What is a Dance Degree?

Degrees in dance prepare dancers to work in various aspects of the dance world, from performance to choreography to teaching. Degree programs may focus on a specific genre – like ballet, jazz, contemporary, dramatic, or folk – or they may take a more general approach. Programs exist at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels.

At the undergraduate level, the core curriculum generally covers these subjects:

  • Dance History
  • Dance Style or Styles
  • Basics of Choreography
  • Rhythm
  • Dance Kinesiology – the science of human movement as it relates to dance
  • Dance Improvisation

Program Options

Associate Degree in Dance - Two Year Duration
Programs at the associate level teach students the history, theory, technique, art, and styles of dance. They combine this dance coursework with classes in general education (English, math, history, biology, etc.). One of the objectives of these two-year programs is to prepare students to meet admission requirements for bachelor’s programs.

Bachelor’s Degree in Dance - Four year Duration
The Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance is a degree program that exposes students to all facets of dance: theory, production, performance, composition, and theater. This four year curriculum provides students with opportunities to perform in school ensembles and to participate in classes with dance artists, instructors, and choreographers.

Master’s Degree in Dance - Two Year Duration
Classes in Master of Fine Arts programs in dance tend to be smaller and quite individualized. In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree, applicants must submit a professional portfolio and sometimes audition for entry into the program. These graduate programs cover dance movement analysis and dance teaching methods. They routinely invite accomplished guest artists to conduct master classes or to direct student ensemble performances. Dance thesis projects must include a piece choreographed and performed by the student.

Degrees Similar to Dance

In some cases, significant choreography coursework is integrated into dance degree programs. In others, the choreography degree stands alone, and usually at the master’s degree level. Depending on the program, choreography curricula can be centred upon one single form of dance or may cover many forms.

Acting is another one of the performing arts that is, of course, closely aligned to dance. It is not uncommon, in fact, for students to study both disciplines, either via a double major or a major/minor combination.

Theatre Arts
A degree in theatre arts certainly has a connection to dance, which is a form of dramatic expression. While dance is a very specific performing art form, a theatre arts degree program offers a more general study that can be applied to performing in or producing both live theater and film.

Music, musical theater, and dance are inextricably intertwined. This degree field, therefore, presents another option to students drawn to the performing arts. Depending on the level of degree, programs in this discipline may include courses in music theory, composition, and performance; as well as production techniques and methods and the business of music.

Dance Movement Therapy
As its name implies, this master’s level degree program teaches students how to use dance to treat physical, psychological, and emotional impairments. This course of study is well-suited to individuals wanting to combine their love of dance with an interest in health and healing.

Physical Therapy / Occupational Therapy / Kinesiology
Students who are interested in possibly earning a degree in dance movement therapy, could also potentially consider these health-related degrees concerned with human movement and strength.

Skills You’ll Learn

In addition to the specialist knowledge in dance history, forms, choreography, and the performing arts in general, completing a degree in dance leaves students with skills that are transferrable to numerous kinds of work:

Original Thinking and Expression
Dance is an ever-evolving art, so those who survive the demands of earning a degree in the field learn to become original thinkers, who are endlessly creative and able to express themselves in innovative ways.

Self-Discipline / Focus
Dedication is one of the hallmark qualities of successful dancers. Early on in their studies, students learn that self-discipline and focus, and rehearsal after rehearsal are a way of life in the dance world.

It is through keen observation skills that dance students come to understand that unwavering attention to detail of movement is vital to both performing and creating dance pieces.

It has been said that in a dance ensemble, no one looks good unless everyone looks good. Teamwork and collaboration, therefore, are key.

Resilience and Perseverance
Anyone who succeeds in any aspect of the performing arts does so, at least in part, because they learned to be comfortable with scrutiny and criticism. Students of dance naturally develop a thick skin – a resilience that allows them to learn from critiques and move forward.

Dedicated dancers and students of dance learn about flexibility, coordination, and rhythm.

What Can You Do with a Dance Degree?

First and foremost, of course, earning a dance degree can lead to a career in dancing, in presenting your craft on stage to live audiences. In some cases, especially in the early part of their performing careers, dancers supplement their income by working in some of the other sectors listed below.

Choreography / Direction
Dancers on the stage rely on choreographers and directors behind it. Dance knowledge gained in a degree program can be applied to these roles, which are key to creating artistic performances that connect with and move audiences.

Teaching in the dance field is one of the most common choices for students who earn a degree in dance. Opportunities are generally quite numerous, with potential positions at dance schools, vocational schools, and community centers; as well as with private clients.

Administration / Marketing
Those who work in dance administration and marketing are the people who keep dance alive, both on international stages and in community settings. They run dance companies, organize shows and show tours, create marketing campaigns, and manage the many details that these responsibilities entail. These administrative occupations, of course, are not exclusive to the field of dance. They exist in all of the arts, with theaters, museums, community centers, and foundations.

The fitness sector has quite a bit in common with dance. Both are concerned with how the human body moves and becomes stronger and more flexible. Career possibilities include personal training, group fitness instruction, and yoga and Pilates instruction.

Media / Photography
Dance journalism, dance filmmaking, and dance photography/videography are among the major fields that make up this sector.

Lighting / Costume Design
A dance degree can also lay the foundation for a career in these two sectors. Dancers and dance degree holders understand the impact of costuming and lighting on dance performances.

While a dance degree provides some foundation for these healthcare occupations, they require further training that is specific to the field. Additionally, in many cases, they call for a master’s level degree. Options in this sector include physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, and dance movement therapy.


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