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NZ Dance Degree Courses - Whats the Difference?


NZ Dance Degree Courses - What's the Difference

by Tania Kopytko

Below is a summary of the higher tertiary courses, their points of difference and foci. For detailed Tertiary dance information visit the individual course websites.

New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD)


The NZSD is a conservatoire type institution devoted to high level dance performance. It offers the NZSD Certificate in Dance Performance, a two-year full-time course (Level 6 on the NZ Qualifications Framework), and the NZSD Dance Diploma in Dance Performance, a three-year full-time course (Level 7 on the Framework, equivalent to an undergraduate degree).

Practical full-time training prepares students for careers in dance performance with a focus on the technical skills required to meet the demands of mainstream classical and contemporary dance companies and developing qualities essential for professional dancers: strong technique, musicality, coordination and dedication to the art form. Students can major in contemporary dance or classical ballet, while maintaining a strong grounding in both subject areas.

The classical programme consists of classical technique, contemporary technique, pas de deux, repertoire, coaching, pointe and character. Separate male classes give emphasis to elevation, pirouettes and batterie. The contemporary programme consists of contemporary technique, classical technique, repertoire, partnering, choreographic practice, composition and improvisation.

Performance experience is gained in the course and the third-years have opportunities for secondments and professional placements. Most graduates of the NZSD enter careers in dance performance, with on average 80% of students gaining contracts within six months of graduating. Graduates of the school are currently dancing with most of the major New Zealand and Australian dance companies and with a number of companies further afield. Entry to the NZSD Dance is by audition only which are held annually in September and October in Wellington. 



Unitec offers a Bachelor in Performing and Screen Arts with a major in Contemporary Dance. The course emphasis is on practice, preparing students to succeed in the dance industry as dance artists with a current voice. Important to the philosophy is acknowledgement of the individual, supporting the students to develop their own student driven pathways.

The dance technique courses focus on high-end technical training provided by leading current practitioners. Dance courses also encourage students to explore cultural, traditional and current creative practices in a safe environment; collaborative practices that reflect current trends, integrating different art forms and combining resources to offer real learning opportunities through a dynamic interface with the profession, through hosting residencies with NZ dance companies and fostering Industry partnerships with organisations such as IndependANCE, The NZ Dance Company and Okareka Dance Company. They support Maori and Pacifica students wanting to integrate their cultural heritage and hip hop culture with current contemporary dance practices. Courses also explore digital technologies that focus on e-learning.

A graduate will have covered intensive training in current contemporary techniques, ballet, muscle and bone, partnering, somatic studies and safe dance, and relevant philosophical, critical and historical theories that contextualise and enhance dance practice. They work with current industry professionals as guest choreographers, undertake industry internships and secondments; gain experience with funding applications and portfolios. Their creative practice and performances have an emphasis on student choreographies that include both studio and theatre productions (group works, solos, duets, hybrid art and interdisciplinary performances, dance on screen, and off-site dance showcases in a professional theatre). 

University of Auckland


National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries (NICAI) Dance Studies offers five academic programmes:

  • Bachelor of Dance Studies - BDanceSt (1 year full-time and 1 to 2 years part-time)
  • Bachelor of Dance Studies Honours (1 year full-time and 1 to 2 years part-time)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Creative and Performing Arts Dance Studies (1 year full-time, 2-4 years part-time)
  • Master of Creative and Performing Arts Dance Studies (1 year full-time, 2 years part-time) Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) – Dance Studies (3 - 4 years full-time and up to 6 years part-time).

The BDanceSt graduates are eligible to study teaching at The University of Auckland Faculty of Education and then can become teachers of dance in NZ schools. Students learn in, through and about dance. The degree course is designed to move students’ thinking and to offer experiences that touch on a wide range of theory and practice, providing opportunities to discover particular areas of interest. They are offered international performance, teaching and learning experiences; for example, in 2012 students travelled to participate in teaching and performing at the Singapore Youth Dance Festival and to Taiwan to participate in the 2012 daCi / WDA Global Dance Summit.

Graduates find work in the full spectrum of dance careers, such as: national and international level dance company choreographers, artistic directors and performers; independent choreographers and performers; festival management and coordination; arts management, covering company business and marketing/advertising management; teachers, from early childhood through to tertiary level; community dance educators and researchers, both nationally and internationally; dance therapists, working with those with disabilities.

