At the beginning of each new school year, we here at OnStage Blog like to announce what we feel are the best performing arts for the coming year. For those of you wondering how we select these schools, it starts in the previous spring.
Starting in April, we tasked a committee of just over 20 people to research these programs. They consisted of theatre educators, students, alumni, and parents. We wanted people who knew how to evaluate a performing arts program and what questions to ask. This is what we feel separates us from every other college ranking article, these folks know what’s important in theatre education.
This year we based our criteria on a number of factors including Cost vs. Scholarships, Quality of Facilities, Performance/Production Opportunities, and Post-Graduate Support. We also asked questions about the diversity of students as well as the faculty.
Each year, we also like to include a new category that factor into our rankings - on/off-campus safety. We feel this is a factor that is often not made a priority. So in addition to cold-calling the schools, we also took a look at their Clery Reports and asked questions about how proactive these schools are when it comes to safety.
This year we also decided not to rank the schools 1-30. When looking at the scores, often these schools were separated by one to two points. So rather, this year we’re simply naming who we feel are the best, in no particular order.
We must also preface this by saying that while these are some great schools to start your search with, ultimately the best college theatre program out there is the one you feel most confident and comfortable attending.
Let’s kick off our rankings with Dance. We feel that college dance programs are at a crossroads right now. With the amount of dance content on TV and streaming networks, job opportunity, casting changes and plus the popularization of more obscure styles of dance, there has never been a better time to get your degree in dance.
Thankfully, a number of colleges in this country offer outstanding and innovative dance programs for prospective students. Here are 30 that we feel are the best. We also wanted to celebrate the students in these programs, so we’re including videos of some of their performances and highlights.
Oklahoma City University - Oklahoma City, OK
Why we love it: The dance performance degree is focused on developing employable dancers for the entertainment industry. The program focuses on tap, jazz, theatre dance and ballet as used in musical theatre. Dancers develop technical and professional skills necessary to have life-long careers in show business. Oklahoma City University offers ten levels of instruction in each technique of tap, jazz, and ballet. Every semester students rotate through four to five teachers in each technique to expose students to multiple styles of instruction and choreography.
NYU Tisch School of the Arts - New York, NY
Why we love it: Courses include “Production Crew in Dance” which offers working knowledge of lighting and sound equipment, stage management, crew work, programming, publicity, house management, wardrobe, multi-camera live production, and other technical requirements for dance production. All students, whether graduate or undergraduate, are required to participate each semester in production crew.
Point Park University - Pittsburgh, PA
Why we love it: The BFA Dance program offers concentrations in ballet, jazz or modern. Esteemed faculty include Judith Leifer-Bentz, a former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company and Jay Kirk, who has danced professionally with the Americana Dance Theatre, Dallas Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Chicago Ballet.
Butler University - Indianapolis, IN
Why we love it: Numerous performing and choreographic opportunities, including three fully produced, full-scale dance performances each year, including two full-length classical ballets performed to live orchestra in the stunning 2,200-seat Clowes Memorial Hall and one mixed repertory evening which includes the opportunity to perform contemporary, modern, and important works by major choreographers in the 450-seat Schrott Center for the Arts.
University of Houston - Houston, TX
Why we love it: Each fall, students gain hands-on experience in all aspects of production from lighting and stage management to costuming, at the annual student produced Emerging Choreographers Showcase. For the annual spring showcase, students work with professional choreographers and dance artists. Each year, students also have the chance to show choreography at the American College Dance Festival.
The Juilliard School - New York, NY
Why we love it: Coursework includes “Alexander Technique”, a method of improving the dancer’s technique from plies and extensions to jumps, leaps, and turns through concentration on movement habits. Emphasizes the efficient use of the neck, head, and torso relationship, thereby providing a stress-reducing process that can be used during class performance and rest.
University of South Florida - Tampa, FL
Why we love it: The Dance Program at the University of South Florida offers one of the most exciting study abroad opportunities available to university-age dance majors through its two USF Dance in Paris Programs. Both the Semester and Summer courses of study are one-of-a-kind opportunities for serious dancers to take classes, see performances, live in and experience one of the world’s greatest cities from the point of view of a dancer. Students are also given the opportunity to travel and perform abroad in countries such as Mexico, Tunisia and Italy through the international research members of the DanceUSF Faculty.
University of Memphis - Memphis, TN
Why we love it: UM recently introduced a brand new concentration in Dance Science. The Dance Science curriculum includes courses drawn from the B. S. in Health Studies, concentration in Exercise, Sport and Movement Sciences and the B.F.A. in Theatre, concentration in Dance. The scientific study includes anatomical kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, nutrition, and psychology. The dance study includes training in dance techniques, improvisation, composition, somatics, and performance.
University of Utah - Salt Lake City, UT
Why we love it: The School of Dance is housed in the beautiful Marriott Center for Dance, which features six large studios (one of which may be converted into a black box theater), classrooms, Pilates facility, and a 330-seat theater used for student and faculty productions including the Performing Dance Company.
Valdosta State University - Valdosta, GA
Why we love it: Pro-conn involves bringing theatre and dance professionals to campus to deliver to students workshops, master classes, and advice. Pro-Conn organizes a professional showcase at the end of each academic year. The professional showcase brings regional hirers to campus to respond to the work of the upperclassmen who audition or present their portfolios.
Pace University - New York, NY
Why we love it: The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Commercial Dance in the Pace School of Performing Arts is the only one of its kind in New York City offering comprehensive dance training that bridges the gap between classical dance technique and the professional world of commercial dance. The Commercial Dance major blends the highest quality of dance and theater training preparing students for diverse careers on stage, television, film, and the entertainment industry.
