Summer intensives can be incredible experiences, but they also bring challenges. As a former dancer and current nutritionist for dancers, I recall a common scenario: Mornings of classes and afternoons of rehearsals increase the demands on your energy, but with little time for breaks, food becomes less of a priority than new combinations and new repertory.
Busy schedules make it easy for students to unintentionally under-eat. If a dancer loses weight in the process and teachers or directors positively affirm this weight loss, it can increase the risk of developing disordered eating habits. These restrictive dieting behaviors, as a dancer attempts to follow strict rules regarding food choices or daily calorie intake, can stem from a drive to be "healthy" or from a desire to control one's weight. Yet obsessive tendencies can turn harmless intentions into unhealthy habits.
Peter Boal in William Forsythe's installation, Choreographic Objects. Photo by Jennifer C. Boal.
My January is always busy. Weekdays are filled with rehearsals in Seattle and weekends are spent traversing the country auditioning students for our summer intensive. I direct Pacific Northwest Ballet School and I see these auditions as essential investments in future talent for both our school and company. I do them myself to let students know their presence means a great deal to me.
January travels also offer the opportunity to visit the country's museums. Museums have been my go-to places since I was a boy. I love the opportunity for quiet reflection.
This year, in ballet studios and art-filled galleries across America, race was on my mind. I'll venture to say ballet would benefit from paying attention to what's happening in the art world today.
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
Instructor Judine Somerville leads a musical theater class. Photo by Rachel Papo
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
Balanchine technique will challenge your footwork and musicality. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy SAB
Before spending a summer at Los Angeles Ballet School, Lillian Glasscock had never learned a Balanchine variation. "The stylistic differences, like preparing for a pirouette with a straight back leg, were at first very challenging," says Glasscock, 17. "But it soon got easier."
Los Angeles Ballet company members were in class daily, motivating and inspiring her. Trying out a new style and expanding her repertoire gave Glasscock more strength, and a better understanding of the varied demands of ballet companies today. Months later, the Balanchine variations she learned are now personal favorites.
While the early years of training are typically spent diligently working through the syllabus of a single ballet technique, when you start to prepare for a professional career, versatility is key. There isn't just one correct version of each step. And as ballet companies continue to diversify their repertoires, directors need dancers who can move fluidly between an array of styles.
Arts Umbrella International Summer Dance Intensive. Photo by Michael Slobodian, courtesy Arts Umbrella
In a sunlit studio that looks out on Vancouver's skyline, Kidd Pivot rehearsal director Eric Beauchesne shows how to project shades of despair without sound or words. "Your hands mean so much," he tells the Arts Umbrella International Summer Dance Intensive students, stopping to clamp his own to his face tightly, then opening his fingers around his jaw for a different effect.
Beauchesne, who also stages choreographer Crystal Pite's works at companies around the globe, is teaching a duet from Betroffenheit, Pite and Jonathon Young's Olivier Award–winning dance-theater piece about grief and loss. Marked by Pite's signature quick, detailed moves, the section has one dancerlaying her hands on her partner's arched spine, as if she's absorbing an unfathomable pain. "You really care about stopping what's happening to her," Beauchesne says.
The intensive dancers learn what it takes to move specifically enough for a kickline. Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment
On a humid summer day in midtown Manhattan, construction goes on outside the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Inside, another type of building goes on: In separate basement studios, two groups of 40 dancers focus their attention on their instructors. It's the Rockettes' summer intensive, a rare chance for students to work with professional Rockettes, not to mention Julie Branam, their director and choreographer.
Rockette Bailey Callahan demonstrates in front of one group. Hers is a classic Rockette story. She attended their intensive every summer from 2009 to 2011; being a Rockette was her dream. Then, in 2012, she was asked to attend the program's invitational week. At the end, she received her Rockette contract.
Dance Theatre of Harlem School students & ballet master Keith Saunders. Photo by Joseph Rodman, courtesy DTH
Toasted almond, caramel, nutmeg and mocha aren't craft ice creams or flavored coffees. They're among the choices in colored tights at the boutique in Dance Theatre of Harlem's headquarters in upper Manhattan.
And for Tru Annafi, an 11-year-old first-timer at the DTH summer intensive, those brown hues matter. At her former summer program, in Chicago, "I was the only African American, and they made us wear pink tights," she says. Chloe Edwards understands. A 13-year-old from suburban New York, she points out that the skin-toned tights "help you keep your line. In ballet, line is so important."
For many students, attending a summer intensive can offer the chance of a lifetime to focus exclusively on dance and experience the rigorous lifestyle of a pre-professional dancer. But with so many options and increasing competition, auditions can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, we gathered insider tips from three top summer program directors.
Few things are most frustrating than arriving at your summer intensive full of excitement—only to get injured, stuck sitting out on the sidelines and missing out on the experience you signed up for.
To help you avoid this disappointment, we tapped Daniel Cuttica, D.O., an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon with The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics and consultant to The Washington Ballet, for expert advice on how to keep your body healthy, safe and injury-free this summer.
What's better than getting into the summer intensive of your dreams? Getting in with a scholarship, of course!
Hundreds of dancers entered our Video of the Month contests over the past three months, vying for a chance to win a scholarship to one of the Joffrey Ballet School's summer programs. We scoured so many videos, saw tons of amazing talent and are super excited to announce the final winners.
Michelle Quiner took home the grand prize: a one-year housing and tuition scholarship to the school's year-round trainee program in New York City. Check out her winning video: