Summer Study Advice

Fund Your Summer Intensive

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


The concept of crowdfunding, or accumulating donations from many small sponsors, isn't new, but the internet has revolutionized its potential. While the most famous site, Kickstarter, is meant for groups and specific projects, sites like Indiegogo, GoFundMe and RocketHub allow individuals to launch campaigns for almost anything.

To crowdfund your summer, sign up on a site, set a funding goal and deadline and write a personal statement. (Most sites include tutorials on how to use their particular setup most effectively.) On some sites, you must reach your goal to receive any of the money your supporters have pledged, but on most, the donated funds are deposited directly into your bank account regardless of whether you meet your goal.

Showing your personality on your donation profile is key. Upload photos and maybe even a video about your summer goals. Most of all, show your gratitude. Offer something to sponsors in return for their donations, such as a weekly update email about your experience at the intensive. If you're hesitant to ask for donations, ask for jobs like Abeo did. And don't be afraid to tell everyone you know about your page, both through social media and in person. Ultimately, Abeo says that the majority of her funding came from people she knew.

Find Free Money (It's Out There)
A number of foundations offer need- and merit-based scholarships that can be applied to any summer intensive. The Dance Council of North Texas, for example, offers more than 20 scholarships for summer intensives that are available to dancers anywhere in the country. Each month, the American Harlequin Corporation offers a $250 scholarship to four dancers who post their performance videos on its website. Just be sure to check the application deadlines early—many fall in February and March.

To increase your chances of winning a grant or general scholarship, you should also look for local foundations and donors who support young artists. Metropolitan Ballet Academy student Sophie Lane, for example, attended Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's summer program on a full scholarship awarded by the local nonprofit Philadelphia Dance Access in 2011. Last summer she received free housing for American Ballet Theatre's summer intensive through a New York City family who sponsors MBA students each summer. Check with the director and teachers at your home studio to see what opportunities they know about in your community.

Joffrey Ballet Summer Intensive. Photo Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.


Find Free Money (It's Out There)
A number of foundations offer need- and merit-based scholarships that can be applied to any summer intensive. The Dance Council of North Texas, for example, offers more than 20 scholarships for summer intensives that are available to dancers anywhere in the country. Each month, the American Harlequin Corporation offers a $250 scholarship to four dancers who post their performance videos on its website. Just be sure to check the application deadlines early—many fall in February and March.

To increase your chances of winning a grant or general scholarship, you should also look for local foundations and donors who support young artists. Metropolitan Ballet Academy student Sophie Lane, for example, attended Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's summer program on a full scholarship awarded by the local nonprofit Philadelphia Dance Access in 2011. Last summer she received free housing for American Ballet Theatre's summer intensive through a New York City family who sponsors MBA students each summer. Check with the director and teachers at your home studio to see what opportunities they know about in your community.


Go Straight to the Source
In some cases, your chosen summer intensive can play a key role in your funding campaign. Some schools offer need-based financial aid you can apply for if your family qualifies. But almost every program also offers merit scholarships, which any student with enough talent can win. For these, schools look for more than killer technique—you must show that you're a good investment. "When we pay a student's tuition, it's because we are looking at them long-term," says Shelly Power, academy director at Houston Ballet Academy. Schools typically offer merit scholarships to dancers who show potential to be a good fit for their school, or even their company, in the future.

Students at the Boston Ballet Summer Intensive. Photo by Igor Burlak, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

One of the best ways to increase your chances of earning a scholarship, according to Power, is to build a relationship with teachers and administrators. If the school is new to you, consider visiting and meeting them. "It shows a reciprocal interest," says Power. Later at the audition, the administrators will remember you, and if you are a contender for a scholarship, that extra commitment might be what raises you to the top of the list.

Returning to an intensive where you've already had a great experience also increases your chances of earning a scholarship—and can boost the amount of that scholarship. "We invest slowly in students, to make sure they like it here as well," says Power.

Some schools, like Canada's National Ballet School, take a personal interest in helping students with their fundraising. Although NBS does not offer merit scholarships and first-time students are not eligible for summer financial aid, it provides fundraising models and ideas to students who request them, as well as written endorsements that students can share on their websites or in community newsletters. "We are certainly happy to provide letters of support that say, 'This is a young person that we really believe deserves this opportunity,'" says Mavis Staines, artistic director of NBS. Just last summer, the school had several students who initially thought that they could not afford the program, but by getting creative—such as asking family and friends to donate unused air miles or hosting community garage sales—they were able to attend.
Staines' suggestion? "Pursue the program that you're most excited about, and then money challenges generally can be worked out," she says. "It's amazing how creatively we can get through constraints."


It's About More Than Technique...
When schools decide whom to award merit scholarships to, they consider a number of factors beyond technique. Here are three that can have a major impact on your chances at an audition.



Appearance: Studies show that people subconsciously form opinions about others within seven seconds of first seeing them. This means you must make a great impression before you even start dancing! A neat, secure hairstyle and a clean-cut, attractive leotard demonstrate respect for the school and a readiness to learn.



If 90 percent of the dancers are in black leotards, don't wear neon. "People think it gets noticed—and it does, but not for the right reasons," says Melissa Bowman, assistant principal at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. Don't wear eye-catching clothes that could make you look like you're desperate for attention—and possibly a troublemaker in the classroom. Bring extra supplies in your dance bag so you can change into a different look if necessary.



Responsibility: Bowman sees a surprising number of students at January auditions who have fallen out of shape over the winter break, which leads auditioners to wonder if the student will fall out of shape again before the intensive. Yawning or looking tired can make the adjudicators wonder if you'll be able to handle five weeks at the school. Arrive alert and in shape to show that you're ready to take on any challenge.



Personality: Auditioners look for students who are excited, eager to learn and happy to be at the audition. From the moment you step in the building, smile and be friendly with the audition organizers (you never know how much power they may have). "After you've seen so many dancers, your eye goes right to the dancer who listens. She's someone we want to work with," says Bowman. Once you reach the dance floor, show that you're more than a technician—you're an artist. Shelly Power, academy director at Houston Ballet Academy, says, "Students with that sparkle in their eyes, that deep involvement in their classwork—those people are going to rise to the top first."

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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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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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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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