Everyone knows that yes, ballet is hard. There have been enough movies, TV shows, and campaign ads showing that ballet is accepted as a highly athletic form of art. And there are plenty of articles, similar to this one, explaining what it's "really like" to be a dancer. These articles are usually created for the general public to raise awareness about ballet, and are quite dishonest about the real negatives. The general message is "It's so fun! It's hard work but always so worth it. I just love it so much! I couldn't live without it." This is not one of those articles.
I am almost a graduate of one of the top ballet college programs in the country, and let me tell you, a majority of the time it's not fun, it's disgustingly hard work, and usually not worth it. There have been plenty of days that I've wanted to quit, but the college dance experience has made me a better person and a better dancer than I ever could've imagined. I'm here to tell it like it actually is, for high schoolers thinking about pursuing college dance, for other college students who think we're a bullshit major, or for anyone who really wants to know what being a college dance major is really like, without all the fluff and sugar and pink tutus and happiness covering up all the negatives.
1. It's exhausting
This might be obvious, but I don't think you really understand how exhausting I mean it is. You're required to take at least five dance courses each semester, two to three dance-related academics (such as Dance History, Music for Dancers, etc) on top of core classes required by your university, and any other classes you choose to take for other majors or minors. On top of your academic requirements, you have rehearsals, which can go from 3pm-10pm. You also have cross-training, homework, a job, and an attempt at a regular college social life. You become very good at multitasking and knowing what kind of coffee you like when you're a college dance major.
2. It ain't cheap
Depending on what kind of a program you want, it could bring you to a whole different part of the country than the one you're currently living in. Many of the top college dance programs are also part of private schools, meaning tuition is already more expensive than usual. Also, scholarships are rare in the dance world; typically, they are only given out to those who have a penis, so if you don't got one of those, you're SOL. On top of books, pointe shoes, a meal plan, groceries, and anything else you might need, you should start selling your organs now.
3. It's disciplining
Like I mentioned before, you have a very tight schedule and very little free time. You have to learn to adapt to this new life style and what works best for you. For example, I learned that I have to wake up a few hours early in the morning to prepare myself for the day, pack my meals for the day, and get in my first work out session. I know exactly what and how to eat so I feel full without feeling bloated, and what to stay away from to keep off extra weight. I know how to stay away from binge-drinking and crappy foods while still having a fun college experience. I know how to sit and make myself do work for a few hours while icing my feet and doing laundry at the same time. And those who enter this world without this discipline slowly weed out, leaving behind some of the most dedicated, passionate, hardworking and independent people I've had the pleasure of spending four years with. Being a college dance major definitely helps you to get your shit and your life together in ways other college students could never achieve.
4. It's unfair
Life is pretty unfair. But when you're a dancer, especially in college, it's even more unfair. College dance programs are caught between two worlds: the studious academic world, and the professional world. In the student world, everyone should be treated fairly, taught things when they need help, and given a chance to prove themselves. In the professional world, no one cares about any of that, and a majority of the time people are picked for roles or to be favorites without any real reason or explanation. College dance tries to be like both, and usually fails or takes the worst parts of each experience. You think you'll get a good role because you're a senior, you've worked your ass off, you've improved a million times over, and you know you can do it, but you don't get it. You have nothing to show for four years of training because you never get casted in anything worth showcasing. You see other people who rise to the top and have the same issues you have but never work on them. And, on top of that, you're paying $50,000 a year and there's nothing you can do about it.
5. It's nothing like the professional world
One of he biggest problems of dance programs is it's not at all like the world of professional dance. Like I mentioned before, college dance tries to be both like a school and like a company, and typically fails miserably in both categories. Not only that, a college dance schedule is nothing like the experience of being in a company. Company dancers are on their feet 8 hours a day dancing in rehearsals for numerous roles and numerous shows. Because college dance majors only have so much room in their schedules for dance classes, this experience is lost. You have to divide your focus in the college world, but in the profession you do not. And no one in the profession is going to give you a leading role just because you're graduating early. No one cares.
