Joffrey Ballet School

Dance Training & Career Tips

Modern vs Contemporary Dance: What’s the Difference?

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Modern vs Contemporary Dance: What’s the Difference?

Of all the terms for dance styles that exist (and there are a lot) perhaps the most confusing to dancers and dance enthusiasts alike are “modern” vs. “contemporary.” After all, they both seem to refer to dance forms that are new, as opposed to more traditional forms such as “classical” ballet.

But if you think modern and contemporary both simply refer to newer forms of dance, you’re only half right. The full answer is actually a bit more complex. We’ll talk about the differences and delve into the similarities and history of these dance forms in today’s blog.

Modern vs. Contemporary in Art: Experimental to Accessible

When thinking about the difference between modern and contemporary dance, a good place to start is to begin with those terms’ roots in the world of art. Modern art refers to art that was produced between about the middle of the 19th century and the 1970s. Art produced after those dates is termed “contemporary.” 

In modern art, conventions and traditions were put aside in favor of more experimental and free-form approaches. Modern art movements such as Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism pushed the boundaries of what art could be. Avant-garde artists like Matisse, Dali, Picasso and Warhol who experimented with line, color and form became synonymous with modern art through about the middle of the 20th century.

The openness to experimentation of modern art gave way to Contemporary movements such as post-modernism, minimalism, conceptual and performance art. Emphasis on expression and beauty gave way to an emphasis on the ideas behind the art. Artists no longer sought for their art to be simply appreciated by critics and patrons for its beauty, but for a wider audience to participate in that art. Contemporary art focused on making art accessible to a wider public.

The Origins of Modern Dance

A similar trajectory can be traced in the world of dance. Modern dance as a movement began towards the end of the 19th century, inspired at least in part by the modernism movements in art, architecture and literature. Like art, modernism in dance rejected traditional classical teaching regarding how dancers should move and allowed dancers to experiment with movement, choreography, music and costuming to create a new dance form.  

Modern dance was pioneered by multiple individuals and schools, but two of the names most closely associated with its development are Ruth St. Denis and Isadora Duncan. St. Denis partnered with Ted Shawn to form the Denishawn school. Denishawn was based in Los Angeles and combined multiple dance forms, including ballroom, modern and classical ballet, to develop an influential, integrated approach to dance. Duncan, a California native from the Bay Area, is referred to as the “Mother of Modern Dance.” Around the turn of the 20th century, Duncan combined American athleticism and natural movements to step beyond the traditional boundaries of classical ballet, incorporating skipping, leaping and jumping to convey emotion through movement. 

Modern dance also experimented with costumes, abandoning corseted tutus, tights and pointe shoes in favor of tunics and bare feet. Other early pioneers of modern dance included Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, whose sets and costumes were designed by modern artists of the time including Picasso, Matisse and in-house designer Leon Bakst. 

Diaghilev was a St. Petersburg native who produced operas and ballets in Paris, funded by the Russian Czars and featuring Russian talent. Diaghilev was inspired by watching Isadora Duncan perform in St. Petersburg to combine classical ballet with modern dance principles. The result was a break with the Imperial Russian court and its traditionalism – and a loss of its funding. Diaghilev moved his base to Paris, taking many of Russia’s best dancers – including Vaclav Nijinsky and George Balanchine – with him. The Ballets Russes toured the United States and Europe in the early 20th Century, bringing the experimentalism of modern dance to classical dance audiences around the world.  

Another great pioneer of the modern dance world was Martha Graham, a Denishawn student whose namesake school and dance training style continues to carry her name today. Graham’s signature technique, called “contraction and release,” rejected classical ballet’s emphasis on the appearance of weightlessness to bring a heavier and more grounded style to modern dance. Graham’s works, such as her choreography for Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, sought to reflect everyday American life. She also introduced serious world events such as the Spanish Civil War and the Great Depression to the American stage.

Lastly, our roundup of influences on modern dance wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our namesake, Robert Joffrey. Perhaps no dancer in the second half of the 20th century did more to keep modern dance in the public eye and to introduce it to classical ballet audiences. Among his many accomplishments was a meticulous recreation of the Diaghilev-era ballets and revival of other lost modern masterworks along with the founding of the Joffrey Ballet School in 1953. 

The thread running through all modern dance is the rejection of traditional forms, willingness to experiment, and an emphasis on natural movement that would set the stage for the contemporary dance forms that would follow.

Contemporary Dance

“Contemporary” is defined as “‘living or occurring in the present,” and that’s a great way to think about contemporary dance. Contemporary ballet built on the foundation laid by the modern dance movement and incorporates current “vernacular” styles such as hip-hop, Latin, folk and jazz, along with classical ballet and modern dance. Like contemporary or post-modern architecture that pulls from multiple styles to design a house built for modern living, contemporary ballet can incorporate multiple styles – including classical ballet, modern, ethnic/world or street dance – to create post-modern dance forms with multiple reference points.

One of the best known pioneers of contemporary dance was Merce Cunningham, a student of Martha Graham’s who is considered by some to be the “founding father” of post-modern or contemporary dance. Two philosophies that Cunningham brought to his choreography and dance training included collaboration and chance. Cunningham collaborated with contemporary visual artists, designers and musicians – including his life partner John Cage as well as bands like Radiohead and Sonic Youth – to generate material.

Regarding collaboration, Cunningham famously said that dance and music should not directly coordinate, but should be able to share space and time. Cunningham’s philosophy of chance left final decisions for movements in the hands of individual dancers, allowing for an element of surprise during performances.

Post-modern or contemporary dance is anti-authoritarian at its heart, which means it sees neither modern dance nor classical ballet as the be-all, end-all of dance. Contemporary pulls from all forms – classical, modern and vernacular or street dance – as a means of expression. It’s about the collaboration between the artists and the audience.

Develop your Foundation in Modern and Contemporary with Joffrey!

At Joffrey, we carry on the traditions of modern dance and the forward-looking, collaborative focus of contemporary ballet by training versatile dancers with strong foundations in classical, modern and contemporary dance. Register today to learn more about our summer dance intensives and year-round trainee programs.

How to Choose the Right Ballet School or Program

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How to Choose the Right Ballet School or Program

Whether you’re checking out ballet schools for a young dancer for the first time, seeking a new ballet school due to a move, or looking for more rigorous training a pre-professional trainee program, there is a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right ballet school or program for yourself or your child.

