Don’t let an unexpected problem derail your summer intensive.
Jacob’s Pillow summer intensive students in performance. Photo by Jamie Kraus, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow.
When Laura Faure was 20 years old, she was thrilled to attend American Dance Festival for the summer. But at the very start of the program, she badly sprained her ankle. “I was devastated,” she remembers. “I was supposed to be studying with some amazing people, but there was no way I could dance. Instead, I had to limp around and observe. It was incredibly frustrating.”
Now the director of Bates Dance Festival, Faure knows firsthand how shattering it is for her students when, after months of preparation and anticipation, their summer doesn’t go as planned. Still, there are ways to get everything you can out of the experience.
When Injury Gets in the Way
Your first instinct when you get injured at a summer program may be to pack your bags, or worse, hide an injury in fear of being sent home. But first, ask a medical professional about your options and focus on what you can do. For injuries that only require a couple days of rest or slight modifications to your dancing, most directors will be willing to accommodate. You may be allowed to temporarily observe classes, only take barre, move into a lower level or substitute technique classes with low-impact ones, like Pilates or yoga.
If you have an injury that will take you out for the entire session, sticking around can make for an emotional roller coaster, since you’ll have to watch your peers improve from the sidelines. Still, since most programs’ tuition is nonrefundable, Faure encourages dancers to stay and load up on any classes that won’t put stress on their bodies. Bates, for example, offers non-movement courses like Business of Dance and Film and Media. “Of course, it’s hard getting around campus on crutches,” Faure says. “And there are students who are so discouraged that they need to go home.”
If you decide to stay, use your time wisely. Ask the program’s physical therapist for exercises that will help you heal. BalletMet Academy director Timothy Lynch encourages injured dancers to bring a notebook to every class they observe. “Write down corrections the teacher gives or combinations you’d like to try when you’re feeling better,” he says. “Being injured is never fun, but it can offer a chance to investigate your training in a different way.”
When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
Summer intensives are called intensives for a reason. The hours are long, the classes are challenging and the dancers are talented. If you start to feel like you’re in over your head, speak to someone at your program you trust—a faculty member, resident assistant or teacher. You may be able to form a plan to help things feel more manageable. For example, Lynch remembers a dancer telling him she wasn’t used to spending the whole day in pointe shoes, so he allowed her to wear flat shoes for afternoon classes. Adjusting your schedule or technique level may also be an option.
Most importantly, focus on taking care
of yourself emotionally. That may mean talking to a psychologist about any emotional
distress, practicing mindful exercises like taking deep, slow breaths, or finding a quiet place to journal every day. And don’t forget to be kind to your body. “Focus on proper nutrition and get plenty of rest,” says J.R. Glover, director of education at Jacob’s Pillow. “You have to keep your body ready for professional-level work.”
When You’re Not Feeling Challenged
Bates Dance Festival. Photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen, Courtesy Bates.
If you feel you’ve been put in a class level below your ability—especially if your placement was determined by an audition that happened months earlier—it doesn’t hurt to speak up. Let your teachers know you’d like to be re-evaluated, and ask if it would be possible to switch to a higher level. At BalletMet, the first two days of the program are used to make sure students are in the right class, and it’s rare that students’ levels will change after that.
Try to make the most of your summer by using the unexpected pace as an opportunity for growth. “After a certain point, you should go back and take the beginner’s class,” Glover says. “There’s a lot of merit and maturity in that. If something isn’t moving fast enough for you, challenge yourself to find the work involved in the slowness.”
Remember that part of the appeal of a program away from home is the introduction to different styles and repertory. Even if it feels more tedious or not as complex as what you’re used to, exposure to new techniques, teachers and choreography—and challenging yourself to truly master the nuances, alignment and intentions that come with them—will only make you a stronger dancer.
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.