These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."


The School of Ballet Arizona's training program covers all the summer intensive basics at a high level: ballet technique, pointe, pas de deux, variations. But additional offerings like wellness coaching, opportunities to experience the unique city of Phoenix, and a weekly nutrition and injury prevention class make the School of Ballet Arizona intensive unique.

"Dance is difficult enough, and these days everyone has this need to feel like they are perfect," says the school's director Maria Simonetti, "They need to learn how to take care of their bodies. For me that is the number one priority." (Simonetti brings 22 years of experience at Ballet Arizona as a rehearsal director—and is a valuable asset for students with aspirations of joining the company one day.)

Students in performance. Rows of girls in white and blue romantic tutus, en pointe in fifth position with their arms to the sides. A girl center stage is mid-leap, in a flowy dress.

Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

The nutrition portion of their training is an interactive course where students learn all the basics, but also have the opportunity for direct feedback and hands-on activities—like evaluating the nutritional value of snacks students bring from home. This kind of learning is a step above the one-hour nutrition lecture we have come to expect in the summer intensive environment.

Students in performance. Two boys in torero costumes are center stage, holding one side of the red cap out to the side with the opposite leg in tendu. Crowds of other dancers in Spanish themed costumes are behind them.

Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

Injury prevention is another important piece of the wellness puzzle. The School of Ballet Arizona believes that if young dancers understand the how and the why of dance injuries, they will be better able to avoid them. Students have access to respected dance physical therapist Itamar Stern as part of their weekly wellness class. "He helps the students understand the different injuries dancers get and what is happening physically with that injury," Simonetti says. "Then he goes over how to prevent them."

The capstone to the six-week intensive is a performance in Ballet Arizona's newly-constructed black box theater, where the students create their own dances. The faculty then votes on which pieces are performed at the showcase.

The faculty's concern for dancer wellness is deeply felt by students—including 15-year-old Marina Lee who has chosen to attend the program every year, and has made lifelong friendships along the way. "I love it here. People care about you," she says. "You develop a relationship with the teachers. I feel like they really want the best for you and that is why I have stayed here."

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Rachel Neville, Courtesy Ellison Ballet

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