We’ve identified six important criteria to consider when selecting a ballet school or trainee program. It’s worth it to do your research because a school with shortcomings in any of these areas may not be able to help you reach your goals. We recommend contacting the schools you’re considering and asking them about these criteria as well as asking for references from past students and others in the dance industry.

Here are the criteria to consider if you’re trying to determine how to choose the right ballet school or program. 


Whether you’re looking at a beginning dance class or a pre-professional training program, the curriculum used by the ballet school you choose matters. After all, it is the foundation upon which a dancer’s future is built. At the beginner levels, the curriculum should focus on developing proper posture, movement and weight transfer, while at upper levels the focus should be on posture, pointe and variations, combinations, jumps, turns, leaps, and expressions. At the pre-professional level, schools should balance rigorous ballet education in the studio and classroom with a multitude of performance opportunities, and be able to help you make connections where it counts. This is our approach at Joffrey Ballet School.

Quality of Instruction 

An integrated curriculum that can develop your ballet technique and artistry is important, but equally important is whether the instruction you receive actually delivers the goods. That’s why the background of the individual instructors at the schools is a crucial factor when evaluating quality of instruction. The instructors themselves should have professional experience with a reputable dance company. However, professional experience alone does not make a great teacher. That’s why you should also seek out instructors who have instruction certification, and whose students have proven successful in competitions, as professional dancers or other venues. At Joffrey, our instructors are some of the finest you’ll find anywhere, with broad professional experience performing as principals with companies around the world, in addition to proven success as instructors and coaches.


At Joffrey we have built a reputation for developing strong, versatile dancers for more than 60 years. Regardless of which direction your dance training takes you, choosing a ballet school or program with a long history and strong reputation opens doors and provides you with options. As a young dancer moving up through the levels, the thought of dancing professionally could be the furthest thing from your (or your parents!) minds. But in a few years, you could be looking for a BFA or pre-professional trainee program. The reputation of the schools on your dance resume could make or break your ability to bring those dreams to life. 

Dancer Development 

Seek out a ballet school that has development programs that allow dancers to grow from preschool and creative movement classes, through beginner, intermediate and advanced levels and onto pointe and eventually pre-professional training when they’re ready. Often, people think they will start at a local studio and then move to a more intensive program later, but this approach can leave gaps in a dancer’s training foundation. Choosing the right school as early as possible helps to ensure that the dancer is properly instructed from the beginning. At Joffrey, we’re proud to offer a complete dancer development program, from preschool movement classes through five levels of ballet training and our renowned pre-professional ballet trainee programs that prepares dancers for life as a professional dancer.

Performance / Training Balance 

Dancers seek performance training and opportunities because it builds a curriculum vitae for those dancers with career goals; it is also just a lot of fun. However, it’s important to make sure that performance opportunities don’t take the place of structured classroom or studio instruction. It’s a red flag when most of the school’s training time is spent preparing for performances or recitals. Dancers should spend most of their time building a strong foundation through focused training balanced with performance preparation. At Joffrey Ballet School we offer thousands of hours of classroom instruction as well as multiple professionally produced performance opportunities throughout the year. It’s the best of both worlds and part of what sets our program apart.

Versatile Training 

Today’s ballet artist is often asked to stretch beyond classical technique to incorporate modern or classical elements. Rigorous classical training develops strong dancers with excellent form, but exposure to multiple styles can help those dancers become more versatile; this in turn can help dancers find work more easily. At Joffrey Ballet School, we pride ourselves on turning out versatile dancers with training in classical, modern and contemporary ballet – along with exposure to numerous other dance forms such as street, Latin and more. This provides our dancers with an incredible “library” of techniques to draw from in every performance.

Contact Joffrey to Learn if We’re the Right Ballet School for You!

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right ballet school or program, but we believe Joffrey compares favorably on all these criteria and more. Contact us today to register for an online audition and to learn more about whether Joffrey is the right ballet school for you!


What are the Top Ballet Schools in America?

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What are the Top Ballet Schools in America?

If you’re a dancer looking to progress to the top levels in your field – and perhaps even become a professional dancer – it’s important to get the best training possible. And that means attending a top ballet school. So, what are the top ballet schools?

As it turns out, the answer is quite complex. It really depends to a large degree on what sort of ballet training you’re looking for – classical or contemporary – and what kind of instruction approach you are seeking. To get you started, here are a few of the top ballet schools around the country. 

What Makes a Top Ballet School?

Before we get to the list, here’s some insight into the criteria we use to rate the ballet schools on this list. Our criteria include:

Quality of Instruction – Instruction is one of the most important criteria that makes a ballet school great or not. Top schools will have instructors from a wide variety of backgrounds, so that dancers can gain benefit from multiple perspectives, whether they’re learning musicality and classical repertory from a Russian trained master instructor, or modern approaches from a contemporary instructor trained in Graham style approaches. 

Reputation and Longevity – some of the schools on this list have been around for literally generations. Here at Joffrey, with some 60 years of history behind us, we’re training our third generation of dancers. The fact that we’ve been around so long and placed so many young dancers in professional roles means that our name precedes us when our dancers walk into an audition. 

Alumni Career Prospects – One of the things you’ll notice in the professional dance world is that the top dancers tend to have similar backgrounds. They’ll have spent some time at one – or in many cases, more than one – of the schools on our list. And that is because so often in the dance world, it’s not just what you know it’s who you know. The programs on our list have the connections to help their dancers find professional placement. In fact, some top ballet schools – like Joffrey – help students make connections while dancers are still studying.

So what are the top ballet schools in America? Here’s our short list.

East Coast Ballet Schools

School of American Ballet – located in New York City, the School of American Ballet was founded by George Balanchine, arguably one of the best known dancers and choreographers of the 20th century. SAB continues Balanchine’s legacy as the official dance school of the New York City Ballet, with a focus on classical ballet teaching.

