I just returned from the National High School Dance Festival, which was held at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. About 1500 dancers from across the USA, Canada, Australia, and Bermuda attended, along with 500 teachers, chaperones, and recruiters. The festival lasted for four days and included scholarship auditions, master classes, performances, and a college-fair-style room filled with schools and festivals promoting their various dance programs. Coming off of Juilliard's intensive audition process, I have to say that I wasn't sure about attending another day-long audition process with about 800 dancers vying for scholarships from colleges and summer programs. But it was actually great to see a different audition process, with a huge group of dancers performing the same combinations. Certain dancers really stood out, and it was interesting to see who rose to the challenge and who blended into the background. As a former dancer, it was really eye-opening to be on the other side of the audition process and to feel what it is that adjudicators are looking for. I was also happy to see the familiar faces of several dancers who had auditioned for us prior to the festival.
We also found some new talent at NHSDF, and were excited to offer two half-scholarships to our Summer Dance Intensive to dancers who had not auditioned for us earlier. It was really great to see the whole cycle of dance admissions in a large-scale perspective: we met young dancers who are ready for a summer program but college is a few years off; dancers who are ready to graduate from high school and embark on their college dance career; and the teachers who train these dancers from the earliest stages and then pass them along to college programs like Juilliard.
It was also interesting to be in the room with other colleges and summer programs. In a sense, it's an audition for us too, and there was definitely a sense of competition in the air! Schools would post callback lists with dancer audition numbers, hoping that those dancers would stop by their table and be wooed by the glossy brochures. It became clear to me that it is really important that dancers find the program that is truly the right fit for them, as opposed to getting wrapped up in the name of a school or choosing a program simply because their best friend is attending as well. My alma mater, the University of Minnesota, was in attendance. They have an excellent dance program, but it is vastly different from Juilliard's - so students who are seriously considering one of our programs probably would not be happy with the other. There was a representative from Towson University at the table next to me, who was teaching master classes in addition to speaking with prospective students. They offer a certification for teaching dance in grades K-12 in addition to a BFA, so their program is a great option for dancers who are really interested in a teaching career - again, a vastly different program from Juilliard's!
All in all, it was a valuable learning experience for me and I hope a great tool for the young dancers who attended. I wish I had attended as a high school student; I think it would have given me a better perspective on myself as a dancer and the options available to me as a college student. I encourage any prospective dance student to visit colleges, take tours and master classes, and really explore your options fully before making a decision!