Students at the University of Utah's Department of Ballet summer intensive. Photo by August Miller, Courtesy U of U.

Summer on Campus: Collegiate Summer Intensives Offer a Glimpse of Life as a Dance Major

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.


Students at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Photo by Dance Shitagi, Courtesy UNCSA.


A Taste of Campus Life

Many college summer programs aim to mimic the experience of being a year-round student. “What's ideal about it is that they get a real taste of the university," says Vernon. “They're on IU's campus and in our dorms, taking class from our regular faculty, learning the rep our students performed the previous school year." Dancers also have lectures from professors in music for dance and take theater dance classes. At the dorms, says Vernon, “the RAs are all ballet majors who can talk to them about the department and show them what our standards are."

At the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, summer intensive students are exposed to the eclectic atmosphere of its conservatory life. UNCSA offers three simultaneous intensives in classical, comprehensive and commercial dance. Classical and comprehensive track students take many of their classes together. Visiting guest artists supplement the year-round faculty, including recent UNCSA alums like New York City Ballet's Claire Kretzschmar, American Ballet Theatre's Kelley Potter and former Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Sam Shapiro.

In fact, guest faculty makes up a large component of these intensives, allowing students to make professional connections. At the University of Utah's summer intensive, program director Michael Bearden brings in three or four artistic directors each year. “It's a great opportunity for our students to get exposure to people who may be scouting for their own companies," says Bearden. Recent examples included Cincinnati Ballet's Victoria Morgan, Pacific Northwest Ballet's Peter Boal, Kansas City Ballet II manager Anthony Krutzkamp and UNCSA dance department dean Susan Jaffe.

Kara Roseborough, a junior at U of U, was initially drawn to its summer intensive partially because of its guest teachers. But she found herself excited by the university's own faculty, as well as the atmosphere on campus. “U of U wasn't on my radar until I went that summer, but I was so impressed by the teachers, felt so nurtured and pushed, that it was an environment I became very interested in," she recalls. She's now double majoring in English and ballet and hopes to add dance journalism to her experience someday.


Maura Bell in Balanchine's "Western Symphony." Photo by Pratt+Kreidich Photography, Courtesy St. Louis Ballet.


Getting Your Foot in the Door

Attending a college intensive may also give you an advantage if you decide to audition for the year-round academic program later. Department directors and faculty are often actively recruiting—and assessing—potential applicants during the summer. “Talent is only one aspect of becoming a great artist," says UNCSA summer program director Sean Sullivan. “Characteristics that take time to assess in a person, like tenacity, work ethic, curiosity, imagination and respectfulness all play into who might be an ideal candidate for our program. So if we've had five weeks to get to know and appreciate a dancer, versus three hours at an audition, it's very beneficial."

Lawrence Rhodes, artistic director of The Juilliard School's dance department, agrees, and notes that the process goes both ways for students attending the school's summer intensive: “You get three weeks of experience in the Juilliard way of training, working and living. You can decide whether you like it or not, and we can decide whether we think you're the right material for us."

Current senior Angela Falk says attending Juilliard's summer intensive not only solidified her hunch that she wanted to enroll there, it made her less intimidated to apply. “I absolutely felt more confident going into the audition for the college program," she says. “Knowing who was teaching the audition class, as well as several of the other dancers, made me feel comfortable."


Lawrence Rhodes leading class at Juilliard. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Juilliard.

Visit Again During the School Year

While summer is a great chance to preview college life, directors agree that those interested in the degree program should revisit campus during the school year. Sullivan says that while the intensity and professionalism is the same, “during the year, the depth of exploration is greater. We do four major dance productions, and the students are also taking their academic classes. It's well worth it to come again."

Even so, Falk is glad she was able to spend a summer on campus. “I felt like a Juilliard student for three weeks," she says. “On the last day, I told my parents, 'If I ever got into this school, I don't know how I'd pass it up.' "


Latest Posts


Gregory Batardon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

The 2021 Prix de Lausanne Prepares for a Year Like No Other

In an ordinary year, early February marks an exciting time in the ballet world: the return of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition. But this is no ordinary year, so this is no ordinary Prix. Due to the pandemic, the 2021 edition will run from January 31 to February 7, completely via video.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Mena Brunette, XMBPhotography

Inside Washington Ballet Artist Ashley Murphy-Wilson's Dance Bag

Ashley Murphy-Wilson, an artist at The Washington Ballet, is all about making things personal. Well, personalized, that is. "My best purchase ever was a label maker," she says. "Everything I own is labeled. My phone charger is labeled. My roller is labeled. Everyone knows: If I leave something in the studio, I'm coming back for it—because my name is on it."

The TWB dancer adds a personal touch to almost everything in her dance bag, be it with her label maker, her "signature" leopard print legwarmers or her bedazzled (yes, we said bedazzled) booties. It's the mark of an experienced dancer; Murphy-Wilson, now in her sixth season at TWB after 13 years with Dance Theatre of Harlem, knows better than to let her belongings get lost to the dance studio "black hole" effect.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Charlene Gehm MacDougal as Lead Nursemaid in Petrushka. Photo by Herbert Migdoll

In Memoriam: Joffrey Dancer Charlene Gehm MacDougal, 69

Former lead dancer with The Joffrey Ballet, Charlene Gehm MacDougal died of ovarian cancer on January 10 at her home in New York City, age 69.

Gehm illuminated the inner life of each of the varied characters in her extensive repertoire. Whether she was the gracious hostess in George Balanchine's Cotillon, the riveting Lady Capulet in John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, or in the tumult of William Forsythe's Love Songs, she drew the viewer's eye and heart to the essence of the role.

As Forsythe puts it: "Charlene was certainly one of the most elegant dancers I have had the privilege to work with. Her striking countenance flowed into her work and, joined with her wicked sense of humor and intelligence, created thoughtful, mesmerizing and memorable art."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks