Training

Is Your Summer Intensive Stressing You Out? Here's How to Deal with the Pressure.

The summer I turned 16, my head swirled with "what ifs" as I counted down the days until the start of the Chautauqua intensive. I'd attended the program four years earlier, and the experience had been a harrowing one—my first lesson in the competitive nature of ballet. Leaving the temperate waters of my little pond, I'd found myself a very small, uncoordinated fish in a pool deep with talent. Now, I was going back to test myself again, this time in Chautauqua's top level. Would I be as good as the other dancers? Would the teachers like me? Would I make friends?

Summer intensives are aptly titled. Their extreme demands can cause anxiety, nerves, jealousy and stress. But put down the question marks! Don't let a negative state of mind keep you from soaking up everything your summer has to offer.



I Want to Be Asked to Stay for the Year-Round Program
As dancers, we set lofty goals: getting into the School of American Ballet, becoming a principal at American Ballet Theatre, being on the cover of Pointe! These are what Dr. Charlie Brown, a retired sports psychologist who has consulted with dancers from Charlotte Ballet, calls "outcome goals." While they're important (they're the stuff dreams are made of), you can't measure yourself by these lengths alone. "More than anything else, a person's confidence is based on how well they achieve their goals," says Brown. Your goals shouldn't only be things that are out of your control—like getting selected to stay for the year-round program

A better idea is to create "performance goals," such as consistently nailing triple pirouettes. These goals are more attainable and suited to your immediate abilities. But they can still be problematic, since obstacles like an injury or a slippery floor could prevent success. The best strategy is to make "process goals." For example, instead of focusing on nailing triples, hold yourself accountable for executing the correction the teacher gave you the day before. After all, such corrections will help improve your turns, and showing you listen could land you a year-round spot.


I'm Afraid the Other Dancers Will Be Better Than Me
Ever heard the phrase "It's all in your head"? In this case, it really is. "Stress is one of these things that you cause yourself," says Dr. Alan Goldberg, a sports psychology consultant who works with junior to Olympic-level athletes. According to Goldberg, the high-caliber dancers aren't making you nervous; they're just giving you more opportunities to feel that way. "What makes us nervous is how we react to the circumstances," he says.

Some of the other dancers might be more advanced than you. But focusing on their talent will only deplete your confidence and cause anxiety. Make a list of your worries and cross off anything that is out of your power (what level you'll be in, if your feet won't be as good as your peers'). Focus on the things you will be able to control (getting a proper warm-up, taking all corrections as your own). And remind yourself that you were selected for the program because you deserve to be there.



What if I Don't Make Friends?

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member JoAnna Schmidt was always afraid of being a loner. But, she says, "Remember that everybody is in the same boat: They may not display it, but they're all nervous." Don't be afraid to sit with someone you don't know at lunch; they'll most likely be relieved that you did.

Being in competition with would-be friends can also be a barrier. But being friendly with your rivals is something every dancer needs to learn to do. "If you're comfortable with the people you're dancing with, it's easier to grow together as opposed to just looking at each other as competition and nothing more," Schmidt says. "It's the same way in a company."



Summer students at The Rock School for Dance Education. Photo by Tiffany Yoon, Courtesy The Rock School.


I'm Nervous to Leave Home
Just as you're most anxious to perform while waiting in the wings, the time leading up to your departure can be the most nerve-racking. Before leaving home, eliminate some of the stress by writing down a list of exactly what you want to accomplish during your summer intensive. It will help you to prioritize and keep your focus on what is essential. "One of the first things that happens under stress is that your memory starts going," Brown says. "If you write things down, you just took away one of your demands because you don't have to remember everything."

Next, Brown says, gather your resources for the trip. Bring a few things that comfort you: a blanket your mother made, a photo of friends. Pack nutritious snacks so that you won't have to look for healthy food options when you're overwhelmed. "Make plans for regular contact with your support system," he advises. Schedule a recurring Skype date with a friend or set up times to talk to your family on the phone. Once you arrive, scope out a quiet place where you can be alone when you want to be.

For me, that second summer at Chautauqua was one of the most fulfilling times of my dancing life—I knew that I deserved to be there. When I wasn't cast as Aurora in the final performance of The Sleeping Beauty, I felt a little rattle of doubt. But then, on a sunny afternoon in July, I had the opportunity to rehearse my role as the Lilac Fairy alone in a studio with Patricia McBride, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Violette Verdy—an absolutely spectacular time to be dancing in the moment.


Keep In Mind:

  • The level you're in doesn't matter as much as how you shine where you're placed. Your teachers work with lots of students in multiple levels. You'll stand out if you're at the top of your class.
  • You might go to the wrong program, and that's okay. Without summer intensives, we would set our sights on a school where we wouldn't feel appreciated or take a contract with a company in a city we'd hate.
  • If a fellow dancer is unkind to you, it reflects badly on them, not you. Not everyone deals with competition well. If another student is particularly rude to you, it's probably because she knows you're good. Use her attitude as a challenge to get even better.

This updated article first appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of Pointe.

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via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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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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Videos
Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Your Career
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

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Your Career
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

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Your Best Body
Mikayla Scaife of The Ailey School's Professional Division. All photos by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

Whether you're being lifted in The Nutcracker's grand pas de deux or doing weight-sharing in contemporary choreography, female ballet dancers can't expect their partner to do all the work. "Strength with stability is a hallmark," says Rebecca Kesting, staff physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. The other person is usually moving too, she says, so you need to be able to use your upper-body strength to find stability.

Kesting recommends these three exercises, which imitate pressing into a partner. If you're just starting to build upper-body strength, practice them four days a week to develop your shoulder stabilizers and upper-back muscles. Later on, you can scale back to two or three times weekly for maintenance.

You'll need:

  • an inflatable ball you can hold in your hand (like a kickball or smaller)
  • a foam roller


Side Plank with Port de Bras

Regular and side planks strengthen the shoulder stabilizers, like the serratus anterior, along with the abdominals. Once you've mastered these basic forms, Kesting recommends a side plank with moving port de bras. Play with your own pattern, like first to fifth to second, and then reverse. "You get the stability of pressing away from the ground as you would through a partner," she says. "And you're adding that dance-specific movement."


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