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Students speak: What it’s like to attend a dance boarding school

From improvising with percussion music to dancing in a studio with a lake view, a freshman and a junior share what they love about their school.

A woman in a black leotard adjusts the posture of a young dancer in a light-filled dance studio.

Have you ever wanted to get an inside look at what it’s like to study dance at a boarding school? The benefits can include performance opportunities, collaborating with other artists, professional-quality facilities, and a friendly community. Here, two Dance majors at Interlochen Arts Academy share their favorite parts of the dance boarding school life.

Lots of chances to develop skills in performance

If you’re looking to pursue a career in classical ballet, or even if you just want to study it beyond high school, it’s important to seek out a dance high school that offers multiple opportunities to perform each year. In the glow of the stage lights, you’ll perfect your technique and learn how to maintain your poise even under pressure. You’ll also develop valuable performing experience that will prepare you for a future in dance.

Interlochen Arts Academy offers at least four performances a year. “In the fall, we put on a showcase of excerpts from ballets; we did a 10-minute excerpt from Le Corsaire this year and some character work in that,” explains Maxwell Pfluger, a junior. “We also put on two big ballets a year. One of them is always The Nutcracker and we usually get the orchestra to play for that. Another ballet this year was Cinderella. In the spring, we have our spring showcase, which is a bunch of different ballet and modern pieces.”

Opportunities to collaborate with students in other arts disciplines

Some boarding schools with dance departments also have programs in other disciplines. If the school has a major system, almost like a college or university, you might get to rub shoulders with peers who are studying theatre, visual arts, music, and more. The conversations you have and the projects you complete together will prepare you for the professional world, where your ability to collaborate can be a vital skill.

As a freshman, Lindy Sloan has already had several opportunities to collaborate with students in other programs. “We had a concert in the first semester with dancers improvising to percussion students who were improvising, all based on a particular painting,” she says. “We weren't required to do it. But a couple of my friends and I thought it would be really cool. We had friends who were percussionists, and we were like, ‘Why don't we do this?’”

Pfluger adds that the performances themselves are great opportunities to work with people in other arts disciplines. “You have the dancers, you have the tech crew who are usually Interdisciplinary Arts majors, you have the costume department, and you have the orchestra,” he says. “It's not just dancers on stage. It's all these different aspects of the arts coming together and creating a big performance.”

Professional-quality facilities

Take some time to think about what you’re looking for in a studio. After all, you’ll be spending many hours of your time there. Do you want high ceilings for practicing jumps and lifts? Do you want a beautiful view out the windows, spaces to hang out with friends, or a dedicated athletic and dance training room? Do your research and see what the dance boarding schools you’re considering have to offer. At the best dance boarding schools, you’ll enjoy professional-quality facilities that will keep you motivated to train at your highest level.

At Interlochen Arts Academy, Dance students practice in the Dance Center, a 25,000-square-foot facility situated on the shores of Interlochen’s Green Lake.

“The lake view is beautiful. There are also some great spaces where you can hang out and do homework,” says Pfluger, while Sloan calls the Dance Center her “second home.”

A genuine care for student wellness

Dance is a very challenging art form, and can put considerable stress on your mind and body. As a result, physical and emotional wellness are major priorities for every high-level dancer. Before you decide on a dance boarding school, talk with students and faculty members to see how much of an emphasis the program places on wellness. What resources are available for you if you are injured or need someone to talk to? 

The program that we have at Interlochen is the healthiest dance program, mentally and physically, that I've ever been in.

Lindy Sloan, freshman Dance major at Interlochen Arts Academy

At Interlochen Arts Academy, The Interlochen 5 are the defining characteristics of an arts boarding school education. Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey focuses on developing the quality of resilience in all of his students, ensuring they are self-aware and know how to seek out help when they need it. Cross training and recovery are emphasized, and a physical therapist regularly visits the dancers.

“The program that we have at Interlochen is the healthiest dance program, mentally and physically, that I've ever been in,” says Sloan. “They are so caring about injuries. Here, they really do care about you taking care of your body. They don't push you to your breaking point. You're a dancer, but you're also a human being and you need to be healthy both mentally and physically.”

Pfluger agrees, noting that he has appreciated the chance to take kinesiology classes at Interlochen. “I think that's very important to understand how your body works, because your body is your tool, and you have to really take good care of it. There are definitely a lot of great resources here to keep you strong and healthy.”

Friendships with other dancers

Another important aspect of any dance program is the kind of peers you have and the friends you make. At a dance boarding school, you can expect all of your peers to be “all in” for the dance life—after all, they left home and came to boarding school because they wanted to become the best dancers possible. That kind of shared commitment can lead to incredible friendships, especially if the atmosphere is one of healthy competition and fun.

Sloan describes the friendships she’s found at boarding school so far: “Our entire Dance major has a group chat. And it's super fun because people will send pictures of cast lists and schedules and be like, ‘Can we wear colored leotards today?’ One of the seniors said that out of all the years he’d been here, this year has had the best group of people. I think we really all know what we want, which is to get better at dance, perform these beautiful ballets with each other, and just have fun and enjoy dance.”

Interested in learning more about arts boarding school? 

Get our guide on what first-time arts boarding school students should know