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How Competitive Dance Can Give Your College Applications an Edge

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The value of strong extracurriculars on your college application cannot be understated. With selective colleges now receiving applications from far many more academically qualified applicants than they can accept, it is often extracurricular involvement that will set some students ahead of the rest. Presenting a profile of extracurriculars that speaks to your passions, drive, and initiative can be a critical piece of any application.


Some students think that extracurriculars must consist of school-recognized clubs or teams, and that independent interests or hobbies cannot count as an extracurricular activity, but this is not true. In reality, anything that you spend time pursuing on a regular basis outside of your required academic coursework can count as an extracurricular.


For many students, this means sports teams, art, and student government. For others it might mean debate club or math olympiad. And for thousands of students across the country, it means dance.


While some might think of dance as a sport and others might think of it as an art, how you perceive and present your participation in it will depend largely on your personal approach to it during your high school years. Some students will pursue competitions actively, while others will find other meaningful ways of participating. Regardless, one thing is certain. If you have spent significant time and energy pursuing dance during high school, your commitment and success should be highlighted on your college application.


To learn more about the many outlets for pursuing dance in high school, and the various ways in which you make sure that your avid pursuit of it shines through on your college application, keep reading.


How Might I Participate in Dance As a High School Student?

Although some people might think of dance as a hobby sometimes outgrown by the teen years, dance can in fact be a serious and rigorous pursuit. Some dancers even go on to make a career out of their dancing.


There are many different ways that you can participate in dance as a high school student. If you are taking lessons outside of school, you might join your dance studio’s competition team or at least participate in performances and recitals. If you are not participating in dance outside of school, you might join your school’s dance team, cheerleading squad, or drill team.


While there are obviously some significant differences between cheerleading or drill team and traditional dance, there are many more similarities. Many critical skills, such as rhythm, flexibility, strength, and even some of the steps and specific moves translate well between all three pursuits. If you are looking to put your dance skills to use but cannot find a dance team, consider a cheerleading team or drill team instead.


Finally, you might choose to pursue dance more casually. Perhaps you take night classes at the local community center, or you’re teaching yourself to dance salsa. These might not place you directly in the world of competitive dance, but they could still qualify you as a dancer and count as an important extracurricular activity on your college application. Later, we’ll discuss how you might pursue some of these less structured pursuits.


What Kinds of Dance Qualify As An Extracurricular?

If you’re a dancer, you already know that the varieties of dance styles and the ways in which dancers apply their craft are virtually endless. The same can be said for which varieties of dance qualify as an extracurricular.


You might be a classical ballerina, or you might prefer jazz, tap, or lyrical dance. Maybe you only dabbled casually in dance before joining the cheerleading or drill team. Or perhaps you are more involved in the performing arts, and you apply your singing, acting, and dancing skills on stage in theatrical productions.


The type of dance you pursue does not determine whether or not it qualifies as an extracurricular activity. Instead, the extent to which you pursue it, the amount of time you spend on it, the regularity with which you participate, and your passion for it are the real factors that will determine its importance on a college application.


For more about what types of specific activities should be included on a college application, see our post What Counts as an Extracurricular?.


How to Reinforce Dance As a Serious Endeavor on Your College Applications



Dance competitions exist at just about every scale imaginable. There are small, local competitions, sometimes held within a single studio, and there are huge international competitions held as large, annual events, taking over entire hotels and conference centers. If you’re interested in competitive dance, there is something to suit every level of involvement.


One thing that differentiates dance from other competitive events is that dance competitions are organized and conducted by independent competition production companies. This means that private companies are always the ones running the competitions and responsible for making the rules for each competition.


Because there is no national oversight or governing body, every competition will be slightly different. You need to be certain that you know the specific rules at each competition, so that you don’t unknowingly break one or enter your routine in the wrong category. There are usually rules governing time limits along with rules specific to dance styles (for example, no acrobatics allowed in ballet routines).


While there is no national governing body, there are smaller governing bodies that oversee dance competitions at certain levels. This is particularly true of high school dance competitions. In fact, the National Dance Team Championship is endorsed by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which is the same national service and administrative organization responsible for high school athletics and fine arts programs in speech, debate, theater, and music. In addition, many states have state-wide high school dance competitions.


