Over the past months I have had the great pleasure of working with students from many colleges across the UK. It is joyous to see a new generation finding their (tap shoe laden) feet and (Jason Robert Brown) voice. They all seem obsessed with his songs – I am the pre JRB generation and much more at home with a Rodgers and Hart classic or if feeling daring a Kurt Weill.
What struck me most is just how training has changed over the years. Admittedly I did graduate in a time where Babycham was the ‘in’ tipple, Bucks Fizz the current group and computers were the size of small flats. When I trained it was tough love through and through. I think it was 90% physical training and written work was kept to a bare minimum. It was a relentless, brilliant, exhausting and utterly challenging. It made a career in the marines feel like a soft option. There was no physio, no vocal rest, in fact no rest at all.
From what I have seen the training is still challenging and the majority of students still have the drive which is vital for a long career in musical theatre. However, I do question just how much time is spent on written assessments in some colleges. Hours seem to be spent on this when the students could be in class getting stronger and improving their technique.
I have rarely heard anyone in an audition ask a dancer what grade they got. What seems to matter most is what they deliver in that audition room. Stamina, strength and technique are vital for a career as a dancer.
Having said that a better balance might have been better in my day? It was by no means perfect but what my training did teach us was survival and we left in peak physical condition primed and ready for the world ahead.
I have had many an interesting conversation on just what makes the perfect college and rightly opinions differ. Ultimately dance colleges should produce students ready to work and equipped with all the skill sets that are vital for a career in dance.
The responsibility can’t all be down to the college however and there are many elements that are hard to teach. That drive that sets a person apart from the the others. That certain X Factor that is hard to put your finger on, the list goes on.
Ultimately it has to be a two way relationship between student and college. A student with the right drive and passion will come out of a lesser college with as much to offer as a less focused one from a top college may.
My advice to the next generation of men and women applying for colleges is perhaps avoid the college that excels in your strength, if your dancing is your weakest skill then go to a dance heavy course, same if your vocals and acting are in need of help, apply to a college that has a history of success in that department. By the end of your three years you need all your skills to be on an equal high level.
Work on your weaknesses to become that complete package.
Dream big, work hard, make it happen.