Orlando Ballet School has been leading the way when it comes to developing successful COVID safety measures without compromising on the quality of training.

Courtesy Orlando Ballet School

Opportunity and Community Take Center Stage at Orlando Ballet's Summer Intensive

Participating in summer intensive programs has long been critical to dancers' advancement—whether still refining their technique or gearing up to make the leap to pre-professional. But amid the coronavirus pandemic and the disruption it has had on dancers' training around the world (which for many has meant months long Zoom classes from home), there's a new level of importance placed on the specialized approach of a summer intensive. Yes, dancers are eager to get back to in-person training, but doing so in a safe environment is of the utmost importance.

Orlando Ballet School (the official school of Orlando Ballet) has been leading the way when it comes to developing successful COVID safety measures without compromising on the quality of training. Working with Orlando health officials, faculty members, and the dancers themselves, school director Phillip Broomhead proudly notes that Orlando Ballet School safely held its in-person summer intensive last year, while the company maintained its full 2020–21 season.

"As dancers, we've always said in the studio, 'You make it happen,'" says principal company and academy teacher Yan Chen, who has been with Orlando Ballet since 1993. "And that's exactly what we did during this pandemic—we figured it out and we made it happen." Here's how Orlando Ballet School created its COVID-safe intensive, and how dancers can still earn a spot for summer 2021.

Diverse Training

"I have a couple of different schedules out for the summer because of COVID policies and procedures," explains Broomhead of Orlando Ballet School's commitment to adhering to CDC guidelines. Currently, the school has developed two in-person programs (a two-week and a five-week intensive for women and men), as well as a two-week virtual course for students ages 11 and up. Both in-person intensives follow the same format, with classes held from 10 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, and half days on Saturday.

"They'll have conditioning first, which is anything from Pilates to floor barre or Progressing Ballet Technique with the Bosu balls," says Broomhead, who notes that the staff will be working closely with students on an individual level to avoid injury as they readjust to in-person training. "We want to make this a welcoming place for dancers, and our goal is to be able to help as much as we can to get them back in the studio," adds Chen.

After classes in ballet technique and pointe (or men's class), students will work on a mix of classical solos and repertoire, pas de deux, and a lesson in either contemporary, modern, hip-hop, African or character dance.

"Last year we also started to do extracurricular lessons in costume design with the dancers," Broomhead says of the intensive's comprehensive offerings. "This year I'm expanding that to theatrical design, which includes the stage setting and lighting. There will also be a choreographic workshop element for any interested dancers," says Broomhead, who notes the importance of introducing dancers to every element of the ballet from a young age.

Courtesy Orlando Ballet School

World-Class Faculty and Facilities

In addition to Chen, who formerly danced with American Ballet Theatre and The Washington Ballet, Orlando Ballet's summer intensive includes full-time and guest faculty from companies all over the world, across various styles of dance—something that second company member Kenna Gold notes is particularly advantageous. "I really enjoyed all of my teachers," says Gold, who attended the intensive from 2018 to 2020.

The 2021 intensive faculty roster will also include choreographer and director Jorden Morris, who is a former principal dancer of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Morris' Peter Pan was most recently performed by Orlando Ballet earlier this month, while performances of his Moulin Rouge took place last winter.

"If you're seeking a position either in the academy or the second company, it's a great way to get a feel for what the program is like," Gold adds. "My first summer, I learned some pieces of the company repertoire, which helped me see what they were looking for and what kind of rep you might do as a trainee or a second company member."

Broomhead notes that he and artistic director Robert Hill (formerly a principal with American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet) will be looking to invite dancers from this year's summer intensive into Orlando Ballet's trainee and second company programs.

Another highlight for the dancers (and Orlando Ballet's staff) is the newly constructed Harriet's Orlando Ballet Centre. Officially opened in January 2020, HOBC's spacious studios allow students to maintain proper distance from one another throughout class. It also allowed the faculty to get creative and hold a COVID-safe showcase for last summer's intensive students by transforming one of its studios into a theater—complete with wings. "Being able to move and travel in the studio after being confined to a living room for months was so liberating," Gold shares.

Courtesy Orlando Ballet School

CDC-Compliant COVID Regulations

Orlando Ballet Orlando Ballet was one of the first schools in the nation to be able to offer its summer intensive in person, and the school and company continue to work with Orlando health officials to ensure that their safety measures are in line with the CDC's latest guidelines. COVID testing is done weekly, and students are grouped according to their levels into pods that are then assigned one studio for the whole day.

"It starts with temperature checks before students even enter the building," says Broomhead, who notes that completing COVID safety questionnaires and wearing masks are also requirements. "When the students get to the studio, they'll find that it has been marked off around the room in six-feet increments, so they can put their bags down in one of those segments and go from there." Orlando Ballet's policies, which rely largely on the cooperation of the dancers, also include walking the hallways single-file and using hand sanitizer before and after class.

"The building is cleaned and sanitized multiple times throughout the day, so that makes us all feel very safe," shares Gold. "We even completed a full season at Orlando Ballet—obviously, it didn't look the same as it has in previous seasons, but we did every performance in a theater, and we all feel very grateful for that."

Orlando Ballet School will be accepting video audition submissions through May 15.

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Here, Ball and two other experts share their advice for how to make the most of this precious opportunity to dive deep into dance—and how to handle complications that may get in the way, like injury and drama.

1. Show Off...Your Work Ethic

Summer intensives offer a preview of company life: You'll be dancing in a variety of styles over the course of the day, and all day, everyday. But that doesn't mean you have to be company-ready on day one! Though the first day may be filled with placement classes, try not to approach every class as an audition. "This year has taught us that the work is the important thing," says Ball. "Let go of trying to impress. The best impression I ever receive as a teacher is when I see someone receptive to doing things differently, even if that means taking one step backwards initially, to be able to take two steps forward by the end of the summer."

