Transitioning from studio life as an extracurricular activity in high school to making dance your soul purpose in college means more than just a change of surroundings. Dance as an activity means hard work, yes, but majoring in the arts means performing to earn a grade that can make or break your academic standing.

I never set out to be a studio owner, in fact once I finished school, my heart was set on moving to New York to perform and then serve on the administrative side of dance once I was finished with the stage. I attended the University of Iowa and majored in dance, minored in Spanish, and (urged by the wisdom of my mother) obtained a Certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship.

Most people that choose to major in dance typically get another degree simultaneously. Once you finish your general education requirements, your work load is less about homework and more about time commitment and sheer exhaustion. If you are starting college in the fall and declaring dance as your major, here are a couple of tips before you step into the classroom.

1. Double Major

Yes, this means double and sometimes triple the amount of work, but many universities that offer dance as a major also offer degrees like dance education, therapy, choreography, and business entrepreneurship.

2. Be Mindful of Dress Code

I transitioned from a studio that had a strict dress code to an environment that encouraged students to express themselves in whatever dancewear we preferred. Be flexible if you are given the option, get out of your comfort zone and slip into another form of displaying your art.

3. Take Care of Yourself

  • Sleep as much as you can. Give yourself a deadline of when to put down homework and go to sleep.
  • Hydrate. You will be performing a minimum of 4-6 hours of dance a day. H2O should be considered an accessory.
  • Find other outlets in college that help you relax and escape like reading, joining art clubs, and attending student activities. Finding an alternative to dance was really hard for me because I used dance to decompress.
  • Go to performances that you are not cast in and enjoy the show!

4. Take naysayers with a grain of salt.

“Oh, you’re a dance major? That’s nice. What are you going to do with that degree?” Your first impulse is to shake your head and ignore people who practically joke about your major. For me, I thought I would perform forever so I would reply with a bold, “dance” as a response.

If you are not sure what area of dance in which you want to focus, that is a very difficult question to answer. I encourage students to attend an accredited school that requires taking subjects like acting, stage tech, costuming, music for dance, and sociology. Even if you are unsure, those additional classes will help you fine-tune your interests to decide which route to take.

5. Think of this time as an educational, emotional, and physical journey.

Knowledge is offered up to you on a silver platter as a college student, but for dance majors, the bond formed between fellow students and professors is on another level. This personal journey is entwined with a physical and emotional element as students are constantly in each others space, touching and sweating all over each other for hours on end. For most accredited programs, the first step of this journey is auditions where you meet and click with the people you will spend most of your time with.

6. Make sure you don’t blow off your academic classes.

I know dance is oozing from your pores and pumps through your veins like a life-blood, but do not ditch your academic classes! Go to the library with people who are not dancers to study and remember, if you don’t pass your classes you don’t dance.

7. Look for ways to explore all areas of dance.

There was a beautiful fusion between the performing arts and business program at University of Iowa when I attended. Woven into a regular business curriculum was a program of professional guidance for people in the arts. The professors were actors, musicians, dancers, writers, accountants, and people working in the performing arts world. I use everything I learned during that program everyday at A Step Above as a studio owner.

I owe so much to my professors and the close nit group I formed in college. So much more than mastering dance and taking gen eds, the academic journey of a dance major is an amazing networking opportunity combined with a daily expression of performance art.

Live. Love. Dance.