Students taking class at the Miami City Ballet School. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

Plan Your Summer Intensive Audition Tour

Growing up in Michigan, Jessy Dick was used to her daily hour-long drives to the Grand Rapids Ballet School, where she trained. But when she started to think about summer intensives, a new problem emerged: Auditions for the schools she was interested in were even farther away, in Chicago or Detroit. "I learned early on that if I wanted to do any summer programs, I'd have to travel at least three hours in order to audition," says Dick, now a member of The Washington Ballet's Studio Company.

Making plans for your summer training is complicated enough, especially with the sheer number of programs to choose between. But students who live far from popular audition hubs face the additional hurdle of organizing, scheduling and budgeting for audition trips. Luckily, with strategic planning, what can feel overwhelming at first can become a rewarding experience.


Organize, Prioritize

Students at the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville look for weekends when auditions overlap in one city. Blair Chamberlain, Courtesy Ballet Conservatory of Asheville.

For dancers without the luxury of an audition city nearby, prioritizing which schools to aim for is crucial. How to decide? Research, research, research. (Pointe's "2019 Summer Intensive Guide" is a good place to start.) Emily McDougall, a 14-year-old student at The School of Oklahoma City Ballet who's made several six-hour drives to auditions in Dallas and Kansas City, does some serious investigating in order to narrow down her choices.

"I'm quite tall, so I look for places that seem to like taller dancers, and that are close to the technique I train in," says McDougall. She then makes a list of programs she's leaning towards and which auditions she can realistically travel to. "I find overlapping dates, and make an Excel spreadsheet of how long each audition is, its location, requirements, et cetera."

McDougall also uses online forums like Ballet Talk for Dancers to glean information about intensives from other students who have gone there, and turns to her teachers and Oklahoma City Ballet company members for insight beyond what's posted in school advertising or on websites.

If you know you won't be able to attend many auditions, Arantxa Ochoa, Miami City Ballet School's director of faculty and curriculum, advises that you consider what you want out of your summer and eliminate schools that wouldn't fulfill your goals. Think not only about company affiliation and visibility, but class size, technique or style taught, performance opportunities, and how many hours a day you will be dancing.

Maximize Audition Weekends

Jessy Dick in a production of Giselle at Butler University. Courtesy Dick.

Planning an audition trip is complicated—expenses, mode of transportation, family obligations, and school and rehearsal schedules all have to be factored in. Students at the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville in North Carolina look for auditions in Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Atlanta, each a two- to four-hour drive away. Director Angie Lynn helps them maximize each trip by identifying dates when several auditions overlap.

"We look at a weekend as a whole," says Lynn. "If there are three auditions in two days, we'll consider staying overnight, even if they're not all on our list of top choices," she says. And if outside factors dictate which weekends you can travel and which auditions you can attend, adding in a backup school isn't a waste of time. "It's good practice and gives you more options," Lynn adds.

Being well organized is critical if you're grouping multiple auditions into one weekend. Two may be in the same city but held at different studios in opposite areas of town—and you don't want to be racing through traffic at the last minute. Penny Askew, director of the School of Oklahoma City Ballet, tells her students to prepare well in advance. "Have each audition's requirements—fees, photos, resumés—organized in a folder. Is pre-registration required? What payment methods are accepted? And research the logistics of getting from one audition to another—it may be too stressful to try to make it work."

Cramming in too much puts you at risk for not looking your best. Lynn recommends limiting auditions to two per day. "Once we lined up three in a row, which was overkill," she says. "They'd come out of one audition, change their number and run into the next. It was too much, and they were exhausted."

Be Travel-Savvy

Audition trips can be expensive, but finding ways to minimize costs might allow you to make multiple trips. Talk with fellow classmates to see who's interested in the same auditions you are, says Katie van der Mars, conservatory director of Nebraska Ballet Theatre & School. "The nearest location for us is Chicago, an eight-hour drive away. It's a trek, so our most serious students coordinate with each other to pick one weekend when someone's mom can drive, and they all go together." (Price-comparison websites like Wanderu can help you find an affordable bus or train when driving isn't an option.)

If hotels are too pricey, consider booking through Airbnb or staying with someone you know in the area. Dick, for example, was able to make several audition trips possible by staying overnight with relatives.

When Traveling Isn't Feasible…

Arantxa Ochoa teaching class. Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

If attending your dream school's audition in person is too logistically difficult, video submissions are always an option (click here for some helpful guidelines). Ochoa says she gives videos equal consideration, but students should follow the school's guidelines precisely. "That shows us something about their work ethic and personality," she says. If you have any uncertainties about what a particular school requires or prefers, call its administrator and ask.

While it's a lot to organize, keep in mind that planning your summer intensive auditions has benefits of its own: The skills you learn by researching programs, making informed choices and pooling resources are the same skills you'll need when auditioning as a professional dancer.

Latest Posts


Vadim Shultz, Courtesy Mariinsky Ballet

Catching Up With Maria Khoreva: The Rising Mariinsky Star on Her TV Competition Win and New Book

The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down the Mariinsky Ballet's Maria Khoreva. Although Russia's Mariinsky Theater was closed in 2020 from March until August, the 20-year-old first soloist used the time in quarantine to her advantage. She wrote a newly published book titled Teach Me Ballet, and won Best Female Dancer on Russia's hit TV show "Grand Ballet," a competition which brings young ballet dancers from all parts of the country to the national spotlight. (This season, filmed over the summer, was broadcast on Russia's arts channel from November 4 to December 19. All seven episodes are now available on YouTube.)

Pointe spoke with Khoreva to find out more about her experience on the show, her fitness regime during quarantine and her new book.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Karolina Kuras, Courtesy ROH

The Royal Ballet’s Yasmine Naghdi Shares Her Go-to Self-Care Ritual and Her Favorite Recipe

Royal Ballet principal Yasmine Naghdi had been gearing up to star as the Sugarplum Fairy in a December livestream performance of The Nutcracker when London went back into heavy COVID-19 restrictions. The performance was canceled, but Naghdi has been taking this current setback, and the challenges the pandemic has brought over the last 10 months, in stride. In addition to keeping up with her training, she's been taking Italian lessons virtually and preparing elaborate meals with her boyfriend ("We're both real foodies," she says). Last fall, Naghdi, who has always loved cooking, travel, design and self-care, decided to share her offstage passions with fans on her new Instagram page, @lifestyle_by_yas.

Naghdi recently talked with us about staying flexible to the UK's lockdown changes and her post-performance wellness routine, plus offered a recipe for her favorite pasta dish.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

Editors' Picks