Summer Study Guide

December 21, 2008

What do you want to get out of an intensive program this summer? Stronger technique, exposure to new styles, performance opportunities, or connections that could help jump-start your career? With so many summer study options available, you can find just about anything you’re looking for. We’ve got exclusive interviews, program profiles, and hundreds of listings to help you choose the program that’s right for you. Read on to get inspired.

—Jennifer Stahl, Summer Study Editor

Summer Sleuthing

Every school’s training goals are different. How can you find the program where you’ll thrive most?

By Kathryn Holmes


A glance at the daily schedule for advanced students at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s summer intensive makes one thing clear immediately: You’re there to improve your technique. Ballet class from 10:30–12:00. A second technique class from 1:30–3:00, replaced by modern on Tuesdays. From 4:00–5:15, either pointe or men’s class, and from 6:45–8:00, either a third ballet class or a partnering class. And then, if you have energy left, optional courses in the evenings: yoga, stretch, Pilates—even the New York City Ballet workout.

“I’ve found that kids who go to CPYB for the summer gain so much strength,” says Darla Hoover, CPYB associate artistic director. “They’re readier to start the next year. Sometimes, if they’re intelligent and work really hard, they even skip a whole level, or move up two levels in the next year.”

Technical strength is one of the many areas you can improve on over the summer. Each summer study program will help you with a different aspect of your dancing. But how can you find the intensive where you’ll thrive most? On the surface, programs might look similar, even interchangeable: Each may include ballet, pointe, men’s classes, variations, Pilates, and maybe jazz or modern. But every school’s training goals will be slightly different, and that will affect both your day-to-day life at the intensive and what you’ll take away from it. You need to figure out the kind of training that will most help you meet your professional goals.

If a summer program is linked to a company with a distinct style, look at the company’s philosophy for clues about the school’s focus. For instance, students at School of American Ballet’s summer intensive should expect to delve deep into the Balanchine style, which is the basis of New York City Ballet. “When students come to SAB for the five-week intensive, it’s to see if the Balanchine style is something that they’re interested in,” says Kay Mazzo, SAB co-chair of faculty. As with any school affiliated with a company, Mazzo says, “you find out if the aesthetic is fitting for your body and for you as a person.”

Technique, pointe, pas de deux, and men’s classes all focus on the hallmarks of Balanchine technique, which Mazzo calls “somewhat modern and jazzy.” Every student learns pieces from the Balanchine repertory. Older students may even participate in NYCB’s New York Choreographic Institute, in which choreographers (many of whom come out of the Balanchine tradition) set work during the last two weeks of the summer session. Mazzo believes that mastering Balanchine technique will help you move quickly and with energy in any technique.

Not every school attached to a particular company trains in a specific style. Atlanta Ballet dancers perform a range of full-length story ballets by a variety of choreographers, so Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education’s program is about creating a clean technical palate. “We try to take away affectations,” dean Sharon Story explains. “Our goal is to send the dancers back stronger and more aware. It’s not to change what their teachers have taught them—it’s to enhance what they already have.”

Emphasizing diversity as well as technique, the school exposes students to a variety of jazz styles, including Fosse and contemporary, as well as the modern techniques of Lester Horton, Martha Graham, and José Limón. “These days you have to be versatile,” says Story, “and you need to have an open mind.”

Like Atlanta, the goal at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City is to prepare students for the diverse works they might encounter in the professional world. “Most of our students come in with strong training, so the focus for us is toward the repertory of the Chicago-based Joffrey company, which is pretty eclectic,” says George de la Peña, the school’s new artistic director. “Dancers come to us to experience some of that choreography.” Starting in 2009, students will have a daily class in contemporary movement, which can range from the kind of Forsythe-like work being done in Europe, de la Peña says, to the modern styles of choreographers like Doug Varone, David Dorfman, and others.

De la Peña feels strongly that training in a variety of styles is a vital part of any dancer’s education. “It’s a way to gain a job,” he says. “If you’re serious about being professional, then this is the real introduction to what is being done in the profession.”  


