Summer is supposed to be carefree and fun, but for dancers, the season often marks a transition out of your regular routine and into a new environment. While it's undoubtedly exciting, the summertime shake-up may also trigger feelings of stress and anxiety. We've gathered six of our best tips to help you adjust—and deal with anxiety—whether you're heading to an intensive, on leave for the summer or performing on tour.
While New York City Ballet was off last August, corps member Sasonah Huttenbach was hard at work at the Danish Ballet Masters program, a two-week Bournonville workshop in New York City led by former Royal Danish Ballet dancers Mogens Boesen and Linda Hindberg. While they have always offered a student intensive, last summer Boesen and Hindberg added a program for working dancers. “A lot of professionals just lean toward open classes or giving themselves class during layoffs, but sometimes you need the basics because you're rehearsing and performing so much," says Huttenbach, who attended the student intensive twice before joining NYCB. “It was great to spend time off perfecting my alignment and technique."
Wondering about how to spend your summer layoff weeks this year? While teaching or performance gigs are good ways to stay busy, off-time can also be perfect for brushing up your technique, exploring another style and networking with a broader range of dance professionals. From big cities to the beach, programs geared towards professionals can help reinvigorate your career and remind you that you can always go back to summer camp.
Maura Bell was determined to have a ballet career. But as a high school senior, she didn't feel ready to audition for companies yet. “I knew I had more maturing to do, both technically and as a young woman," she remembers. Bell started researching collegiate options and discovered that Indiana University's ballet department hosted a two-week summer intensive for pre-college students. “The reputation of IU spoke for itself, so I decided to do the summer intensive to get a feel for what it would be like to go there."
The deciding moment came at the end of her second week, when department chair Michael Vernon led her and fellow students on a tour of IU's Musical Arts Center. “I remember standing on that stage—it's the size of the Met— and it just clicked: This was where I wanted to be, my dream school," she recalls. Bell auditioned for the ballet department that fall. Four years later, she credits the training and connections she made at IU with her ultimate post-graduation success: a contract with Saint Louis Ballet.
College summer programs offer students a chance to experience what life would be like as a dance major, and introduce them to a wide range of possibilities for their training and future career. Even those on the fence about going to school could benefit from spending a few weeks on campus—along with the strong focus on individual development, collegiate summer intensives allow students to meet year-round faculty and current dance majors, scope out the dorms and dance facilities, and do some major networking.
Whether you're heading off to a summer intensive or loading up on classes at your hometown studio, buying fresh and seasonal produce is a great way to get the fuel you need for dancing. Fruits and veggies are tastier (and often cheaper) when they’re in season, since they are more locally abundant and don’t have to be shipped from far away.
Here are a few foods that are in season right now, to get you started:
Beets: A good source of potassium (helpful for reducing muscle cramps) and fiber, which keeps you feeling satiated for longer. Plus, the phytonutrients in beets have antioxidant, detoxification and anti-inflammatory benefits. Try grating raw beets over salad to mix up your usual blend of veggies.
Watermelon: Is there anything better than a juicy slice of watermelon in the summer? True to its name, the fruit's water content is over 90 percent, helping you stay cool and hydrated on hot days. Watermelon juice may also help reduce muscle soreness if you drink it before a workout.
Strawberries and Blueberries: Fresh berries are a perfect summer snack, and not just because they’re delicious. These have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and one study found that blueberries may give short term memory a boost.
Green Beans: Non-starchy vegetables like green beans are a healthy source of carbs that can help provide the energy you need for long rehearsals or performances. Green beans are also a good source of vitamin K, which helps blood to clot.
Cherries: They're known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and tart cherry juice in particular has been found to reduce muscle pain and weakness after intense strength training or long-distance running.
Jackie Nash: Atlanta Ballet
Typical summer break: mid-May–August
On rest: I need to take one solid week, at least, to let all those last bits of the season go. After Nutcracker we push straight through until May, so a lot of little things in my body need to heal, and I want to have some mental space to go over how the season went.
Summer gig: For the past five or six years, I’ve danced with Atlanta Ballet’s 12-member, dancer-run summer company, Wabi Sabi. We start rehearsing three to six hours a day one or two weeks after the season ends, with performances in July and August. I don’t need to do maintenance beyond that because the shows finish close to the beginning of our season.
Taking class: When we’re not working on Wabi Sabi, I either teach or take class during the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education summer intensives to stay in shape.
Nutrition: Because I have more time, I look for new recipes. I love grilling fish outside and having people over for kebabs, getting to be more social.
