5 Pros Share What They Learned in Summer Intensives

January 11, 2023

When deciding where to spend your summer, you may have one goal in mind: Which program is going to get me closest to the career path of my dreams? But the impact that summer study programs can have is wide-ranging—and sometimes surprising. Breaking out of your comfort zone for a few weeks can teach you so much about the dance world—and about yourself. Dance Magazine spoke to five professionals to find out what they took away from their summer study experiences, and the ways those intensives have impacted their dance journeys.

LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, Broadway performer

Summer Intensive: The School at Jacob’s Pillow’s Cultural Traditions Program in Becket, MA

Takeaway: Stillness and ease

Then: LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, who uses they/she pronouns, attended Jacob’s Pillow’s Cultural Traditions Program in 2002.

Now: Pringle’s just come off a run of Mrs. Doubtfire, their fifth Broadway show, following Sweet Charity, The Lion King, Memphis and Lysistrata Jones. They’ve also been in national tours and regional and off-Broadway productions. Pringle teaches musical theater dance and is the founder of Fearless Young Artists Productions.

four performers standing on stage looking at each other
Pringle (second from right) in the musical Mrs. Doubtfire. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Pringle.

“When I got to Jacob’s Pillow, I didn’t know what to expect. But I learned to connect to the ground, and that release and exhale were at the forefront of movement. My athletic background told me to be stronger, to put my head down and sweat harder, but the nature of the program was to be still and listen. In class, Katherine Dunham asked us a question and the whole room went silent. And she said, ‘Don’t be afraid of the silence. That’s where the answers are.’ You can’t put a dollar amount on that! After almost 20 years of professionally performing, I’m still reminding myself to be still and listen. What does your body want to—and need to—be doing? Those two things were instilled in me at the Pillow.

“I had a beautiful conversation there with Camille A. Brown. We were sitting outside on these big boulders, and I said I was torn, because I loved being happy and jumping around, kicking my face, singing and finding characters, but I was also finding that I liked to be at ease. And she goes, ‘Well maybe it’s not for you to figure out in this moment. Maybe that’s actually your process.’ I ended up going to her alma mater, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, mostly because of that conversation.”

Jamaal Bowman, A.I.M by Kyle Abraham member

Summer Intensive: American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina

Takeaway: A clear path

Then: Jamaal Bowman spent the summer after his freshman year at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts at the American Dance Festival.

Now: After graduating, Bowman danced with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers and Von Howard Project. He joined A.I.M by Kyle Abraham in 2022.

“Coming from college, ADF was definitely a lot more open. There’s no pressure. It’s more about experimenting and finding out new things for yourself. It didn’t feel like I had to put on a show for anyone. Going back to school I had a lot more confidence in my own movements, in my approach to improvisation and interactions with other people.

“There are definitely bonds and connections and a lot of networking that happened. Christian von Howard was a choreographer at ADF while I was there, and I did one of his repertoire pieces. We’re still connected, and I’ve worked with his company. And that was the first time I saw A.I.M perform. From then on, I was completely obsessed with the company and the realness of the movement. It just felt very raw. I like to say that I manifested this: For years I was just waiting for them to have an audition. And as soon as they did, I got in there and did what I needed to do.”

Christopher D’Ariano, Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist

Summer Intensive: Summer Course at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle; Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague, Netherlands

Takeaway: Artistry

Then: Christopher D’Ariano, who trained during the school year at School of American Ballet, spent two summers at PNB’s Summer Course. In 2016 he graduated from SAB and joined PNB’s Professional Division. D’Ariano spent the summer of 2017 at the NDT Summer Intensive before joining PNB as an apprentice.

Now: Still at PNB, D’Ariano was promoted to soloist in 2022.

male dancer suspended in the air, legs in sous sous
D’Ariano in a 2017 PNB School performance of Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

“My first summer at PNB was special because it gave me time and space to develop my artistry. I was allowed to start to discover who I was and not just be the mold that the ballet world wants. Peter Boal taught us a variation from Le Baiser de la fée; it was the first male variation I’d learned that was very expressive. I felt like I could actually move and not just worry about sixes and double tours.

“I love working with Crystal Pite and dancing in PNB’s contemporary rep, so the summer I was 19 I wanted to do something more contemporary and improv-based because I knew I’d need those skills once I joined PNB. That summer course truly changed the way I approach dance. It didn’t have that competitive feeling of American ballet schools. I felt like an open canvas. We worked a lot on Gaga, and that allowed me to start to breathe into my muscles and let them make their own choices. I learned quality over quantity, and that you can let things marinate over time. Even in classical stuff now I’m discovering a lot more detail, like how my fingertips feel the air when I’m dancing; I got that from Gaga.”

Mia Wilson, Radio City Rockette

Summer Intensive: Rockettes Conservatory in New York City

Takeaway: Teamwork

female dancers in leotards and black tights dancing at the barre
Wilson at Rockettes Conservatory. Courtesy MSG Entertainment;

Then: In 2022 Mia Wilson was invited to attend both sessions of Rockettes Conservatory before her junior year in the commercial dance BFA at Pace University.

Now: At the end of the summer, Wilson was selected to join the line. She’s now completing her junior year while dancing seasonally for the Rockettes—a schedule she hopes to keep up through graduation.

“The Rockettes and the style of precision dance were completely new to me. Being able to attend Conservatory and be immersed in that world completely transformed me and my career. It’s so specific; there are 36 women onstage all doing the exact same thing, and it’s mesmerizing to watch. Being able to be in the room and experience how they create that precision was so interesting to me

“I’m used to dance class feeling so free. But being treated like a Rockette in Conservatory is so detail-oriented: Like, your head is to the side but your eyes are forward, and they can tell if your eyes are not forward. It was culture shock in a way for me. But once you settle into the style and the choreography it feels so great, knowing that you’re dancing alongside these people also matching you. It’s teamwork. It’s not individual, and my whole life I’ve been an individual dancer. Being part of a team is so different but so rewarding.”

Rebecca Steinberg, Freelance Dancer, Choreographer and Educator

Summer Intensive: Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine

Takeaway: Community

Then: Rebecca Steinberg first attended the Bates Dance Festival as an intern in 2013, just after graduating from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She returned to BDF in 2016, 2017 and 2019 as a mentor for the Young Dancers Workshop (BDF’s teen session), and again in 2022 as its residential director and an education fellow. Employees of the Young Dancers Workshop can choose to attend BDF’s Professional Training Program as participants.

Now: Steinberg is in the second year of an MFA in dance at the University of Maryland. She’s also a choreographic associate and education liaison for the Nashville-based company New Dialect, and collaborates with artists around the country as a freelance choreographer and performer.

female dancer wearing black strapless dress staring at the camera
Rebecca Steinberg. Photo by Robert Mauriello, Courtesy Steinberg.

“In the past year I’ve danced for Kendra Portier, Heidi Henderson and Tristan Koepke, and I’ve choreographed for Little House Dance, a company in Portland, Maine, co-directed by Heather Stewart and Riley Watts. All of those relationships were built at Bates. What I feel is really unique about Bates is that the schedule is structured around community. We take classes together, have meals together and hang out at night. There’s no hierarchical separation between the faculty, staff and students. It’s allowed me to sustain meaningful relationships with people that last much longer than the time we spent at the festival together.

“Creating impactful communities inside the dance world is something that is incredibly important to me. And Bates continues to be a great fit for me because we share that ethos in practice, not just in language. It feels like a no-brainer every year to come back, because those people are now my family.”