What To Do When You Hate Your Summer Intensive
You've spent all spring preparing for this. You killed it in the audition, obsessed over the packing list, connected with your roommate on social media, and taken so many extra pointe classes that your Band-Aids need Band-Aids.
Bring on the summer intensive!
A summer spent studying with a well-known company or prestigious academy can be a highlight of a dance student's year. Showered with fresh input and exposed to new techniques, many dancers find a summer intensive to be an empowering, uplifting experience.
But what if it isn't?
If teachers don't "get" you, or unfamiliar techniques leave you feeling as graceful as a baby seal on land, a summer intensive can go sour in less time than it takes to kill a pair of pointe shoes. But no matter what, there are still ways to make the most out of the experience.
Leave your expectations at home.
Stay open to a different experience than what you had planned. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe
High hopes are one thing; unrealistic ones are another. Charging yourself to come home with a quadruple pirouette on pointe may be exciting—or impractical. Each new season brings a fresh potential. Pencil in a mental image of what you hope the summer will look like; just don't draw it in permanent marker.
Give yourself permission to fail.
Open yourself up to criticism in order to grow. Photo by Jim Lafferty
You can't succeed if you're not willing to fail. During my first summer intensive with Boston Ballet, my best friend always wanted to stay after class to work on her fouettés; I invariably declined, embarrassed at how bad mine were. She cheerfully fell out of hundreds of turns, looking awful for weeks—but in the end, one of us went home with great fouettés, and the other didn't.
Summer with strangers is a great place to push yourself out of your comfort zone, look ridiculous and just maybe come out of it even better than at the start. You won't know if you don't open yourself up to possible criticism and failure.
Know that nothing is forever.
Focus on exciting things ahead, not what you're unhappy with now. Photo by Lena Bell/Unsplash
It's hard when you're in the middle of a bad summer experience, but remember this is just one season of your life, and it will end. By the fall, you'll be back with teachers who appreciate you and friends who "get" you, and a newfound appreciation for your year-round school. Rather than dwelling on what's wrong, think about what's waiting for you in the fall—a chance at a plum Nutcracker role, or a promotion to a higher level—and the summer will be over before you know it.
Make lemonade from lemons.
Getting through a tough summer will mold you into a stronger dancer. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe
Maybe the teachers ignore you, your roommate is a walking nightmare or your favorite leotard gets a nasty permanent stain. But don't sleepwalk through the rest of the intensive. Carefully observe other dancers' corrections and apply them to yourself. Soak up as many new variations as you can to expand your repertoire.
There's a freedom to be found in having nowhere to go but up.
If nothing else, a less-than-perfect summer will teach you patience, and mold your independence and work ethic as a dancer. Take those pitfalls and turn them into springboards to a stronger, more resilient you.
And think of all the good stories you'll have to tell in the Nutcracker dressing room.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.