A College Performing Arts Degree is Worth More Than You Think

I could sit here and spout off a ton of statistics from society that tells the up and coming student that a performing arts degree from a four year college institution is not worth your time.  I could also tell you that you are going to fail at life if you don’t get a practical degree in a study such as business or economics.  Well, I am hear to tell you that society and those statistics are wrong.

I have a Bachelors degree in Dance (concentration in performance and choreography) from the College at Brockport in upstate New York.  Like all artistic eighteen year old dance majors I had big dreams of becoming a professional dancer.  As I took more classes and became more immersed in the program, I was introduced to my first composition (choreography) class.  I choreographed my first piece to ‘For Blue Skies’ by Strays Don’t Sleep.  My dancers had so much energy, passion, and really connected to the music.  It meant the world to me that my work had the possibility of representing the dance department in a showcase to my peers at the college.  For those of you not performing art majors – Usually in performing art college programs your work has to pass a professor board for each showcase or performance.   In my first review, my work was on probation to be put into the showcase because of the music I had chosen; music with lyrics were not looked at highly in dance works at my college.  I was asked to look into changing the music or getting rid of the music before the final round.  So, I sat in a studio for over four hours listening to every piece of music I had access to on campus.  After listening to everything I had, nothing gave the choreography the same feel.  I decided to go into my final round of judgement keeping the same music I originally chose, but expanded the beginning movement phrase without music.  As my piece came to a close, I was asked why I still kept the same music?  I told the board that the music was chosen after the piece was created and the music was the missing piece to the work; to take that out would create a hole.  Needless to say that answer got my piece into the showcase.

The process of this showcase taught me to be confident in the choices I make, and to stand up for what I believe in.  This has carried with me throughout my personal and professional life.  This process also taught me about collaboration and that your superiors are not always right.  As I was leaving the auditorium to go backstage, I was listening to the audience discuss the various dances.  This one group of students were discussing ‘For Blue Skies.’  Being the nosy person I am, I began to listen to their conversation.  The students were agreeing that ‘For Blue Skies’ was the only piece that they truly understood and they really connected to the music.  Like any nineteen-year-old, my head got a little big, and I thought to myself, “Take that professors!  I was right and you were wrong” and then I may have gone into a back hallway on my way backstage and did a celebratory running man.  Now that it is nine years later it wasn’t that I was right or that the professors were wrong about the choice of music or that the professors did or didn’t believe in the piece, but that art (performing or visual) is subjective.

So why do I think a college performing arts degree is worth anything?

  1. It teaches you about creativity.  Always forcing you to thinking outside the box and in multiple directions when you are making decisions.
  2. It teaches you about collaborations and team work with your peers as well as your superiors, and understanding that not every choice needs to be in agreement; sometimes compromises are a good thing.
  3. Confidence – In today’s society, I think that parents can be over-protective.  Not allowing your child to fail can become a detrimental mistake as they become adults.  Sometimes people need to fall to build up confidence, and the art world tears you down and rebuilds you one brick at a time.
  4. The three Ds (Discipline, Dedication, and Determination) – The performing arts doesn’t allow you to do anything half assed.  You need to have drive behind every step you take whether it is choreographing, performing, or taking class.  You need to be constantly giving 110% everyday.
  5. Always go with your gut – Not all feedback is good feedback, and sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

Have I convinced you yet that a college performing arts degree is worth anything?  If I have not yet let me leave you with this one other thought.  After I graduated from College at Brockport (Class of 2008), I had get a job at the worse time it could possibly be as a college graduate.  The market was taking a nose dive and people were losing their jobs left and right.  I took an internship in NYC for a short period of time and when I decided I wanted to move to Rochester, New York I applied to every job I could that related to dance.  I was hired at three dance studios as an instructors where I taught ballet and modern, as well as hired as the School Assistant to the Garth Fagan Dance School Director (Natalie Rogers-Cropper) at Garth Fagan Dance.  I may have been working four jobs, but it was in my field of study and led to many doors opening in the dance and performing art world; including becoming Assistant Company Manager of an internationally-known dance company by the time I was twenty-three years old.  Will your parents get weird looks and comments from people when they say that their kid is “dance major”? Absolutely, but you will gain so much more than just a piece of paper when you leave.



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