10 Best Colleges for Dance Performance in the US

If you are a fan of the New York City Ballet, the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, or really any dance company in the entire world – traditional or contemporary – you would know that just about every member of the company went to a top college to study dance performance.

What is just so special about the Dance Performance major? It’s probably the most physically intensive major of all; everyday, students in this discipline wake up early in the morning and move their bodies 7 days a week for hours and hours at a time.

The amount of information these dancers absorb as well is incredibly vast; they learn ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary styles. They have to absorb the movements of those who dared to choreograph Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and the very best composers.

They also have to balance their course-load of English and Math classes like every other college student.

When we look at the backgrounds of the top dancers in the country, we consistently see the same handful of schools pop up.

So, you may be asking – what are the top schools in the country for dance performance? Here are 10 amazing colleges for dance in the country…

10. Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle, WA)

Cornish College of the Arts
Joe Mabel, Seattle – Cornish , CC BY-SA 3.0

The four-year BFA at Cornish College of the Arts is a physically intensive major; students spend 6-8 hours everyday practicing, learning, and rehearsing in the school’s studios.

Cornish’s program is so attractive, even dancers with a professional background frequently apply; through the “Professional Dancers Program,” experienced dancers can complete a BFA in less than two years.

Like most dance programs, ballet is at the core of the Cornish experience. However, the school also offers elective classes in jazz, tap, urban dance, and even martial arts, among other genres.

Collaboration opportunities are a hallmark of the Cornish experience. As the school is an independent arts conservatory, dancers frequently collaborate with students in other performing arts majors, including music as well as drama.

9. Point Park University (Pittsburgh, PA)

Point Park University
J. James, Academic Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

Regarded as a top dance program, it is among the most selective in the world. According to OnStage, just 75 dancers are admitted out of over 1,000 applicants each year!

The faculty in the school are top-notch and among the most respected in the discipline. Garfield Lemonius, the Chair of the Dance program, has worked with the likes of legendary talents Chuck Davis, Alonzo King, and Bruce Wood.

Other faculty at the school have been members of the Martha Graham Dance Company (Judith Leifer-Bentz), trained at the School of American Ballet (Matthew Powell), and have danced in the company of Twyla Tharp (Jason McDole).

One impressive facility at the school for dancers is the George Roland White Performance Center, a $16,000,000 LEED-certified space housing 44,000 square feet of dance space. The school also has the on-campus Pittsburgh Playhouse, which performs to over 30,000 people every single year.

Pittsburgh itself is an arts capital of the country, with dozens and dozens of theatres providing off-campus opportunities to students of this prestigious program.

8. Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX)

Southern Methodist University
Yelpet, Blanton Building at SMU, CC BY-SA 4.0

We often see many of the top dance programs in the country situated throughout the northeast and west coasts.

That said, Southern Methodist truly stands out in the excellence of its program as perhaps the best program in the entire southern region of the country.

One notable aspect of the program is its partnership with the Texas Ballet Theater, the largest professional dance company in north Texas serving tens of thousands of patrons in the artistic central of Dallas/Fort Worth.

A premiere destination for classical and jazz ballet styles, students are afforded unparalleled opportunities to perform in many of Greater Dallas’ historic arts venues, including the Winspear Opera House as well as City Performance Hall.

The school’s own Bob Hope Theatre is an impressive dance venue itself seating nearly 400.

According to OnStage, alumni have been employed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Martha Graham Company, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and more.

HONORABLE MENTION: Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)

Indiana University
User:Vmenkov, Herman B Wells Library and lotus pond , CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the top programs for Dance Performance in the world, Indiana University is equally adept at training students to become world-class performers in both modern styles as well as classical styles.

Recent graduates of the program are already attaining employment in the top dance companies throughout the world.

Alumni at the school in the last few years are already finding their way into the Boston Ballet, Nashville Ballet, and the Island Moving Company of Newport, RI.

Faculty in the program are widely recognized for their excellence in both teaching and performing.

One such faculty member in the Ballet program, Kyra Nichols, was previously a member of the New York City Ballet, perhaps the most prestigious ballet organization in the country.

She retired from the company after being a part of it for 33 years, making her the longest-tenured dancer in the history of the company.

In the Contemporary Dance program, Indiana University perhaps has one of the most impressive lists of faculty in the nation.

One such faculty member is Stafford C. Berry Jr., who toured for over a decade performing in legendary dancer Chuck Davis’ African American Dance Ensemble.

Despite being a large university, the dance program at Indiana University feels intimately small, allowing for close partnership between the faculty and the students for maximal learning and performing opportunities.

7. University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ)

University of Arizona
Jesuiseduardo, U Arizona Alumni Plaza, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Arizona’s School of Dance is among the top contemporary and classical dance programs in the country. Interested students can pursue a BFA or an MFA at the program.