6. It's very easily discouraging
Most college dance professors are not actual professors or have any sort of professional teaching degree; they're typically ex-dancers themselves. They know what the real world of dance is like out there, therefore they behave like artistic directors and ballet masters or mistresses would behave instead of as teachers. These behaviors in a learning environment can usually be confusing and even detrimental to the learning process, and it's easy to think "Oh, she hates me" or "He doesn't think I'm good enough." A hierarchy is quickly put into place that first and second semester of freshman year, and it's very difficult to move up that hierarchy in the faculty's minds. It's very common to see the same people placed in leading roles, the same people getting the best grades, and the same people receiving positive feedback. On top of that, if you're at the bottom of the hierarchy they let you know it. They call you out and embarrass you in front of the class, they tell you you're not good enough or your body is "bad" and they cast you in garbage roles a child could be performing. I've never felt more discouraged in my dancing in my life, and I've never hated my body or the way I dance before. It's very easy to get frustrated at the little things and have those little things build up over four years.
7. It provides you with multiple opportunities
Considering you chose to go to university, I'm assuming you're trying to receive a higher education. And being a dance major can give you a million opportunities in this field. Most dance majors offer different kinds of related dance majors, such as choreography, pedagogy, or arts business. There are also many other majors and minors you could easily add to you dance degree. As I mentioned before, being a dance major makes you very disciplined, and once you've figured out what you need and want to do, there's nothing stopping you from adding more and more responsibilities to your plate. Being a dance major means you know you can handle it.
8. It usually doesn't make any sense
How exactly did I get a 'B' in character class? Why is it that I got over 100 percent on all my Dance History papers but C's on all my tests? How did they decide to give a non-classical role to only seniors, while underclassmen have two classical roles? If I only get positive feedback, why is it not showing in my grades and casting? Why is it that she shows up to every class late and still drunk from last night yet she gets such better casting than me? How exactly can you be graded in dance; are you being graded on your progress or are you being compared to others in the room? These are all still questions I have about being a college dance major, and I've been one for over three years.
9. It's usually looked down upon by professionals
As I mentioned before, the dance world has been transitioning from going directly into a company to getting a degree in dance first. And many companies have adapted to this style and prefer more mature dancers with an academic experience in the field. However a majority of the dance world is still not accepting of dance college as a serious stop on your journey to becoming a professional dancer. For one thing, as I said, the schedule and physical demands of company life are not at all comparable to dance in college, and company directors worry about the physicality of these dancers. Dancers who audition out of college are also much older than dancers who audition right after high school, and unfortunately dance is a profession that is generally young.
There is also an unfortunate stigma that college dancers aren't "built correctly" or "lack in technique" because of the extra training they sought after. And most companies today will never hire someone on the spot; they make you do what is called a "traineeship" or an "apprenticeship" for a year or two at their company, which is basically slave labor without pay. To have to work alongside 18 year-olds performing the bottom roles and not getting paid to do so after four years of college really, really sucks.
10. It's the best decision I've ever made in my life
I know, I know. "You just spent this whole time complaining about how much college dance sucks!" It's true, college dance does suck. It knocks you down and beats you up and leaves you there to bleed on the sidewalk. But when I began thinking about my future in high school, I never could imagine myself auditioning for a ballet company. I did not feel that at 18 I was mature or skilled enough to stand in a room full of dancers and sell myself to get hired at a company. I also am very studious, and never saw a future without obtaining a degree higher than a high school diploma. I wanted a route where I could put my major focus on ballet and improving my skills and technique, with the opportunities to expand my horizons and add other career training in different fields.
Looking back over these almost four years has made me realize that I made the best deacon for my future I could've possibly made, and I am ecstatic to begin in a new place with everything being a dance major has taught me. If you want an experience where you get to behave and perform like a dancer, but be more well-rounded, becoming a college dance major is definitely for you.