Summer Intensive Survival
Francois Perron teaching class at the French Academie of Ballet. Rachel Neville, Courtesy French Academie of Ballet.

When Katie Spagnoletti was 16, she auditioned for several well-known, company-affiliated summer programs. Although she received some acceptances, the price tags and level of competition felt daunting. She decided to try the relatively smaller Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive instead, and when she walked into orientation her first day, she sensed she'd made the right choice. "Co-director Melinda Roy greeted me—and every other student—by name. It made me feel like the faculty was truly invested in me as a person and a dancer," says Spagnoletti, now a dancer at City Ballet of San Diego. "I had friends who'd gone to some of the big-name schools, so I'd heard about those experiences—and I knew mine was going to be unique."

When planning your summer, it's exciting to think about an intensive at a prestigious pre-professional school—maybe the one attached to your dream company or that all your friends are talking about. But is bigger always better? With a wealth of options for summer study, it's worth looking at the benefits of smaller schools. For many dancers, training in a close-knit atmosphere can outweigh the cachet of a big name.

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Ballet Training
Summer intensive students in contemporary class at Arts Umbrella. Photo by Michael Slobodian, Courtesy Arts Umbrella.

Before attending the Alonzo King LINES Ballet summer program at age 18, Maya Harr did not have much experience with improvisation. In fact, she was such an introverted bunhead that even the word seemed scary. "The teacher came into the studio, turned off the lights, put on music and told us to dance," says Harr, now a LINES company member. "We didn't stop moving for 45 minutes, and I was grateful for the freedom I've found."

You might feel obligated to spend your summer honing your technique at a classical ballet program. Yet as ballet companies open their repertoires to more contemporary works from choreographers like Aszure Barton, Kyle Abraham, Crystal Pite and Nicolo Fonte, you may want to consider opening yourself up to contemporary styles and the outside-the-box thinking that underlies them. "This work is necessary for the future of ballet," says Dwight Rhoden, artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet and its affiliated summer intensive.

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Summer Intensive Survival
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At my first summer intensive away from home, my roommate and I deliberated good-naturedly over bunkbeds and decorations. But the next summer, I walked into a triple dorm room and was met with the least desirable bed choice and nearly every inch of wall space plastered with posters of teen pop artists I didn't care for. (Well, hated.) While my two roommates became fast friends, they were aloof towards me and disregarded my personal space.

It was not an ideal situation, but it was one that I had to learn to live with for five weeks. Venturing away from home for summer programs means intimate spaces, unfamiliar faces and new rules—a recipe for lifelong friends if you're lucky, tribulations if you're not. Either way, learning to deal with residence hall life is good training for what may come later in your ballet career or in college.

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Summer Intensive Survival
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I'm a young dancer, and I've been accepted to a prestigious summer program. I know intensives are a good way to get my name known in the dance world. How do I give a good impression without seeming nervous? —Lydia

Relax! It sounds like you still have several years before you need to worry about networking for a job. Instead of placing all of your focus on what the school director thinks of you, shift your priority to soaking up as much as you can from your classes. That said, you can make a good impression by working hard, being open to corrections (and quickly applying them) and asking smart questions.

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Summer Intensive Survival
Follow these tips to stay fresh and clean all summer long. Here, Pacific Northwest Ballet School Summer Course students in a partnering class. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

No matter where you're training this summer, you want to make an impression with your artistry— not your B.O. You'll be dancing (and sweating) more than usual, so follow these basic rules to help you stay healthy and keep embarrassing hygiene faux pas at bay.

✔ Change your dancewear daily.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

To ward off odors and the chance of infection, "you must wear a clean leotard and tights every day," says Deborah Hess, senior faculty at Canada's National Ballet School. For men, that means a fresh pair of socks and tights, plus a clean shirt and dance belt. Since you'll have multiple classes, you may need to change midday to avoid skin irritation and odor.

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Health & Body
Follow these steps for relief from tension headaches. Photo by Thinkstock.

Tension headaches are often experienced by those in high-stress careers (ahem, dancers). Here's how to identify them and what to do when they strike.

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Ballet Training
Dominic Walsh (right) working with Whim W'him. Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy Whim W'him.

Summer is the perfect time for busy dancers to get some much-needed rest after a long season. But it's also a good opportunity to hone your technique. Summer training opportunities for professionals are scarce, although the ones that do exist are pretty great. Now, there is a welcome addition on the horizon that we're excited about.

Choreographer and former Houston Ballet principal Dominic Walsh recently announced that he has teamed up with the Colorado Conservatory of Dance to create the Compass Coaching Project, a two-week intensive for dancers over the age of 17. Held June 4–16 in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, the workshop is specially tailored for those in trainee, second company and apprentice positions. "In today's model of a dancer's profession, there is sometimes a long transition between student and professional," Walsh says in a statement. "I believe this is a crucial time for mentorship." Indeed, a dancer's early career is often marked by anxiety and uncertainty as they spend one or more years in low-paid or unpaid junior ranks.

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Audition Advice
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

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

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.

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Summer Intensive Survival
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Is there an alternative to drinking water? I get tired of it, but don't want to be dehydrated. —Audrey

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

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.

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Summer Intensive Survival
Photo by Natalia Figueredo via Unsplash

The summer I turned 16, my head swirled with "what ifs" as I counted down the days until the start of the Chautauqua intensive. I'd attended the program four years earlier, and the experience had been a harrowing one—my first lesson in the competitive nature of ballet. Leaving the temperate waters of my little pond, I'd found myself a very small, uncoordinated fish in a pool deep with talent. Now, I was going back to test myself again, this time in Chautauqua's top level. Would I be as good as the other dancers? Would the teachers like me? Would I make friends?

Summer intensives are aptly titled. Their extreme demands can cause anxiety, nerves, jealousy and stress. But put down the question marks! Don't let a negative state of mind keep you from soaking up everything your summer has to offer.

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