For many high school students, college is the first step toward a professional dance career—and whether you’re planning to concentrate on modern or ballet, it’s vital to choose a program tailored to your particular goals. Below is an introduction to the top college dance programs across the United States, from the Juilliard School to Florida State University and all that jazz in between.
To find a dance program that’s the right fit, start by considering whether you’re more interested in getting a B.A. or BFA. Then, take these factors into account:
Skill-building: It’s a good idea to research the genres and techniques each school specializes in—you don’t want to end up steeped in a tap dance program if your dream has always been ballet. Consider whether a program’s philosophy meshes well with yours. You should also look into the number of technique classes students take per week, the hours you’re expected to train, and the average school-life balance.
Performance opportunities: Look into whether the program offers opportunities for student choreography, dance showcases for graduating seniors, and job placement assistance.
Post-college prep: Research whether the school has any graduate programs and its history of placing graduates with top studios, companies, and theaters.
Notable alumni: If the dance school has highly recognizable performers on its alumni list, it’s likely it’s doing something right.
Based on these criteria, we compiled a list of the best college dance programs in the U.S. Each program is analyzed based on three categories: which techniques and skills it teaches, how many opportunities students have to perform, and how well it prepares students to dance professionally after graduation. Here are 10 colleges every young dancer should have on their radar.
1. The Ailey School/Fordham University
- Skill-building: What’s unique about this BFA program is it’s a partnership between the Ailey School and Fordham University, offering students the opportunity to enroll full-time at both schools and take dance technique and creative classes. Students are trained daily in ballet and modern dance (Horton and Graham techniques). Other courses include somatic classes, improvisation, dance composition, modern partnering, jazz, hip-hop, and West African dance. The Ailey School also offers on-site physical therapy and a dance video and research library.
- Performance opportunities: Students dance in two fall shows and at a spring benefit concert. Seniors can also dance in New York City-area venues with the Ailey Fordham Student Dancers, a touring repertory ensemble—and with BFA director approval, students may dance with local professional dance companies.
- Post-college prep: The program’s combination of “professional dance training and a rigorous liberal arts education” means that students graduate prepared to start their careers in the industry or outside of it.
- Notable alumni: Taeler Cyrus, Jaclyn Scerbak, Alia Kache
2. University of Arizona
- Skill-building: The University of Arizona’s dance program is structured on a “triple track” curriculum, with equal emphasis on ballet, modern, and jazz. Tap, African dance, choreography, and improvisation classes are also available. Students can choose to focus on one or two areas during their junior and senior years. As for studio work, the ensemble has performed the work of Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and George Balanchine. Students have the opportunity to earn another degree alongside their BFA in dance—in the past, degrees have ranged from business to mechanical engineering.
- Performance opportunities: The school of dance has a full performance season, running from September through May and featuring more than 40 performances per year. Unique performance opportunities include international engagements in Italy, Germany, and Mexico; national performances at the Joyce Theatre in NYC and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; and local performances with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.
- Post-college prep: Guest artists visit campus every year to set choreography or teach class to give dancers a better idea of their career goals. Rehearsals always operate in a professional setting, and students also learn career preparation, how to work with musicians, and technical production skills.
- Notable alumni: Alex McBride, Mindy Moeller, Ashley Lafferty
3. Boston Conservatory at Berklee
- Skill-building: Boston Conservatory focuses its curriculum on commercial and contemporary dance, but students are also exposed to areas like jazz dance, hip-hop, pointe, improvisation, African dance, musical theater dance, and swing dance. The BFA program partners with the Royal Academy of Dance and the Radio City Rockettes to provide its students with precision training.
- Performance opportunities: The annual dance season is made up of four fully produced mainstage shows. These shows include a mix of guest artists’ original works and choreography, choreography by senior dance majors, choreography by sophomore and junior dance majors, masterworks, and guest artist choreography for freshmen.