Joffrey Ballet School,  NYC – The Joffrey’s New York ballet school builds on the legacy of Robert Joffrey, one of the leading modern dance pioneers of the mid-20th century. Founded in 1953, Joffrey is focused on building versatile dancers; our programs include classical Russian instruction as well as modern, contemporary, musical theater, and folk styles.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of the American Ballet Theater – ABT is actually home to two schools: the JKO school in New York City, which includes a pre-professional division, and the Robert J. Gillespie school located in Orange County. The JKO School offers children’s through pre-professional training, including the ABT Studio Company, a performance troupe for trainees.

Midwest Ballet Schools

Joffrey Ballet School,  Dallas – In addition to our location in New York, Joffrey offers a new pre-professional ballet training program in Dallas, Texas. Our Dallas program is focused primarily on classical, offering the same high quality of instruction and focus on versatility that our NYC program is famous for. Even better is that our Dallas location has a much lower cost of living, significantly reducing the cost of full-time pre-professional training.

Houston Ballet Academy – For more than 60 years, the Houston Ballet Academy has provided classical ballet training to more than 1000 students per year, from the pre-school through pre-professional and professional levels. Houston’s training programs are focused on training well-rounded dancers familiar with a variety of styles, and offers training experiences that include the opportunity to dance in the Houston Ballet’s second company during students’ second year of pre-professional training.

Cincinnati Ballet Academy – CBA offers classical training in the Vaganova classical Russian tradition, infused with more modern techniques. The school is affiliated with the Cincinnati Ballet and offers a full range of training from children’s through the pre-professional division. 

West Coast Ballet Schools

Colorado Ballet Academy – Located in downtown Denver, the Colorado Ballet Academy is the official school of the Colorado Ballet and the top ballet school in the Mountain West. CBA is focused on classical technique in the Russian, French and Italian styles and offers significant performance opportunities.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Academy – For more than 45 years, PNB school has been considered one of the top ballet schools in the United States, and probably the best ballet school on the West Coast. PNB Academy offers classical ballet training from the children’s through pre-professional levels, along with performance opportunities that include the PNB’s famous Nutcracker production. 

San Francisco Ballet School – The San Francisco Ballet School offers classical ballet training for children, pre-professional trainees and even adults. The school’s training is tightly focused on the athletic dance style favored by the San Francisco Ballet company; more than 65% percent of the dancers with the SFB were trained at the SFB School.

Looking to Attend a Top Ballet School?

If you’re a serious young dancer looking for a top ballet school, contact us today to register for an audition with one of our world-class master instructors, who have trained and performed with the top ballet schools in the United States, Russia and worldwide. Our focus on rigorous classical ballet training, along with modern and contemporary dance techniques, is why our versatile graduates are in demand with companies around the world. Contact us today!

What Is Classical Ballet Training?

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What Is Classical Ballet Training?

Newcomers to formal dance training are often told that classical ballet training will help them succeed as dancers. But this can sometimes generate confusion, leaving dancers questioning what is classical ballet training and why is it so important to dancers, especially if they don’t intend to become classical ballet dancers themselves.

In this blog post we’ll explain why classical ballet training is such an important part of training versatile and knowledgeable dancers across any discipline.

What is Classical Ballet and Why Should Dancers Study It?

Classical ballet as we know it today developed in the late 19th century in the Russian city of St. Petersburg during the last days of the Russian Empire and the Romantic period. It evolved from earlier forms of ballet that developed in France beginning in the 17th century, gaining popularity as it spread across the courts of Europe to Italy and Russia during the 18th and 19th century. The origins of classical ballet began as dances performed during operas as an amusement, gaining importance over time until eventually the ballet dances became an independent art form. 

Because of these origins, the music and stories of the best known classical ballets overlap with many of the best known Romantic operas of the late 19th century. In addition, it explains why the language we associate with classical ballet is French: French rather than Russian was the language of the Russian court and was where ballet itself originated.

These factors in turn help to explain why classical ballet training is so critical for dancers who wish to succeed as professionals. Classical ballet’s French, Italian and Russian roots are the origin of much of the terminology used in the professional dance world. And reaction to its rules formed the basis for the contemporary and modern dance movements that followed. Understand classical ballet, and everything else in the dance world makes sense.

Elements of Classical Ballet Training

So what is classical ballet training? In a nutshell, it is training that educates dancers on the elements of classical ballet – from terminology, to movement and musicality, to production elements, repertory, costumes and more. 

For some dancers, classical ballet training will lead them along the traditional path from beginner level 1’s basic positions in slippers through the advanced and pre-professional levels where they will dance en pointe and learn classical ballet repertory. 

For other dancers, such as modern, musical theater or street dance artists, classical ballet training provides a background and common language that allows dancers from different “worlds” to understand one another. Here are some of the elements that classical ballet training can cover: 

Music – Classical ballets typically are based around well-known pieces of music composed for ballet by classical composers such as Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Minkus. Many of the best known classical ballets are based on music and choreography created during the Romantic period of the late 19th century. Learning to tell stories through music and interpret characters through dance can help any dancer develop their musicality and expression.

Stories and Repertory – Classical ballet usually tells a story whereas a modern or contemporary ballet may not. Classical ballet stories often are based on stories of romance or well-known traditional fairytales. Within this story there is a problem or a conflict that the main characters must resolve. Learning how to tell these stories helps dancers develop their artistry.

Production – Classical ballet typically involves elaborate productions with highly detailed costumes and scenery changes, and typically require a large company of dancers to produce. Like old-school Hollywood movies with a “cast of thousands,” classical ballets involve multiple principals and a large corps de ballet. Contemporary or modern ballets might only require a few dancers by comparison. Learning how classical ballets are produced provides experience that develops a dancer’s versatility.

Pointe – The pointe shoes and tutus worn by female principal dancers are among the most notable visual elements of classical ballet. These are typically not worn by contemporary ballet or modern dancers. Pointe shoes were developed to make classical ballet dancers appear weightless, whereas contemporary and modern dance artists are striving for a more earthy, grounded appearance. Tutus, on the other hand, were developed to showcase the complex footwork of principal ballerinas. Even if a dancer never intends to dance en pointe, classical ballet training helps to develop strength and flexibility.

Character Dances – Also called “folk” dances, character dances are the stylized national dances such as the flamenco, tarantella or mazurka that are featured within the story of a classical ballet. For example, during the party scene of the Nutcrackers, the national dances of Ukraine, China, Arabia and Spain are featured during a “divertissement.” Learning character dances during classical ballet training develops an appreciation for different cultures and musical styles, adding to a dancer’s versatility.

