Advice About Dance Training

Many of you have advised kids planning to audition for MT programs to be taking dance as early and often as possible, especially ballet. I would love to hear some specific advice about dance training for kids who didn’t get serious about dance until high school.

The challenges for teens in getting more dance training seem to be 1) fitting it into a crowded schedule already filled with homework, theater, voice lessons, and other ECs; and 2) finding classes where the less accomplished teen dancer feels comfortable. Intermediate ballet classes at youth studios are often filled with 11 year-olds whose primary EC is dance, and the classes are often focused on recitals, have strict dress codes, etc. Also, the youth classes typically require a full semester commitment, which does not work well with the sporadic nature of theater productions. Meanwhile, adult classes can be done on a drop-in basis but are sometimes more focused on exercise or are filled with former dance majors and professional dancers. And some boys may not feel comfortable in any dance classes…

I think it would be helpful to the parents of middle school and early high school age MT kids who are starting to surface here in this forum to hear about what approach to dance training has worked for MT kids who were not serious lifelong dancers. What types of dance, for how many days and hours per week, in what type of a studio, etc.? Also, would you recommend private dance lessons instead of, or in addition to, classes? And how much improvement can one realistically expect by the time of college auditions?

Thanks to all who have shared so much information and advice. This forum is truly the best source of information anywhere about applying to college MT programs.

If you’re talking specifically about ballet, find a school that focuses only on that. Most of them have two tracks–pre-professional training, which is basically 6 days a week, many hours a day (usually admitted to this track by audition), and a less involved track that is usually 2 days a week for about 3 hours each. I would not put my kid into ballet training at a regular dance school–the risk and incidence of injury is too high. A school of ballet will not focus on a “recital,” but instead will put on seasonal shows that the public can attend. Dance of all forms needs regular, long term participation to progress. If your child can’t commit to a semester, she/he probably won’t progress very much. I guess an alternative would be to take classes somewhere that would teach a specific kind of dance step, for instance, a tango class that lasts 6 weeks, some place the equivalent of an Arthur Murray studio, the YMCA, other community places, or something like that. Your kid will learn a few steps and also partnering that might be useful when cast in a play, even if they can’t put the time in to gain good form in something as intense as ballet.

We were able to arrange weekly private ballet lessons with a local studio… The teacher was new to the area & looking to establish a student base. She’s a BFA dance from Vanderbilt & danced with the Nashville ballet. Anyway, in a 1hr lesson, S worked on technique, terminology, movements & combinations. It was great prep for auditions and he didn’t have to join a class full of 10 year old girls.

Good questions! As a child, my DD never committed to dance because she was insecure around the competitive dance kids and had no interest in the programs that ended with a recital. She did the occasional drop in class and private lesson to prepare for auditions. This worked for her through high school and even her agent said that consistent dance training WAS NOT necessary, that her acting and singing ability would be enough. Fast forward to her college years. She was accepted into her BFA program for her acting and singing. She is very behind in technical dance skills and is never considered for dance roles in her program or professionally. We have to accept she will always be an actress/singer who moves and that definitely reduces her casting opportunities. In hindsight, I should have pushed her to dance more, much more, but she was pretty adamant that it wasn’t necessary and her agent agreeing with her did not help my case.

If I had to do it all over again (and these are my daughter’s feelings as well - we’ve talked at length about it) she would’ve never quit dance at all.

But realistically, at the minimum I think if she would’ve had 6 months to a year of weekly classes, it would’ve helped tremendously.

And I would’ve done private lessons. Being in a class with tots wouldn’t have been ideal nor would’ve being in a class with kids her age as they would’ve been light years ahead of her in skill set.

There are some great summer dance intensives for both high schoolers and college students that would be terrific for an intense improvement in your dance. It still won’t be the same as someone who has trained in dance for years, but it will definitely help you moving forward. Some suggestions include:
Boston Conservatory Musical Theater Dance Intensive
Goodspeed Musicals Musical Theatre Dance Intensive
Joffrey Ballet Musical Theater Summer Intensive
Alvin Ailey 2 week Dance experience
IU high school summer dance intensive
Broadway Dance Center Junior Training Program

I’m sure there are many more, maybe even at your local university or ballet school.

