The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

Summer Study Rejection: Dealing With the Disappointment of the Thin Envelope

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.


But my parents and teachers encouraged me not to give up, to pour my emotion into my dancing. Eventually, my self-pity transformed into a focused rage, and I began to approach ballet with new seriousness. Even though it wasn't SAB, that summer I had gotten into Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School's intensive and decided to go. There I found teachers who believed in my potential and wanted to work with me. I began to realize that I wasn't as strong as many of my peers who had come from more rigorous programs. I studied the girls in the advanced level every chance I got and tried to mimic their movements, their grace. I took classes like Pilates and yoga for the first time, gaining strength in my core. At the end of the day I would collapse onto my hard twin bed exhausted and inspired.

I attended the PBTS program the following summer as well, and was asked to stay for the year-round program during my freshman year of high school. Initially, I struggled to keep up with my classmates, again reminded that I was still much weaker technically. But I was determined to catch up. I took extra classes in lower levels the entire year to speed up my improvement. My focus shifted from an obsession with taking class at SAB's Lincoln Center studios to the greater goal of being my absolute best.

McGuire's first arabesque audition photo from age 15, the year she got into SAB. Courtesy McGuire.

And it paid off. The next summer I got into SAB's summer intensive and was even placed in a high level. I wish I could say that this was the end, that every moment after yielded success and opportunity because I had weathered that early disappointment so well. But unfortunately, dealing with rejection may as well be part of a professional ballet dancer's job description, no matter how good you are. You get into the great school, but not the level you want. You're cast as an understudy for the part you know you deserve. You don't get a job with the company you want, or worse, you lose your job with the company you love. The most important lesson to be learned from any one rejection is how to better deal with the next one.

Auditioning for summer programs will always be particularly hard. It's often a dancer's first barometer of where she stands in the highly competitive world of ballet, and no one wants to hear that they aren't quite there yet. Rejection can be the truest test of a young dancer's potential, not because you weren't accepted, but because it is a demonstration of your ability to rally back in pursuit of your dream. Instead of allowing the disappointment to take the wind out of your sails, remember that there are things to be learned by not getting the thick, glossy packet every time you try. Believe in yourself enough to see the turndown for what it really is: the opportunity to prove them wrong.

Advice From Auditioners

Don't Overthink It
Dancers often put far too much weight on external factors when auditioning. They think, “If I audition too early or late in a particular school's tour, I'll be less likely to get in," or “If I go to one city to audition, I'll have better odds than at another." Denise Bolstad, administrative director for Pacific Northwest Ballet School, says that these preoccupations are a waste of time. “We don't have a quota of students that we're looking for," she says. “We take whomever we feel will benefit from the program. We try to be objective and fair, whether it's the first audition or the last."

It's All In The Eye Of The Beholder
Where you want to be may not be the same as where you should be. Ethan Stiefel, dean of the dance program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, urges disappointed applicants to remember that dance is a subjective art. “Potential in one person's eye is not the same as in another's," he says.

They Want You To Succeed
Ultimately, the director of any program is looking for students who will flourish within their particular summer course. No one wants to put a student into
a situation where they will become frustrated and discouraged. According to Sharon Story, director of The Centre for Dance Education at Atlanta Ballet, this is considered in level placement as well. “We're pretty conservative on our first placement because it's easier to move students up than down," she says. “We try to place them where they'll succeed."

A Lot Can Change In A Year
A young dancer's facility, strength and technique are everchanging. Bolstad points out that for dancers as old as 14, a rejection is often just an issue of physical strength. “Because we're dealing with young adults, a great deal can change over the course of just six months," says Stiefel. “I would encourage a student who's been rejected to work hard and re-audition the following year, because they may have made huge leaps and bounds."

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

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When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

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After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.

KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.

UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

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