Camp Lessons

 

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. 

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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