There are also a number of college students who do the summer semester at Broadway Dance Center to get even more dance than what their college program may provide, especially if they feel that’s an area in which they need the most improvement. Not necessary certainly but for those needing more dance it is a productive way to spend the summer although there is a cost to all of these programs. Sometimes attending an intensive could give them a jump start for whatever dance training you can squeeze in during the school year.

I didn’t really jump on the dance train until high school (just took hip-hop before that and some jazz in summers) but as soon as I started ballet I improved so much. I did end up in class with some younger kids, and I was nervous because frankly I don’t have a dancer body, but I roped a friend into taking the same class as me which helped a lot. I also have taken jazz, lyrical and tap. I definitely think jazz is necessary but I didn’t have to tap in any dance calls. The important thing is to be able to pick up choreography and look alive. I take 3-5 classes a week and I wish I could have done more but I have a job and I can’t drive myself places.

In Chicago we have Lou Conte dance studio, connected with Hubbard Street Dance Company. They have walk-in classes all day long, weekends too. Basic, beginning, mid-level, advanced for all styles of dance. Ballet, jazz, MT, tap, modern, contemporary and it’s for adults. High school is ok too. $15 per class, or less if you pre-purchase a package.

I’ll echo the advice to find a ballet school. It seems that most general dance school either concentrate on competition or on recitals or both. Many just teach a dance instead of teaching HOW to dance.

Most ballet schools will have what they call a recreational track. At dd’s former ballet school, the rec ballet classes were filled with musical theater kids. Attendance would go up and down based on who was doing what show and it was particularly light during the spring musical season for the local high schools! Both of the ballet schools in our area also offer jazz and tap classes. There’s also a small one room school that does not have a rec class but welcomes everyone (multiple levels in a single class including adults) and even they have a jazz class or two each week.

I am actually a ballet mom whose kid is not transitioning into the musical theater world. Achieving good technique in dance is a slow process. Start as soon as possible and know that there is no such thing as too much ballet! Jazz and musical theater classes are fabulous, but ballet is the backbone of it all. Start early and often. Look into summer programs if there is nothing available for the school year.

I totally agree with@tendumom. You can’t fake technique, and it starts with ballet!

@elsacc - Our daughter was in this situation, she started dance as a sophomore (except for the 1 ballet class as pre-K). We didn’t see adult options near us so she went to a studio for kids. Teacher gave her private lessons for about a semester to get her jumpstarted, but she was in classes with younger kids. Pretty funny seeing her stand over a foot taller than the other kids! She wasn’t thrilled to be in classes with younger kids and would have preferred to be with her own age, but wasn’t an option for ballet and jazz. Later was able to also take a MT class which was HS age (no singing, just dancing to MT music). She kept taking ballet & jazz though.

She took classes throughout the school year and over the summer. It did get difficult with theatre. In fact we had her skip performing in the school show early one semester to have time to build up dance skills (but she still did costume crew, so was still busy).

It’s all a matter of the goals you set for yourself and how much you want to accomplish those goals. Nothing worthwhile comes easily!

I had a huge wake-up call about dance at this very same time last year! I was always a gymnast and a cheerleader with minimal to no dance training and I decided last spring I wanted to do MT for a living but was severely behind on flexibility, dance training and technique. I was always a singer and actor first.

I was able to start an open tap class at a studio (with all adult moms while their kids were in studio classes) haha kinda funny being the only teen, but I was committed! I was able to get through a tap call for a community theater show a month later, without looking like a complete fool, but I still needed more training and didn’t get the role. Until you’re completely confident with your steps and the way your body moves it’s hard to bring everyhing you have to a character at a dance call.

I realized just then how important dance was in musical theater, and did a summer intensive at the equity theater in my city. They offered jazz, ballet, tap, modern, MT and hip hop Monday-Thursday 6-10 every day from June-August for beginners-advanced. I cannot stress how much this helped me. The repetition of making myself go everyday was so necessary and the conditioning prepared me for ballet technique. (I would soon need for the following semester)

As soon as this school year started I enrolled in Ballet, Jazz, and Modern dance for credit. Now I get to dance 6 classes a week everyday 2 hours everyday and my flexibility has grown to the level of the company dancers at my school! I am able to pick up combinations with them in class and finally feel like I belong. And just this time last year, I could barely fake a tap combination.

