Camp Lessons

Posted on August 03, 2010 by Charlotte Stabenau


Now that all the summer dance programs are wrapping up, I've started thinking about my one experience going away to ballet sleepaway camp when I was 15.  I've always been something of a homebody, and I was really nervous about going away for eight weeks.  My coach at the time convinced me that it was a good idea, though, so off I went, moving into an upstate New York college dormitory with what seemed like hundreds of girls and about five boys.


Being away from home was not the only thing I had to get used to.  We were dancing about six hours a day, starting with a two-hour technique class in the morning, followed by an hourlong variations, pointe, etc. class.  Then lunch, a break, and three more classes or rehearsals.  It was hard, and the studios and dorms weren't air-conditioned.  All I could think about most days was how hot and sweaty and tired I was, and trying to do everything right so that I wouldn't incur the wrath of our strict teachers.  I didn't always succeed, and I remember being shamed in front of a whole studio of dancers when I kept getting a step wrong in rehearsal.  It was much more embarrassing getting scolded in front of a roomful of people I didn't really know and was trying to impress than it was at home with my friends.  I think I spent a lot of time being homesick, and I made my parents come visit me as often as they could on the weekends.


Even though it sounds like I was miserable the entire time, camp was actually pretty fun.  I made some nice friends, had a lot of laughs, and ate a lot of pecan pie (don't ask).  While I was at camp, I was so consumed with the experience of my first time away from home that I didn't even notice how much my technique had improved.  All that dancing had lengthened my muscles, and I got stronger and more confident.  My coach definitely noticed when I returned and started taking classes with her again.  I realized then that change happens so slowly in ballet that the actual process of improvement is not very noticeable, but one day, you look in the mirror while doing a combination and you notice how much nicer your lines have gotten.  I ended up being happy that I had gone away to ballet camp, since it helped me learn the patience and diligence that is necessary to achieve real improvement.  However, I also learned that it's important to have fun along the way, and keep yourself open to new experiences--in dance and in life.