Students at the University of Utah's Department of Ballet summer intensive. Photo by August Miller, Courtesy U of U.

Maura Bell was determined to have a ballet career. But as a high school senior, she didn't feel ready to audition for companies yet. “I knew I had more maturing to do, both technically and as a young woman," she remembers. Bell started researching collegiate options and discovered that Indiana University's ballet department hosted a two-week summer intensive for pre-college students. “The reputation of IU spoke for itself, so I decided to do the summer intensive to get a feel for what it would be like to go there."

The deciding moment came at the end of her second week, when department chair Michael Vernon led her and fellow students on a tour of IU's Musical Arts Center. “I remember standing on that stage—it's the size of the Met— and it just clicked: This was where I wanted to be, my dream school," she recalls. Bell auditioned for the ballet department that fall. Four years later, she credits the training and connections she made at IU with her ultimate post-graduation success: a contract with Saint Louis Ballet.

College summer programs offer students a chance to experience what life would be like as a dance major, and introduce them to a wide range of possibilities for their training and future career. Even those on the fence about going to school could benefit from spending a few weeks on campus—along with the strong focus on individual development, collegiate summer intensives allow students to meet year-round faculty and current dance majors, scope out the dorms and dance facilities, and do some major networking.

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Violette Verdy, Courtesy Indiana University

Last week, I made a special point to see New York City Ballet perform Sonatine, a lively, folksy pas de deux that George Balanchine choreographed for Violette Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux in 1975. I’ve always loved the playfully musical ballets Balanchine made for Verdy, the most playfully musical of dancers. Her roles were ones I had always aspired to dance, although I never did. But I remember feeling especially honored to simply learn her part in Liebeslieder Walzer as an understudy several years ago. Verdy was a living legend, as both a dancer and a teacher. She was someone I had always hoped to meet.

Yesterday, Verdy died at the age of 82, after a full and rich life devoted to her art. The outpouring of love from her former students and colleagues on social media precluded the official announcement by Indiana University’s Jacob’s School of Music, where Verdy was a distinguished professor. Born Nelly Armande Guillerm in Pont-l’Abbe, France in 1933, she studied ballet in Paris, changing her name to Violette Verdy at age 15. She danced as a principal with Roland Petit Ballets de Champs Elyees, London Festival Ballet and Ballet Rambert before moving to the U.S to join American Ballet Theatre in 1957.

Verdy in "Emeralds," Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives

Balanchine spotted her in ABT’s production of Miss Julie and invited her to join NYCB in 1958. Her European training, sprightly footwork and charismatic verve inspired him to create signature roles for her, in ballets including La Source, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Liebeslieder Walzer, Episodes, Sonatine and perhaps most memorably, “Emeralds” from Jewels. After her retirement in 1977, Verdy directed the Paris Opéra Ballet (the first woman to do so) and later the Boston Ballet before ultimately deciding that she belonged in the studio, working with dancers. As she told Marina Harss in The Nation last summer, “I’m interested in the form of humanity that you cannot have as a director.”

As a teacher and coach (she worked with 150 professional schools and companies worldwide), Verdy was renowned for her profound generosity, wit and inspirational analogies. She served as principal guest teacher with the School of American Ballet and joined IU’s dance faculty in 1996, winning its highest honor, the IU President’s Medal of Excellence, in 2013. The university has started a blog in her honor where dancers can share their memories. Verdy offered so much to her audiences and to her students; her passing is a reminder for us to cherish our teachers, to ingest their wisdom and keep its flame alive for future generations.

Verdy as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Frederika Davis, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

As told to Amy Brandt


Many pre-professional dancers think attending college after high school is unnecessary—that it wastes precious professional years. But between the intense training schedules, choreographic opportunities and academic offerings, college dance programs can actually be springboards to a future career. Some dancers choose college to further their training, while others crave the intellectual challenges. Along the way, their experiences may help strengthen their goals, open new doors or change the direction of their careers. Pointe spoke with six dance majors about their individual paths and moments of discovery during their college experience.


Nasira Burkholder

Senior, University of Arizona

My parents pushed me to pursue a college degree. I was deva­stated, because I was in the professional division at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School and college was not part of my plan. I expected ballet would become a secondary part of my life, but during my freshman year I was taking two ballet classes a day and a jazz class, then rehearsing all night. It’s like being in a professional company—we do about 60 performances a season. I also didn’t expect to take such a strong interest in academics, but I decided to double-major in nutritional sciences. It’s not easy balancing 25 units a semester, but I don’t regret it.


I’ll never forget my first ballet class here. I felt really challenged and saw several dancers who were going to push me to improve. Seeing the competition made me realize what I was getting into and I thought, “Wow.” I called my parents that night and thanked them for forcing me to give it a chance.