I would say stretching outside of classes is one of the most important things to keep yourself ready for dance calls and toned. Ballet is the most important class, and jazz and MT are the best classes for the brain to learn choreo and basic jazz technique that is thrown into most dance calls I experienced for college auditions. (Pirouettes, battements, Pas De Bourrees, leaps, glissade)

Even if you’re as behind as I was, there is so much hope! Because since all of this training, I was cast in 2 regional shows as an ensemble dancer. Which is something I NEVER thought would be possible. And I suppose it can only improve from here.

I think dance class is necessary everyday for an MT major! :slight_smile:

@destiny95 Your post is very inspiring!

I don’t see a way to edit my post. So many typos including the one where I said dd is not transitioning into the musical theater world! LOL! That is precisely what my dancer is doing! While many MT kids are catching up in dance, she is busy catching up in singing. Just started voice lessons 2 months ago!

@tendumom It’s hard to fit it all in! Best wishes to your D in making the MT transition!

What a great post @destiny95 !

Thanks! Everyone has a different path. I just thought I would share mine if anyone else is going through something similar.

Dance is very, very important and the earlier you can start the better. I agree with the idea of private or semi-private if you can afford it. I have seen just this year that it made an enormous difference with two girls that I know. Both are amazing singers and actors but one is a much better dancer than the other and she had many more options. I think with so many people in MT now dance can really make the difference.

Lots of great advice posted here. If a formal ballet studio is not an option, try looking for a serious contemporary dance studio (like Hubbard Street mentioned earlier) - they often have a more diverse student population in ability, age and body type.

For the older boys out there who don’t want to look like a “goofball” - suck it up. S started dance at age 11/12 - with 6-y-o girls in pink (and sorry guys, dance belts really ARE a must). He got over it. For guys, lack of flexibility is often a huge obstacle. It took a few years before S had even moderate extension and flexibility. He also had - and as a college freshman continues to have - difficulty learning dance combinations (this can be associated with dyslexia and other learning issues). Don’t feel that you are “stupid”, you just might have to work harder than others - and maybe review/practice combinations in your basement every day (ask the teacher if you can record it on your phone/ipod). If you KNOW this is an issue for you, getting as much dance as possible, as early as possible is a must. It may take years just to be able to “remember” the terminology, and after MANY classes certain standard combinations will start to make sense. Being able to understand the “words”, and to also recognize common step combinations will be a huge plus at dance calls.

I’m going to have to agree with an earlier poster, that if you want to see a benefit, you’ll have to stick with it. Missing a class or two during a show’s tech week or performance run is one thing, but putting dance low on the priority list of skills to be learned and perpetually leaving it on the back burner will be of little benefit. After S’s first year of Saturday-only classes, he used a summer intensive to get a huge boost in technique - and he was then able to take classes with girls that were only a couple years younger than him.

Also for boys, if the studio does not offer a boys’ class, ask if they are willing to form one. Sometimes they are willing to put together a class for just 3 - 4 boys, when they would not do the same for girls, just so they can say “we have a boys class”. The range of abilities may be larger in such a class, but boys often feel more comfortable with their “own kind”, surrounded by black and white, rather than all that pink.

And for everyone, if you can, get into some kind of partnering class. Whether a formal ballet male/female partnering class, or a ballroom type class, boys need to learn how to touch/support girls and girls need to learn how to trust them. Believe it or not, it takes awhile for that to look and feel natural - like “dancing”, not following an instruction manual. And it should look like you WANT to be together and you’re having fun. It takes a lot of awkwardness and mistakes before that starts to be “dancing” together - even if you’re only part of a “background couple” in Sound of Music. It’s a bit disappointing to see Prince Charming do all the correct steps, but not quite look like he’s falling in love with the girl in his arms (yes, I’ve seen this at a professional level). And imagine the fun you can have at dance parties, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings if you know how to dance with a partner. . .

And boys, get thee to a gym. You will need the upper body strength. And you’ll look good in a tank top. Wouldn’t hurt the girls either.

One other thought: A few years ago, S was able to converse with a well-known NYC casting director. He said that after the “implosion” of theater a few years back - say around the time Newsies was being mounted - there was a huge glut of talent. For the casting of B’way shows he was involved in, he was able to do a dance call first. Then of all the dancers called back, he was able to hire the best singers/actors for the show. This may not be the way it works for larger speaking/singing rolls, but his advice for breaking into ensemble work was to be as good a dancer as possible. Maybe this is not true anymore, maybe other casting directors do it differently, and maybe it’s valid only for “dance-heavy” shows. Just a thought to pass along.