Keep your mind open about where you audition this year—your technique and career goals may change from summer to summer. Eline Malegue, who spent last summer at San Francisco Ballet School after six years at the Paris Opera Ballet School, finds that it helps to experience something different. “In France we had a different teacher every day, so I couldn’t improve in the way that the teachers wanted,” she explains. “To be able to work for a while with the same teachers at SFB helped me to develop.” She also enjoyed exploring contemporary movement in a Forsythe workshop held during SFB’s intensive. “We worked on improvisation and using our bodies in a different way than we are used to with classical movement,” she says. “I feel that it will help with auditions, and, of course, with repertory in a company.”

While deciding what program best fits your current needs, look at where you are in your training and what you want to improve over the summer. Do you want to work on your performance skills? Is it time to start thinking about making connections that could lead to a job? Or do you need to learn new techniques that you aren’t exposed to at home? Depending on which program you choose, you can broaden your horizons in any direction you want this summer.

Kathryn Holmes is a dancer and writer in NYC. 


If at First You Don’t Succeed

Dancers’ advice on summer study rejections

By Amy Brandt


The moment of truth has finally arrived: a flimsy rejection letter from your most coveted summer program. But don’t get too depressed. Some of today’s top professional dancers were turned down from summer programs when they were younger, but they didn’t let it stop them from achieving their dreams. Three share their experiences below, and give their advice on how to cope.


Traci Gilchrest

Principal dancer, North Carolina Dance Theatre

I auditioned for the Pacific Northwest Ballet summer program and was turned down. I auditioned for Boston Ballet School and didn’t get that one, either. And I auditioned twice for Houston Ballet School and was turned down the first time. I felt embarrassed because all of my friends were getting accepted. I didn’t want to tell anybody. It’s hard when your friends and teachers ask, “Where are you going for the summer?” and you don’t have what you think is a good answer.

But I didn’t stop just because I was rejected. I stayed home and took a summer intensive at my local studio—just kept doing my thing. Eventually I was accepted to Houston Ballet’s summer program. Once I got there they even asked me to stay for the year (although I didn’t end up staying).

It didn’t hurt me at all to not go away for the summer. Looking back, it motivated me more and turned me into the dancer I am now.

Getting turned down doesn’t mean that dancing is not what you’re meant to do. It just means that you haven’t found the right place. At some of the smaller schools, you can get just as good training, if not better, because you get more individual attention. It’s really about finding your niche, finding somebody who sees you for who you are and what you can do. Sometimes you have to search for that.


Rachel Van Buskirk

Company artist, Atlanta Ballet

A few summer programs turned me down for body reasons, including several of the bigger, renowned schools. At one audition I actually overheard them saying I had stocky legs. That was the first time I had to face my body as a negative issue. At 13, that was a hard pill to swallow. It took a few days of positive reinforcement from friends and family to get over it. But I realized that other places are looking for what I can offer.

I went to some summer programs closer to home in Canada. The one at Banff was really amazing. And I did two summer programs at Atlanta Ballet. That’s how I came to be in the company: After I graduated they asked me to stay.

It’s always heartbreaking when you get the little envelope and not the big package. It hurts not to get into your dream school, but there’s so much out there. There are a lot of really good summer programs—all different sizes—that you can learn from. You can take away something from anything. Make sure you explore different opportunities.


Malvina Sardou Maynard

Freelance modern dancer

I was turned down by Boston Ballet, SAB, and the Harid Conservatory summer programs. I was 11 at the time. At my dance studio, lots of us would audition together. Some schools rejected you right on the spot. Those times were even harder because it felt like, “Everybody got it except for me!”

I worked really hard after that. I think sometimes rejection is a good thing because it gives you that fuel to motivate yourself. You have to have a little bit of fight in you to push yourself to do better.   

I eventually found Belvoir Terrace, a wonderful camp for girls in Lenox, MA, that has open enrollment. I loved it so much that I went there for four summers! When I was older I went to the Parsons Intensive, which doesn’t have an auditioning process either.

Those rejections helped open my eyes to other dance forms. Before, I was so focused on ballet. But ultimately I discovered that modern dance is really my passion. You never know what other talents you might have!

It’s all right to have that moment of “This doesn’t feel good.” It’s the reality of the dance world. But don’t give up. You can always keep going to your local dance school. If you have the resources, go to a big city like New York and take open classes—create your own summer program! Rejection is something you’ll experience all through your life. It’s good to be prepared for it.


Training the Whole Dancer

By Margaret Fuhrer


Tai Jimenez had some unusual instructions for the students in her morning technique class at Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program. “Rub your bellies,” she said to the roomful of eager 15- and 16-year-old girls who giggled at her directions. “Now breathe out. Make the Darth Vader sound.”