Jordanne Lackmann

Senior, University of Utah


I didn’t start focusing on ballet until high school, so I wasn’t ready to audition for companies. I chose the U because they have a specific ballet degree, and I hoped to get better training. I’m in the highest level, called Utah Ballet, which is the resident ballet company. I’m also in a character company. We get to travel—we went to Russia for a character workshop and to Spain to learn Basque dancing.


During my time here my technique and pointework have gotten stronger and my ideas of ballet have expanded. I’ve learned about dance history and teaching philosophies. I’ve also learned not to look at a professional career as unattainable. With hard work you can achieve anything, no matter where you trained.



Kathleen Martin

Sophomore, Point Park University


I auditioned for companies and was offered an unpaid position, but I chose school because I wanted a more secure environment.  Because the dance program is so intense, I wasn’t sure if it would allow time for a social life. But I have both an active social life and a dedicated dance life. Most kids at Point Park are dancers, singers or acting majors, so we all get it. Sometimes it’s hard when friends are out partying and you have to focus on your diet and getting enough rest. But it’s worth it to me.


The faculty here is very diverse, so you get different perspectives on dance and how to go about your career. And the department teaches a variety of techniques. My goal now is to dance with a ballet company that also does contemporary works. 



Colleen Barnes

Senior, University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music


I wanted a more thorough, intellectual exploration of dance. That meant going to college, because you discuss dance, take dance history and learn about all the things related to it—you can really explore it. I didn’t realize how much I’d learn and how the
qua­lity of my movement would improve.


CCM provides so many opportunities that I didn’t expect. I’m spending the fall semester teaching in southeast China. What a great learning experience! Others have accepted traineeships with Cincinnati Ballet and Louisville Ballet and take correspondence classes. CCM is flexible about helping you work towards a degree.


I’ve had so many lightbulb moments of “Oh, I never thought of it that way.” My biggest epiphany was realizing that dance is connected to everything; it’s the root of human experience.



Ben Delony

Senior, Indiana University


I chose college because I wasn’t ready to audition and wanted four more years of solid training. IU’s ballet department has definitely delivered. There’s a great sense of discipline and ensemble, and we have to work for roles. We’re at the studio all afternoon, so balancing homework with classes and getting enough sleep has been interesting. The structure reflects our progress—the teachers e-mail our schedules to us the night before—so we’re always on our toes.


During my sophomore year I realized I don’t really have a ballet body—I’m 5’8”, without any hyperextension and don’t seem to match the other men in the program. I decided to find another avenue of dance. Last year when I did a huge independent collaboration with an IU cellist, it turned me on to more avant-garde styles of dance. It was disappointing to realize you have to fit a mold in classical ballet, that it can’t be all heart. But I got over it when I realized that dance has many roads to choose from.



Gabrielle Salvatto

Junior, The Juilliard School


Although I’d gone to the School of American Ballet for nine years, I wanted to become more versatile rather than a strict ballet dancer. Juilliard’s hype definitely intimidated me, but it’s not really a typical college experience. People aren’t partying all the time because they can’t ruin their vocal chords, or they have to get up early to stretch. Everyone has the same goals, so the environment is a lot friendlier.


A big turning point for me was working with Ohad Naharin. I expected him to be intimidating, but he was really inspiring. He promotes individuality among dancers, and most of what we worked on was our own improvisation. He’d smile and say, “That’s great! Work on that for another eight counts.” He opened my eyes to the dance world outside what I’d known before.



Dance Or Study?
By Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch


For some dancers, a professional career is a clearly defined dream. But not every dancer follows a direct path to the corps; for some, the way is a winding road of second guesses and outside interests.


I fell in love with ballet at a small summer intensive in West Virginia when I was 13. But as I grew more dedicated to my training over the next few years, I questioned whether I wanted or could have a career. Because of my late start, I was filled with doubt about my ability to catch up. Furthermore, I had a hungering interest in academics—an area in which I felt far more confident—and I knew that I wanted to study writing and international relations.

So, I kept my options open. I graduated high school at 17, giving myself a “gap year.” However, when I received a generous scholarship to my college of choice, Bard College, suddenly my decision became very real—and very difficult.


While my parents expect me to one day hold an advanced degree, they believe that the life lessons I can learn from ballet will only better prepare me for college. For myself, I’ve felt that I should pursue ballet until this path ends, or I’m ready to turn my focus elsewhere. After considerable thought, I deferred enrollment for a year to study at the Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program in New York.


After an extraordinary year, I approached Bard to ask for an unusual second year of deferral, and the college supported me. An unexpected door had opened: I was invited into Tulsa Ballet’s second company. Next spring when my year with Tulsa Ballet II is up, I will again examine whether ballet is challenging me to grow, and then I will decide whether to con­tinue working toward a professional career.


Looking back, I realize that the beauty in my own journey has been its focus on the process. I’ve been fortunate to study something that fascinates and challenges me. While I’ve provided myself with options for furthering my studies, for now I’ve chosen ballet, and I am eager to see where the adventure leads.


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