Branching out: I own a house in East Atlanta with my husband, fellow AB dancer Heath Gill. We like to catch up on gardening, painting and house maintenance things.
Jenelle Figgins: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Typical summer break: Six weeks total, usually in May and September
On rest: Working 7,900 feet above sea level means that the demand on our bodies is very high. I try to take a couple weeks to rest. My routine is to spend time at a spa here, getting massages and physical therapy, and going to the hot springs and mineral baths in the area.
Cross-training: Later on during the break I start getting physical. Aspen is really special because a lot of social activities are active and outside. A lot of us go hiking in the summer. We also have access to great yoga classes. I need to lengthen and stretch, and I avoid exercise that will make me too tight.
Taking class: We are the only dance studio out here, so it is difficult. We tend to get out of town because Aspen is so small. If I travel on my break, I take classes at home.
Nutrition: I love to cook. On layoff, I have more time to focus on my diet and research how I can turn my food into medicine. Turmeric is good for my mood and is also an anti-inflammatory—right now I am into turmeric-and-blood-orange lemonade.
Branching out: I’m Buddhist, so I like to chant and meditate. I try to “shed” all the stuff in my mind and alternate in self-questioning about how my thoughts and energies are serving dance and my life. It’s a great time for me to let my mind go beyond my job. I’m also continuing to learn with online college courses.
Skylar Campbell: National Ballet of Canada
Typical summer break: Four weeks, dates vary
On rest: Balance is my favorite word and key for any athlete. At the end of the season you are most likely in top dancing shape. Rest is good, but I don’t like to throw it all away, because our layoffs are short.
Cross-training: During the season it can be difficult for me to cross-train. I love to change up my routine during off weeks, because it’s important to keep moving. I do resistance training at the gym and take advantage of swimming. If I have a principal role coming up, focusing on long-term cardio can help. If I go home to California, I am lucky to be able to train at the Pilates studio my parents own in Orange County.
Taking class: For every week I take off, I need just as much time to get back.
Nutrition: The first week, I do a cold-pressed-juice cleanse because I don’t need as much fuel and replenishment. After that I ease back into my regular diet.
Branching out: I try to let my mind out of the ballet bubble. I exert my energy on playing the drums. It is a great outlet when I’m not dancing.
Oren Porterfield: Ballet Austin
Typical summer break: mid-May–August
On rest: I definitely need a week of seeing music shows, drinking beer, eating pizza—real people fun. Austin is a great city for music and my husband is a gigging musician. I have to take a little time away to get perspective before going back to demi, demi, grand.
Cross-training: I can’t do the same thing every day. We’re lucky to have access to a Pilates studio, so we can take group apparatus class and use reformers. I take yoga around town and do it at home with “Yoga with Adriene,” a YouTube channel. I have a gym membership, too.
Taking class: I usually don’t take off of class for more than two weeks.
Nutrition: I am definitely more forgiving of my body standards during layoff. I appreciate being curvier in the summer, which is something I don’t appreciate as much in season. I try not to ever go on a diet—moderation is the best thing. I eat real food, and if I eat food that isn’t so good, I make sure I move more.
Branching out: I have an apothecary line I started a few years ago (ritual-goods.com), and I make essential-oil perfumes and sprays. I do pop-ups. In the summer I have more opportunities to learn more about herbalism and experiment.
Candice Thompson, a former dancer, is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Getting ready to audition for intensives? Click here to find the best summer study options for you!
By the time Washington Ballet dancer Andile Ndlovu was finishing his training in South Africa, he faced a risky decision. After attending a ballet competition in 2008, he received summer-intensive scholarship offers from The Washington School of Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. But choosing between schools would determine more than his summer plans. The right intensive might lead to acceptance into a professional-level training program at summer’s end, whereas walking away empty-handed would mean going back home, to begin again.
Many dancers on the cusp of graduation can relate. Summer intensives often serve as a lengthy audition process for year-round opportunities, a gateway to traineeships or second-company contracts that bridge the gap between student and professional. But choosing a summer program essentially means committing to a company school—before it’s committed to you. If you’re researching summer programs and know you want to move into a more professional sphere by summer’s end, here’s how to ensure that you’re making a smart, career-minded decision.
Assess Your Options
When prioritizing which intensives to audition for, start with schools affiliated with dream companies. But it’s also important to investigate other options and to be very realistic about where you’d be happy day to day. “You have to take away the name brand and take a really close look at the company, at the people, at the repertoire,” says San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet dancer Isabella DeVivo, who received a traineeship through SFB’s summer program in 2012. “I liked how broad the rep was here.”
