Begin Again: Professional Dance Intensives for Adults

October 11, 2022

Ever since I attended my first summer program with Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2006, I’ve been convinced that multi-week training intensives are the secret to jumpstarting dance growth. What’s more, it’s a great way to network within the industry. So when my first summer post-illness approached, I had my heart set on attending one for adults.

Which program would be a good fit for my age and my multi-industry goals? I decided to attend two different professional training programs for adults, one focusing on concert dance and one focusing on musical theater.

Complexions Academy New York Summer Intensive 2022

Complexions Contemporary Ballet has been my dream company since I was 14 years old. My heart was immediately drawn to the combination of iron-clad technique and contemporary movement patterns. When it came time to choose an intensive program within the concert dance realm, this was a no-brainer for me. Yes, I wanted something that would help me grow, but I also wanted a program that would connect me with the artistic directors that I’d love to work for one day.

The Prep Work

In my recent Dance Magazine piece (“What to Look For in a Postgrad Training Program”), a few experts advised doing research before attending programs. So I set up a call with Complexions Academy director Meg Paul. One of the questions I asked was the percent of the company that had participated in its academy training in one way or another. Her answer? Seventy-five percent! “We have so many dancers who come from the program,” she says. “As we grow, we discover more and more the necessity of preparing artists for Complexions through training opportunities. The company members who have worked with us before being hired have a clear understanding of the style and are prepared for what company life entails.” One of the newest company members, MaryAnn Massa, told me she had attended the summer program five times and the winter program three times before landing the job. “It definitely played an important role in me eventually joining the company,” she says.

The Day-to-Day

Most professional training schedules don’t allow time for work outside of dance, but the schedule of the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Academy New York summer intensive was quite reasonable. Our days started at 1 pm, with a 1-hour-and-45-minute Nique technique class (the official technique of Complexions Contemporary Ballet) taught by current company members, former company members and, of course, co-artistic directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson.

During the first ‘Nique class, I felt like my body was learning an entirely new language. I understood the base of the steps from a lifetime of ballet classes, but for some of the new movement pathways (like unexpected port de bras), I had to fight the patterns that were entrenched in my muscle memory. But by the end of the week the choreography felt comfortable on my body—as if it was the way my limbs were meant to be moving all along.

We spent two hours of each day learning 11 or so different pieces of company rep (actual company rep!). It was a lot of material, but an exciting challenge. During the final four days of training, former Complexions company member Clifford Williams combined the phrases into a 15-minute piece for us to perform for family and friends at the end of the two weeks.

I finished classes each day at 6:15 pm and had plenty of time to come home, ice my body, roll out sore muscles and finish last-minute work projects before heading to bed. It was great!

Complexions Academy students at the NY summer intensive. Courtesy Complexions Academy.

How I Fit In

This training program is meant for dancers ages 13 and older, a fact I was initially wary of. “I’m 28, won’t I be out of place?” Thankfully, the majority of dancers in my class seemed to be in their early to mid-20s, and were all so talented and respectful, it never felt like I shouldn’t have been there.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Age is but a number. Don’t let it deter you from your dreams!

The Takeaway

According to Paul, the mission of the Complexions program is to celebrate the uniqueness of each student and assist them in finding their voice through Nique and company repertoire. “Our overarching goal is to create an environment where dancers can find themselves through the work,” she says.

This opportunity was transformative for me. I left with improved technique, a true introduction to Complexions rep, and relationships with artists I have admired for years. I also got to perform with an ensemble of talented dancers for the first time in a decade. I was emotional as we took our bows at the end of the presentation. There is something so special about performing, and sharing your love of dance with an audience, big or small.

Lastly, I got encouraging feedback that meant the world to me. On the final day of the program, Rhoden told me he thought this type of movement really fit my body, that I should continue doing it, and that I should come back in the future. I was walking on sunshine when I left the studio that day!

Desmond Richardson and Haley Hilton. Courtesy Hilton.

