When José Pablo Castro Cuevas got scouted by The Joffrey Ballet at Youth America Grand Prix Mexico back in 2015, he'd never even heard of the company—let alone its official school and training program, the Joffrey Academy of Dance. Now in his second year as a full-fledged member of the company, Castro Cuevas says with certainty that he's where he is today because he spent that fateful first summer intensive at the Joffrey Academy in Chicago, Illinois.
"I'd never even considered that joining a company could be possible for me," he says. "Those five weeks prepared me physically, mentally and technically for everything that would come after." Five years from now, you could well be saying something similar about your own journey to becoming a professional ballet dancer.
A Proven Track Record
Academy Director Raymond Rodriguez leading class at the Joffrey Academy
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy the Joffrey Academy
As Abbott Academy Director Raymond Rodriguez is quick to point out, the numbers don't lie: "Twelve out of 43 dancers in the company started at the Academy's summer intensive." That figure becomes even more impressive when you consider that the Joffrey Academy of Dance has only been in existence for 11 years. (Though they're easily and often confused, it's important to note that New York City's Joffrey Ballet School is completely separate from Chicago's Joffrey Ballet and the Joffrey Academy of Dance.)
How have so many dancers successfully progressed from summer intensive to Pre-Professional Division to Trainee Program to Studio Company to main company? In large part, it's simply because the summer intensive is mandated for any dancer hoping to join the year-round residential training program.
"We want to get to know them a lot better than we can in one audition," explains Rodriguez. Spending five weeks assessing all aspects of an aspiring dancer's readiness—not just technical ability, but also maturity and drive to improve—helps the Academy faculty set dancers up for success as pre-professionals and, eventually, as professionals.
Castro Cuevas during his first summer at the Joffrey Academy
Courtesy Castro Cuevas
Thinking back on the summer of 2015, Castro Cuevas fondly remembers the variety and novelty of the Joffrey Academy's summer curriculum. "I was taking so many kinds of classes for the first time ever, from amazing teachers with incredible backgrounds," he recalls. "I can't believe how much I progressed in those five weeks."
Rodriguez notes that while breadth of curriculum is a Joffrey Academy hallmark, that variety is grounded in a consistent group of world-class instructors who really get to know students well. "One thing that sets us apart from other intensives is that we don't bring in guest faculty," he says. "If a new teacher comes in for a week, the line of communication is broken as soon as they leave. We believe that dancers at our intensive stay mentally and physically healthier when there's as much consistency as there is in the year-round program."
That's not to say that choosing the Joffrey Academy summer intensive means you'll miss out on the excitement of learning from dance-world celebrities. Just this past summer, Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck Zoomed in to discuss excerpts from works they've created on Joffrey dancers. The difference, as Rodriguez says, is that "we bring in international icons who are deeply connected to The Joffrey Ballet."
Ready and Willing
Courtesy Castro Cuevas
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times: In today's dance world, versatility and adaptability are everything. So you'll be happy to hear that training at the Joffrey Academy of Dance, whether for a summer, several summers (the intensive has an unusually high retention rate) or the academic year—sets you up ideally not just for a career with The Joffrey Ballet, but also beyond if that's what you wish.
"For year-round students, we teach how to put an audition reel together," says Rodriguez. "We conduct a photo shoot for Studio Company members to have photos that are correct for the industry and up to standards. During both the summer and school-year programs, we bring in dancers, former trainees or Studio Company members who are in all different companies to talk to students."
Encouraging a diversity of perspectives undoubtedly affects the makeup of the main company. As Castro Cuevas says, "Every single dancer in the company is completely different in body type, mentally, the way they dance…It's so cool."
That level of diversity (unfortunately, all too rare in the ballet world) is intentional and begins with wide-ranging recruitment efforts for Academy programs, says Rodriguez: "If you have the talent, we want you—no matter who you are, the color of your skin, or whether we've seen you dance before." Financial aid and merit scholarships are offered every single year to the tune of $500,000 total. " 'Joffrey for all' truly is our motto," Rodriguez says.