Deciding to enter a life of dance or musical theatre is no small undertaking. It takes stamina, mettle, and grit to make it as a professional dancer, regardless of whether you’ve decided to specialise in classical, commercial, or contemporary.
Dance and musical theatre are highly intensive courses so the first things you need to consider are: will they look after me? Do they take training and recovery seriously? And, most importantly, will I get a job when I graduate?
There are brilliant schools across the UK, and while most might be concentrated in London, there are excellent choices if you’d prefer not to spend three years in the capital. Dance schools and musical theatre conservatoires are extremely competitive and the industry is tough to get into, so feel confident casting your net wider to include different options. Focus on the schools that work best for you, but keep an open mind. You might go to a conservatoire only wanting to dance ballet, but leave realising you want to dance commercially. Dance and musical theatre school will push your boundaries and – if it’s the right place for you – inspire you to explore new avenues and ideas.
Not all dance and musical theatre schools are created equal. Some might push famous alumni at visiting prospective students, even though those alumni could have graduated decades ago. Be discerning: you’re the one who’ll be spending several years of your life at the school, so you want to make sure it’s perfect. Chat to industry professionals about their experiences and check out the modules. There’s no point going to the world’s best-known school if none of the classes appeal to you.
Before you apply, make sure you’re confident about which learning route you want to go down. Go to university to study the more theoretical side of dance, performance, or musical theatre. Or, choose a conservatoire if you want to physically train.
Wherever you choose to go, remember that you will make incredible friends who will, in turn, become an incredible support network, who may become crucial professional contacts.
There are plenty of diplomas and postgraduate courses available, but we’ve chosen to focus on three-year BA Hons Musical theatre courses. Here is our pick of the best.
ArtsEd offers a variety of musical theatre choices. Based in Chiswick, west London, students can choose to study a BA Hons degree in musical theatre, a full-time foundation course, or a part-time course. ArtsEd grads have danced across West End stages, performing in shows like Hamilton and Wicked. The three-year BA degree offers a minimum of 37 hours of contact time each week, so there’s no ignoring that this is an intense programme. ArtsEd’s focus is creating triple-threat performers – those who can sing, dance, and act. Dance classes covers everything that a West End stage requires from performers: jazz, ballroom, classical, tap, and ballet. Singing classes are delivered one-to-one, and ArtsEd also offers a series of professional workshops during the third year, where you get the chance to network and cultivate your knowledge of the industry, from meetings with casting directors to agents.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance is the world’s largest purpose-built dance studio, with three campuses across south east London. Their Faculty of Music is set in the World Heritage site of Old Royal Naval College in the imposing surroundings of 18th century Greenwich. The Faculty of Dance is situated in Creekside, Deptford, in the stunning Laban Building. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron – who also designed the Tate, if this or their 13 sprung-floor dance studios don’t inspire you to get your dancing shoes on and rise to the top of your game then nothing will. The third site is Laurie Grove in New Cross, home of their Musical Theatre Labs.
Unsurprisingly, Laban has multiple specialised courses, offering BA programmes in contemporary dance, dance science, and musical theatre. Students are encouraged to learn how to choreograph, reflect on dance in its social and historical context, and work towards developing a degree show – and the quality of these final-year degree shows is high enough for critics to come and review pieces like Legally Blond and Sweet Charity.
25 years ago, Mountview created a musical theatre course that’s still considered one of the best in the business. Just 38 places are available each year, and each student is guaranteed 36 hours of contact time a week.
The three-year degree programme is split equally between dancing, acting, and singing, and there’s a good balance between nurturing skills and performance. The first half of each term is spent developing skills, while the second is dedicated to honing performance technique. As with most musical theatre courses, the focus of Mountview’s third year is about showcasing your abilities to agents and casting directors.
Students have worked across Broadway and the West End, and credit Mountview for thorough training. The school is based in Peckham, south London, which means cheaper living costs than the central London schools, while remaining close enough to catch all the shows you need to keep up to date with the musical theatre scene.
The oldest conservatoire in the UK, the Royal Academy of Music has taught students since 1822. The academy offers a one-year intensive musical theatre degree, and it’s important to note that the programme functions more as a theatre company than a university, so you might already be well-versed in performing and have a good range of skills before auditioning.