Positions, Moves and Steps – Classical ballet is highly rigorous and rules-based, using the same terminology, positions, moves and steps the world over. Ballet terminology is typically in French, due to the fact that ballet was initially developed in France during the 17th century.  Classical ballet training provides specific training on this language, so that dancers can work and perform anywhere and understand the directions they are given.

Classical Ballet Training with Joffrey Ballet School

Joffrey Ballet School’s world class classical ballet instructors come from around the world – Russia, Europe and elsewhere – and have trained with the world’s leading ballet schools. We provide classical ballet training both as part of our classical ballet program, and embedded within our other dance training programs. Whether you’re looking to expand your horizons as a dancer, or if you’re looking to become the next prima ballerina, contact Joffrey today to learn how our classical ballet training can help you accomplish your goals.

How and When to Start Ballet Training

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How and When to Start Ballet Training

If you’re a young dancer or a parent, or even an adult who is interested in studying ballet, you might be asking how and when to start ballet training? How old is too old? Or how young is too young? We’re here to answer those questions in today’s blog.

How to Start Ballet Training

The first step in starting ballet training is to identify a reputable ballet school. It’s important that the school you choose has a curriculum that can support your goals, whether those goals include dreams of dancing professionally, recreationally or for health, fitness and development.

Keep in mind that a dancer’s goals can also change over time. For instance, your pre-school age child may not be ready for ballet lessons yet, but they are old enough for early childhood movement classes that will set the stage for ballet lessons later. Your beginner dancer may not be ready for pointe classes yet, but she is ready to work on positions and flexibility in  Level 1 or 2. An adult dancer may simply be interested in the health and fitness benefits of dance. And a single dancer may pass through all these phases of development throughout their dancing life.

Something to consider when choosing a ballet school is that each school has its own curriculum and may cover different skills at different times. Switching between ballet schools can lead to gaps in a dancer’s training if a dancer moves to a new school. This is sometimes unavoidable, such as when a dancer gets a late start or moves, but ideally, it’s best to start ballet training by selecting a ballet school that can support all stages of development so that those gaps don’t occur.

At Joffrey Ballet School, although we are known for our youth and pre-professional trainee programs, we have programs for dancers through the full range of their development. We offer preschool movement classes, ballet training for dancers ages 4 and up, and even adult recreational dance classes.  

When to Start Ballet Training

The question of when to start ballet training is one that many dance parents ask. We frequently hear of young dance prodigies who started dance training as early as three, or older dancers who were quick studies, who didn’t begin until much later. Plus, there are the recreational adult dancers who start well past the age when many professionals retire. What this demonstrates is that there isn’t a simple answer – it all depends on the dancer, their goals and what’s appropriate for them developmentally.

However, there are some general guidelines that should be followed. These include keeping the dancer’s physical and cognitive development in mind and not to progress or push a young dancer beyond their physical or mental capabilities. Here’s a typical progression of when to start ballet classes depending on a child’s age and development.

Preschool and Early Elementary

Very young children from preschool through about age 8 generally are more appropriately placed in pre-ballet or creative movement classes. These classes offer a smaller class size for more individual attention, or may involve parents (as in “Mommy and Me” classes) to ensure that young minds are engaged and able to understand and have fun as they learn. At Joffrey Ballet School we offer Children’s Ballet classes for ages 2 – 7 that allow children to dance and have fun while learning the foundations of ballet through creative movement and basic ballet steps that encourage creativity, musicality and physical development in an age appropriate way.

Tweens and Teens

As children get a little older, they develop a longer attention span, greater physical ability and the mental capacity to study ballet more seriously. This typically happens around age 8 (although it could be earlier or later depending on the child). Once a child reaches this threshold of maturity, they can begin ballet training in earnest. To determine developmental readiness, ballet schools often require that dancers take a trial class so they can be placed at an appropriate level.

At Joffrey, we offer two programs for this age group. One is our Youth Ballet program, which begins at age 8 and goes through age 18. It is a program with 5 levels. Young dancers progress from learning basic ballet positions in slippers twice a week in Level 1, through Level 5 when they will be working 7 days a week on variations in pointe shoes. As dancers complete one level, they begin the next, learning and having fun along the way. 

This Youth program provides opportunities to prepare for the rigors of advanced and pre-professional training by developing strength, flexibility and proper technique. Our students also receive training and mentorship from some of the world’s best ballet instructors along with performance opportunities not available anywhere else. 

We also offer a Community ballet program, with once a week classes and progression from Beginner, through Intermediate/Advanced levels as well as a Teen division. There is a lower time commitment for this program, and no performance requirements.

Older Teens and Adult

Of course, a dancer doesn’t have to start ballet classes in preschool or even elementary school. Older children, teens and adults can begin ballet whenever they develop an interest; it’s simply a question of what their goals are.

Most professionals do get started at a fairly young age, beginning with studying ballet at around age 8, moving to pointe shoes around age 12 or whenever they reach Level 5 in their training. From there, they progress to pre-professional training in their mid- to late- teens, followed – with the right combination of training, connections and luck – by landing a role with a professional company. But for most dancers, dancing professionally isn’t the goal. The goal is simply to learn and have fun, build strength and flexibility, and enjoy movement – goals you’re never too old to pursue!

At Joffrey, we offer classes to support older dancers too. We offer community ballet classes for older children and teens, along with Open classes for dancers ages 13 and up, including active adults. These are walk-in dance classes taught by our master instructors that include Beginner Ballet, Hip Hop, Intermediate Ballet, Advanced Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and Pilates. They are a fantastic way to keep fit, move your body and have fun.

Ready to Get Started with Ballet?

Ballet is not just for those with professional aspirations: it’s something everyone young and old can enjoy. If you’re ready to get started with learning ballet, contact Joffrey Ballet School or register online today. We can help you find the ballet class that is right for your age, abilities and goals. Call us today!



Top 11 Most Famous Hip Hop Dancers

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Top 11 Most Famous Hip Hop Dancers

The hip hop dance world is competitive, and there are lots of dancers vying to become one of 11 most famous hip hop dancers. Yet the truth is, it’s not like there’s some leaderboard that determines who’s on the list and who’s not. So, we decided to take it upon ourselves to create our own list of famous hip hop dancers from its origins in the street up through the present day.