- Post-college prep: The school hosts guest artists–in–residency and provides students with networking opportunities. Seniors can take a yearlong seminar that discusses how to transition into the industry after graduation. Boston Conservatory is also offering a new creative entrepreneurship minor in partnership with Berklee, which aims to prepare students for their professional life.
- Notable alumni: Ebony Williams, Kurt Douglas, Jessie Jeanne Stinnett
4. Florida State University
- Skill-building: The dance BFA program at FSU allows students to explore performance and choreography, as well as pedagogy, history, and aesthetic. Other courses include music and choreography, composition, movement analysis, and production. Potential students should note that before advancing to the next level of any studio technique, dancers must demonstrate a certain level of progress or retake the course. The school also offers dancers a study abroad program in Paris, featuring master classes and courses in dance history.
- Performance opportunities: Every year, the school of dance produces the Days of Dance and Evening of Dance concert series on its main stage, as well as a selection of master thesis projects. The school hosts smaller performances in its black box studio.
- Post-college prep: Dance at FSU offers multiple opportunities for students to be exposed to the industry, including a semester in New York City featuring classes, performances, and internship opportunities at the likes of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, and the Merce Cunningham Trust. At the school’s main campus, students attend regular dance forums—including lectures by industry professionals—throughout their undergraduate careers.
- Notable alumni: Lela Aisha Jones, Yeman Brown, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
5. The Juilliard School
- Skill-building: One of the most renowned colleges for dance, Juilliard’s BFA program has students study four years of ballet technique (courses include pointe and classical partnering), various modern techniques (including Graham, Limón, and Cunningham), contact improvisation, repertory, and contemporary partnering, as well as jazz, tap, and hip-hop. Freshmen are also offered one-on-one sessions in Alexander Technique.
- Performance opportunities: About 30 annual performances are produced by Juilliard’s dance division, including a New Dances series showcasing each class of students in a new work created for them by a choreographer. Dancers perform in established works during the spring Juilliard Dances Repertory series, and the annual Choreographers and Composers concert features a collaboration between six student choreographers and student composers. Each year’s senior production spotlights works by senior choreographers.
- Post-college prep: Graduating seniors take a yearlong seminar about the industry, including advice for professional auditions and objective self-evaluation. In their senior production course, students learn how to plan, budget, and present a full production.
- Notable alumni: Robert Battle, Paul Taylor, Sylvia Waters
6. New York University
- Skill-building: Students hit the ground running in NYU’s BFA training program, which centers on a three-year and two-summer curriculum. First-year courses focus on learning to dance healthily and efficiently with technique classes on placement and alignment. Second-year classes emphasize dance history, acting, improvisation, and music literature. And third-year training incorporates technical knowledge into choreography and staged performance.
- Performance opportunities: Major dance works are choreographed annually by faculty and guest choreographers. Students have the opportunity to perform work from their composition classes in studio theater concerts, as well as repertory classes and performance workshops. Dance majors in their final year perform as ensemble members in performances by four guest choreographers who create new work or stage masterworks. Seniors can also showcase their own choreography in concerts throughout the year.
- Post-college prep: Many NYU faculty members are currently working in the industry. Students also learn from and network with professional dancers through the Second Avenue Dance Company during their senior year.
- Notable alumni: Kyle Abraham, Denis Jones, Nando Morland
7. University of North Carolina School of the Arts
- Skill-building: UNCSA School of Dance students can graduate with a BFA degree in either classical ballet or contemporary dance, though they can train in both concentrations. Other classes for dance majors focus on technique, composition, improvisation, somatic practices, choreography, music, dance history, pedagogy, business, and production.
- Performance opportunities: The school puts on four major performance series annually: the fall, winter, and spring dances, and “The Nutcracker.” Standalone, fully produced student choreography shows include Emerging Choreographers, Pluck Project, and Spree; UNCSA also hosts repertory class workshop performances three times a year.
