Dance Training for Musical Theatre Students

We frequently hear from Musical Theatre students in high school who lack confidence in their dance training and worry about how this will affect their chances for success down the road.

by Trish Causey

Dance is integral to Musical Theatre, and ideally, yes, everyone would start dancing by the age of two. It is never too late to start dance training — but the sooner you start, the better. As a young person, your body is still developing, and you are naturally more limber and flexible now than you will be in even 5 or 10 years. You may be surprised how quickly your body adapts if you put in the work and dedication.

What Form of Dance is Best?

If you can only afford to pursue one type of dance, choose ballet. Yes, even if you are a guy. Ballet is the foundation of Broadway dance.

Ballet training is absolutely necessary for working in Musical Theatre because choreography is given using French terms from ballet, which you must know at auditions and rehearsals. Professional auditions go by quickly, so you need to know the lingo that the choreographer or dance captain is spitting out.

As a Musical Theatre performer, you’ll also need training in tap, jazz, theatrical (Broadway), ballroom (Standard and Latin), and even hip-hop. Select a school/studio that offers as many of these kinds of classes as possible, and see what you can work out for a bundle of classes, i.e., several different kinds of classes per month for one fee.

Partnering is another aspect of dance training that’s essential in Musical Theatre. Both the female and the male have certain roles they fulfill when partnering each other. You cannot guess or “fake it.” If you can’t partner, you could cause injury to the person with whom you are dancing.

College Musical Theatre Programs and Dance

If you are in high school and looking toward college, you need to be in dance now so that you can boost your chances of getting selected for a Musical Theatre program as well as increase your chances for scholarships. While colleges vary in their expectations of auditionees, if you have your sights set on one of the top Musical Theatre programs, be prepared to demonstrate competent dancing from the outset.

Musical Theatre programs in college will give you some of the dance training you need. You will also get to perform in recitals, productions, and showcases, all of which will improve your dancing, thanks to the intensive schedule of rehearsals outside of your required dance and other classes for your degree.

What Else You Can Do

1. Watch movie musicals from the “Golden Age” of Broadway and Hollywood. Rent or download movies produced by MGM, RKO, and 20th Century Fox. Look for movies starring Gene Kelly, Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Gwen Verdon, Vera-Ellen, Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis, Jr., Danny Kaye, and Ben Vereen. Look for directors and/or choreographers such as Gene Kelly, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, George Abbott, and Rob Marshall.

2. Perform in classic Broadway musicals to gain knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the musical as a living art form. These are heavily influenced by classical ballet, tap dance, American jazz, as well as the remnants of vaudeville and physical comedy.

3. Attend as much live Musical Theatre as possible. Broadway dancing is not just about doing steps. Broadway has a look and a feel that you must be able to convey to the audience.

4. Seek guidance from a highly-experienced Musical Theatre coach if you need help in evaluating where to focus your energy. Look to college Musical Theatre departments and independent coaches for assistance.

Trish Causey is a writer/composer and a Musical Theatre coach.

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