Students in class at the Kirov Academy of Ballet. Photo by Paolo Galli, Courtesy Kirov Academy

How to Survive the Rest of Your Summer Intensive

It's August, so two things are pretty much guaranteed: 1. It's really hot out. 2. If you're a bunhead, you're nearing the end of your summer intensive.

By now, you've gotten used to the early morning alarm, followed by the inevitable reminder that your muscles are (still) sore as you roll of out bed. But the excitement of arriving at an enticing training destination full of challenging instructors and fellow dancers may have faded. What's left is the hard work in the studio from dawn till dusk.


If you need some motivation to finish your intensive strong, follow these tips.

1. Start each day fresh.

School of American Ballet's summer intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy SAB.

Use your first technique class of the day to hit the refresh button. Check in with your body, and assess any soreness. If you had a bad class or frustrating rehearsal yesterday, leave the negativity behind. Do you best, starting with the very first plié.

2. Fuel up and stay hydrated.

It may be tempting to stock up on junk food to stay energized, but don't forget about the crash that accompanies a sugar rush. Whether you're dining at a campus cafeteria or you're cooking for yourself, make healthy choices throughout the day. High-fiber foods, like oatmeal for breakfast, will keep you fuller longer. Remember to pack your bag with quick snack options, like fruits and nuts, to nosh on between classes. And water is your number-one friend. You'll be sweating all day, so don't go anywhere without it.

3. Practice gratitude.

Students in Miami City Ballet School's summer repertory performance. Photo by Ella Titus, Courtesy MCB School.

Take a moment daily to acknowledge the fantastic opportunities you've encountered throughout the summer. Are you training with world-class faculty? Dancing at a professional company's school? Learning a variation from your favorite ballet? Getting more partnering experience than usual? Yes, intensives are tough, but they also come with many positives that help you grow as an artist.

4. Remember self-care.

Photo by Nathan Sayers

Taking care of yourself is essential all year long, but it's especially important during strenuous training periods. Find time to nurse your tired body, even if just for a few minutes daily. If you have access to a bath, soak in Epsom salts. Lying with your legs up the wall can do wonders for tired legs—many say the inversion promotes circulation. At night, grab some friends for a foam-roll and stretch party.

If you have any choice in your course load, don't eschew somatics classes because they're "easy." A restorative yoga session, for example, can be just the reset you need to conquer the next day with restored energy.

5. Explore the area.

While you're understandably at your summer program to focus on ballet, don't ignore the incredible opportunities around you. If you're in an urban environment, explore city parks one last time or check out another historical attraction before it's time to go home. If you've been dying to see a certain show, look into student rush tickets. If you're in a more rural setting and your program offers weekend field trips to nearby attractions, sign up for any remaining events.

6. Monitor your body for potential injuries.

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When you're several weeks into a schedule of all-day classes and rehearsals, feeling fatigued is normal. But that's also when dancers are at risk of injury. Listen to your body and conserve your energy when possible—pushing at 200 percent isn't sustainable. If something feels wrong or you suspect an old injury may be flaring up, notify your teachers and speak with the program's physical therapist, if possible.

7. Don't forget about your goals.

While it's easy to get swept up in the flurry classes and end-of-program performances, now's the time to reflect on why you chose this intensive. What did you want to get out of it when you registered several months ago? Perhaps you wanted a deeper dive into a style like Balanchine or Vaganova, or the chance to improve your petite allégro or be a less tentative turner. Ask yourself if you've accomplished those goals. If you've strayed from them, try to realign your priorities before you leave.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

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