Angelica Generosa, a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet, clearly made a splash during her first of three summers at the Chautauqua Institution's School of Dance. At 14, she was cast to dance the pas de deux from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes in the final performance. Generosa describes her younger self as "very eager." She'll be a guest teacher at Chautauqua this summer, and says that a similar eagerness catches her attention: "Dedication, and willingness to try. That twinkle in the eyes when a step is really challenging."

2. Make Friends

Even if friends from your year-round school will be with you this summer, branch out. During breaks at the studio, you may be tempted to spend time on your phone. "Take your headphones off," suggests Margaret Severin-Hansen, director of Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. "Share that ballet video with the person sitting next to you! Their eyes might see it differently; you could learn something. Or find that you have other things in common, too."

Do things outside the studio, too, even if your social circle is limited for safety reasons to a "pod" of classmates. "Sign up for activities," says Generosa. Go on that weekend shopping trip, or out for ice cream. "Be open," she says. "These are people you might see along the way in your future."

Simon Ballet, wearing dark clothing, is shown from behind demonstrating ecart\u00e9 arms while in front of him, a class of teenage ballet students perform d\u00e9velopp\u00e9 ecart\u00e9 devant on pointe in a medium-size studio. The dancers, all girls, wear leotards, pink tights and pointe shoes.

Simon Ball leads class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Courtesy CPYB

3. Stay Healthy

"The first week is tough—you're going to be sore," says Ball. "Prepare yourself." He means that literally. Before your program begins, ramp up cross-training, especially cardio to build your stamina. Severin-Hansen recommends you also keep dancing. It no longer matters that your regular school might be on break: We now know it's possible to take virtual classes from home or in a rented studio. If you're on pointe, make sure to put the shoes on every day, at the very least for some relevés. Keep the skin on your toes tough; the last thing you want is to be sidelined by blisters.

If you are recovering from an injury or managing something persistent like tendonitis, take action even further in advance. Find out if your intensive provides access to physical therapy, and if not, make a plan before you leave home. Learn exercises and massage techniques that you can do on your own, and ask about virtually checking in with your regular doctor or PT. Once you arrive, says Ball, communicate with your instructors. "Chances are it's a common ballet injury that teachers understand. They'll be able to help you."

During her summer intensives, Generosa often suffered flare-ups of inflammation. "I knew the tendonitis in my knees was from over turning out, and in my ankles from lifting my heels in plié." She was able to alleviate some of her pain by dancing more thoughtfully, addressing those habits. She also got creative about taking care of her tendons during off-hours. "I basically did ice baths in Chautauqua Lake."

4. Deal With Disappointment Constructively

Whether you're placed in a lower level than you'd like or were hoping for a soloist role that went to someone else, disappointment is understandable. Try, on your part, to understand too. The faculty may believe you'll thrive more in that particular group, or see a technical issue better solved by not pushing you too fast. If you're not sure exactly what you should be working on, ask. "Trust that you can make the most of your experience, whatever level you're in," says Ball. "Don't be afraid of the conversation."

5. Avoid Drama

Competition is inevitable, but unproductive competition is unnecessary, and bullying unacceptable. Severin-Hansen lays down a very clear guideline: "Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable." If you hear or see anything that bothers you—whether directed at you or someone else—don't hesitate to speak up. "If there's even one person creating drama, you feel it in the class. Summer is short. There's no room for that." Tell the resident advisor in the dorms, or bring the problem to the school administration.

Angelica Generosa performs an arabessque elong\u00e9 on pointe while her partner stands behind her holding her waist and with his left leg in tendu. She holds her left hand on her hip and extends her right arm out to the side with her palm up. Angelica wears a purple leotard, black tights and a white Romantic tutu while Kyle wears a yellow shirt, black tights and tan slippers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Angelica Generosa (shown here in rehearsal with Kyle Davis) made notes of corrections she'd received and variations she'd worked on during her summer intensives to help retain what she had learned.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

6. Fuel the Long Day

Depending on your housing arrangement this summer, you may be on your own for buying or preparing your own meals. Generosa recalls her first time living in a dorm and eating cafeteria food: "I wanted to try everything: pizza, chicken tenders, the salad bar, the dessert section—that was also my introduction to coffee." She found, however, that caffeine and sugar rushes would give way to energy crashes, and soon enough her better knowledge prevailed. "I told myself, 'Angelica, get your protein, vegetables, complex carbs—the right kind of energy.'"

Masking requirements may make snacking at the studios slightly more difficult. Nonetheless, there will almost certainly be somewhere you can safely have a nibble in between classes, whether that's a dancers' lounge or socially distanced in the studio itself. Make sure you always have something with you that's easy to munch on during breaks. Ball recommends protein bars or fruits and veggies. "Hydrating is huge," he adds, and suggests bringing packets of powdered electrolyte supplements to add to your water.

7. Retain Corrections

Take a moment each evening, Severin-Hansen advises, to write a few things down. "Say the whole class got a general correction, like 'Use your head.' The person who takes notes will think about it: 'When could I have used my head?' It's all about how you come back the next day and improve."

Generosa set a goal for herself to get better every day. To accomplish this, she would stay late to practice, she says, "so my body could adjust to what I was trying to achieve in that class." If you're inclined to follow her example, ask a friend to practice with you. You can film each other to get a glimpse of your own progress.

At the end of her Chautauqua summers, Generosa made notes of some things she had worked on and which variations she'd learned. "Then it wasn't like I left and that was that. I brought the summer experience with me, for my whole year."

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