Cornish College of the Arts - Seattle, WA
Why we love it: Through the Accelerated Degree Program, select students can complete their BFA in Dance in three years with some summer study. Technically proficient dancers with a strong academic record in high school are invited to apply to the ADP at any time following their department audition and up to the end of the first week of their first semester.
University of Texas - Austin, TX
Why we love it: Incoming students are encouraged to join Dance Action, the student dance company, where opportunities to choreograph are available every semester through their concerts. The biennial event, the Cohen New Works Festival, also provides many opportunities.
Duke University - Durham, NC
Why we love it: Independent Study courses are designed to explore a subject or facet of a subject that has been introduced in other courses. In other words, students must have some preparation for the topic of the Independent study course. In the past, students have pursued Independent Studies topics in Asian Dance and Theater, aspects of the history and theory of modern dance and ballet, community engagement and other topics.
Temple University - Philadelphia, PA
Why we love it: The Institute of Dance Scholarship aims to foster and enrich dance research for the students and faculty of Temple University through engagement with scholars, artists and dance professionals working in the field. Through a range of public events, guest seminars and collaborative research projects, it engenders a critical network for dance studies.
Elon University - Elon, NC
Why we love it: The dance program produces two mainstage dance concerts each year featuring the Elon Dance Company, a student dance company. Dancing in the Black Box is held in the fall semester and features experimental faculty and student choreography. The spring dance concert centers around a specific theme chosen by the director and highlights faculty and guest artist choreography.
USC - Los Angeles, CA
Why we love it: During Maymesters, USC Kaufman students travel abroad at the end of their spring semester. These 3-4 week courses allow students to explore and immerse themselves in the world around them. In May 2020, USC Kaufman will offer its first Berlin Maymester. Previous Maymesters have included the Paris Maymester, which was offered for three years, and the Los Angeles Maymester.
SUNY Purchase College - Purchase. NY
Why we love it: Their Gunner Birkerts-designed Dance Building is the first facility in the United States to be constructed solely for the study and performance of dance.Ten fully equipped studios, a state-of-the-art Pilates room, saunas, and the 256-seat black box Dance Theatre Lab provide students with space, light, and inspiration. Major dance performances take place in the PepsiCo Theatre at the Performing Arts Center.
The Ohio State University - Columbus, OH
Why we love it: Students are offered a solid foundation during their first two years of study in the following curricular areas: movement practice, performance, choreography, dance description and notation, pedagogy, history, production and technology. Expanding upon this foundation, students are afforded the opportunity to focus on individual areas of interest supported by mentoring and interaction with faculty.
Southern Methodist University - Dallas, TX
Why we love it: Faculty include Brandi Coleman, who has performed nationally and internationally with Jump Rhythm, received an Emmy® Award for her performance in the PBS documentary Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There and performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a part of the JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance performance.
Montclair State University - Montclair, NJ
Why we love it: Montclair State boasts exceptional performance facilities with impressive technical specifications. Students perform in three well-equipped theaters, including the state-of-the-art Alexander Kasser Theater; the 946-seat Memorial Auditorium, and their Black Box Theatre. The Dance Division also has primary use of four rehearsal studios – one of which boasts a view of the NYC skyline.
UNC School of the Arts - Winston-Salem, NC
Why we love it: Performance opportunities are numerous, with concerts throughout the year, many of which feature student choreography. Recent repertory choices feature a strong mix of the classic and cutting edge, with pieces by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, José Limón, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris.
University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ
Why we love it: The University of Arizona dance students enjoy a direct conduit to their on campus Sports Medicine team. This includes daily, on-site access to services in the dance athletic training room by a licensed athletic trainer who specializes in dance-related care and injury prevention. During athletic training visits dancers receive evaluation and treatment of any musculoskeletal concerns that arise. Visits may include soft tissue work, tailored exercises for the rehabilitation of their specific injury, and dance-specific taping and modalities as needed. Pre-performance treatments are also available to dancers.
CalArts - Valencia, CA
Why we love it: The School's performance calendar includes over 40 performance opportunities featuring esteemed repertory and work by guest artists, faculty, and students each year. These concerts include the Open House Dance Concert, the BFA II Solo Dance Concert, the Winter Dance Concert, Intermission, the MFA Thesis concerts, the Spring Dance Concert, performances in Los Angeles art spaces, and more.
Indiana University - Bloomington, IN
Why we love it: Movement Exchange provides an avenue for students to participate in an inclusive international dance exchange that fosters and promotes dance diplomacy/activism, cross-cultural understanding, social justice, youth empowerment, and community-building through the fusion of movement and service. MoveEx regularly travels to Panama and works with youth organizations in Bloomington.
Towson University - Towson, MD
Why we love it: The Dance Company's fall and spring performances showcases new works by Towson University faculty and renowned guest artists, such as Mark Taylor, Alonzo King, Larry Keigwin, Troy Powell, David Parsons, Mark Dendy and Gus Solomons.
Barnard College- New York, NY
Why we love it: The USF/Barnard Dance in Paris program provides students with an immersive dance experience from technical, choreographic, performance, historical and cultural perspectives in one of the world's greatest cities for dance.
Chapman University - Orange, CA
Why we love it: Chapman has one of the few university dance programs that offers equal numbers of courses in ballet, modern, and jazz dance along with tap, hip-hop, ballroom, yoga, and conditioning.
Brenau University - Gainseville, GA
Why we love it: Breakin’ - Emerging Choreographers Concert is an evening of creative ideas from dance majors exploring freely their choreographic voices. The concert will showcase works and works-in-progress from students and faculty.
Hofstra University - Hempstead, NY
Why we love it: Their Dance Education program is designed to prepare prospective dance teachers to be highly skilled and creative dancers and choreographers, as well as scholarly, reflective educators, able to meet the varied needs of students of all grades.