Hip Hop: From the Street to the Studio

In hip hop, it’s important to distinguish between “Old School” and “New Style.” Old school refers to the original hip hop street dancing that got its start in the 1970s, evolving alongside the developing rap music style. Hip hop dancers in those days vied for bragging rights by holding street dance battles between crews that featured breaking, popping and locking – moves put together improvisationally in freestyle dances. 

As hip hop caught on nationwide in the early 80s, it was featured in movies like Breakin’ and on televised dance shows of the time, including Soul Train. Around this time, it was also noticed by dance industry pioneers like Toni Basil who began developing hip hop choreography based on the traditional eight count. This move away from pure freestyling or improvisation was the beginning of the “new school” of hip hop dance. 

Today, many hip hop dancers study “new style” hip hop dance at the thousands of studios that have sprung up to teach the next generation the old school moves along with formal jazz-funk choreography. Crews and freestyle dance battles still exist, on the street, in competitions and increasingly, on social media.

Top 11 Most Famous Hip Hop Dancers: Singer / Dancers

Hip hop music and dance evolved simultaneously and for many outside the dance world, entertainers who are both singers and dancers are often considered the most famous hip hop dancers. On that note, we’ll lead off our list with a few of these double threat hip hop artists:

Ciara – Ciara is a singer and dancer who has won the Soul Train Music Awards “Best Dance Performance” three times. Her first win was for the video to “Ride” in 2010, she won a second time in 2013 for the video to “Body Party” and a third time in 2018 for her performance in “Level Up.” 

Beyonce – Beyonce may not have won the Soul Train Best Dance Performance as often as Ciara (for the record, Queen B has won twice: once in 2011 for the video to “Rule the World (Girls)” and again 2012 for “Love on Top”) but she has been nominated more often than any other female artist: a total of five times.

Chris Brown – No, we’re not going to leave it to the ladies. Next on our list is Chris Brown who won the Best Dance Performance award in 2014 for his dancing in the “Loyal” video, and again in 2019 for “No Guidance.” He’s also been nominated a whopping 8 times – more than any other artist.

Top 11 Most Famous Hip Hop Dancers: Crews and Duos

Next on our list of 11 most famous hip hop dancers are a few of the best known dance crews. These old school and new style teams made their name on the street and in competitions, including on popular reality TV dance competitions. 

Les Twins – As their name would suggest, this duo are identical twin brothers from France. They were finalists on the French TV program Incroyable Talent in 2008 and since then have risen to prominence globally as dancers, models, choreographers, designers and creative directors of their brand “Eleven Paris.” They were the 2017 winners of the reality TV competition “World of Dance” and have been featured dancers for Beyonce, Missy Elliott and Meghan Trainor among many other accomplishments.

Poreotics -This all male dance crew from Westminster, California has won multiple dance competitions including Vibe 15, FUSION X and Body Rock. They were the 2010 season winners of TV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, and won the World of Dance competition in 2011. Even those who haven’t ever watched a hip-hop dance competition are likely to have caught these electrifying performers in action: they were the dancing monkeys in Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song” video.

Jabbawockeez – Based out of San Diego, Jabbawockeez were the first winners of the 2008 season of America’s Best Dance Crew. Since then the crew has appeared in Pepsi, Gatorade and Ford commercials, and have appeared on So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Ellen DeGeneres and Live With Regis and Kelly. They also competed in 2017 on World of Dance but were eliminated. In 2012 they were the first dance crew to be awarded the Living Legends of Hip Hop award by Hip Hop International.

Rock Steady Crew – No listing of hip hop crews would be complete without mentioning to the OG kings, the original hip hop crew from New York City, the Rock Steady Crew. Rock Steady was 

New Style and Old School Solo Dancers

Last, here are a few of the solo hip hop dancers who have made their mark on the dance scene since the style’s inception in the early 1980s..

Fik-Shun – DuShaunt “Fik-shun” Stegall was the male winner of season 10 of So You Think You Can Dance in 2013 at the tender age of 18. Since then, he has been featured on SYTYCD multiple times and has appeared in films and TV shows such as “All Styles,” “Making Moves,” “World of Dance” as well as Ellen DeGeneres, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and many others.

Leon “Kida” Burns – Another hip hop prodigy from SYTYCD is Leon “Kida” Burns, who was mentored by Fik-shun on “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation” in 2016. After winning SYTYCD, Kida danced with Usher at the 2016 BET Awards. He has also appeared on the Queen Latifah and Rachel Ray shows, and in the movie Battlefield America. In 2020, Kida choreographed and appeared in Justin Bieber’s “Come Around Me” video.

Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon and Steffan “Mr. Wiggles” Clemente – As President of the Rock Steady Crew, Crazy Legs is probably the best known member of the troupe and was the “face of hip hop” in its early days. Another founding member of Rock Steady, Mr. Wiggles, was featured alongside Crazy Legs in two of hip hop dance’s most influential movies, “Beat Street” and “Wild Style.” Since then, Colon moved into choreography and producing, while Mr. Wiggles went on to work with Missy Elliott, Usher, Madonna and many others.

Toni Basil – Best known for the 1982 hit “Mickey,” Basil is also one of the leading influences on the development of new school hip hop. Basil’s background was in classical ballet and cheerleading, which she parlayed into a professional dance career starting in the early 1960s. By the 1980s, she had become interested in street dance and was one of the founding members of the street dance troupe “The Lockers,” alongside Don “Campbellock” Campbell, who invented the hip hop dance move that bears his and the group’s name. Basil was one of the first in the dance industry to bring hip hop dance to a broad audience.

We blew right past 11 famous hip hop dancers and gave you twelve of the dancers, crews and entertainers who are among the best known and most influential in the hip hop world. Hip hop is a dynamic style with new artists discovered every day. If you love hip hop and want to learn more, contact Joffrey Ballet School today and register to audition for one of our Hip Hop Summer Dance Intensives in New York City.

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Summer of Hip Hop NYC:

Four Reasons Why a Summer Dance Intensive is Safer than a Dance Competition

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Four Reasons Why a Summer Dance Intensive is Safer than a Dance Competition

As states across the country begin looking at reopening their economies and returning to normal life activities, it’s time to begin asking what activities you will participate in when quarantine lifts in your area. For many dancers, this means making decisions about which dance activities are safest to participate in. Is a summer dance intensive still a safe option? Or would a dance competition be safer?