What best demonstrates the spirit of the University of Arizona School of Dance is a student group known as The Dance Collective. Technically open to all students at the university, The Dance Collective is comprised mostly of dance majors who seek to promote dance in all styles throughout the campus, the city of Tucson, and even serve as the sponsor of the annual Arizona Jazz Dance showcase.

The program is known for taking care of their students health. Since 2013, a musculoskeletal clinic has been provided to dance students at University of Arizona. The purpose of this program is to reduce injury and improve performance of dance students at the school.

Public performances through a subscription series is one of the hallmarks of the U Arizona program. Throughout 2019-2020, seven subscription productions performed over a total of several weeks will be performed by U of Arizona students.

6. University of North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem, NC)

Public domain photo by William Davis via Wikimedia Commons

One of the premiere performing arts schools in the country, alumni of the UNCSA dance program are now employed in prestigious dance companies throughout the world, as well as teaching in major universities and academic institutions.

UNCSA is the exclusive educational affiliate of the hugely prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT). In this collaboration, ABT’s curriculum for training is provided to UNCSA students. Additionally, dancers of ABT lead students in masterclasses and lessons. This collaboration is unparalleled in the world of collegiate dance.

The Choreographic Institute at UNCSA provides students a unique opportunity to work with emerging professional choreographers, designated as “fellows” of the program. Now in its third year, the program recently announced four fellows for the program, including a UNCSA alum.

UNCSA is not only a collegiate training institute, but also a high school program as well. Perhaps the most famous dance alum of UNCSA is Gillian Murphy, who attended the high school division at UNCSA.

5. Oklahoma City University (Oklahoma City, OK)

Oklahoma City University
Matthew Rutledge (rutlo), Oklahoma City University – Administration Building, CC BY 2.0

The Ann Lacy School of Dance and Entertainment awards several degrees for the aspiring dance professional. They include a Bachelor’s in Performing, Dance Management, Pedagogy, and even a Bachelor’s in Entertainment. The wide range of study options in dance at OKCU makes it an attractive option for any aspiring dance and performing arts professional.

OKCU is home to the Gaylord Dance Center, which may be the finest educational facility for dance in the entire country. Inside the Gaylord Dance Center is an impressive 8 dance studios, locker rooms, student lounges, and a large atrium.

Performance opportunities are significant at OKCU. The program is home to the American Spirit Dance Company, founded by Professor Jo Rowan, as well as the Spirit of Grace Liturgical Company. With the American Spirit Dance Company, students perform a Broadway Revue.

The American Spirit Dance Company tours throughout the US and abroad.

HONORABLE MENTION: University of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA)

University of the Arts
Beyond My Ken, University of the Arts Dorrance Hamilton Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the finest schools for dance in the world, the school provides students with first-class opportunity to study with the very best performers in the world.

One way the University of the Arts succeeds in this is with their flagship program called Knowing Dance More. Six times a year, the school brings in top artists and scholars to the campus to work with the school’s dance students.

Some recent visiting artists to the school include Robert Battle, the current artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Andrea Miller, choreographer who has been commissioned by the top arts organizations worldwide, and Jennifer Nugent, a Bessie-award winning artist who performed in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company.

One of the greatest dance teachers in the country, Donna Burchfield, a renowned pedagogue whose students have performed throughout the world, is on the faculty at the University of the Arts. She is regularly seen as an adjudicator in international dance competitions, having been awarded for her contributions to teaching by a number of organizations.

The curriculum at the school for dance majors is intense – nearly 2/3rds of the total classes required for graduation are for dance performance and theory classes (the other classes are electives and liberal arts).

For students that can keep up with the fast-paced lifestyle of this program, this is quite possibly the best dance school on the continent.

4. Butler University (Indianapolis, IN)

Butler University
Peetlesnumber1, ButlerFall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Butler is regularly ranked in the top 10 dance programs in the country. In fact, there is even a very well-written “day in the life” piece profiling Butler Dance over at Pointe Magazine.

Jordan College of the Arts at Butler, home to the school’s dance department, is among the most impressive arts colleges in the US; the College of the Arts, overall, has a 94% placement rate for graduating students, one of the highest in the nation.

The core of the Butler experience is the Butler Ballet; at Butler Ballet, students perform professional level concert dances of classical productions, including Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Cinderella, and many more. Two full-scale ballets are produced annually at Butler, according to the school’s website.

The facilities at Butler include five fully equipped studios, including a conditioning room reserved only for dance students. Through a partnership with St. Vincent Sports Performance, students are also provided an athletic trainer who consults on injury prevention, rehabilitation, and fitness goals.

Butler’s dance program performs not only for faculty and students at the school, but also entertains audiences throughout all of Indianapolis; the program is a cultural gem of the midwest.

