Your Training: Your Summer to Shine

11 ways to get more out of your intensive.
Published in the June/July 2012 issue.

Daria Klimentová and Tamás Solymosi demonstrate a pas de deux. Photo by Vadim Muntagirov.

When San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet member Elizabeth Powell was a student, summer intensives were her way to explore the ballet world. Each July, she ventured out in search of new experiences. She attended Boston Ballet School, the School of American Ballet, Chautauqua Ballet and eventually San Francisco Ballet School—which ended up taking her year-round and later offering a company contract. Powell loved gaining new perspectives on her training and glimpses of life as a professional. “You have to learn so much so quickly because summer programs are only a few weeks,” she says. “That’s exactly what you do in a company—you get a few weeks to learn a new ballet.”

An intensive can offer unrivaled opportunities. With the right focus, you can radically transform your technique. Or, like Powell, you could find your future job. But that all depends on how much you put into the program. Unlike at home, where you’re surrounded by a network of support, you are the only person in charge of how your summer goes.

List Your Goals

In addition to a packing list, write down everything you want to accomplish this summer. What weaknesses do you need to address? Think back to why you selected the program you’re attending. Perhaps you’re trying to master a new style, or want to strengthen your feet by wearing pointe shoes during technique class. If you clearly define your expectations, you’ll be more likely to see concrete improvement. Bring the list with you and refer back to it periodically—and let yourself modify it if your goals change. It will refocus you whenever you get distracted by a bad rehearsal or a noisy roommate.  

Attract Attention
In every class there’s a student the teacher loves—and she’s not always the most talented. Usually, this dancer is simply rewarding to work with. Teachers instinctively focus their attention where they feel they’ll make the most impact. Marjorie Grundvig, codirector of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, says she gravitates toward students who are “motivated, focused and who pick up combinations and the corrections associated with them quickly.” This means every correction—not just those directed at you. When a teacher does correct you, accept the advice and try not to get frustrated. “Even if you’re struggling, show a desire to achieve and ask questions,” advises Grundvig. Thoughtful questions indicate that you’re engaged and willing to work. Don’t be afraid to approach a teacher after class for one-on-one advice.

Speak Up for What You Want

No one can read your mind. If you’re interested in staying year-round, say so. A good first stop is the office administrator: He or she will be able to tell you the school’s policy. You may need to make an appointment with the director, or put your name on a sign-up sheet. Seek out this information as soon as possible so the faculty has time to seriously consider you.

Don’t Sweat Level Placement

Stewing over the level you’re placed in doesn’t help you improve; it simply wastes time. Often, levels have more to do with grouping students who need to work on the same things, and less with who’s better than whom. “It’s not about age, or where dancers are in their regular school,” says Lynne Short, principal of the Ballet Austin Academy, “but what we feel they need to work on.” Most schools will adjust placement if it’s clear they’ve made a mistake. But if they don’t, trust their judgment and dive into the work, soaking up what your classes have to offer. It’s the only way you’ll be moved up next year.

Follow the Rules
It happens every summer: Someone misses curfew, or cuts a class, or does any number of irresponsible things. “A lot of kids get sent home, some on the very first day,” laments Short. The freedom of being on your own in a new city can be seductive. But behavior outside the studio counts more than you might think—no director wants to hire a troublemaker. Don’t let temptation tarnish your reputation.

Be Up Front About Injuries

Teachers always prefer to know about anything injured so they can help you work through it. If you don’t speak up for fear of appearing weak, you’re simply presenting yourself as a lesser dancer. Don’t tough it out—you could prolong your recovery time, or even cause long-term physical damage.

Network
The dancers you meet this summer could become lifelong friends. But they will definitely be resources. Your peers can offer invaluable insights about other schools and companies. Ask them what they love and hate about where they train. Share stories about the best performances you’ve seen. Just don’t lose focus. “Friends should be a great part of summer, but you can’t let the social aspect take over from your sole purpose of being there to dance,” says Grundvig.  

Keep a Journal

Take a few minutes every night to chronicle the technical and artistic problems that came up that day—and their solutions. New teachers offer new advice. By writing it down you’ll absorb the information better. A journal doubles as a record of your progress. When you flip through it two weeks later, are you seeing the same correction repeatedly?