Jimenez, a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem, was teaching the students ujjayi breathing, a yoga technique. “Sometimes as teachers we get too caught up in the little ballet world,” she says. “I try to remember that this summer program is about teaching the whole human being.”

And the Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program has many human beings to teach. With more than 300 15- to 19-year-old students at its Boston campus and 190 10- to 14-year-olds at its Newton, Massachusetts, site, it’s one of the largest summer intensives in the country, well known for its solid classical ballet training. The school also offers a Summer Dance Workshop for 8- to 12-year-olds, a Ballet Stories/Ballet Journeys program for very young students, a Technique and Pointe Workshop at its South Shore Studio in Norwell, and an Adult Summer Dance Program for two weeks at its Newton studio. But the Summer Dance Programs in Boston and Newton are the most intense of the school’s offerings, intended for dancers on a professional track.

Due to the program’s large size—some classes have as many as 27 students—ensuring personalized attention for each student is one of the biggest challenges facing Margaret Tracey, associate director of the Boston Ballet Center for Dance Education.

“What we are trying to do,” says Tracey, “is to train the whole dancer in the short time we have with them.” The program’s exceptional faculty—which includes current dancers from major ballet companies as well as veteran teachers—allows it to maintain that personal focus.

“Margaret really wants the students to have trust in their teachers,” says Evelyn Cisneros, a former star with San Francisco Ballet who has taught at Boston Ballet’s summer intensive since 2000. One of the first changes that Tracey made was ensuring that each instructor was paired with a class they’d see regularly. “Rather than having a mixed bag all the time, you can really work with one group and see their progress from one class to another,” Cisneros explains. “And you can build on what you were doing in technique class during pointe class, which is fantastic.”

Further encouraging this kind of master/apprentice approach is the Meet the Artists program, a new lecture series that allows faculty members to speak with students about their own experiences in the field. “It’s another way to make this illustrious faculty more human,” Tracey says. As the students hear about their teachers’ struggles and successes, they “begin to develop a deeper bond with us,” Jimenez adds. “At one point during my talk, I got quite emotional, and I had a very vulnerable moment in front of these students. And it opened up the door for them to come to me and talk about what they were going through—especially since many of them are facing the same challenges I did.”

Over the course of the five-week Boston-based program, the students study classical ballet technique, pointe, and variations, as well as partnering, modern, character, and Pilates. The young men train separately from the women, with 2 men’s levels complementing the 10 women’s levels. The smaller Newton program packs similar variety into its five-week schedule. “Dancers these days are required to be very versatile,” Tracey says, “because nearly all dance companies have an extremely wide range of repertory.”

This intensive training puts great stress on young bodies, a reality that the faculty takes very seriously. “It’s part of our organizational culture: Health is number one,” says Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, who teaches technique classes at the Boston program. That’s why Nissinen asked longtime friend Pino Carbone, creator of the BodyCode System, to guest with the summer faculty. The system is a type of physical awareness conditioning. “Adding BodyCode to our lectures on nutrition and our Pilates courses was all about preventative training,” says Tracey. “We want our students to see themselves as athletes as well as artists.”

Not that the students’ artistic development is neglected. The Boston-based program concludes with in-studio presentations for the lower levels and a 45-minute repertory workshop for the upper levels, allowing the students to apply their technique in a performance setting. “It’s a training-geared program,” Nissinen explains, “but we want students to learn the link between what they’re doing in the studio and what they’ll be doing onstage as professionals.” Tracey carefully selected last summer’s workshop programming: excerpts from Fokine’s Les Sylphides and Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet for the girls, and Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes and Peter Martins’ Les Gentilhommes for the boys.

“Learning these dances is such great preparation for getting into the real world, into a real career,” says Ariel Rose. A student in the advanced men’s level, he will be staying in Boston to attend the school’s pre-professional Trainee Program this coming year. “The pace of the rehearsals is very fast, but that’s the way it will be in a company, too.”

Summer Dance Program students are often recruited by Boston Ballet. “We’re looking for dancers for our Trainee Program, our year-round program at the school, and for Boston Ballet II,” says Tracey. Thanks to its high-quality training, the summer program also regularly places dancers in other major companies.

