Home After School Pirouetting My Way to a Bmus Dance Degree

Pirouetting My Way to a Bmus Dance Degree

by Cara Bresler

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Dancing is a tough as sport as any, and requires a tremendous amount of dedication. A Bachelor of Music in Dance combines academia with a love for movement and performance. Cara gives her account.

The dance industry is not just about sparkly tutus and satin pink pointe shoes. It requires hard work, but for those who have the ‘dancing bug’ it’s usually worth it.

If you feel slightly hazy about what you could experience, then allow me to shatter some expectations (*glass breaking noises*). While many (what us dancers call) ‘normal folk’ perceive dancing to be easy, it is only so because we dancers have been training for years to create this illusion. The dancer drifting on stage, as if on a cloud, is actually masking the fact that her ingrown toenail is biting into her flesh, her feet ache up unto her bunions, and her last remaining toenail keeps hooking onto her blood-drenched stockings. Yet still, we look graceful and poised.

When you ask a dancer to talk about their discipline, things that come to mind are

  • sweat
  • blood
  • pain
  • bruises
  • exhaustion

All of these words are synonymous with dance. This is because classes are physically demanding, rehearsals are seemingly never-ending and the industry can be emotionally draining.

As a dance student, when you get home and (finally) stuff your face with healthy foods, you have an essay to write with content that is the equivalent to Mathematical Calculus… in dance language. Go sleep at 2am, wake-up at 6am and do it all again.

However, if you have a love for dance, all these things will just become a way of life. Performing a beautifully crafted and practised routine will bring you multitudes of joy. Seeing the audience react emotionally to your dance piece will have you leaving the studio fulfilled, even if it’s only after midnight.

Determined to Dance

I had it easy when it came to choosing what to study. All I wanted to do was become a dancer and dance teacher. I had no plan B. For that very reason picking subjects in high school was an easy exercise for me. I chose Dance Studies which helped me a lot at university. It prepares you for the basic dance techniques that you are expected to know and it also gives you a solid foundation for your theory subjects like Anatomy, Music and Dance History. I chose my other subjects based on what interested me, Geography and Biology.

Unless you are at an arts focused school and already dancing 24/7, it’s more important to be taking as many dance classes after school as you possibly can. Having a plan B does not mean that you‘re allowing yourself to accept failure. It simply means that when life throws you a lemon, you don’t have to make lemonade; you can make orange juice instead. Basically, there is another road to take. Think carefully about the subjects you take and align them with both fields. If you’re getting very low marks in a difficult subject, get a tutor to help you or change to a subject better suited to you. Remember that your matric average plays a huge role in whether you are accepted into a university.

Pirouetteing my way to a Bmus degree

I would not advise that dance students take a gap year (unless you need a whole year dedicated to extra training). In the dancer’s world, a gap year often means the loss of technique and the possibility that the brain and body become lethargic – you WILL have to do theory subjects. If you aren’t interested in an academic course or obtaining a qualification, then rather audition for a few dance companies.

The Different Streams

The UCT School of Dance has 3 streams of study:

  • Performers Stream

In the Performers stream you branch out to do a course based mostly on your performance capabilities – you have to get above 65% for all of your practical exams and do another audition at the end of 2nd year to get into this stream. In the performance stream you might not do as much theory as the other streams, but you will get graded very strictly on your practical dance exams.

  • Pedagogue Stream

In the Pedagogue stream you have just as many practical classes as in the Performers stream but you learn how to teach, both in theory and through practical training. Most of your course content is focused on training you to train others.

  • Reseachers Stream

Researchers stream has you doing practical classes but you don’t train as a teacher. The theory is the main component and it consists of critically analysing course content and carrying through your own research project

Consult the school’s 2015 booklet for more info (go to page 52).

Here’s an example of a 2nd Year Ballet Exam

If you’re interested in getting a qualification, take a look at the admission requirements for either a degree or diploma. You can find out more about the dance department by clicking here.