When determining the safety of any activities during this challenging time, a few of the things to consider are the number of people to whom you will be exposed, the facilities where the activities will be held, and the overall cleanliness of the activity. Will social distancing guidelines be observed, or will that even be possible given the environment? From a financial perspective it’s also important to determine what happens if an activity is unable to be held.

Based on these considerations, here are a few reasons why we believe a summer dance intensive is a safer option for dancers this summer than a dance competition or contest.

  1. Limited Class Sizes

    At Joffrey Ballet School, our intensives are limited to class sizes of only about 25 students. We hold our intensives in large studio spaces, which generally make it possible for us to observe appropriate social distancing of approximately 6 to 10 feet of space between each student. You will only be exposed to these dancers and those you may interact with in the dorms for the duration of a week (or more) long intensive. In a dance competition, on the other hand, as many as 500 to 1,000 individual dancers and teams will share the stage and venue with limited time between numbers. Through the course of a competition day, you could be exposed to hundreds of other dancers, audience members, judges and others, making a competition a potentially riskier activity in terms of virus spread than a smaller intensive. Overnight stays in hotels could expose you even more.

  2. Effective Sick Policies

    A major disadvantage of a dance competition is that dancers may be so motivated to compete and win that they may not self-isolate if they begin experiencing symptoms of illness. There’s no guarantee that anyone will be checking contestants and others as they enter the venue to ensure they aren’t exhibiting a fever or other symptoms. Most competitions don’t have a policy to ensure that dancers who are ill are kept away if they are symptomatic. At Joffrey, if one of our dancers is ill, they are required to stay in the dorm until their symptoms improve. If they are displaying symptoms of Coronavirus, parents will be notified in order to make arrangements to return home or make decisions about medical assistance.

  3. Clean Facilities

    Before each intensive and between each class, Joffrey staff diligently clean and disinfect all practice and performance spaces to ensure that our facilities are as clean as possible. This includes wiping down all floors, barres, mirrors, door knobs and surfaces in general, after each class with medical grade sanitizer. We also partner with third party organizations such as universities for our housing and food service options. These facilities are also kept clean and disinfected by those organizations to restrict disease transmission. At a crowded dance competition with hundreds or thousands in attendance, there’s no way to ensure that facilities are kept clean and disease free at all times.

  4. Insurance to Protect Tuition / Fees

    Most dance competitions are unable to process refunds in the event that a competition can’t be held due to social distancing regulations. And there’s no insurance policy that can protect your entrance fees. At Joffrey, we’ve solved this problem by partnering with A+ Program Protection to provide insurance to protect our dancers’ and their families’ investments should we be forced to cancel a summer intensive session. Just $99 safeguards your tuition and travel expenses if a dancer or their parents loses their job, becomes ill or are unable to attend our intensives. Pandemic and epidemic claims ARE INCLUDED. However, please note that we are unable to process refunds due to our contractual obligations to the third party organizations that host our intensives. Therefore, we strongly recommend purchasing insurance for any summer dance intensives you consider attending this summer.

At Joffrey, we understand how challenging it is for dancers and their families to determine what the best course of action is for summer plans. But when considering the evidence about limited class sizes, facility cleaning, sick policies and insurance, it’s clear that a summer dance intensive is a safer option than a dance competition. 

Why be crammed into a competition venue with hundreds of other dancers, parents, judges and observers when you can attend a week-long dance intensive with just 25 other students and a renowned master instructor who provides one-on-one corrections to help you improve? Register today to audition online for one of our summer dance intensives across the country, and get ready to have the best summer of your life!

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How a Summer Dance Intensive Can Help You Train for a Dance Competition

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How a Summer Dance Intensive Can Help You Train for a Dance Competition

Dance competitions are fiercely competitive and highly professional, yet they are also subjective. Judges are looking not just for the quality of your choreography, precision and placement of your footwork but also at the intangible elements of your performance: musicality, artistry, creativity and perhaps most elusively, the ability to convey and evoke emotion – to make judges and audiences feel something unexpected.

With such a challenging set of criteria, what’s the best way for young dancers to train for a dance competition? We think there are three main areas to focus on – coaching, versatility and experience – and all of them can be accomplished by attending a Joffrey Summer dance intensive. 

Train with a Winning Coach

Like most competitive disciplines, dance competitions are often won by dancers who train with instructors who have coached previous winners. This is because these instructors have a strong understanding of what today’s judges are looking for; they can teach you how to deliver what judges want to see and how to avoid the mistakes judges don’t want to see.

One option for training with a winning coach is to consider a summer dance intensive directed by an instructor noted for their students’ success in dance competitions. Josie Walsh, Joffrey Ballet School’s Artistic Director for the Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York summer dance intensives, has coached numerous dancers to success in competitions such as the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP), NBC’s World of Dance and America’s Got Talent. She has even been awarded YAGP’s Outstanding Choreography award and has been featured in their New York City gala.

Train Across Multiple Disciplines

Competition dance isn’t Classical Ballet. It isn’t Contemporary. It isn’t Jazz dance, Hip Hop or Musical Theater, either. It requires dancers to show their artistry and versatility across these disciplines, and others. Winning dancers must put multiple elements and disciples together to deliver something unique and memorable.  

In short, you need to be what we at Joffrey call “the dancer who has it all.” Studying multiple disciplines enhances your artistry, improves your technique and spurs your creativity, so you can bring “the total package” to your competition routines.

Why is versatility and exposure to multiple disciplines so important? It’s a given that to win in competition you need to have a strong foundation in dance, such as tight footwork, a strong frame and clean body lines. Classical or contemporary ballet is still one of the best ways to master these elements. But to catch the judge’s eye as a competition dancer and engage their imagination, you’ll need multiple sources to pull from in your routine to be able to deliver something truly unique. 

Joffrey Ballet School’s summer dance intensives offer a perfect opportunity to train across disciplines as you can choose between so many disciplines. You can choose between multiple locations too. Interested in studying Latin dance? Be deeply immersed in our Miami Latin fusion intensive. Interested in classical or contemporary ballet? Choose from several intensives in various locations, including New York, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles and more. Curious about musical theater or commercial dance? Choose an intensive in New York, Las Vegas or LA. With Joffrey, the options are practically limitless.

