Pace Magazine

Teaching Dancers to Thrive

Posted
October 15, 2021
blonde woman on white chair

When Rhonda Miller arrived at Pace, “There were tons of traditional programs for dancers studying ballet and modern. But there wasn’t anything for students who came up learning what I eventually branded as commercial dance.” Now, as the head of Pace’s BFA Commercial Dance Program, she describes the program she created as one “that teaches all styles of dance so that students will be employable in many different arenas. Our goal is to teach dancers not only how to dance but also how to make a living and navigate show business.”

“Our goal is to teach dancers not only how to dance but also how to make a living and navigate show business.”

In addition to studio courses, commercial dance majors at Pace study the business of dance. Many of them minor in arts and entertainment management, where all of their business courses are pertinent to the industry. They learn to think of themselves as professionals, how to promote themselves, and ultimately, how to get a foot in the door. “No one ever taught me any of that. I wanted this program to be different, relevant, and useful—to include practical business skills that so many dancers don’t have.”

Pace dancers also study acting and vocal work. “Not too many dance programs include those skills. But if students want to dance on Broadway, they need to know how to sing and act. That’s part of making them prepared.”

Having danced professionally in both New York and Los Angeles, Miller knows how different the two markets are. So to prepare Pace students for work on either coast, the program augments their New York experience with a semester in LA. “Students get to work with many well-known West Coast choreographers and directors and learn how to operate on camera, which is totally different from performing on a stage. They also get to know the gate-keepers and agencies that represent dancers out there.”

Miller leverages her professional network to provide students opportunities to meet with many top-level guest artists. “I have lots of contacts on Broadway and have had people like Andy Blankenbuehler, Jerry Mitchell, Josh Bergasse, and Tyler Peck of the NYC ballet visit campus and work with our students.” The program also collaborates with theater and dance companies throughout the city, and Pace students and graduates regularly land spots in Broadway productions, including Frozen, Hamilton, Hadestown, and The Music Man. Others have opened their own studios and are teaching. And, fun fact, ten percent of the Rockettes are Pace alumni.

The program also takes into account career longevity, which is an important consideration for dancers.

“Obviously, we focus on performing, but we also give our students the tools to correctly teach ballet and jazz to all age groups. They learn choreography for theater and TV and film. Armed with all these different skills, they can branch out and remain in the dance world their whole lives – and that’s the beauty of our program.”

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