Learn From Your Competition

“Take advantage of observing the dancers you like,” says Grundvig. It’s easy to resent the girl who has it all, but don’t waste your time being jealous. Instead, ask yourself what makes that dancer so good. Analyze her movement, then apply what you learn to your own dancing.

Take Alternative Classes Seriously
Every class offering at your program is there to benefit your training. With repertoires growing more diverse every year, other genres offer an opportunity to prepare for company life—and to show off what you have to offer. You never know who will happen to be paying attention while you’re working on Graham contractions.   
 
Get Noticed
Use this opportunity to open doors for your career. “You don’t want to be pushy, but you should get yourself out there and noticed,” says Powell. In a room full of promising dancers, no one is going to seek you out—it’s your responsibility to make your talent known. Stand in front for at least a few combinations every class to demonstrate confidence in your dancing. Be aware of the messages you are sending from head to toe. Avoid leotards with awkward shapes or multiple colors that distract from your line. Keep your hair neat. And while it may sound cheesy, remember to smile. Directors don’t hire sullen-looking technicians; they hire performers.


Top of the Class

Imagine learning from Paris Opéra Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Maryinsky Ballet principals all in the same place. That’s precisely the premise of the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague. The workshop, organized by English National Ballet senior principal Daria Klimentová, draws advanced students from around the world to study with a renowned faculty plucked from the highest ranks of top ballet companies.
Teachers: ABT’s Herman Cornejo, POB’s Nicolas Le Riche and Clairemarie Osta, the Maryinsky’s Daria Pavlenko, former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer Natasa Novotná, Hungarian National Ballet artistic director Tamás Solymosi and choreographer Christopher Hampson, among others.
Daily Schedule: One 90-minute ballet class, followed by a “virtuosity” class, and a rotation of pas de deux, contemporary and repertoire
Session One: August 6–11
Session Two: August 13–18
Levels: Candidates must be at the professional or semi-professional level, and at least 16 years old.
Enrollment: About 100 dancers per session
Location: National Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic
Application Deadline: July 6
Cost: $1,300 per session or $2200 for the whole program (including accommodations)
Website: balletmasterclass.com



Take a European Look-See

Want to dip a toe into Europe’s contemporary dance scene? You can explore the continent and advance your technique at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. The school’s one-year independent study program allows students to curate a curriculum that best advances their professional goals. Choose from technique classes in Cunningham, Graham, Limón, classical ballet, release techniques and jazz, as well as choreography, Pilates, dance history and sound scores for dance. With no compulsory components, students can earn up to 120 credits by taking the classes they’re most interested in at a pace that suits their timetable. See trinitylaban.ac.uk.



Dance With the Stars, Under the Stars

The Vail International Dance Festival brings top dance talent to Colorado every summer. In addition to the popular star-studded performances at its outdoor amphitheater, the festival also hosts a series of lesser-known offstage events. Advanced and intermediate dancers are invited to take master classes in everything from tap to tango—and ballet. Last year, New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht taught a class. You can also dance alongside artistic director Damian Woetzel and festival artists during the program’s
interactive Dancing In The Streets nights, where anyone can join the dancers in Vail Village. The 2012 program runs July 29 to August 11. See vaildance.org.



An Extra Week of Summer
No matter how long their summer intensive runs, many dancers still want more. Take an extra week to brush up on your Italian style this August with Cecchetti USA’s one-week program, which features guest teacher Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, a former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet who now heads Boston Ballet School’s Marblehead location. Dancers don’t need to be familiar with the Cecchetti method to attend, but must have at least three years of ballet training.
Dates: August 5–11
Registration Deadline: June 1
Location: University of California, Santa Barbara
Classes: Cecchetti technique, pointe, variations, pas de deux, evening lectures
Tuition: $575, plus $395 for room and board
Website: cecchettiusa.org/summer-school



Technique Tip:
“Never doubt yourself when you’re executing a step. Whether you’re onstage alone, next to a huge star or in the corps de ballet, if you convince yourself that you’re a prima ballerina, your movement will take on the confidence of one.”
Melissa Hamilton, The Royal Ballet