“We want to expose these students to a professional training experience,” Tracey says. “Even those who don’t go on to have careers in dance—they’ve still had a professional experience in a ballet school.”

Jaclyn Oakley, 19, who was a student in the Trainee Program last year, says, “It’s very intense trying to balance classes and rehearsals. Frankly, it’s exhausting. But you can just feel yourself improving. It’s incredibly rewarding.”


Shaking Up the Summer Workshop Scene

By Lauren Kay


Today, aspiring dancers looking for a competitive edge want more from workshops—classes, exposure to choreography, master instructors, and networking opportunities. For the past eight years, Gil Stroming and Dan Karaty have offered summer programs that aim to provide that range and help young hopefuls get a taste of the professional world.

Led by Stroming, Break the Floor Productions offers several jazz, hip hop, and tap programs throughout the year, with Shake the Floor being the newest addition. “Shake,” as director Dan Karaty calls it, is an audition-free, six-day summer workshop held in cities like NYC and L.A. for 200 dancers, ages 8 to 20. Karaty carefully orchestrates each aspect to ensure that the experience is a realistic dose of “the life.”

The first four days include hip hop, contemporary, jazz, and musical theater classes from 8 am to 2 pm. Students rehearse throughout the afternoon and into the evening. They spend the fifth day in technical and dress rehearsals before performing on the sixth day in dances choreographed mostly by Karaty himself.

This performance isn’t your typical dance-camp showcase. When in NYC, the show is staged in an off-Broadway theater. Live musicians always accompany the dancers. Karaty even holds a casting session to place dancers in pieces. “We get students from all styles,” says Karaty. “We cast them in one number that’s based on their specialty, and one number that exposes them to something new.” The fast-paced situation forces students to learn how to pick up unfamiliar choreography quickly.

While the showcase remains a priority, Karaty also highlights the value of classes and a well-rounded learning experience. Regardless of skill range, every dancer takes all available styles at some point during the week. To provide the students with a full spectrum of genres and teaching approaches, Karaty hires industry favorites like lyrical jazz choreographer Ray Leeper, So You Think You Can Dance winner Nick Lazzarini, and hip hop choreographer Marty Kudelka.

Karaty encourages students to go to conventions and competitions to see what’s out there. “But kids also need to realize competition isn’t what it’s all about,” he says. “It’s about learning different styles and understanding how to perform for a general audience—instead of just your parents or other dancers.”

Karaty, a master of multitasking himself, trained at his parents’ studio, In the Spotlight, in Waldick, New Jersey, before moving on to a Broadway career in shows like Footloose. He choreographed and performed for commercial artists like Britney Spears and now judges and choreographs on So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent. His experience as a triple-threat performer guides the focus of the program.

Since most dancers will perform in an ensemble often during their professional careers, Karaty emphasizes dancing as part of a cohesive group. “You can’t always think of yourself as a soloist,” he says. “How often in the working world does a dancer get to do a solo? It’s about learning to dance in a group. Whether it’s in a movie, commercial, or show, this is how dancers get paid.”

Students stay in the same hotel as teachers, generating a family vibe similar to a “cast house.” Carly Lang, a former student at Shake the Floor, thinks this is one of the most pertinent aspects for young dancers to experience. “Since I attended Shake the Floor I’ve been assisting Dan on America’s Got Talent and have gotten professional work from the convention,” she says. “There are fewer people, so the choreographers get to know you better, which helps when you want to move forward in the industry.”

Living together brings out another challenging issue for students looking forward to a dance career. “You’re in class and rehearsal with the dancers and choreographers all day,” says Lang. “The normal personality clashes arise. That’s natural with any project—not all dancers are going to get along, and they should learn how to handle that early on.”

Fortunately Karaty and Stroming both make themselves available to dancers to resolve any tussles. “You can always talk to them about any issue,” says Lang. “Their attitude is very easygoing.”

As Karaty says, “Gil and I try to make this a really enjoyable and educational experience. It’s not like when you compete to win. We are hoping to broaden these students’ horizons, teach them how to perform—and really have fun.”

A Summer of Forsythe, Kylian, and Naharin

By Rachel Howard


On a July afternoon, 22-year-old Victoria Canelos rested in the dancers’ lounge at the downtown Regency Center, a building that serves as the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance’s main late summer headquarters. In a studio behind one door, Netherlands Dance Theater ballet mistress Elke Schepers was teaching 14-to 16-year-olds excerpts from Jirí Kylián’s Falling Angels. Behind another door, modern dance choreographer Robert Moses was leading a high-energy technique class. 