Gain Performance Experience

They say experience is the best teacher and when it comes to dance competitions, that’s definitely true. Experience teaches how to handle pressure, how to recover quickly and gracefully from a mistake, and how to connect with audiences and judges. This knowledge plays a role in determining who wins or loses in a dance competition. Performing also teaches you how to prepare for performances, manage pre-performance nerves and gain confidence in your ability to perform under stress.

That said, a dance competition is not necessarily the best place to gain performance experience. Judges have long memories, and you will often see the same judges at multiple competitions. You want to be remembered as a dancer that brought them a polished, finished performance, not the dancer who appeared to be learning as they went, so gaining performance experience outside of competitions is a critical element of your preparation.

Fortunately, Joffrey’s summer dance intensives offer multiple performance opportunities. Most Joffrey intensives offer in-studio dance performances for family and friends, as well as gala performances in professional performance venues. You’ll gain experience and confidence  performing on a large stage in front of a real audience.

Train for Your Next Competition with Joffrey!

A Joffrey Ballet School summer dance intensive can deliver the training, versatility and experience you need to be successful in future dance competitions. Register for an audition with us today!

Advice From Joffrey Alumni: Seven Strategies for Acing the Summer Dance Intensive Audition

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Advice From Joffrey Alumni: Seven Strategies for Acing the Summer Dance Intensive Audition

It’s that time of year again! The Joffrey Ballet School audition tour is traveling around the world looking for the next crop of dancers to join us at our 2020 summer dance intensives in New York, Las Vegas, London, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and elsewhere. And who knows? Some of those dancers we select may even be invited to join our year round trainee program! 

For many young dancers who will audition with us this year, it might be your first time participating in an audition of this nature and we know there’s a lot riding on your performance. You might be feeling a little nervous, wondering how you can stand out and be in that group of dancers we will select to join us this summer. 

We think the best people to ask about how to stand out in our audition process are young professional dancers who stood in your pointe shoes or dance slippers not so long ago. They too were looking for their chance to join us – and they got it! These recent students of our summer dance intensives and year round training programs are now working professionals for whom auditioning is a way of life. 

They came through for us with seven tips for acing your next audition – whether it’s auditioning for a summer dance intensive with us, or another opportunity.

Be More Than a Dancer; Be an Artist

Recent Joffrey success story Harold Trent Butler came to us just a few years ago as a hip hop dancer; he left as a working professional with a passion for contemporary ballet. He just wrapped up a contract with Martha Graham’s second company, Graham 2, where he was able to dance in some of Graham’s best known works, including Appalachian Spring, Embattled Garden and Secular Games.

For Harold, his audition with us was actually a pivotal moment in his dance career. As he told us, “The very first time I ever touched a ballet barre was at my audition for the Joffrey Ballet School. Thankfully, the school’s director, Era Jouravlev, gave me the opportunity of a lifetime!”

Harold’s advice on how to stand out when auditioning?

“One piece of advice I would like to share with dancers interested in pursuing this as a career is a lesson I learned from the former Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet School,  Michael Blake: ‘In order to be successful in this business you have to be more than a dancer – you have to be an artist.’ ” 

Harold said,

“There will be hundreds of talented dancers in the audition room with you and it’s your job to stand out. Agents, directors, and choreographers are looking for artists who are fearless! You have to be versatile, you have to be quick on your feet, and you have to be confident in the attributes that make you unique as a performer.”

Be Authentic

Fifteen year old Aidan Wolf is a Joffrey success story at a very young age. Currently she’s dancing with one of America’s top contemporary ballet companies, Complexions, based out of New York City. But she got her start even earlier on the other side of the country: she began dancing at age three in Colorado.

Aidan found her way to Joffrey at age 10 when she auditioned to join us in Los Angeles for a summer dance intensive. She was later selected for a merit scholarship to join our New York City Jazz and Contemporary trainee program. Today she’s a working dance professional in the “City that Never Sleeps”-  at an age when most people her age are still in high school.

Aidan’s auditioning advice?

“My best piece of advice for young dancers to stand out in auditions is to bring your most authentic self,” said Aidan. “By that I mean, don’t try to conform to those you are ‘competing’ with. What you bring to an audition is your sense of individuality and that is what will get you hired for the job best fitting for you. Always listen to the choreographer’s corrections and match the style asked for, but don’t ignore your creativity and authenticity because that is what will get you noticed in the long run.

“Directors seek those who know how to both conform and stand out,” said Aidan. “So know who you are and never give up searching!”

Make a Positive First Impression

Auditioning is essentially like a job interview, or an interview to become a student at a prestigious school or university. So, it’s not just dance skills that are being assessed when you go in for your audition. Establishing trust and making a positive first impression are critical. After all, no director or instructor wants to hire a dancer or take on a student who is going to be difficult or unpleasant to be around.

“The audition starts the second you walk into the building,” says Amber Weissman, a 2019 graduate of Joffrey Ballet School who is currently volunteering with the non-profit organization SheWinS in Memel, South Africa.

“Be kind and approachable to the people around you especially in the audition room. More often than not the person behind the table, whoever you are auditioning for, wants to not only trust you as a dancer but also trust you as a person. They want to see that you’re kind, respectful, and an easy person to work with in and outside of the studio.”

And it’s not just the directors, choreographers and instructors that you want to impress positively. You also want to make positive impressions on other dancers in your audition. 

“So much of this career is built off of forming connections with your peers,” said Amber. “ Down the line, the person standing next to you in the audition room could very well end up being the person behind the table auditioning you. You just never know.”

Get Out of Your Own Way

“For me, auditions are never really about the choreography,” said Angelina Barbosa, who recently wrapped up a busy Christmas season, dancing 16 to 20 shows per week in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. “Most of the time the choreography is something you’ve done before if you’ve had training.”

Like many other dancers, Angelina’s big audition challenge was nerves. So for her, remembering to have faith in herself and her abilities – and getting out of her own way – is the key to a great audition.

“At the end of the day you’re the only one who’s gonna get in your way,” said Angelina.