3. Fordham University (New York, NY)

Fordham University
Howchou, Fordham University Lincoln Center Campus, CC BY-SA 3.0

Have YOU heard of Alvin Ailey? One of the most important choreographers of the 20th century, Alvin Ailey created the Ailey School, a premiere training center for dancers throughout the country.

In this unique program, students attend both the Ailey School full-time as well as Fordham University.

This bring together the excellence of the Ailey School’s faculty & state-of-the-art studios with the academic rigor of a Fordham University.

Both Fordham and the Ailey School are located in Lincoln Center, perhaps the center of the arts scene in all of Manhattan.

HONORABLE MENTION: Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts (Newark, NJ)

Rutgers University
Zampromote, Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, CC BY 3.0

With just an 18% acceptance rate for applying students, Rutgers is one of the top schools for Dance Performance in the US.

Rutgers is known for having created, in recent years, students accepted into the world’s top dance companies.

One such dancer, recent graduate Bria Bacon, was placed into the world-renowned Stephen Petronio Company in two weeks of graduating the Mason Gross School of the Arts.

Other alumni of the school have performed in Broadway musicals, won Bessie Awards (the “Tony Awards” of Dance), and have performed in New York City’s top venues.

The school is not only excellent for students pursuing Dance Performance, it is also one of the best schools for Dance Education as well.

For those who wish to both teach as well as train at the highest levels, the school does offer a 5-year Bachelor’s and Master’s in Performance and Teaching respectively.

The faculty and people at the school are top-notch, comprised of seasoned professionals who have choreographed and performed with the world’s greatest creatives.

HONORABLE MENTION: Dominican University (San Rafael, CA)

Dominican University
Runner1928, Dominican University of California 03, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dominican University has quickly risen as one of the very best colleges for dance in the country, thanks in large part to its partnership with one of the very best dance companies on the west coast, the Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

Students of this program spend their time between Dominican University’s beautiful San Rafael campus and the Alonzo King LINES Dance Center situated in San Francisco.

Graduates of the program have been accepted into dozens of the top companies worldwide, including the AXIS Dance Company, the National Company for Dance of Spain, and even the professional company of Alonzo King.

Speaking of King, he is one of the most significant choreographers of our time, his LINES Ballet regularly tours internationally. His own choreography has been used in the performances of the world’s top companies.

One noted trait of this school is that the school is highly dedicated to arts as a service. In partnership with JUNTOS, a non-profit organization, the school provides students the opportunity to travel & perform for underserved areas of the US and Mexico.

The school’s foundation is strongly rooted in Western classical ballet – that said, many other dance forms are taught at the highest level at this impressive school.

2. New York University Tisch School of the Arts (New York, NY)

atp_tyreseus, Tisch School of the Arts NYU, CC BY 2.0

Indisputably one of the top performing arts schools in the country, NYU Tisch is perhaps the top school in the country for the pre-professional dancer desiring both conservatory-level instruction as well as a well-rounded university experience.

At NYU, dance students work not only with acclaimed faculty, but also choreographers who are among the top names in contemporary dance. One way students get to work with these guest choreographers is through the Second Avenue Dance Company, an NYU organization that allows students to perform new and existing works choreographed by master artists.

The Chair of NYU Tisch’s Dance program is Seán Curran, a widely acclaimed American dancer and choreographer whose teaching credits span over 100 institutions, including Boston Conservatory, Bates Dance Festival, the American Dance Festival, and more. He previously won a Bessie award for his work in 1985.

Alumni of NYU Tisch Dance are active throughout the world’s great companies, as well as in Broadway.

1. Juilliard School (New York, NY)

What can one say about Juilliard that has not already been spoken thousands of times in the annals of artistic academe? The accomplishments of the school speak volumes to its well-deserved recognition and prestige.

One of the first “superstar” dance alumni of the school was Paul Taylor, who graduated from the program in 1953, just two years after the dance division at Juilliard was formed. Still active today, his ensemble, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, still tour and perform some of his 144 original works today.

Nowadays, Juilliard is comprised of the leading personalities in the world of dance. Faculty from the school, such as the well-known performer and pedagogue Jeff Edwards who is known as a premiere talent and scholar of Balanchine’s works, have performed in world-renowned dance companies and choreographed artists on Broadway and beyond.

Being in New York City, the arts capital of the country, off-campus performance opportunities are common here. Students perform all throughout New York City’s legendary museums and venues, including Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Juilliard Opera, Metropolitan Museum or Art, MoMa, and countless more.

These are our take for 10 of the best colleges for Dance Performance in the US. What schools do you feel should have been on this list? Feel free to comment below…

This ranking was created as an “averaged” ranking – we looked at six other top dance colleges lists, assigned a score to each school on every list based on their position in each ranking, then created this list based on which schools had the highest score with all rankings considered.

Here is are the rankings we looked at, sourced on July 28th, 2019

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