Training with other students in the pressure-cooker environment of a summer intensive can be daunting. But sometimes the right teacher comes along to provide a hopeful ballerina-to-be with the necessary tools, guidance and inspiration, and a career begins to take shape. Three top dancers recall the invaluable counsel and mentoring they received during their summer training.

Jennifer Kronenberg

Former Miami City Ballet principal

I always knew I wanted a career in dance, and my teacher, Teresa Aubel, was instrumental in making it happen. I studied with her every summer at Once Upon a Time, her school in Queens. She helped me to understand what I was getting myself into—that life as a dancer wasn’t necessarily going to be easy and that, coming from a small school, we’d been sheltered and nurtured.

The Once Upon a Time intensive that made the biggest impression on me was the summer before I went to the School of American Ballet for the winter term in 1993. At the time, I thought it was quite a negative experience, but looking back, it was exactly what I needed. I think she felt that summer was her last chance to get everything out of me that she could. She really wanted me to understand that I was about to step into a whole other ball game. I needed to put a match under my behind. I needed to move faster, to lose five pounds. I just thought she was being mean—I couldn’t believe it. She even made me teach the younger kids so that I would start analyzing things from a different perspective. I was there all day long.

When I got to SAB, I realized, “Oh my god, she was right. How did I not listen to her?” She had shaped my work ethic and my approach to my career. She had exposed me to all different sorts of repertoire and styles, from Lilac Fairy and Little Swans to the Israeli hora and classical Indian bharata natyam. (Picture a very young me dancing Afro-Cuban—I’m not kidding!) Going back and mentally revisiting those dance dialects has helped me tremendously throughout my professional career.

Now I teach for our summer intensive here at Miami City Ballet. I think the best advice I can give to students is to be willing to work. Try to come in shape because the hours and the class schedules are intense. So many injuries happen because kids are not prepared to handle the intensity.

Sarah Lane

American Ballet Theatre soloist

Every summer, my school, The Timothy M. Draper Center for Dance Education in Rochester, New York, brought in Fiona Fairrie, who had been a dancer with Stuttgart Ballet. I had her from my first summer intensive when I was 12 until I graduated at 18. She always had this kind of energy; she was really honest. I loved watching her demonstrate: She was very classically trained and had been coached in many classical roles, so she brought a lot of that experience into her classes. My regular teacher, Timothy Draper, was extraordinary, but as a ballerina you need the influence of a professionally experienced female ballet instructor. Fiona was thoughtful in her approach to the finest detail. I wanted to mimic every good quality I saw in her.

I think it was her personality that made us click. She was really enthusiastic about what she did. She was encouraging and positive, but she didn’t put flowers on anything—she said things as they were. It made me a better dancer, because I knew if she said, “Good,” she meant it. She would get on me about my port de bras, my épaulement, supporting my elbows and not breaking my wrists. She constantly worked with me on the proper position of my head as I moved through port de bras. She also taught me how to work my legs without gripping—actually having the right amount of energy without overusing the muscles.

My advice for students is to try not to get competitive at summer intensives. Don’t look around at other dancers and try to see how you fit in. Don’t be intimidated by teachers or other students. You are who you are as a dancer and you’re there just to work and to learn. It can be overwhelming when you’re away from your family and you’re facing a lot of criticism. You’re forced to evaluate yourself as a dancer. But you have to let all of that go out the window so you can grow.

Ebony Williams

Former Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet dancer

At Boston Ballet School, Peter Pawlyshyn reminded me that I could be a smart dancer. It was my first summer intensive when I was 12. I remember the simplest thing: I was doing rond de jambes at the barre and my foot started to cramp, and instead of stopping and making a big deal about it, I just relaxed my metatarsal a bit and started to move my foot along the floor, using all the muscles that I should be using but without pointing my foot too hard. He noticed and pointed it out and let me know that’s the way I should do it. He  opened my eyes to the fact that there are other ways of working—being smart about it.

He also taught us partnering class. I’m a complete control freak, and I had a habit of tensing up. I remember him telling me that I had to lift up my center and at the same time be free so I could be mobile. I learned how to relax a bit and just move in the moment. I had to pay attention to dancing with others; I wasn’t on my own. I have to remind myself of that all the time even now, because I am still such a control freak. As a taller girl, I don’t always get to be partnered because I have a hard time finding a guy who’s big enough. But whenever I do, I remind myself that I have to trust him.

Being introduced to partnering work and modern dance that summer made me realize that dance was more than just ballet technique. You have to challenge yourself at intensives to be more open to the things you may not necessarily like. Go in and try to enjoy it and learn as much as you can.

Joseph Carman is a frequent contributor to Pointe.

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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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Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.

Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.

Has Something Changed?

If your teacher or director has approached you about your weight, you're likely left feeling emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Once you have a chance to think clearly, ask yourself what factors, like puberty, may be contributing to changes in your body. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, says, "There is this huge focus on weight and body at a time when even non-dancers are struggling with body issues and everything else that is happening as an adolescent."

External factors often play a role as well. PNB's consulting nutritionist, Peggy Swistak, says that she often sees dancers struggle with weight early in the season as they adjust to living on their own and sharing a kitchen with a roommate. "One may have really bad eating habits and doesn't have to watch her weight at all, and the other is gaining weight. There is a conflict in managing their food together," she says. Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween adds that financial stress can create barriers for eating nutritiously. "The one-dollar piece of pizza costs a lot less than eating organic," he says. "You have to make the best choices possible with what you have." Other changes, like a new schedule, layoffs or even emotional setbacks, will present the need to reevaluate your food habits and exercise routines throughout your career.

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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.

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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