For preprofessional ballet dancers,the new year means one thing: summer intensive audition season. As you start thinking about which auditions to add to your 2012 calendar, consider your professional and technical goals. What do you want to achieve this upcoming year? Your dance resolutions should be at the top of your mind when deciding where to seek out summer training.

Resolution: Land A Contract
If you’re going to be looking for a job soon, consider attending a summer intensive affiliated with a professional company—particularly one that you’re interested in dancing for. Studying at a prospective company’s studios can serve as an extended audition, since it gives the artistic staff a few weeks to observe your technique, demeanor and performance skills, and determine if you would be a good fit for the company. Skyler Lubin decided to take this approach when she was a student at Miami City Ballet School. She stayed at MCB for the summer to show her dedication to the institution—and to have an extra chance to prove her talent in the program’s culminating performance. “I really wanted artistic director Edward Villella to see me onstage in the final show,” Lubin says. She believes the opportunity aided in her acceptance into the company, where she is now a corps member.

This strategy can also help you learn about the company. By working with a faculty made up of current and former company members, you’ll get an inside look at exactly what the dancers are like. Rehearsals and variations classes will let you discover how the company’s repertoire feels on your body. You’ll get a sense of the atmosphere, and be able to decide whether it’s a place where you could thrive as a dancer.

Resolution: Find Better Year-Round Training
If you’re still a few years away from company life but want to set yourself on a path to get there, you could use the summer to scout out a top-notch conservatory. When Joseph Steinauer discovered his love for ballet in college, he knew he needed to fast-track his ballet training if he was going to bring his technique up to par. So he spent the summer after his sophomore year at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. The 5-week intensive helped him decide to leave college to study year-round at CPYB.

“I was attracted to the classicism and intensity of the training,” explains Steinauer, now a corps member at the National Ballet of Canada. Although the summer is less intense than CPYB’s year-round program, it gave Steinauer a good taste of what the conservatory had to offer. He felt the male training was especially strong, citing Laszlo Berdo’s men’s classes.

If you have specific needs, whether it’s teachers who can help you with your jumps or strong modern classes to improve your versatility, use the summer as a trial period to investigate whether a particular program might fit the bill.

Resolution: Expand Your Repertoire
Do you want to grow in a particular style that your home studio doesn’t offer? If you dream of joining a contemporary company but train at a Vaganova-based school, for example, prepare yourself by seeking out a program where you’ll learn more modern, cutting-edge ballets. During her summer at San Francisco Ballet School, Nicole Ciapponi had a chance to receive coaching from former SFB principal Tina LeBlanc on the renowned William Forsythe work The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. “I had always loved Tina’s dancing and everything by William Forsythe,” says Ciapponi. Most of Ciapponi’s previous experience was in classical choreography, so working on a Forsythe ballet gave her a chance to challenge herself with more contemporary movement—a skill she knew she needed to cultivate before joining a company like SFB. In addition to developing a unique relationship with LeBlanc, the coaching helped prepare Ciapponi for company life: She performed Vertiginous this past year as a corps de ballet member with SFB (see “Best of The Best,” page 60).

Aside from considering a program’s company and school affiliations, style of training and repertoire, don’t forget about the environment fostered by its faculty. As Lubin advises, “There has to be a balance of good people and good ballet.” Speak to friends about their past training experiences, read dance blogs and reach out to potential programs of interest to find a summer intensive where you will be both encouraged and challenged. 


Scholarship Savvy
For many dancers, the stress of summer intensive auditions is centered around getting in. But others are looking for more than that. “I wouldn’t have been able to attend The Joffrey’s summer intensive without a scholarship,” Dara Holmes, now a member of The Joffrey Ballet, states frankly. She encourages young students to audition for programs where they believe they have a good shot at a scholarship. Think about which summer programs tend to accept dancers with your training background, style and body type—or, as in Holmes’ case, programs that have already shown an interest in your dancing. Those are the ones that are most likely to entice you further by sending some money your way.

Even if you don’t need the financial assistance, earning a scholarship indicates that the school is especially interested in working with you. You are bound to receive quality attention and exposure at a program that is willing to cover some or all of your summer training costs. For schools affiliated with a company, a scholarship could also mean, as it did for Holmes, that the company’s artistic director views you as a potential company dancer.

Alexis Branagan is a dance writer based in Princeton, New Jersey.
























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Andrew Peasgood and Constance Devernay in "The Fairy's Kiss." Photo by Andy Ross, courtesy Scottish Ballet.

From now through January 15, Pointe is streaming Scottish Ballet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Le Baiser de la Fée (The Fairy's Kiss). This one-act ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Ice Maiden," was choreographed for The Royal Ballet in 1960. For more on the ballet's history and for behind-the-scenes footage, click here.

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A mother with her child struggles through the storm. The Fairy with her attendants appears and pursues her. The Fairy separates the mother from her child. Passing villagers find the body of the mother, now dead, and guided by the Fairy, they find the child. The Fairy kisses him on the forehead. The villagers become frightened and taking the child with them, they run away.

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"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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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).

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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.

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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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