“When it comes to auditions, what you really get caught up in is the pressure. Pressure of the people sitting on the other side of the table. Pressure on yourself. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to try to be perfect, and not mess up the choreography, but most of the time it’s just me psyching myself out.”

Approach Auditions as a Learning Opportunity

Angelina shared with us some of her key strategies for staying out of her own head during auditions.

She said,

“If you approach each audition like a class, it’s a lot easier and you don’t feel so much pressure.”

At Joffrey Ballet School, we like to say that each audition is like a 90 minute master class with some of the dance world’s greatest instructors. You’ll have the opportunity to work with master instructors like Era Jouravlev, Colleen Barnes and Yusha Sorzano, Artistic Directors of our Ballet intensives; Lisette and David Lucas, Artistic Directors of our Hip Hop intensives; Angelica Stiskin, Josie Walsh, Max Baud, Matthew Prescott, Artistic Directors of our Jazz and Contemporary, Musical Theater and Commercial dance intensives. 

So if nerves are a challenge for you, try approaching your audition as simply an opportunity to learn from the best. This allows you to focus on the right things and take something positive home with you no matter what happens during the audition.

Remember to Have Fun!

Auditions are exciting. They can also bring out fear of failure or rejection that can prevent you from dancing your best. So, Angelina Barbosa says, it’s crucial to keep the audition fun and not get too caught up in whether you get a yes or a no.

“Whatever you do,” said Angelina, “just try and have fun. Don’t take the outcome so much to heart because there will be a lot of no’s before there is a yes. So if you can relax and just have a good time, auditioning is much easier.”

Feel the Love in the Room

And finally, remember that no one at that audition wants to see you fail. Everyone is there because they love dance. By extension, they love dancers – and that includes you!

“Everyone in the room wants you to succeed, especially the people that sit on the other side of the table,” said Angelina.

“You can feel the love and support. So if you think in your head it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the part and you gave it your all, you can walk away from the audition being proud of yourself whether you got the job or not.”

Joffrey’s California Summer Dance Intensives

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Joffrey’s California Summer Dance Intensives

Joffrey’s San Francisco Contemporary Ballet Intensive

Joffrey’s San Francisco Contemporary Ballet summer dance intensive is a fusion of the highest level of classical ballet technique, pointe, contemporary ballet, modern and contemporary dance preparing dancers for the professional concert dance world both classical and contemporary as well as the demanding college circuit. Artistic Director Josie Walsh designed this program for dancers seeking a bridge to their classical training into the contemporary ballet world and for contemporary dancers seeking refinement into the concert dance realm creating an all-around versatile artist.

In 2020, the San Francisco dance intensives will be offered from July 13 through July 31. Classes are held in the Wellness Center at the City College of San Francisco. Classes include classical and contemporary ballet, pointe, variations, contemporary dance, modern, improv, partnering and repertory. On the performance track dancers train 7hrs per day. Five hrs of classes followed by a 2 hour of creative rehearsal process with our world class choreographers for our culminating performance at the McKenna Theatre on campus.

Students will learn from renowned instructors and dance professionals including Artistic Director Josie Walsh, Adam Sklute, Bradley Shelver, Andrew Brader, Angela Rebelo, Allison DeBona and many others.

Dancers ages 12 and up who require housing will live in the Mary Ward Hall dormitory at San Francisco State University. Many fun sight seeing excursions around SF are planned for our housing students to sign up for.

At the end of the third week, intensive students on the performance track will perform in a professionally produced concert dance performance at the McKenna Theater on the campus of San Francisco State University. Dancers who would like to perform must attend the last two weeks of the intensive in order to participate.

Joffrey West: Fusion Dance Intensive – Located in Long Beach

Like our San Francisco intensive, the Joffrey West Fusion Dance Intensive in Long Beach is led by Artistic Director Josie Walsh and is ultimate fusion of cutting edge commercial dance, TV, film, stage and concert dance.

This is an excellent intensive for dancers from 8 to 25 years old with professional aspirations, as students in this intensive will have the exclusive opportunity to audition for the major Los Angeles based dance talent agency Go2Talent. Go2Talent will also attend our culminating performance. Between the exclusive audition and performance students get the chance to be signed by this major agency joining their star-studded roster! Head shots and dance photography will also be available for booking on-site creating the complete package to go pro.

The 2020 Joffrey West Fusion dance intensive will be held over the course of three weeks, from June 8 through June 26. Dancers can choose to attend one, two or three week sessions – those wanting to participate in the final performance are required to attend the second and third week sessions.

Joffrey West offers a wide variety of styles built on a solid foundation of technique. Classes include ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, ballroom, bollywood, latin fusion, musical theatre, improv, composition and pointe (twice a week) are offered. Five hours of classes plus a two hour rehearsal process totaling seven hours of dance daily on the performance track! Culminating our intensive is a fully produced show at a huge campus Theater.

Location: University Long Beach
1250 Bellflower Blvd Long Beach Ca 90840-720

Students will have the opportunity to work closely with the industries leading choreographers and master teachers such as Talia Favia, Chaz Buzan, Teddy Forance, Mark Meismer, Rudy Abreu, Zoi Tatopoulos, Kayla Kalbfleisch Renee Kester and many many more.

As with all Joffrey intensives, the dormitory experience, age 12 and up, is fully chaperoned by resident advisors who strive to provide a safe, welcoming and fun atmosphere for all our dancers. Fun sight-seeing weekend excursions are planned for our housing students to sign up for.

Learn from the best, dance with the best! Make vital connections with the industries leading choreographers and get signed with a top dance agency only at Joffrey West!

How To Audition for Our California Dance Intensives

If you’re looking to further your dance skills and education, while enjoying everything California has to offer, then it’s time to register with us and plan your audition! Our California summer dance intensives follow the same admissions procedures as our NYC and other intensives.

Dancers must attend one of our auditions around the US or in some cases where traveling to an audition isn’t possible, they may submit an online audition. Keep in mind each audition is more than just an audition it is a Master Class conducted by a Master Joffrey Instructor. You will learn and have a superb dance experience. Our audition process allows us to place each dancer at an appropriate level within their intensive and will also help to qualify dancers for scholarships and acceptance.

Ready to take the next step in your dance career? Register for one of our California summer dance intensives today!

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