Dancers at Cincinnati Ballet's 2019 Collegiate Intensive. Angie Lipscomb, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet.

Check Out These Summer Programs Designed for Young Professionals and College-Aged Dancers

Summer intensives aren't just for teenagers anymore. Several companies and schools are now offering ballet programs tailored to the specific needs of young adults in their early career or in college. In addition to helping dancers stay in shape, these intensives and workshops give them a chance to receive coaching and career mentoring, practice the craft of choreography, learn new repertoire and expand their knowledge of the ballet business. Read on for more information on eight upcoming professional and collegiate summer intensives.

Kaatsbaan Pro-Studio (Tivoli, New York)

A group of seven ABT Studio Company members pose outside in a field, with two sitting on a gray wooden fence and the rest arranged around them. The two men wear shorts and T-shirts, while the women wear brightly colored leotards and knee-length ballet skirts.

Dancers from the 2019 Pro-Studio program at Kaatsbaan

Erin Baiano, Courtesy Kaatsbaan

Pro-Studio, now in its second year, is a new coaching initiative for young professionals developed by American Ballet Theatre principal Stella Abrera. Held August 16–29 at New York's Kaatsbaan, where Abrera was recently appointed artistic director, the program will accept 12 early-career dancers, from apprentice level to year-five corps members. Participants will work closely with Abrera and guest faculty members Martine van Hamel, Kevin McKenzie and Sascha Radetsky. In addition to technique classes, dancers will receive private coaching in the classical repertoire. They will also have the opportunity to learn repertoire by Twyla Tharp and to work with Jacob Jonas The Company, which will be in residence at Kaatsbaan. Pro-Studio will also offer lectures and symposiums on other aspects of the dance business, such as marketing, development, community engagement and programming.

Nashville Ballet Summer Training for Professionals (Nashville, TN)

Two male dancers in practice clothes stand in sous-sus with their arms out in second position

Nashville Ballet dancers Owen Thorne (foreground) and Nicolas Scheuer

Heather Thorne, Courtesy Nashville Ballet

Nashville Ballet started its Summer Training for Professionals last year to help young artists not only stay in shape during the off-season, but to continue honing their craft. The program offers flexibility for dancers to create a schedule based on their individual needs, taking any classes within Nashville Ballet's regular Summer Intensive or its Adult Program. Dancers can register in at least one-week increments between June 15–July 10. (Each week will be capped at five people). In addition to classes, participants are given exclusive opportunities to meet with summer intensive faculty and Nashville Ballet artistic staff for career advice, mentorship or to learn more about the industry. While an audition is not required, proof of employment is.

University of North Carolina School of the Arts Professional Studies and Choreographic Essentials Intensives  (Winston-Salem, NC)

Three ballet dancers take class in black camisole leotards, pink tights and pointe shoes. They are standing in tendu crois\u00e9 derri\u00e8re, with their left leg in pli\u00e9 and their arms in fourth position arabesque.

Dancers at UNSCA's 2019 summer intensive

Peter Mueller, Courtesy UNCSA

University of North Carolina School of the Arts offers two programs for college students, professionals and pre-professional dancers over 18. Its Summer Dance Professional Studies is a one-week immersive workshop in which dancers work directly with a distinguished choreographer or dance artist, either collaborating with them on the creative process or learning repertory. Dancers may choose to work with one of the four visiting artists and attend master classes from the others. This summer offers two, weeklong workshops: June 14–20 with Sidra Bell, Alexandra Damiani or Victor Quijada, and June 28–July 3 with Gregory Dolbashian.

The Choreographic Essentials Workshop, led by internationally renowned choreographer Helen Pickett, is geared towards professional and pre-professional dancers ages 18–27 who are interested in the dance-making process. The weeklong program, held June 14–20, allows students to create a three-minute work and dance in two to three pieces of choreography. Pickett will not only help students develop skills for generating new ideas, but will also help them learn how to delegate and manage time. Application deadline is March 28.

Compass Coaching Project (Broomfield, CO)

Choreographer Dominic Walsh hosts Compass Coaching Project, June 1–13 at Colorado Conservatory of Dance in Broomfield, Colorado. Open to dancers over the age of 17, this two-week intensive focuses on nurturing individual needs both in class and through one-on-one coaching and career mentoring. In addition to ballet, contemporary, pointe, partnering and improvisation classes, Compass Coaching Project offers courses in Alexander Technique, anatomy and movement therapy. Dancers also have an opportunity to work on contemporary repertoire from luminaries like Ohad Naharin, Jiří Kylián, Crystal Pite and William Forsythe. A performance concludes the intensive. An audition is required.

Oklahoma International Dance Festival (Lone Wolf, OK)

A young woman wearing a red leotard and with bare legs and feet jumps into a powerful sissonne, her legs split and her arms in high fifth, with her head thrown back. She is outside, in front of a small rocky mountain and a body of water, dotted with brush and grasses and under a bright blue sky.

