Growing up in Michigan, Jessy Dick was used to her daily hour-long drives to the Grand Rapids Ballet School, where she trained. But when she started to think about summer intensives, a new problem emerged: Auditions for the schools she was interested in were even farther away, in Chicago or Detroit. "I learned early on that if I wanted to do any summer programs, I'd have to travel at least three hours in order to audition," says Dick, now a member of The Washington Ballet's Studio Company.
Making plans for your summer training is complicated enough, especially with the sheer number of programs to choose between. But students who live far from popular audition hubs face the additional hurdle of organizing, scheduling and budgeting for audition trips. Luckily, with strategic planning, what can feel overwhelming at first can become a rewarding experience.
Students at the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville look for weekends when auditions overlap in one city. Photo by Blair Chamberlain, Courtesy Ballet Conservatory of Asheville.
For dancers without the luxury of an audition city nearby, prioritizing which schools to aim for is crucial. How to decide? Research, research, research. (Pointe's "2018 Summer Intensive Guide" is a good place to start.) Emily McDougall, a 14-year-old student at The School of Oklahoma City Ballet who's made several six-hour drives to auditions in Dallas and Kansas City, does some serious investigating in order to narrow down her choices.
Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. Here's Kiahna Saneshige, a student at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati getting her BFA in dance with a minor in communications.
Saneshige posing with friends in CCM's dance studios. Photo Courtesy Saneshige.
When Kiahna Saneshige attended Cincinnati Ballet's summer intensive after her junior year of high school, she knew she wanted a professional career but wasn't sure joining a company after graduation would completely satisfy her. "The RAs were all University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music students, and they gave me the rundown of what the school was like," she recalls. "It's known for the excellent quality of its dancers, plus I could have the social life of college and the chance to pursue another degree besides dance." Saneshige, who graduated from CCM in May, says the last four years were challenging but couldn't have prepared her better for her next step: a position with Columbus Dance Theatre.
Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. Here's Jackie Schiffner, a student at the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California getting her BFA in dance with a concentration in dance performance.
Schiffner with friends during USC's Trojan Family Weekend. Photo by Justina Gaddy, Courtesy USC.
Jackie Schiffner grew up in Huntington Beach, California, training in everything from ballet to hip hop. Now a junior at University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she was drawn by the school's mission to develop "hybrid artists." "Even at the audition, we were required to do contemporary, hip hop, improv. And the faculty was so focused on each of us as individuals, which has definitely carried over into my experience here," Schiffner says. Her teachers' influence has already inspired Schiffner's future goal. "After I graduate, I definitely want to join a company, but then get my MFA in dance to teach at the collegiate level."
Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. First up is Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts, Butler University getting her BFA in dance performance and her BA in mathematics.
Abbick studying in the library. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis for Pointe.
Leawood, Kansas, native Elizabeth Abbick faced some tough choices her senior year of high school. Equally talented in math and ballet, she wanted a professional dance career but also desired to plan her post-performance life. "Butler University had always been on my radar because I knew the faculty was stellar and the students are the best of the best. I realized it could offer me both worlds," she says. Now a senior majoring in dance performance and mathematics, she hopes to work on the business side of the ballet world after her stage career.
Striving for higher extensions, more turnout and bigger jumps may be at the top of your agenda in daily class. But what about those finer points of your technique, the subtleties that make a dancer really shine? They need just as much of your attention, and letting seemingly innocuous bad habits linger will impact your overall dancing.
"There are no shortcuts in ballet," says Cynthia Harvey, artistic director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. "You can't expect good results by ignoring details that are the building blocks of technique." We break down five bad habits that are easy to overlook—but have a major impact.
I dragged myself off the plane after the 12-hour flight to Melbourne, stiff, fuzzy-headed from jet lag, and wondering if I could ever get pointe shoes on my swollen feet again. At the same time, I was bursting with excitement. As a 20-year-old corps dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was embarking on my first major tour, which would turn out to be a challenging, exhausting and thrilling 10 days in Australia.
For any ballet company, large or small, contemporary or classical, touring is a fact of life. My tour to Melbourne as a young dancer was full of ups and downs (literally—the rehearsal studio was so slippery that I fell out of a tour jeté the first day and was sore for a week), but navigating my way through it gave me both insight and a suitcase full of strategies I'd use for the rest of my career.
Deep down, Dara Oda knew she wasn't ready. Despite 15 years of solid training at the School of DanceWest Ballet near her hometown outside of Chicago, by the end of high school she realized she still didn't have the technique or maturity for a realistic shot in a company audition. "It was terrifying," Oda recalls. "I was unsure of where I stood in terms of my dancing abilities, but I didn't really know where, or how, to improve." She did find a path to her career—she's now a member of Texas Ballet Theater—but she wishes she'd figured out that she was behind a lot sooner. "I'd had good training, but was oblivious to the fact that I needed to be doing so much more than I was."
Many students fear being in a situation like Oda's: arriving at a company audition only to discover that they haven't progressed technically and artistically as far as their peers. And with an endless supply of ballet prodigies online and in competitions, it's hard not to worry that you're not advancing fast enough. How can you make sure you're on track to meet your professional goals?
As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."
McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.
Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.
Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.
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