Broadway Dance Center Musical Theater Summer Program 2022

Next up, musical theater! If you’ve been following my journey up to this point, you know I would love to dance on Broadway. Though professional training programs are typically associated with companies, I knew some of the major studios in New York City offered intensives as well. So, I reached out to Broadway Dance Center, known for its Professional Semester (a four-month, full-time intensive program for adult dancers), and discovered it also offers a two-week musical theater summer training program. I immediately sent over my headshot and resumé to apply.

About the Program

This program was jam-packed with opportunities, but at the center of it all was the chance to be mentored by choreographer Jason Wise. Over the course of four rehearsals, Wise set a concept piece on us that we would eventually film in Central Park on the last day of training. The goal was for dancers to leave the program with a tangible asset—something we could add to our audition reels. “Each of you will have a chance to shine,” he told us.

We also had the privilege of doing a mock audition for MSA Agency with agent Bre O’Toole and and the assistant dance captain for Beetlejuice: The Musical, Eric Anthony Johnson. We took an acting class from Sara Ford, a voice lesson from Eric Forte Leach and a lecture/class on being a swing performer by Erin Keil. Broadway professionals Justin Prescott and Carissa Fiorillo taught us choreography from shows like Head over Heels and Aladdin, we were introduced to the style of Fosse by legend Diane Laurenson, and we worked on our precision jazz with longtime Rockette Traci Reszetylo.

On top of all of that, each week we took 12 additional classes from BDC’s regular drop-in schedule. That’s 17 classes per week in total! We had the freedom to choose classes that fit our goals, so I sat down with BDC educational program admissions coordinator Hannah Balagot to hear which teachers and classes she thought might be a good fit for me. One thing to keep in mind about summer programs at BDC is many teachers are gone during the summer, so you may not get to work with everyone you had hoped for. That said, it has a massive teacher roster, so I was never disappointed in my class options.

These two weeks were intense, yet incredibly rewarding. Every class/opportunity offered felt like a gift for our budding careers

BDC summer musical theater program students. Courtesy Hilton.

The Day-to-Day

Almost every day of the program started with an 8 am rehearsal/master class, meaning I had to get to the studio by 7:30 am (woof!). After three hours of closed classes with our small team of dancers, I typically took a ballet or Pilates class to check in with my technique. Then, I took a short break and returned later in the afternoon/evening for one or two more classes: contemporary, jazz funk, hip hop or, even, more musical theater.

Many of the dancers felt some stress when it came to fitting 17 classes into their week, especially those with jobs outside of training. But the long days benefited our technique and our minds. (I can’t believe how much choreography I stuffed into my brain!) I also appreciate that I was able to spend so much time in my LaDucas, improving my capacity to jump and turn in heels.

How I Fit In

The majority of the dancers in this program were fresh out of college and exploring the beginnings of professional life in New York City. I felt older than most (especially when one of the dancers saw my wedding ring and audibly gasped, lol), but we were all at similar stages of our careers, and the training was tailored toward those needs rather than any specific age demographic. Plus, the drop-in classes attract dancers of every age.

BDC Summer Musical Theater program students on set while shooting their concept video. Courtesy BDC.

The Takeaway

In Wise’s opinion, enrolling in professional training programs in major markets like New York City or Los Angeles is beneficial for dancers because it gives them a sense of belonging within a community of like-minded people. “Figuring out how to survive in a new environment with a network of friends is an immeasurable gift,” he says. He especially likes programs offered by major schools like BDC because “The faculty [is] composed of current-working professionals, which lessens the possibility of being fed incorrect or out-of-date information, a common occurrence that can easily dwindle funds and dreams.”

For me, it was an intense two weeks that went by in a whirlwind. I honestly loved it! I made new friends, improved my dancing, increased my stamina and created relationships with teachers and choreographers I hope to work with again one day. I wish I could train like this all the time!

It was a summer of sore muscles, movement flows, sweat and joy. I want to relive it again and again. Thankfully, I can! I documented both programs in my latest Begin Again vlog. Check out Dance Magazine’s YouTube channel to see what professional training programs are really like! Then head on over to our Instagram and comment what you did to improve your dancing this summer.