Thyrsa Da Rosa, Courtesy Oklahoma International Dance Festival

This summer marks the first annual Oklahoma International Dance Festival, which includes a two-week Summer Intensive for dancers 18 and over. Held July 26–August 9 at the Quartz Mountain Resort Arts and Conference Center in Southwestern Oklahoma, OIDF offers classes in ballet, modern, Pilates, Gaga and Gyrokinesis, as well as coached repertory sessions, panel discussions, repertory workshops and a gala performance. Its faculty includes Margo Sappington, Roser Muñoz, Vincent Gros, Raffaele Irace, Larry Keigwin and Brian Brooks.

The festival also offers a Choreography Showcase, allowing young dancemakers to take master classes and submit work for two adjudicated concerts, with feedback sessions from OIDF's faculty. In addition to classes, the festival will produce five performances, headlined by Brian Brooks Moving Company, and including SOLOCOREOGRAFICO, an international showcase dedicated to solos.

ABT Collegiate Intensive (New York, NY)

Lupe Serrano, shown from the waist up and wearing a long-sleeved green shirt and black pants, demonstrates tendu crois\u00e9 devant. A group of teenage dancers in lack leotards and pink tights stand behind and to the right of her, imitating her position.

ABT Collegiate Intensive faculty member Lupe Serrano, above, leads class.

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Held June 1-19 in New York City, American Ballet Theatre's Collegiate Summer Intensive is designed for dancers 17 to 24 who are pursuing higher education. Participants enjoy classes in ballet, pointe, partnering, modern and company repertoire with ABT faculty. Academic credit options are also available through participating colleges and universities, and each student will receive a digital video file of the intensive's final showing. Plus, there's this perk: Dancers have access to student-discount tickets to select ABT performances at the Metropolitan Opera House. Auditions are required through ABT's summer intensive audition tour or by video.

Cincinnati Ballet Collegiate Intensive (Cincinnati, OH)

A brown-haired young woman in a red halter-top leotard stands with her back to the camera. Her left arm holds on to the barre while her right arm is raised slightly in second position, her head looking out over her hand. In front of her down the barre stand other female ballet students in the same pose, with their legs and feet in fifth position.

Dancers at Cincinnati Ballet's 2019 Collegiate Intensive take morning ballet class.

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Cincinnati Ballet's Collegiate Intensive is an intimate program co-produced by the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music. Held June 15–July 24, the program is designed to serve the unique needs of college dancers 18 and over. (Students may choose between a three-week and six-week session.) In addition to a full day of classes in ballet, modern, repertoire and composition, faculty from both Cincinnati Ballet and CCM offer personal coaching. Dancers can also learn more about other dance industry careers, with workshops in administration, production and choreography. While the program is not credit bearing on its own, many dancers have been able to receive credit through their own college or university. Dancers may also be considered for the Otto M. Budig Academy professional training division and Cincinnati Ballet's second company. Auditions are required, either by video or during its summer intensive audition tour.

Ballet 5:8 Collegiate Intensive and Choreography Intensive (Orland Park, IL)

Three young dancers sit crosslegged on a dance studio floor, wearing casual T-shirts and pink tights and shoes. A faculty member sits on a chair in front of them leading a discussion with a laptop on her lap; she wears dark leggings and a gray, loose-fitting tank top.

Dancers sit during a discussion session at Ballet 5:8's Choreography Intensive

Jacquelyn Hynson, Courtesy Ballet 5:8

Ballet 5:8, based just outside Chicago, offers two Christian, faith-based intensives for young adults. Its Collegiate Intensive, held July 20–31, is for dancers over 18 at the college, trainee or professional levels. Dancers take approximately 20 classes a week, including ballet, pointe, men's and women's variations, Pilates, partnering, Progressing Ballet Technique, modern, improvisation and more. Participants also learn selections from Ballet 5:8 repertoire and have daily spiritual fellowship and reflection. A performance concludes the intensive.

Ballet 5:8's Choreographic Intensive is a five-day workshop (July 13–17) exploring choreographic theory and mechanics. In addition to classes in ballet, modern, improvisation and composition, dancers will have the chance to choreograph an original work on summer intensive students, performed on the last day during the summer intensive showcase. They also receive mentoring and feedback from artistic director Julianna Rubio Slager and summer intensive faculty. There are only five positions available, and auditions are required.

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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."

Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.

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American Ballet Theatre corps member Rachel Richardson. NYC Dance Project, Courtesy Rachel Richardson

ABT’s Rachel Richardson on Performing With Her Hometown Company, Eugene Ballet

When I signed my first professional contract with Eugene Ballet, one of the last things I anticipated was the opportunity to dance beside a member of American Ballet Theatre. Flash forward to the start of our spring season this year, and suddenly I'm chatting in the hallway and rehearsing the Cinderella fairy variations next to luminous ABT corps member Rachel Richardson. When ABT announced it was canceling live performances for the 2020–21 season, Richardson traveled back home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her family—and this spring joined the company as a guest artist.

Growing up, Richardson trained locally in Eugene before moving to The Rock School for Dance Education's year-round program in Philadelphia. After securing a spot in the ABT Studio Company in 2013, she was promoted to corps de ballet in 2015. This unconventional year marks her sixth season with the main company.

After having the privilege of dancing with her this spring, I sat down with Richardson to discuss her recent guesting experience, how the pandemic has helped her grow and her advice for young dancers.

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