- Post-college prep: Dance majors are required to enroll in a business perspectives class that takes them through résumé writing, networking, video reels, money management, contracts, and other real-world industry skills.
- Notable alumni: Camille A. Brown, Juel D. Lane, Kevin Tate
8. Oklahoma City University
- Skill-building: OCU’s four degree tracks allow students to earn a bachelor of performing arts or bachelor of science in dance performance, dance management, American dance teacher pedagogy, or the entertainment business. For performance majors, the school hones in on musical theater and commercial dance, offering styles including lyrical, contemporary, classical, and hip-hop. Extensive tap courses are also offered, as well as ballet, jazz, pointe, and partnering.
- Performance opportunities: Dancers can audition for the Star Dance Company, the school’s holiday show, a Broadway-style revue in the spring, opera productions, musicals, and other on-campus dance companies.
- Post-college prep: Students receive training in basic theatrical management, production, choreography, and teaching skills. In addition, they learn about employer expectations, legal issues in the entertainment industry, auditioning, and career preparation.
- Notable alumni: Sasha Hutchings, Kim Faure, Kristin Richardson
9. Point Park University
- Skill-building: Point Park in Pittsburgh offers a conservatory-style BFA program that requires students to take classes in all disciplines of dance, including classical ballet, modern techniques, and jazz. Courses in tap, kinesiology, dance history, and nutrition for dancers are also available. Students can choose a ballet, modern, or jazz concentration, and they receive both middle- and end-of-term evaluations from faculty members.
- Performance opportunities: Each year, Point Park invites between eight and 10 guest artists to create or re-stage a work for students to perform. The school’s production season also includes pieces ranging from the masterworks of George Balanchine and Martha Graham to the work of choreographers like Stefanie Batten Bland and Dwight Rhoden. The school has a relationship with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and other local dance companies.
- Post-college prep: Point Park’s capstone course, “Entrepreneurship and the Arts,” teaches dancers about the business of the profession, from marketing and networking to grant writing. Each dance major also has a dance adviser to offer input on training and career advice.
- Notable alumni: Rob Ashford, Cheryl Mann, Luke Murphy
10. University of Utah
- Skill-building: University of Utah dance majors focus on either ballet or modern dance. Students are enrolled in daily technique classes, while also training in areas like composition, kinesiology, dance history, philosophy, criticism, theater, and video production.
- Performance opportunities: Majors can perform or showcase their choreography in an average of five fully produced performances per year. Depending on a student’s modern or ballet focus, there are a host of performance opportunities available. The school hosts two seasons of dance shows per year, plus multiple ensembles and showcases. Its many dance organizations, including the Queer Dance Initiative and the Modern Dance Student Concert Committee, also provide performance opportunities for students.
- Post-college prep: The school invites guest artists like Calvin Kitten, Jeremy Blanton, and Roni Mahler to teach master classes on campus and network with its students.
- Notable alumni: Bart Robinson Cook, Victoria Morgan, Jiang Qi
Honorable Mention: Pace University
- Skill-building: At Pace, dance students undergo conservatory-style training alongside a liberal arts education. The school offers ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, tap, theater dance, aerial arts, choreography, and more. One unique highlight? Students travel to Los Angeles to study on-camera dance and choreography with L.A.-based professionals, culminating in a local showcase to introduce them to industry players on the West Coast.
- Performance opportunities: Pace hosts two annual mainstage performances, as well as choreography showcases to round out the year. Students can also perform in student-produced or directed shows on campus.
- Post-college prep: Pace aims to connect students to the dance industry on both the East and West Coasts through the school’s central location and its L.A. program. Seniors take seminar classes and perform in a senior showcase—and 10% of the Rockettes are Pace alumni.
- Notable alumni: Spencer Clark, Brianna Pavon, Zelig Williams
Check out Backstage’s dance audition listings!
*A previous version of this article stated that Nora Chipaumire is an alumnus of Florida State University’s School of Dance. Chipaumire was actually an artist-in-residence but never attended as a student.