Typical days are long, running from 9am to 7pm, and sometimes students are encouraged to work weekends too. Actors and singers are selected to form a troupe with complementary skills, which are then honed by experienced and well-trained staff. The composer of Miss Saigon and Les Misérables is currently a visiting professor, and students can be confident of receiving regular exposure to casting agents and directors. The Susie Sainsbury Theatre is a professional-grade theatre, which means students can feel reassured that they’re keeping pace with professional industry standards. Selection is fierce at the Royal Academy, so polish up your musical skills so they’re at their very highest before applying.
The Leeds-based Northern School of Contemporary Dance offers three-year BA Hons courses, certified by the University of Kent. Study here to become well-versed in the basics, but also learn to excel at contemporary movement. Students are taught how to teach dance too – which comes in handy when you want to future-proof your career – but you’re also encouraged to develop your skills in ballet and creative dance practices. Expect around 30 hours of study each week taught in airy, well-lit studios complete with mirrors, ballet barres, and full sprung dance floors.
The Riley Theatre, which is part of the school, is used by dance companies across the north. As well as practice spaces, there’s a bodywork studio (which specialises in pilates) and a top-of-the-range lighting studio for students to develop their knowledge of stagecraft.
If you want a central London dance school, look no further than LCDS. Offering one of the UK’s best BA Hons in contemporary dance, the school aims to develop motivated, creative graduates. This is a school that develops the whole, rather than just the technical, so students need to be able to not only take feedback, but also implement their own.
As well as daily classes in ballet and contemporary dance, complementary lessons in the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method are also taught. The dance classes are accompanied by live music, so students get used to the rhythms and features of dancing live, while ballet is taught to develop core strength and aid creativity, rather than simply to develop classical understanding.
Around 180 students study at LCDS, which, being located near Euston, makes it the perfect base to drink in as much London dance culture as you can.
Want to learn choreography, improvisation, and contemporary dance from some of the best in the business? Rambert Dance Company offers a BA Hons degree, as well as a shorter, two-year BA foundation degree. The Rambert School is known for producing exceptional and expressive dancers, and classes seek to embody this, working closely with students.
As well as performing in the school’s own theatre space, students are encouraged to think critically about dance. Each student carries out an independent research project alongside their physical dance training and choreography. Performing is a crucial part of any dance programme, which is why Rambert places so much emphasis on this element of training.
Students get the opportunity to perform to the public every term, bolstering confidence and helping to develop a love of live performance.
Lovers of classical dance assemble! This is where you come to hone your pliés and practice your pas de deux. Teaching at the Central School of Ballet is carried out by some of the world’s most renowned performers, and the programme is more varied than just ballet. Students will be taught ballet, contemporary dance, jazz dance, choreography, drama, music, singing, and contextual studies too. Assessment isn’t just based on a final end-of-term showcase either, but continuous in-class observations.
Many dancers tour with their Ballet Central company, making it easier to segue into a job upon graduation. Qualifications are validated by the University of Kent, and lessons include intensive workshops conducted by visiting dancers, as well as video screenings for students to perfect their technique. In 2016, Central established the Student Associates Programme with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Company, which created yet another avenue for students to explore performance opportunities with.
Offering a three-year BA in Musical Theatre and a diploma in Musical Theatre, Italia Conti feeds some of the best students to some of the best stages. Students are taught to be triple threats, and the focus is very much on preparing students to become leading figures across the stage and screen. Italia Conti is one of the most recognised names in Musical Theatre training, and students receive rigorous training.
You’re encouraged to be bold and creative, coached in scene study, improvisations, stage combat, and audition techniques. Dance is thoroughly covered – you’re taught ballet, tap, jazz, and commercial. Singing is taken seriously, with students learning how to sing into a microphone, acting through song, and audition singing. Courses are verified through the University of East London, and the central London location, just a stone’s throw from the Barbican, makes it a perfect base for absorbing as many shows as possible during your time at the school.
There are 20 studios for acting, singing, and dancing, and all the dance studios are airy, with comfortable sprung-floors to ensure best dance practice.
A renowned acting academy, Central’s musical theatre course is renowned. There’s more of a focus on speech and drama than dancing, but the quality of dance and singing tuition at Central means the school produces aggressive triple threats who go on to dominate UK and US stages.
The course offers extensive engagement with professionals and external performance opportunities during the three-year course, from which you’ll qualify as an actor, equally adept at Shakespeare and Sondheim. It equips actors with everything they need, including learning how to act through song, practising American scenes, and tragedy. Based in London’s Swiss Cottage, the facilities are great and the school is in easy reach of some of the best theatres in the country.
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