Dance Summer Intensives
I was recently contacted by a childhood friend asking about summer intensives as her daughter was accepted to some different programs and she wasn't sure what would be the best option. There are many advantages to attending a summer program as a training dancer, but there are different options and outcomes to consider. It is important to evaluate and think about what you, as a dancer, want to pursue. If you are wanting to be a commercial dancer, you probably don't want to spend time and money attending a classical ballet five week intensive. Would it be valuable? Sure! But will it help you meet others who are in the commercial industry and bring about opportunities for you to get work? Most likely no.
My friend's daughter was accepted to multiple programs at Joffrey, including the ballet intensive, jazz and contemporary intensive, the bfa program in NYC, and the jazz trainee program in NYC. These are all vastly different. I asked her what her daughter really wants to do and she would like to choreograph and travel doing conventions. Her daughter was also accepted into a conventions' company. Being a dancer means your career starts early on. If her daughter attended an intensive then she wouldn't be able to be part of the company for the convention. I told her to look into the jazz and contemporary intensive and the convention company; discuss what they each entail and what kind of opportunities are presented in the different programs. Then make a choice based on what you like and what you see yourself doing in the future if you are wanting to work professionally in the dance world.
*One of the advantages of attending a summer intensive as a young dancer is the ability to enter into a year round program at that school if that company and/or school is a place you would like to train or work*
-This is my headshot and one of my full body photos for summer intensive auditions circa 2002. In the days of print photos...... but, you will need headshots and full body photos for auditions.-
I personally attended programs at School of American Ballet, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Houston Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. It has been quite some time since I attended these programs and I am sure they have changed a bit, but I loved attending them. This is largely in part because I knew I wanted to audition for ballet companies my senior year of high school. Summer intensives are no joke. You are literally dancing all day, 6 days a week, taking different classes and learning repertoire. They are also an investment. Many schools offer scholarships (thank goodness!) but there are still costs to think about; travel, accommodation, food, shoes!!!, required uniform, etc. You also often have to pay to audition and you will need headshots and other photos.
My first summer intensive was School of American Ballet. I loved it! Living in NYC at 15 on my own was a dream come true. --Another important thing to consider is if you are ready and knowledgable about what it means to be out of your home-- An intensive is an experience and you have to be ready to truly benefit from the work you will put in. I enjoyed being out on my own and also enjoyed the intensity of dancing all day. This is when I wanted to look into attending a year round program.
I auditioned for North Carolina School of the Arts and was accepted. I attended their summer program the summer before my junior year and moved to North Carolina a couple weeks after the intensive finished. My time at school was extremely formative and provided me with the tools, education, and network to begin a career as a professional ballet dancer. Dancing is pretty brutal mentally and physically, yet I still love it. People can be outright mean and the competition within the dance world is unbelievable. Not everyone is a friend, but I did make a few lifelong friends while in school and they will always hold a special place in my heart. I lost a few friends upon graduation because I received a job offer, but I regress, it is a tough world and area to be a part of, so you have to truly love it.
From what I have seen and the experiences I have had teaching at various studios, as well as being a judge for different competitions, there seems to be more support in the other fields of dance. It's pretty inspiring to hear an entire studio and other studios scream for a dancer on stage. In the professional ballet world, there's a little less dog-eat-dog mentality, but it's unfortunately not as supportive as one would think. I think (and hope) it may be evolving as time goes on and it changes and adapts to current times and world situations. The teachers of today's students are also more aware of the importance of mental health and support during training and in profession.
Attending different programs allowed me to travel and see what it was like to live in different cities throughout the U.S. I was in NYC, Irvine California, Houston Texas, and Winston-Salem North Carolina. I also received training from world-renowned artists and teachers from all over the world and in different styles. I think the different styles is very important as the repertoire of today varies greatly and requires dancers to be more versatile and adaptable. There are some companies who truly follow a particular style and you can see that when they perform, but most companies perform a wide variety of choreography. Another thing that summer intensives are good for is maturity in dancing. There are so many life lessons that one will learn and dancers must possess a diversified skill set.
When auditioning for a summer intensive, it is important to do your research:
Style of classes
Length of intensive
Instructors and staff
Field trip opportunities
Where the food is coming from
Those last two are important not to forget. I was able to see performances by New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Houston Ballet, go to the beach, and sight see. These are sometimes an additional cost, but are a great way to see performances and explore different locales. Food! You are dancing, you have to eat properly. Some schools have cafeterias, others you will have to buy groceries, and some even have catering during the day. Again, just another thing to consider and keep in mind!
A fun throwback photo from days at UNCSA performing Peter and the Wolf :)
Don't be afraid to ask questions and think about why you want to attend a summer intensive.