Regardless of which stream you follow, the 1st year is the same for everyone. This is to standardise the level of information from various different dancing communities. Many dancers struggle with the theory, having only learnt about dance in a purely physical form.

There is no easy way out, be prepared to study Anatomy, Dance History, Musicology and more.

My Experience

I chose the Pedagogue Stream and I am currently in my 4th year. I am doing

  • Ballet
  • Contemporary Dance
  • Choreography Studies
  • Teaching Methods
  • Film and Media

Throughout my BMus Dance Degree I have taken Media related electives (you are required to do 4).

Generally 4th year Pedagogue students have to do Teaching Methods (Ballet/Contemp), a Practical (Ballet/Contemp) and an elective, but I’ve chosen to go above and beyond by taking on extra courses. My favourite course is Choreography Studies. The theory content is difficult to grasp but very interesting and the practical’s consist of creating your own choreographies.

This stream brought out the best in me – as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. I was able to do everything that inspires me and still build on my Media knowledge.

My Tips on How to Survive Academic Dance School

  • Be wise about who you befriend. Negative or non-supportive people can make your varsity experience a nightmare. Also try to seek friendship outside of the dance school, this will give you a break from the daily dance drama and expose you to different varsity experiences.
  • Always start the year at a slow pace. If you push your body too hard, you run the risk of injury – which can put you out for a while. Always maintain your fitness, even in the 3-month holiday, because you will appreciate it when you get back to varsity.
  • Have the number of the Sports Injury Centre (SIC) on speed dial. Because, as dancers, we are prone to injury and we need all the support we can get. If you don’t have medical aid – SIC will give you 3 sessions for R100 and free rehabilitation post-injury. NB: The injury must take place on UCT premises – School of Dance. Visit their website for more information.
  • Ask your peers (the academic few) to edit your essay two days before the due date. This saves so many unnecessary lost marks from random typos and sleep deprived silliness.
  • This might be obvious, but put up calendar or study plan on your wall and have different colour codes for assignments and exams. Take photos of new information on the pin-up board everyday because you WILL forget something. The pin-up board is the Holy Grail at dance school.
  • Use the SRC dance council to navigate through your problems.
  • For Ballet – if you need new pointe shoes buy them after two or three months of pointe work classes. This will mean that they are fitted to your feet while they are in-shape (yes your feet change shape when you aren’t dancing) and that you have the strength to work them in. For Contemporary – lose the socks a while before exams so that you can adjust to the change of floor contact and floor pressure.

Admission Requirements

BMus Dance Degree (4 years)

  • NSC endorsed for degree
  • English at 50%
  • FPS of 380 (63%)
  • AL score intermediate 4
  • 3 years training at a recognised dance institution.
  • Training in either Contemporary AND African OR Contemporary AND Ballet.
  • If ballet stream: an RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) qualification at intermediate level or the Cecchetti equivalent.
  • Successfully passing the audition of two dance forms.

Diploma (3 years)

  • NSC endorsed for diploma
  • English at 50%
  • AL score intermediate 4
  • 3 years training at a recognised dance institution.
  • Training in either Contemporary AND African OR Contemporary AND Ballet.
  • If ballet stream: an RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) qualification at intermediate level or the Cecchetti equivalent.
  • Successfully passing the audition of two dance forms.

The Audition (Sept/Oct)

The audition is the most important process. You might have excellent theory marks and pass the requirements on paper but if you lack the physical components, you won’t have a successful audition. Focus on taking extra classes to improve your skills as well as aiming for the marks you need to pass the requirements. Try various dance styles to make you a more versatile dancer. Go to open (unset) classes to test your recall and ask your teacher to give you a few mock auditions.

I hope this advice helps all those future dancers out there. Happy Dancing!

EduConnect 2cents

Dancers are phenomenal, and have the ability to use their bodies in a way that will leave most of us ‘normal folk’ in awe. Read this inspiring article to glimpse into a typical day in the life of a professional dancer.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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