For aspiring dancers and performance artists, Los Angeles offers a wide range of choices. When it comes to selecting the right dance education for you, curriculum, dance style, faculty, financial status, location, and required experience should all be factors in your decision.
“I don’t need my students to come in as elite-level dancers ready to be professionals,” says Patrick Damon Rago, director of the dance program at Loyola Marymount University. “I keep telling kids that if you’re ready to be a professional at 18, go do it! We have a limited shelf life as dancers, so if you’re at the level where you can go get work, get work and come back to college later.”
But for students who want to refine their skills before hitting the work force, LMU is a holistic experience combining physical training, personal reflection, and “thoughtful, critical analysis of aesthetic, scientific, historic, cultural, and pedagogical issues as they relate to dance and movement studies” to strengthen students until they’re strong enough to withstand not only training but the professional dance world after graduation.
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“When I interview students I ask questions that help glean, first and foremost, their work ethic, their ability to soldier on through adversity,” says Rago. “There’s a lot of disappointment in the arts and there are a lot of struggles—that’s not going to change and it’s actually going to get more competitive, more rigorous.”
For the director, mental strength, a quality support system at home, community-mindedness, and professionalism are some of the keys to success at the changing school. Rago says the university is currently revitalizing its program to include more comprehensive jazz courses to complement the robust ballet and modern dance curriculum.
Complementary techniques also dominate the dance program curriculum at California State University at Long Beach. “At Cal State we’re kind of a meeting ground between modern dance and ballet,” says Lorin Johnson, associate professor and a former undergraduate advisor at the university. “It’s a contemporary dance program but we don’t have an emphasis within the program, so all of our students study ballet and modern dance, and the goal is to find this intersection that we call contemporary dance.”
CSULB offers B.A., BFA, MFA, option in dance science, and minor degrees. “Every dance department is a little different based on the faculty,” says Johnson. “I’d say check us out very carefully to make sure we’re a good fit. We offer a lot of different pathways for students; I think that’s the strength of our program.”
An added strength to Cal State’s dance opportunities? The “crown jewel” dance facility, which has seven studios, a costume shop, and a theater that span a total of 90,000 square feet, according to Johnson.
Whether you attend CSULB or not, Johnson’s advice rings true: Make sure your chosen dance school is a good fit. Perhaps a conservatory setting isn’t the type of training you’re looking for. If there’s a desire to be more of a commercial dancer, a studio like Millennium Dance Complex would be a good place to study. “If a dancer’s interested in going on tour with Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears, then we’re probably the place to come to as far as choreographers that either teach, choreograph, or dance for those artists,” says Millennium Co-CEO Robert Baker. “So if you’re more commercial, TV, or film, we’re the studio for you.”
The studio is not audition-based, offers drop-in classes, and teaches everything from hip-hop, jazz, ballet, and tap to dancehall, yoga, locking, and “breakin’.” Millennium also offers vocal training in the studio’s seven rehearsal spaces at four locations.
Like dance, teaching is all about style, so do your research. You want to find a place where you know you’re backed up by experience, professionalism, and a passion to teach.
Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.