NICAI’s Dance Studies Programme is a leading centre for postgraduate research in dance offering the most complete suite of tertiary degrees, attracting local and overseas students and recognised for its research in teaching and learning, choreographic practice and dance ethnography. Postgraduate degrees in Dance Studies are designed to create an environment where students question, analyse, frame and develop research within a supportive and active community. Opportunities are offered to collaborate with others across a range of creative disciplines within the faculty. A postgraduate research graduate will demonstrate mastery of specialist knowledge and theory in dance studies along with general intellectual and life skills that will lay the foundations for a lifetime of continuous learning and personal development. 

University of Otago


The University of Otago Dance Studies programme offers a Bachelor of Physical Education in Dance, Masters Degree in Dance Studies and PhD. Research encompasses a wide range of issues such as: critical world dance studies, community dance, choreography, contemporary dance, somatic practices, ecological and indigenous perspectives, dance anthropology, ethnographic methods, and dance education. The dance programme is housed within the School of Physical Education, a multi/interdisciplinary department where students can forge dance projects that integrate areas of health, outdoor education, physiology, biomechanics, sports, psychology, sociology, and Māori and Pacifika perspectives. Teaching approaches combine theory, movement practice, guest artists and lectures. Some courses are taught in international locations such as India. Opportunities are offered in performance, theatrical events/production and videography. Students can engage in independent research and participate in the programme’s dance lab, a practice-based and performance collective.

The BA (BPhED) level explores topics such as: world dance and cultural histories, choreographic techniques, dance history, site-specific dance, an introduction to somatic practices, community dance, teaching strategies and dance research methodologies. Exposure to production skills and opportunities in dance leadership are provided.

The Master’s in Dance Studies degree is normally a 1.5 to 2 year programme that includes coursework, plus a written thesis that can include a practice-based/performance component. It offers graduate students the opportunity to research a particular field of interest in-depth. This qualification also serves as a one-year professional development course for teachers and community dance workers. Students have researched diverse areas such as: ecological dance pedagogies, Indian dance and religion, disability issues in dance. Students can continue on to a PhD or directly enrol into a doctoral degree if qualifications are met. The period of study is usually 2.5 years of full-time study and the maximum period is 4 years of full-time study. Career paths that graduates have followed include professional dance and choreography, education, arts policy and administration, community projects and academia. 

University of Waikato


The University of Waikato offers a range of undergraduate Bachelor degrees. Within the Bachelor of Media and Creative Technologies or the Bachelor of Arts students can major in creative practices including dance, theatre, composition and Māori performing arts. Within the Bachelor of Sport and Leisure Studies, students can also focus on dance, alongside physical activity and health and complement this with Māori performing arts papers. In addition, students from any undergraduate degree may take dance papers as optional papers within their degree. Dance is a good option for students undertaking their Graduate Diploma of Teaching for secondary schools.

The dance papers at The University of Waikato offer a contemporary and interdisciplinary approach to tertiary education, embracing a range of movement approaches, improvisation, choreography and performance, as well as developing an understanding of dance within cultural contexts, and working in community dance and site-specific environments.

Whitireia Performing Arts


Whitireia Performing Arts offers the Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance), Diploma in Performing Arts (Singing) and Bachelor of Applied Arts (Performing Arts). Students who successfully complete either of the Diploma programmes can apply to enter the third year of the Bachelor degree.

The Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance) focuses on Commercial Dance with papers in jazz, ballet, tap, circus skills, anatomy and nutrition and the Diploma in Performing Arts (Singing) focuses on Musical Theatre with papers in dance (emphasising Jazz but including tap and ballet), singing and acting. Both Diplomas also focus on performance, body conditioning, audition skills, contextual studies and creative enterprise.

The Bachelor of Applied Arts (Performing Arts) focuses on the following genres in the first two years: Maori Performing Arts, Samoan and Cook Islands Dance, Contemporary NZ Dance, Audition Technique, Professional Studies, Contextual Studies and Creative Enterprise. In the third year students focus on creating a body of work in their chosen genre – Commercial Dance, Musical Theatre, Contemporary Dance, Pasifika Dance, Acting, a research paper to support this work, Creative Enterprise and a secondment.

Students on all these courses graduate with a strong mix of dance skills. They perform in a range of public shows and at the Whitireia Theatre. They learn self-management and business management skills and receive tuition on how to teach dance. Each year students enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Arts (Performing Arts) travel overseas to perform at festivals. Graduate achievements range from: setting up Pasifika Dance Company in Australia; cultural tourism; performing on cruise ships; performing at Caribbean resorts; teaching and choreographing. 


NZ Dance Degree Courses - Whats the Difference?

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