding school, you don’t.
A block schedule for academic and dance classes
“One of the biggest benefits of studying at Interlochen is that you get a dedicated school block in the morning,” says Pfluger.
Before coming to Interlochen, Pfluger used to attend a full day of academic classes, then immediately transition into five or six hours of dance classes at a local company. For him, the block schedule at Interlochen Arts Academy was a much more reasonable option.
“If you're still at a home studio, it's like going to a high school and having a full-time job because you're training constantly. It's a lot,” he says. “Being at a boarding school just makes it a lot easier for you, because instructors understand the balance of it. They know you need an education but you also need a dance education. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed at home, I think this is a really great option.”
A plethora of renowned guest artists
It’s not just the faculty that set the best dance high schools apart. At a high-level dance boarding school, you’ll also have several opportunities to learn from renowned guest artists. Recent Dance guest artists at Interlochen Arts Academy include Kenya Clay, Janet Eilber, Alexei Moskalenko, and Yoshito Sakuraba. These artists bring with them a variety of styles and perspectives that can be incredibly valuable to young dancers.
“During the first semester, we had a guest artist almost every week,” says Sloan. “We've taken ballroom classes, salsa classes, different techniques of modern and classical ballet—things that you can't get everywhere.”
Pfluger agrees, adding that he’s also enjoyed classes in hip-hop. “I think just learning from different aspects of all dance can help you with ballet, modern, or anything else, just with
understanding your body better and hearing different types of music.”
In conclusion, a dance boarding high school might be the right fit for you if you’re looking for professional training or the chance to work with top faculty and guest artists. In addition, it can be a huge benefit to have a more balanced schedule than you would at a typical school, allowing you to enjoy your high school experience even while you pursue your artistic gifts.
“Attending a dance boarding school might mean it’s time to leave your home studio and move across the country, but if you are serious about pursuing dance beyond high school, it is without a doubt your best option,” says Joseph Morrissey.
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