Contemporary Dance vs. Commercial Dance Explained

With the launch of Boston Conservatory's new commercial dance B.F.A. program, here's a primer on the differences between our contemporary and commercial dance degree programs.

August 23, 2021

For years, Boston Conservatory at Berklee has ranked among the best schools in the world for dance, and is widely recognized as a leader in contemporary dance education. Now, Boston Conservatory is expanding its training options with its dynamic new B.F.A. program focused on commercial dance. 

Drawing on the Conservatory’s deep expertise in training highly skilled and versatile dancers, the commercial dance program taps into Berklee College of Music’s expansive career resources and gig network to immerse students in the world of creating and performing dance for commercial entertainment industries—film, television, theater, theme parks, arena/stadium concerts, circus arts, and much more. This one-of-a-kind program is the first and only commercial dance-focused B.F.A. degree offered at the conservatory level that can be completed in just three years.

What are the differences between the Conservatory’s four-year contemporary program and the three-year commercial programBoth are rigorous programs that develop physical and artistic virtuosity, versatility, a strong artistic voice, and an entrepreneurial mindset. Students in both programs will graduate with a strong dance portfolio and be prepared for any career. However, the curriculum and structure of each program are distinctly different. Here’s a closer look at how the two programs differ.

Students in each program have different career goals.

Students in each program often have different career goals.

The contemporary dance program is designed for students who aspire to perform concert works by influential choreographers with the world’s leading dance companies. 

The commercial dance program is designed for students who want to gig within the commercial entertainment industry, create and perform dance for television, film, Broadway, theme parks, cruise line industries, and more.

Each program approaches career preparation differently.

Each program approaches career preparation differently.

Contemporary dance students graduate with a mastery in concert dance techniques (ballet, modern, and contemporary styles) and versatility in both traditional and contemporary forms. Alums go on to perform with some of the most prestigious companies in the world—Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Limón Dance Company, and Nederlands Dans Theater 2, to name a few—and many start their own companies, businesses, and dance schools.

Commercial dance students graduate with experience in a broad range of commercial dance styles (hip-hop, jazzdance, musical theater styles, tap, and more), and have the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the vast and continuously changing industry of commercial dance—where to find work, how to market themselves, and how to build a strong professional network. Conservatory dance alums can be seen in an array of commercial projects: movies (In the Heights), television shows (Tiny Pretty Things), on- and off-Broadway musicals (Jagged Little Pill, Hamilton), music videos (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Ciara, Todrick Hall), stadium concerts (Super Bowl Halftime shows, music tours), circus arts (Cirque du Soleil), and more.

Each program has different audition requirements for admission

Each program has different audition requirements for admission. 

Students applying to the contemporary dance program must perform ballet and modern dance styles as part of their audition requirements.

Students applying to the commercial dance program can audition with whichever dance form they are most comfortable with, whether that be hip-hop, jazz, modern, ballet, Latin styles, or something else.

The contemporary dance program is four years; commercial dance is three

The contemporary dance program is four years; commercial dance is three.

The contemporary dance program focuses on intensive training in ballet and modern dance, and is therefore spaced sequentially over four years. 

The commercial dance program focuses on hip-hop, jazzdance, musical theater dance, and other commercial styles—therefore, the program offers a flexible curriculum that can be completed in three years.

The two programs offer different performance opportunities.

The two programs offer different performance opportunities.

Each year, contemporary dance students perform four concerts on the Conservatory’s mainstage: a fall and spring concert featuring iconic masterworks and world premieres by guest choreographers, a winter festival of new works featuring alum commissions, and a senior choreographers’ concert premiering original works choreographed and performed by students. In their senior year, contemporary dancers also present a dance showcase in New York City that is attended by representatives of major dance companies.

Commercial dance students perform regularly in tribute shows with Berklee College of Music ensembles, which in the past have included the Beyoncé Band, Ariana Grande Ensemble, Bruno Mars Ensemble, and more. Students also dance in large-scale arena performances, such as Berklee’s annual commencement concert at the 7,200-seat Agganis Arena in Boston—a concert honoring that year’s Berklee College of Music honorary degree recipients (which, in 2019, was Justin Timberlake and Missy Elliott). Commercial dance students also collaborate on music videos and other projects with guest artists and peers across the larger Berklee institution.

Each program engages different types of guest artists.

Each program engages different types of guest artists.

Contemporary dance students train with guest choreographers who are shaping the field of concert dance, such as Dwight Rhoden, Doug Varone, Ronald K. Brown, Aszure Barton, and more. These artists hold residencies at the Conservatory to teach, give master classes, conduct workshops, and collaborate with students in preparing works for the mainstage. 

Commercial dance students will work with an array of artists and industry professionals, from commercial choreographers and performers to agents, directors, and producers. Through workshops, master classes, seminars, and special projects, students will gain valuable commercial industry insights, tips, and tricks, while building their professional portfolios and network.

Whether in the contemporary dance program or the commercial dance program, Boston Conservatory promises a transformative experience. Explore more at

Students: Considering a dance degree but are unsure of which program is best for you?

  • Register for Boston Conservatory at Berklee Summer Dance Intensive and Boston Conservatory at Berklee Commercial Dance Intensive. These three-week summer programs allow students to experience the Conservatory's unique community and signature training firsthand. 
  • Take our short quiz to find out if our contemporary dance or commercial dance program is a better fit for you.