Summer Study Advice

Secrets of the Summer Program Admissions Process

Students in class at Pacific Northwest Ballet School's summer program. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet.

This story originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Pointe.

When 17-year-old Rock School student Sarah Lapointe was auditioning for summer intensives, she faced a dilemma. By mid-January, she'd been accepted to a great school. But she needed to give her answer in seven days and still had four more auditions on her agenda. “I thought, What should I do?" says Lapointe. “Do I turn down this offer, or risk being wait-listed or not receiving another acceptance somewhere else?"

It's a common conundrum. For Lapointe, the answer was to contact the first school to ask for a deadline extension, which it granted. “This allowed me to focus on my remaining auditions and make a solid decision," she says.

When it comes to getting into your dream program, we know that schools look for stellar technique, artistry and dancers who will fit in well. But there's more to the equation—those things you can't control, like acceptance deadlines, class sizes and limited housing. If you've ever wondered how the admissions process works, the answers may surprise you.

At the Audition


To a degree, accepting students is about numbers—after all, summer programs can only accommodate so many while keeping classes small. But how much do numbers play into your chances of being accepted to an intensive? Very little, if at all, say most school directors. Getting that acceptance letter is more about whether the adjudicators see you as an ideal fit in the school. “We really don't have a quota," says Denise Bolstad, administrative director at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, director of The Rock School, agrees. “Our school is expandable to some degree," she says. “We don't want to turn down somebody that we truly feel is a good fit. If we need to get a new class or a new teacher, we will." (That said, numbers play a big role when it comes to scholarships and housing. Some schools can't offer housing to everyone. “If we say they're accepted into the program, they need to ask specifically, 'Does that include the dormitory?' " says Spassoff. Dancers without provided housing typically rent nearby apartments.)

During audition tours, schools visit upwards of 25 cities. But most don't accept a set number of dancers from each location, simply because the talent pool varies greatly from city to city or even from year to year. Adjudicators have specific ideas of what they're looking for (such as alignment, personality and potential), regardless of the overall technical level in the room, and they base decisions on those standards rather than simply choosing the top 12.

The time numbers might come into play is during the last few auditions of the tour, if programs review how many students they've accepted and realize that they're overextending the school's resources. In that case, you might be a little less likely to get in if they're on the fence about you. While there's no ideal point in the tour to audition, earlier-to-middle audition dates may slightly increase your odds.

It's also common for schools to accept more students than they expect to attend. This isn't a bad thing—it's just how schools, and even colleges, operate, because they know not all accepted students will enroll. “Somehow it always works out, between students having other options and inevitably losing others to injuries before they arrive," says Bolstad.

At PNB, each level has a set maximum number of students; once a dancer accepts, she secures her spot in that level. It benefits to respond early; if dancers wait until the March 1 acceptance deadline, that level might already be full.


Franco De Vita and Lauren Bonfiglio in class at ABT"s summer intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

The Wait List

So you've been noticed by your dream school—a win in itself!—but they've placed you on the wait list. What does it mean? “The wait list is normally for when you like a student, but you have a certain reservation," says Franco De Vita, artistic director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. For him, this might happen when a student shows potential, but it's clear that nerves are getting in the way.

Here's how it works: Once the school has planned for a certain number of students, it likely pays in advance for those spots in the dorm or in classes. When a student drops out at the last minute, there's a space available that the school has already invested in—that's when they start calling wait-listed dancers. “If somebody bows out, we want the student to have the opportunity to prove what they feel they can do here," says Spassoff.

How do you get off of a wait list? At ABT, it's a good idea to audition again in another city or at the school itself. “I can speak only for us, but it's very good to call us and come take another class," says De Vita.

At other schools, the best practice is to be patient and check in occasionally. “They can politely say, 'We so appreciate your considering us and just want to touch base to see," says Spassoff. Being too pushy, however, might work against you. “Sometimes you get very aggressive parents, and that's the biggest turnoff," she says. “It's one thing to be hungry to be seen, but it shouldn't take the form of egotism." If you're unsure, it's fine to call and ask if attending another audition or sending in extra teacher recommendations might help.

Most schools don't like wait-listing students and only do it for a select few that they see potential in. “I think we wait-listed only 10 kids last year," says Bolstad. While acceptance isn't guaranteed, it does happen. “Last year, we accepted two or three students on the waiting list," says De Vita.


Pas de deux class at ABT's summer intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

Navigating Acceptance Deadlines

Acceptance deadlines are tricky for both dancers and school staff. The earlier directors know about enrollment, the easier it is for them to plan. But asking dancers to reply too early might lead some to drop out when a new opportunity comes.

If, like Lapointe, you need to hear from another school or two before committing, the best plan is to follow her example by asking for an extension. “I explained my timing conflict and provided the school with a date that I hoped to reach a decision," says Lapointe. The school may grant the extension or offer to place you on the wait list. At some programs, dancers with merit scholarships may have a bit more leverage when it comes to receiving an extension.

If you're wait-listed for your top-choice school but your second choice's deadline is approaching, Bolstad recommends accepting the second school. “We're only able to accommodate our wait-list after our deadline," she says. “I don't want students to wait to accept another school assuming we're going to have a place for them."

If you do pull out of a summer program, it's vital to let them know in writing as soon as possible. You might be burning a bridge (in addition to potentially losing your tuition deposit), but, as De Vita says, that might not be the worst thing in the world, “when the other offer is so much better." The school may not hold it against you if you handle it politely.

Most of all, trust that you've made the right choice. “Don't look back. It's not productive," says Spassoff. “You have to say, Alright, I've made this decision, and I'm going to make the most of it."

popular
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.

popular

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Summer Study Advice
Thinkstock.

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Career
Thinkstock

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

Keep reading... Show less
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!

Keep reading... Show less
Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!