(Mark Hutchens and Martha Wirth, courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy)

Colorado Ballet Academy Offers Exceptional Training, No Matter the Format

Let's face it—2020 has been full of surprises. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing the dance world to abide by social-distancing measures, ballet schools have had to create innovative approaches to delivering high-quality training. With that in mind, what should aspiring dancers look for in a summer intensive or pre-professional program this coming year?

Colorado Ballet Academy quickly pivoted to a virtual summer program and fall semester this year, and students are thriving thanks to the high level of attention, engagement and mentorship they're receiving from faculty. "We've been concentrating more on fundamentals and placement, and the results are great," says Academy Director Erica Fischbach. "Students have improved in these necessary, foundational aspects even more than in person because of the shift in focus."

Exceptional training, whether it's offered in person or online, is key if you're looking to take your dancing to the next level. But experiences beyond the studio matter, too, which is why you should also take opportunities for career development and personal growth into account.

Top-Notch Training Online, In-Studio, or In-Between

Pre-Professional Division student Heather Ludlow

(Mark Hutchens, courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy)

Colorado Ballet Academy plans to offer an in-person 2021 Summer Intensive Program, while also developing hybrid and virtual options that comply with local, federal and state health mandates. But the program's rigorous training schedule and attentive faculty, led by summer intensive directors John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow, prove that dancers can grow leaps and bounds no matter how their classes are delivered.

Heather Ludlow, 18, auditioned for Colorado Ballet Academy's Summer Intensive and Pre-Professional Division last spring. She attended the intensive virtually from her home in California and now lives full-time in Denver. "I had such an amazing experience at the summer program that it encouraged me to continue my training at Colorado Ballet," she says. "The teachers were very focused on helping us refine our technique and artistry and so eager to help us improve. I wanted to surround myself with people like that, who are encouraging me to pursue my dreams."

In 2021, dancers will have their choice of a two-, three- or five-week intensive. They'll enjoy a full class schedule, including ballet, pointe and variations, partnering, men's class, cross-training, conditioning, modern and character. The three- and five-week intensive students will also rehearse for a performance held at the program's end.

But what perhaps makes Colorado's program unique is the personal interaction students have with faculty. "John and Amanda love to get to know each student as an individual, and mentor as well as teach," says Fischbach. "Each Friday they'll have a wrap-up, where they'll get everybody together and talk about what they've accomplished. It brings the students together and makes them feel like they're valued, instead of just one of hundreds."

"They were there for anything, which I thought was so incredible," says Ludlow. "They went out of their way to help us feel connected with them and with each other."

Heather Ludlow attended Colorado Ballet Academy's Summer Intensive virtually from home.

(Courtesy Ludlow)

Skills Beyond the Studio

(Mark Hutchens and Martha Wirth, courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy)

While the training at Colorado Ballet Academy is paramount, the school's aim is to educate the whole dancer. In addition to weekly wrap-ups with McKerrow and Gardner, summer intensive students can take advantage of optional Saturday drop-in classes, which include technique and a "bonus" class—anything from injury prevention to an improvisation session to interactive guest artist talks. (Guests last summer included Devon Teuscher, Cory Stearns and Sarah Lane.)

These opportunities extend to the Academy's Pre-Professional Division, too. In addition to their rigorous dance schedule, students have a weekly Life Skills class. The aim is to help them navigate the pressures of the professional dance world and explore other careers associated with the arts. Fischbach brings in Colorado Ballet company members to talk about their various career paths, as well as other guests to speak on issues like mental health. "I make sure they know everybody who works behind the scenes at Colorado Ballet, in the marketing department and production," says Fischbach, "and also dancers who've transitioned into other careers. The skills you learn as a dancer are completely applicable to other careers in life."

A Pathway to a Dance Career

(Mark Hutchens and Martha Wirth, courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy)

Colorado Ballet Academy's summer intensive is also the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the organization and be considered for the year-round Pre-Professional Division, especially since dancers take class with the company's artistic team on a regular basis. "We even got to work with artistic director Gil Boggs and ballet masters Maria Mosina and Sandra Brown," says Ludlow.

Once accepted to the Pre-Professional Division, students quickly get used to having lots of stage time—in fact, every five weeks they perform in the company's black-box theater. "The dancers work with a local choreographer or learn something in the classical repertoire," says Fischbach. Dancers finish out the year with a full-length classical performance at Denver's Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

There are also opportunities to dance onstage with Colorado Ballet. After one year in the Pre-Professional Division, students are eligible to be selected for a trainee or Studio Company position. "Each year Gil chooses one to three trainees, and they get to perform in almost every production," says Fischbach. "For Nutcracker, he chooses eight more Pre-Professional Division students to dance in 'Snow,' and there are opportunities to audition for extra roles in other productions, like The Wizard of Oz."

Fischbach notes that for the last four years, six Pre-Professional Division dancers have been offered Colorado Ballet Studio Company contracts, a gateway into the main troupe. Case in point: PPD alums Ever Larson and Catherine Aoki were recently promoted from the Studio Company to Colorado Ballet apprentices for the 2020–21 season.

Ludlow hopes to follow in their footsteps. "It's been a vital time in my training as I try to refine my technique and my artistry and make that transition from student to professional. I think the program at Colorado Ballet Academy has been the perfect opportunity to do that."

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