Students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance have the opportunity to learn choreography by such international superstars as William Forsythe, Ohad Naharin, and Kylián—big names, to be sure. But an equal draw for many of the school’s 170 summer session participants is the chance to study under the conservatory’s founder and director Summer Lee Rhatigan.

Eating a hasty lunch, Canelos—who had quit dancing for two years after beginning her professional career with Miami City Ballet—recalled first meeting Rhatigan when she served as a guest teacher at the University of Arizona. “I said I need to be where this woman is,” Canelos remembers. “I hadn’t been inspired in the studio for quite some time.”

A former member of the London Festival Ballet, Oakland Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, and LINES Ballet, Rhatigan struck out on her own with the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance in 2004 after spending two years launching the competing LINES Ballet School. The conservatory does not yet have a permanent home, dividing its three summer sessions between two rented facilities in San Francisco. But it does have a distinctive atmosphere: intellectually as well as physically challenging, encouraging personal discovery and risk-taking. 

Many students credit that environment to Rhatigan’s regal yet encouraging presence. The conservatory attracts dancers on summer break from programs like Ailey/Fordham and Juilliard. Some students stay to study with Rhatigan year-round. Those who opt for summer study choose among three sessions: The first is six weeks long and designed for dancers 18 to 23; the second and third sessions are each a month long and welcome dancers as young as 14. Many students take all three sessions back to back, committing themselves to six days of dancing a week. Some stay in student dorms at the University of San Francisco, but most opt for private accommodations. 

Each day begins with ballet technique taught by Rhatigan, who describes her classes as “rooted in the Royal Ballet School,” where she trained and even served as a student demonstrator for Royal Ballet founder Ninette de Valois. 

But rather than reinforcing a single idea of “correct” technique, Rhatigan’s classes stress scientific and anatomical principles and push dancers to make artistic choices. In a typical class, she calls out things like, “The spine is not just a T-junction, it’s a spring,” “In chaîné, you’re gathering energy, as opposed to shedding energy,” and “Put care into the change of direction. Your understanding of that change is where you can be nuanced.” 

Morning technique class is followed by sessions in which students are assigned to separate “companies,” each learning existing repertory and new work with conservatory faculty—which along with Moses includes Bay Area artists Manuelito Biag, Eric Kupers, Stephen Pelton, and others—and studying excerpts of repertory by Forsythe, Naharin, and Kylián. All of the works are performed in student showcases at the Regency Center at the end of each session. The challenging workload means participants must be mentally as well as athletically resilient.

“They have to be physically strong because this program is intense,” Rhatigan says of what she looks for. “But also curiosity is a big deal. You can see it in their bodies.”

Creativity is reinforced by the improvisation-based process of many of the conservatory’s faculty choreographers. A choreographic apprentice residency track is also offered, providing up to 10 hours of studio time weekly for students to practice their craft and create their own works.

Constant creative engagement is expected of all students. In a workshop with former Ballett Frankfurt dancer Thomas McManus, students collaborated on their own staging of Forsythe’s Hypothetical Stream, a work that requires performers to come up with their own solos and tableaux based on paintings by 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. After taking a field trip to see Tiepolo paintings at San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor, the students set to work intently in groups of twos and threes or alone, occasionally coming to the front of the room to consult a book of Tiepolo works, then entwining themselves in novel interpretations. “They’re not afraid to be creative,” says McManus, “to put themselves forward and have their own voice.”

Erin Craig, a 21-year-old student, says Rhatigan provides “a safe haven.” Rhatigan knows every student’s name, and even studies their files to acquaint herself with their dance backgrounds before they arrive. Her door is always open to young dancers who need moral support or career advice. Her personal concern for the students allows her to be candid in her feedback. “I can say ‘That was horrible, and let me tell you why,’ and they’ll laugh,” Rhatigan says.  “They’ve gotten used to hearing the truth. And they can start to see when something’s not the truth—they learn to see lies in movement.”

Her honesty and high expectations have clearly proved motivating. “This is one of the few places I’ve found that is set up to facilitate our personal growth,” says Craig.

As she finished her lunch, Canelos added, “I’ve been more inspired than I ever have in all my years of dancing.”