The path to joining a company is not as clear-cut as it once was, when advanced students auditioned straight out of school and learned the ropes on the job. Directors, wanting dancers who can hit the ground running, are increasingly relying on second company and trainee programs to give them the professional experience they'll need—while also filling out the main company's corps de ballet. Such programs can be a great way to bridge the gap between training and career—and to get a foot in the door at a company you admire—but they're not all created equally.
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.
Summer is a great time to make new friends, broaden your horizons and get tons of dancing in at a summer intensive. As you get closer to college-age, it can also be a great time to get valuable information and extra training that can come in handy later when you're thinking about college auditions. With 19 summer programs running throughout the U.S. (plus a ballet intensive in Genoa, Italy, and a musical theater intensive in London), Joffrey Ballet School offers a wide variety of experiences that give you both top-notch dance training and a taste of what college life will be like:
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.
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.
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.
Summer intensives offer jam-packed days of dancing with little time to warm up for the next class or rehearsal. How can you prepare your body to switch from classical ballet to a modern class or a stop-and-go partnering rehearsal in as little as 10 minutes? Bené Barrera, LAT, ATC, head athletic trainer for Houston Ballet, offers these exercises and tips for building an effective warm-up.
1. Start with a base.
"Dancers like to think of everything as isolated—they work on their ankles, their hips, their neck—but it's really not," says Barrera. Instead, you should warm up with exercises that stabilize your body and involve several areas. This hip series challenges balance, requires arm and core strength to support the body, and warms up the legs. Each begins in an all-fours position.
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Summer is supposed to be carefree and fun, but for dancers, the season often marks a transition out of your regular routine and into a new environment. While it's undoubtedly exciting, the summertime shake-up may also trigger feelings of stress and anxiety. We've gathered six of our best tips to help you adjust—and deal with anxiety—whether you're heading to an intensive, on leave for the summer or performing on tour.
Summer intensives can be a shock. Switching from five classes a week to five a day is a big jump—especially if you spent a month relaxing after the school year ended. “Unfortunately, many students come out of shape, and they suffer because of that," says Pacific Northwest Ballet School principal Abbie Siegel.
To get the most out of an intensive, you need to arrive prepared. Fine-tune your body strategically by taking a play from the sports world: Use periodization, an approach to training and cross-training that relies on defined periods of rest and activity. It helps athletes make sure they're in top form at the height of their season. Megan Richardson, MS, ATC, who works with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center's Hospital for Joint Diseases, explains: “Periodization is training intensively, taking rest time and then building back up to elite performance level. The cyclical training and cross-training allow the body's tissues to repair and become stronger in a balanced way." By following this timeline, you will reach your peak fitness just in time for your summer program.
As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."
McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.
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.