At a dance competition, dance routines can be solos, small groups, or teams, but you will usually compete on behalf of a team, with your individual scores counting towards your team’s score. Each routine will be judged by a panel of judges, usually current and former dance professionals themselves.


If you participate in dance competitions consistently enough, you’ll find that there is a community of friends that forms in the dance competition circuit. Especially if you are traveling to out-of-state competitions, you will likely make friends with other competitors staying at the same hotels as your team, since there is often time to socialize between routines and before and after the daily competition schedule.


In addition, larger competitions usually include some fun, bonus activities. Some are social in nature, and others are rooted in dance. These usually include workshops, master classes, and banquets.


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If you are interested in pursuing dance competitively, here are a few top tier competitions to consider:


National Dance Team Championship

NDTC is the only national-level dance team championship that is endorsed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. It usually takes place at Disney World, and certain routines are aired live on ESPN. It is administered by Universal Dance Administration (UDA), which also runs dance camps along with multiple other dance competitions. 


NexStar National Talent Competition

The NexStar National Talent Competition is run by the Star Dance Alliance and features several national events throughout the country each year. It is also a feeder to the World Dance Championship and World Dance Pageant, both of which are open by invitation only.


Youth America Grand Prix

For more classical dancers, the Youth America Gran Prix calls itself “ the world’s largest global network of dance.” It holds workshops, scholarship auditions, master classes, and audition classes throughout the U.S. and abroad, and culminates in a the week-long New York Finals, where the world’s most promising dancers receive in-depth mentoring and increased scholarship, professional, and performance opportunities.


If dance competitions aren’t entirely your thing, there are other ways to exhibit your passion for and dedication to dance. Here are a few ways to get involved:


Teaching Dance

Teaching dance allows you to give back to your community, share your passion with others, and demonstrate important leadership skills.


You can volunteer to teach dance informally as a teaching assistant at your dance studio, or you could organize a more formal class through your local library, community center, or elementary school. You might teach a weekly class that meets over the course of a few months, or you might teach a single workshop once a month. Either way, you are participating in dance in a meaningful way and serving others at the same time, so it’s a win-win.


Start a Dance Club At Your School

Another way to pursue your passion for dance outside of competitions is by starting a non-competitive dance club at your school. You might focus on a particular style of dance and choreography, or you might study broader varieties. You could even start a cultural club geared towards a specific style of dance. 


Starting a club shows a real ability to take initiative, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. You can read more about the general process for starting your own club in our post, How to Start a Club in High School.


Organize a Talent Show

Talent shows are a great way to showcase talent in a safe, non-competitive environment. While some talent shows do have an element of competition, it’s not a necessity, and generally people participate because they want to perform, not because they want to win.


Organizing a talent show gives you the perfect opportunity to perform in front of others without the pressure of being judged and having your score impact the performance of your team. It also provides other students at your school with the same opportunity. Sometimes, students are too shy to share their talents that aren’t readily apparent in a traditional high school environment. Talent shows are a great way to coax hidden talents out from under the surface, and they are usually a fun experience for all involved.


To take your talent show a step further, you might even turn it into a fundraiser by selling tickets and donating the money to an important cause.  A local nonprofit supporting visual or performing arts would be a fitting and grateful recipient of any money raised.


Create an Online Portfolio

One final way to showcase your passion and success in dance is to create an online portfolio. You can use a blog platform with free templates to design it. Then, upload video clips of your performances and other relevant material, such as costume design or teaching experience. You can even upload an artist’s statement to highlight how dance has impacted your life and who you are today.


Then, when you list dance as an extracurricular activity on your college application, you can link to your online portfolio. Of course there is no guarantee that any of the admissions committee members will click through to view your work, but if it influences even one person’s opinion, it will have been worth it.


The world of dance can be confusing to navigate from a college admissions standpoint. It is not as closely tied with your high school activities as many other extracurriculars are, and if you choose to pursue it outside of dance competitions, you might feel as though you have little to show for the time and energy you’ve expended. By participating in competitions, teaching dance to others, or finding other ways to highlight your hard work, you’ll prove that your pursuit of dance is as serious and ambitious as any other extracurricular activity.


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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For more information about extracurricular activities in high school, check out these posts:


Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.