Camp Lessons

 

Now that all the summer dance programs are wrapping up, I've started thinking about my one experience going away to ballet sleepaway camp when I was 15.  I've always been something of a homebody, and I was really nervous about going away for eight weeks.  My coach at the time convinced me that it was a good idea, though, so off I went, moving into an upstate New York college dormitory with what seemed like hundreds of girls and about five boys.

 

Being away from home was not the only thing I had to get used to.  We were dancing about six hours a day, starting with a two-hour technique class in the morning, followed by an hourlong variations, pointe, etc. class.  Then lunch, a break, and three more classes or rehearsals.  It was hard, and the studios and dorms weren't air-conditioned.  All I could think about most days was how hot and sweaty and tired I was, and trying to do everything right so that I wouldn't incur the wrath of our strict teachers.  I didn't always succeed, and I remember being shamed in front of a whole studio of dancers when I kept getting a step wrong in rehearsal.  It was much more embarrassing getting scolded in front of a roomful of people I didn't really know and was trying to impress than it was at home with my friends.  I think I spent a lot of time being homesick, and I made my parents come visit me as often as they could on the weekends.

 

Even though it sounds like I was miserable the entire time, camp was actually pretty fun.  I made some nice friends, had a lot of laughs, and ate a lot of pecan pie (don't ask).  While I was at camp, I was so consumed with the experience of my first time away from home that I didn't even notice how much my technique had improved.  All that dancing had lengthened my muscles, and I got stronger and more confident.  My coach definitely noticed when I returned and started taking classes with her again.  I realized then that change happens so slowly in ballet that the actual process of improvement is not very noticeable, but one day, you look in the mirror while doing a combination and you notice how much nicer your lines have gotten.  I ended up being happy that I had gone away to ballet camp, since it helped me learn the patience and diligence that is necessary to achieve real improvement.  However, I also learned that it's important to have fun along the way, and keep yourself open to new experiences--in dance and in life. 

Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

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."

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Getty Images

For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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