Performing Arts Associates Degree Options by Specialization

Aspiring performing artists can start their education by enrolling in a 2-year associate's degree program offered through many community colleges or vocational schools. Those interested in pursuing a career in performing arts usually specialize in dance, music or theatre.

Essential Information

Formal training in performing arts such as dance, music, or theater can develop and enhance the skills and knowledge needed for employment in this competitive field. An associate's degree program in dance teaches the fundamentals of the art. Students learn to craft dance routines and they explore dance in its various forms. They may participate in school-sponsored productions and dance workshops. Associate's degree programs in music emphasize the importance of pitch and harmony as well as visual and hearing techniques. Students of theatre programs develop their acting skills and learn techniques for auditioning. They learn different aspects of theatre design and production as well as modern drama and cinema.

  • Program Levels: Associate's degree in Art or Science.
  • Prerequisites: A high school diploma or equivalent, resume, and audition in specialization of choice. Dance may require a full-length photo and video recording.
  • Specializations: Dance, music, or theater.
  • Program Length: 2 years.

Associate's Degree in Dance

An Associate of Arts in Dance or an Associate in Science in Performing Arts with a concentration in dance may be earned, depending on the program. Through dance degree programs, students not only learn the fundamentals of dance, they also learn about the human body and study the composition and structure of a routine. Graduates typically pursue one of several paths, including dancing professionally, instructing dance or planning choreography

Classes are typically conducted in dance studios located on college campuses. Students may have opportunities to audition for on-campus productions during the semesters in which they are enrolled. As part of their coursework, students may also participate in dance workshops. Other studies may include:

  • Creating dance routines
  • Forms in dance: ballet, jazz, modern, tap and world
  • Overview and structure of dance
  • Musicals on stage
  • Perceptions and history of dance

Associate's Degree in Music

Musicians who aspire to become professionals can pursue an Associate of Arts in Music or an Associate of Fine Arts in Music. These degrees develop a solid basis in the fundamentals of music. Associate's degrees in music generally include 35-40 credits in music out of the 60-65 total credits required.

Students learn harmonies, musical precision and pitch techniques. They also build creative skills and learn various musical styles. Some of the course topics may include:

  • Background and philosophy of music
  • Computer music programs
  • Dynamics of music
  • Music presentations
  • Visual and hearing techniques

Associate's Degree in Theatre

Common associate's degrees offered in theatre are the Associate of Arts in Theatre and Associate in Science in Theatre Arts. Theatre courses provide students a foundation for later pursuing a career as an actor or set designer, or perhaps a career in producing. Some colleges may provide students the opportunity to audition for performances and productions. The associate's degree provides groundwork for those who wish to pursue further formal education in theatre.

Through theatre programs, students acquire a thorough understanding of theatre arts. They gain knowledge and skills to effectively perform and to explore areas of theatre design and production. Program requirements may also include courses in communication and reading. Students learn to expand their creativity and to express themselves through acting. Theatre students will explore areas such as:

  • Acting and techniques for auditioning
  • Cinema
  • Creating stage presentations
  • Modern drama
  • Writing plays and producing theatre

Popular Career Options

Musicians are employed by various types of businesses and companies, but some are self-employed. Possible occupations for music graduates include:

  • Conductor
  • Composer
  • Musician
  • Singer

Many areas of employment exist for professional dancers; some dancers belong to unions in order to take advantage of various benefits and possible employment opportunities. Those who specialize in ballet or modern dance may want to join the American Guild of Musical Artists. Those who dance in television, films or live performances may join the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists or the Screen Actors Guild. Dancers performing in musical theatre may wish to join the Actors' Equity Association(info).

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for dancers and choreographers was expected to increase 6% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). A May 2014 report by the BLS found that dancers earned a median hourly wage of $14.31.

The BLS also expected overall employment for musicians and singers to increase 5% between 2012 and 2022. They also made a median wage of $24.16 per hour.

Employment for performing arts professionals who are interested in films, television and theatre are typically better in larger cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, where there are concentrations of production and performing arts companies. The BLS predicted that employment for actors would increase by 4% between 2012 and 2022. A May 2014 report by the BLS showed that the median hourly wage for actors was $19.82. The median wage for directors and producers was $33.22 per hour in that same year.

Continuing Education Information

Associate's degree holders in dance can also pursue their Bachelor of Arts in Dance to focus on detailed styles such as ballet, tap, modern dance and jazz. They also study historic dance and primitive civilizations, communication through dance and various dance forms. . Graduates are prepared to enter several career paths, such as directing or performing arts management.

After earning an associate's degree in music, these graduates may choose to further their education by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in Music with concentrations in gospel, instrumental, keyboard or orchestral music or voice. Some colleges may require applicants to submit an audition and pass a placement test in addition to submitting a basic application.

Those interested in a 4-year degree in theatre can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. Some bachelor's degree programs emphasize screen and stage performances. Those programs prepare students for careers behind the scenes, in theatre management or in acting. Students learn about different styles and ethnic varieties of theatre; in addition, they may study teaching in the theatre arts.

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