Getty Images

Staying Home for the Summer: Tips for Creating a DIY Intensive

It is easy to feel as though the entire ballet year revolves around summer: more hours in the day for dance, and another summer intensive to add to your resumé. You've likely dreamt about which program you want to attend, traveled to auditions and gotten excited about the new challenges in a big city school. But what if you find yourself staying home?

It can feel heartbreaking to watch your peers take off for their intensives. Whether you're staying home by choice or because of injury or finances, you can still improve and have fun at your local studio. Unlike those headed off to big intensives, you have flexibility and money on your side. Jody Skye Schissler, owner of Skye Ballet Center in Herndon, Virginia, encourages dancers to start by asking, "How can you make your summer more focused on yourself and what you need for your future?" Here are tips for making the most of your time at home.


Home Studio Advantages

JonMarie Johnson in a summer class at Louisville Ballet School, her home studio

Kateryna Sellers, Courtesy Louisville Ballet

Look at it this way: It takes a while for the dust to settle at a big intensive. For the first week or two of classes, dancers are being evaluated for level place- ment, settling into dorm life and forming early relationships with other students and teachers. There's a lot of distraction and uncertainty to get through before you develop a feeling of routine. When you train locally, those unknowns don't necessarily apply.

Last year, Louisville Ballet School student JonMarie Johnson decided to stay home because she was leaving for college that fall and a summer program proved cost-prohibitive. But Johnson, who had previously attended intensives at Pacific Northwest Ballet School and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, quickly recognized the benefits. "You have the advantage of being more immediately comfortable in the situation," she says. "It sounds silly, but even the comfort level you have in the studio space itself contributes to your improvement."

Johnson also appreciated training with a small group of 20 dancers and with teachers who knew her and what she needed most. "I think I improved more that summer than I ever had before," she says. Schissler says that, at her own studio, she can give her students opportunities that large intensives don't have the flexibility to do. "Last summer I had three-hour technique classes," she says. "Their improvement was incredible because we had so much time and I know them all so well."

Build a Custom Training Program 

Between tuition and housing, a summer intensive can cost your family upwards of $6,000. If possible, Schissler recommends creating add-ons to your regular dance classes with some of the money you save. "Get a mem- bership at your local gym and give swimming a try," she says. "It is great for stamina and endurance, and it is an opportunity you won't have at a summer intensive."

You could also consider signing up for weekly private or group lessons in Pilates, Gyrotonic or yoga. And the summer months offer more time to seek out local master classes or workshops (if not at your school, than perhaps at a nearby studio). Or, consider supplementing your ballet training with classes in other genres, like modern, contemporary, tap, improvisation or even acting.

Go Back to Basics

Yuka Iseda in the peasant pas de trois from Swan Lake

Adrian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet

Whether you are staying home because of an injury or not, summertime presents an excellent opportunity to get back

to the basics of your training. Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Yuka Iseda recommends taking open classes in a lower level. She says doing so gives her time to focus on breaking simpler movement down correctly, which then helps her perform bet- ter in more complicated combinations.

Schissler suggests asking your studio director if you can assist teaching lower levels. "Helping teach little ones helps you so much in your own dancing," she says. "You become
a smarter dancer." By learning to explain proper turnout to a 6-year-old, you may come to approach it differently yourself.

Take a Break 

As a student in Japan, Iseda often used her summer off-time (which is shorter than in the U.S.) to allow her body to heal— something she continues today. "I think that ballet is such hard work and sometimes you just need a break," she says. This could be particularly useful if you're nursing an injury. By taking time out of the studio, focusing on lower-level open classes and cross-training, Iseda finds that the imbalances in her body begin to right themselves and she feels better when she gets back into ballet full force.

Johnson, who will be a sophomore dance major at University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, is looking forward to going home to Louisville again this summer. Training locally, she says, doesn't mean that you won't have opportuni- ties to improve. "It is important to keep in mind that you make the program what it is and you put in the work and effort to excel," says Johnson. By staying focused and getting creative with your training, you can make your summer worthwhile.

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks