The Dancer's Guide to Going Back to School

August 21, 2016

Summer has flown by—weren’t we just getting ready for summer intensive season? Now, in the final weeks of August, many dancers are already in back to school mode. Returning to your regular training program after a summer of exciting, non-stop dancing at an intensive can be a bumpy transition, but never fear: we’ve got five tips for approaching the new (dance) school year without losing the benefits of your summer.

Talk about summer intensive inspiration: ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie leads a master class at Kaatsbaan’s Extreme Ballet. Photo by Gregory Cary, Courtesy Kaatsbaan.

Take a moment to reflect. 
Technique can improve by leaps and bounds in the course of an intensive. But sometimes, the changes can be far subtler—more effortless-looking port de bras, better consistency in pirouettes or increased confidence in tackling tricky combinations. In either case, you won’t be able to appreciate how far you have come unless you pause to see what has changed. Giving yourself a well earned pat on the back is a great way to motivate yourself for the academic year.

Set goals. 
Another benefit of looking back on how you’ve changed is to give yourself some idea of what to tackle next. Use what you’ve worked on this summer as a springboard for the year ahead. If you’ve gained speed in your petit allegro, think about adding extra batterie. If you’ve been focusing on spinal alignment all summer, start looking at coordinating complex movements while maintaining correct posture. Talk to your teacher: they’ll always have suggestions for where you have room for improvement.

Keep working on new corrections. 
A summer intensive teacher I once had told my class that some of the notes we got in July wouldn’t really click until halfway through Nutcracker season. That being said, this only really works if you keep in mind the new ways of working you discovered with intensive instructors. A correction you’ve struggled with for months can suddenly make sense if you take a slightly different approach, so try not to lose sight of that when you’re back in your home studio. Pro-tip: journaling about helpful corrections or imagery that works for you can help you to absorb the information, as well as provide inspiration later on if you hit a slump.

Don’t lose touch with what was motivating about your summer. 
Maybe it’s the new teachers, classmates, environment or some combination of these factors, but summer intensives have a unique way of inspiring students. Ask yourself what it was for you, and take it with you into the academic year.

Be smart about getting back into regular classes. 
Listen to what your body needs. If any injuries cropped up during the summer, now is the time to take care of them. Keep an eye out for common overuse injuries. If you take a break (which you absolutely should), be sure to strategically ramp up your dancing and cross-training. And set yourself up for success by getting plenty of rest: you’ve got a busy year ahead of you.


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