You also want to understand what year-round opportunities are available in each location. Trainee and second-company programs vary widely, and it’s important to know exactly what is offered (such as classes, performance opportunities with the company and living stipends) and how many students are accepted. You can likely find plenty of initial information online. Darleen Callaghan, school director at Miami City Ballet, says it’s also okay to contact the school with additional questions prior to your audition.
Take past experiences at summer intensives or school visits into consideration, too, paying close attention to the level of interest you received. For instance, an overwhelming amount of corrections could signal that “teachers are interested in working with you and are assessing how much you are willing to change as a dancer,” says Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. The company selects some students for PNB School’s Professional Division during the summer. For DeVivo, these hints came in the form of teachers occasionally asking her to demonstrate at a previous SFB intensive. And while it won’t guarantee a contract, familiarity can work in your favor. “I know the kids spending their fourth summer with us,” says Boal. “That’s a great vote of confidence in us, and it means something.”
Maximize the Audition Experience
In the audition room, you’re not the only one with yearlong opportunities in mind. The directors have their eyes open, too, so it can’t hurt to convey your interest. “Especially if you’re at the age where you want future employment, you should identify yourself,” Boal says. Rolando Yanes, director of Milwaukee Ballet School and its affiliated Milwaukee Ballet II, agrees: “It’s good for them—we start looking at them with a different eye.”
Callaghan recommends mentioning your interest to the audition administrator during registration, who may make a note of it on your forms. In some cases, this may also be an opportunity to speak with the adjudicator firsthand. After the audition, it’s okay to politely ask about your chances of a traineeship or second-company contract. You’ll probably hear some variation of “maybe,” but you can at least gauge the adjudicator’s level of interest. “If there’s one I’m strongly considering, I’ll tell them then and there,” says Boal. If the student doesn’t seem ready, he continues, “I would say: ‘At this point I can see it as a possibility, contingent on you gaining strength,’ or, ‘You were dancing behind the music on this part of the audition.’ It’s helpful to get it out there.” After DeVivo’s audition, the adjudicator brought up the possibility of a trainee position before she asked, which she took as a strong sign.
Choose a Path
With acceptance letters in hand, it’s time to evaluate which summer intensives might lead to a contract. Once you’ve assessed the level of interest of each program through a combination of past experience, audition interactions and the amount of merit scholarships you’ve received, the decision comes down to finding a balance between your own aspirations and your chances of a contract.
First, talk with your teacher and consider whether you can realistically see a future in each location. “Get as much information as possible,” says Callaghan. “Ask: What are the odds of getting into that professional company long-term? What’s the turnover in the company? How many do they take? What’s the cost of living?” Now is the time to contact the school with any questions. “A student is always welcome to call and say that they are very interested in the trainee program or second company and ask what are the chances and when is the decision made,” Callaghan adds.
If your dream company’s school seems only mildly interested while a smaller, company-affiliated program is offering you a full scholarship, your decision will be a very personal one. “Sometimes there’s the misconception that if you get into Harvard you should go,” says Boal. “But maybe it’s not the best choice for you. Maybe it’s too big or too competitive.” Callaghan concurs: “Even if you dream of dancing with a larger company, sometimes getting into a smaller company is a good first job,” she says.
For Ndlovu, The Washington School of Ballet’s intensive was the answer, with his sights set on receiving a Studio Company contract at summer’s end. “I felt like it offered more stability for me as a young dancer getting into the art form,” he says. This was of particular interest to him, considering the international technicalities and paperwork involved.
But also know that choosing one program doesn’t mean you’ve burnt every other bridge. Be sure to maintain relationships with those you choose not to attend by sending a thank-you note. “It’s a gracious way for young people to acknowledge that they understand what was offered to them,” says Callaghan, who especially loves the handwritten notes she receives in the mail. That way, if you happen to walk away from your chosen intensive empty-handed, you have places to turn. In this instance, Callaghan recommends calling the other schools and expressing interest in their professional training opportunities. “I get those kinds of calls all the time, and it’s okay.”
Yanes agrees: “Most of the schools that I know, including ours, are pretty open. If a dancer cannot come to our summer intensive, we encourage them to send videos to us, or they can always go to the company audition, where we choose some members of the second company.”
While choosing the right summer program can be nerve-racking, especially with so much of your future at stake, Ndlovu says the key is communication. “You don’t have to beg for your opportunity—it will come at the right time,” he says. “But you have to keep talking and asking questions.”
Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston.