Summer intensives are wonderful opportunities to focus on your technique and artistry, study with new teachers and take classes you may not regularly get. But in addition to traditional multi-week, all-encompassing programs, many schools are now adding shorter "specialty" intensives that address specific areas or skills. These supplemental weeks (which usually follow the longer programs) offer short, deep dives into the choreographic process, variations, partnering or life as a professional dancer. While regular summer programs are fairly predictable, these hyper-focused intensives vary widely in their environments, intentions and requirements. And while it's a good opportunity to add weeks to your summer or train at more than one school, some may restrict admission to or prioritize those attending their full summer program. Before jumping in, look closely at what's involved and think about what you need.
Ariel McCarty's training was predominantly classical until, at 15, she auditioned for Boston Ballet's summer intensive. The audition class was in more of a Balanchine style, and the teacher corrected her right away. "She wanted me to accent the arm opening out quickly in my pliés, rather than through the whole phrase," says McCarty, now a Colorado Ballet apprentice. She could have panicked, but, instead, she met the correction with a smile. "I tried it, and it felt not quite right. But the instructor said, 'That's the idea.' " After that, McCarty was able to let go of trying to be perfect in an unfamiliar style. "It opened me to a new idea of musicality. It's exciting to try new things."
The stress of summer intensive auditions is real: You're in a strange place, taking a strange class, and pressure is high to show yourself at your best. But, as McCarty discovered, shaking off a bit of that pressure might be the best way to have a good audition. Two school directors agree, and explain why you should leave behind these common audition worries.
It is easy to feel as though the entire ballet year revolves around summer: more hours in the day for dance, and another summer intensive to add to your resumé. You've likely dreamt about which program you want to attend, traveled to auditions and gotten excited about the new challenges in a big city school. But what if you find yourself staying home?
It can feel heartbreaking to watch your peers take off for their intensives. Whether you're staying home by choice or because of injury or finances, you can still improve and have fun at your local studio. Unlike those headed off to big intensives, you have flexibility and money on your side. Jody Skye Schissler, owner of Skye Ballet Center in Herndon, Virginia, encourages dancers to start by asking, "How can you make your summer more focused on yourself and what you need for your future?" Here are tips for making the most of your time at home.
Houston Ballet principal Jessica Collado recalls dancing Giselle's Myrtha on an outdoor stage in the thick of a Texan summer. "At the beginning of the act my shoes still had some life in them, but when I bourréed off to go to my grave at the end, there was literally nothing left of them," she says. "They completely died."
While some pointe shoe brands are built with synthetic materials (making them longer lasting), most shoes are still made out of organic components like burlap and paper, which are incredibly susceptible to humidity. "The more moisture there is, either in the air or from your foot sweating, the faster your shoes will break down," says ThePointeShop founder Josephine Lee. Whether you're spending your summer performing outdoors or training in a crowded studio, muggy weather will have a huge impact on your shoes. Here are some tips to make it through.
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.
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.
It's hard to believe that summer intensive season is almost over! We hope you're learning, growing, having fun and making memories at your intensives this year.
Today, we're sharing seven dancers' favorite summer intensive memories.
Isabella Boylston, American Ballet Theatre
Summer Intensive: American Ballet Theatre
"I was 17 (although I looked about 14) and attended the ABT Summer Intensive. I was particularly excited to be there because the year before that I hadn't been accepted."
Outside the Studio...
"My mom, my best friend Lauren Post and I sublet a tiny one bedroom on the Upper West Side and had a blast exploring the city."
Dreams Come True
"That summer I was invited to join the ABT Studio Company—a dream come true!"
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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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.
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.
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.
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."