As you may know, in September I started studying for a degree in Dance at the University of Roehampton. It’s kept me super busy, so I have barely had a chance to post anything at all, let alone talk about my university experience. I really want to get back into the swing of things with my blog and my social media channels, so hopefully there’ll be more content coming your way from now on!
I know that getting a university education is something that a lot of people think about, but agonise over. I myself wanted to do a degree, but at a vocational school as opposed to a university. I ended up going to university because I didn’t get my first choice of courses. I’ve come to really embrace this opportunity, but I thought it would be good to talk about my experience so far, especially having come from a purely vocational, classical background. Here are some things I’ve learned…
There are far fewer contact hours at university.
If you are wanting to dance all day, every day, then you will need to really work to make this happen at university. We have one practical class per day, Monday-Friday, this particular term, as well as lectures and theory classes. I really wish that we had more practical classes. However, the opportunities to dance are there, if you want to take them. There are dance society classes every evening and weekend, and there is a third-year dance company who give in-depth workshops every other Monday. You can also book the studios for your own practice, and take part in shows, choreography pieces, etc. as and when they come up, or audition to join the competition team. You can also go to outside classes as much as you like, which is forbidden at some vocational schools. This is an extra expense, but it allows you to choose the styles you want to work on more and really get the diverse training you need. I also feel that this is good preparation for the industry, because once you graduate it’s up to you to keep your classes and technique up.
There is A LOT of reading.
I love books, I love reading, and studying the theory side of dance is something I was really excited about. However I was, and continue to be, shocked and overwhelmed at the amount of reading we are expected to be doing! As someone who struggles with concentration, it takes me a long time to get through the required readings, let alone the optional readings and then my own reading. I will say here, a LOT of people don’t do all the reading. If you don’t do it, obviously no one is checking and no one is going to tell you off, so if you are not a big reader don’t panic. However, I do feel it’s important to do the reading because your lecturers assign you those texts because they will help you to write the essays and to pass the course! I try to read everything we’re set as essential, and to do some reading on top of that, but it is a struggle and I’m usually running one to three weeks behind!
…but the library is worth going to university for alone!
As you will know if you’re familiar with the Dare to Dance Book Club, I love reading dance books, and I think it’s important for a dancer to be informed about their art. The library at Roehampton is brand-new, just opened this September, it is huge and state-of-the-art. They have shelves upon shelves of dance books! It is absolutely unbelievable. They also have multiple floors of study space, and silent study rooms on the top floor with beautiful views across the campus and London, where I spend many hours of my life!
There is a huge difference in discipline.
Coming from a strict ballet school, I was incredibly shocked by the attitude the majority of people at university have to their dance education. I came from an environment where most people came to the studio well over an hour before class to warm up and exercise. They stayed after class to practice and to cool down. They always came to class, even in the holidays, and were motivated to push themselves to better their technique. Everyone shows utmost respect to the teacher and takes their corrections gratefully. It is expected to dress appropriately for class, to never talk, lean on the barre, etc.
I knew that the university environment wouldn’t be as strict. However it’s commonplace for people to rarely show up to class (especially morning classes), and very few people come early to warm-up or stay after class. There is a lack of respect for the teachers, and a lack of discipline during the class. People don’t do the work and they don’t practice the material. I have to admit that this is the number one thing that I don’t like about university. It’s true that other people’s choices doesn’t stop you from working hard and giving it your all, but it is difficult to feel like you’re all in it together when there’s such a variation in commitment in the class. I actually like the people in my class a lot, however I can’t understand this approach.
University life is not necessarily in accordance with dance life
University culture is all about going out and having fun! I think that this is something that most dancers really miss out on- it’s very difficult to do class if you’re hungover and haven’t slept. It’s hard, because most other people on campus have fewer contact hours than dancers due to their subjects being theory-based, and when they do go in they can just sit at the back of their lecture. When you’re walking across the floor on your hands, however, it is much harder to try not to throw up! It’s actually really nice to have the opportunity to do these things that I was never able to before out of being committed to dance, but I think that many people fall into the trap of going out and getting drunk at least twice a week, and then they miss classes. Also, I live off campus, but my friends on campus tell how they get woken up in the night by the other people in their buildings partying, which is not what you want when you’re dancing much of the day. Even things like the typical student diet are not conducive to the healthy dancer. I think that if you want to come to university, and you’re also committed to being the best dancer you can be, you will need to strive to find a balance and not be scared to go against the grain of what everyone else on campus is doing.
You have access to so much
One thing I love about university is how much you have access to, especially compared to a smaller school. The campus itself is beautiful, and equipped with plenty of places to eat, a gym, amazing studio facilities, the library as I mentioned, and so much more. There are also a lot of services you can take advantage of, including a really good academic achievement service, and various welfare services, plus lots of societies. The faculty are also really great; I think that what a lot of people forget is, our teachers are experts in their field and they are active within the industry we are going in to. They are a fountain of knowledge, they have written books, they have dance companies, and they know SO many people in the dance industry. Having access to these things is really invaluable, so it’s good to be able to take advantage of all of that.
It’s hard to find balance
I have learned that university is really stressful, especially if you are committed to doing well, because there is just SO much work! Something I’ve found is it’s very easy to get caught up in the practical classes and your physical conditioning and stretching, etc., and neglect your reading and studying, and also very easy to get caught up in the theory work, the reading, the essays, and not make enough time for getting to extra classes and keeping up your fitness. That’s pretty much where I’m at now, and I definitely haven’t figured it out yet- it’s hard to do it all. I want to be taking extra classes, keeping my ballet training up, and doing my conditioning and stretching exercises that used to be a part of my daily routine- but at the same time, I’m always behind with my reading and essays and lecture notes! If I ever find a solution, I’ll let you know!
I’m only at the beginning of my journey, really, and I’m still figuring all of these things out. I hope it helps people making this choice to bring some honesty to what it’s like studying dance at university as opposed to a vocational school. If I were to summarise it, I’d say that in my personal experience, I absolutely love being at university, I am enjoying everything that we are doing, and I am learning so much. However, as someone who wants a performance career, I do need more in terms of my technical training that university doesn’t offer.
I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences about university/college dance training as opposed to vocational training- leave a comment below!
Until next time,