Marek Cholewa leading a rehearsal at Butler University. Photo courtesy Butler

5 Reasons to Attend a College Dance Department's Summer Program

Many high school students figure out where they might like to attend college by visiting campuses. But for dancers, there's often an even better research opportunity that involves top-notch training, networking opportunities and a chance to perform: the college program summer intensive. University dance departments around the country offer summer intensives for high school students, providing not just the chance to develop your dance skills, but also to test the waters in a higher ed setting before you apply.


Experience College Life

What makes a college program's summer intensive unique from a dance company's intensive? It is essentially a test run of college life. For a few weeks, you'll be living on campus in a dorm room, eating at the cafeteria and using the university studios to take class. Intensive coordinators create the schedule with prospective college students in mind.

"They start at 9:30 am and finish at 5:30 pm," says Butler University professor Marek Cholewa. "That reflects what occurs during the regular season. And the repertory we're giving them will be part of what we give students during the school year."

Black and white image of a man in a deep second position pli\u00e9 in front of a class of dancers each doing their own thing in the studio.

Ashley Lindsay teaching at UNCSA

Courtesy UNSCA

Meet Faculty Members—And Possibly Students

Not only will you be able to familiarize yourself with the campus and curriculum, you'll get to learn from many of the school's faculty, says Ashley Lindsey, director of summer dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Most college students are off during the summers, so interaction with current students is typically minimal. However, depending on the program, you may get a college student as your RA in the dorm or have opportunities to meet students in other departments.

Get Industry Training

With a wide array of experts on faculty, some college intensives sprinkle in specialty classes that you wouldn't normally have exposure to. For instance, Oklahoma City University offers lessons on professionalism and the industry in both the summer program and its undergrad syllabus. "We have always prioritized people finding work," says OCU dance chair and professor Jo Rowan.

A line of women in red dresses match each other in passe, their arms behind each other's backs. They are in a brightly lit dance studio.

Dancers at OKCU

Courtesy OKCU

Make The Audition Easier

Many professors see the summer program as a great way to scope out prospective students. "It's kind of like going to a party," says Rowan. "We get to know the students coming in and they get to know us." Building a rapport with university faculty over the course of an intensive can sometimes make the difference between a yes or a no. "If I see a student for an hour-and-a-half audition and have hesitation, I'll say no," says Cholewa. "But if I see the progress of four weeks, I may change my mind."

Although faculty don't prioritize summer students, familiarizing yourself with the school can offer you a leg up in your audition. "There are no direct advantages, but the nerve factor is definitely lower when they're familiar with the material and the setting," says OCU associate dean Melanie Shelley. Lindsey adds that summer students also gain a better understanding of class expectations.

Build Your Network

As you look at program curriculums, Rowan recommends thinking about your long-range goals. "If a college offers a summer program and you're even slightly interested in attending that school, go," says Cholewa. "You're building that network. You're developing yourself. You're connecting with others and you're learning about college offerings."

Find the right summer intensive for you in our 2021 Summer Study Guide.

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CalArts dance students. Photo by Josh S. Rose, Courtesy CalArts

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Last week, Dance Magazine caught up with Kevin Whitmire, assistant director of admission for CalArts School of Dance, and recent alum Kevin Zambrano for the inside scoop on how an interdisciplinary curriculum can make you a stronger artist. Watch the full event below, and read on for the highlights.

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