Summer Intensive Strategies

How to choose a program that will bring you closer to your 2012 goals
Published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue.

Students at CPYB’s 5-week intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

For preprofessional ballet dancers,the new year means one thing: summer intensive audition season. As you start thinking about which auditions to add to your 2012 calendar, consider your professional and technical goals. What do you want to achieve this upcoming year? Your dance resolutions should be at the top of your mind when deciding where to seek out summer training.

Resolution: Land A Contract
If you’re going to be looking for a job soon, consider attending a summer intensive affiliated with a professional company—particularly one that you’re interested in dancing for. Studying at a prospective company’s studios can serve as an extended audition, since it gives the artistic staff a few weeks to observe your technique, demeanor and performance skills, and determine if you would be a good fit for the company. Skyler Lubin decided to take this approach when she was a student at Miami City Ballet School. She stayed at MCB for the summer to show her dedication to the institution—and to have an extra chance to prove her talent in the program’s culminating performance. “I really wanted artistic director Edward Villella to see me onstage in the final show,” Lubin says. She believes the opportunity aided in her acceptance into the company, where she is now a corps member.

This strategy can also help you learn about the company. By working with a faculty made up of current and former company members, you’ll get an inside look at exactly what the dancers are like. Rehearsals and variations classes will let you discover how the company’s repertoire feels on your body. You’ll get a sense of the atmosphere, and be able to decide whether it’s a place where you could thrive as a dancer.

Resolution: Find Better Year-Round Training
If you’re still a few years away from company life but want to set yourself on a path to get there, you could use the summer to scout out a top-notch conservatory. When Joseph Steinauer discovered his love for ballet in college, he knew he needed to fast-track his ballet training if he was going to bring his technique up to par. So he spent the summer after his sophomore year at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. The 5-week intensive helped him decide to leave college to study year-round at CPYB.

“I was attracted to the classicism and intensity of the training,” explains Steinauer, now a corps member at the National Ballet of Canada. Although the summer is less intense than CPYB’s year-round program, it gave Steinauer a good taste of what the conservatory had to offer. He felt the male training was especially strong, citing Laszlo Berdo’s men’s classes.

If you have specific needs, whether it’s teachers who can help you with your jumps or strong modern classes to improve your versatility, use the summer as a trial period to investigate whether a particular program might fit the bill.

Resolution: Expand Your Repertoire
Do you want to grow in a particular style that your home studio doesn’t offer? If you dream of joining a contemporary company but train at a Vaganova-based school, for example, prepare yourself by seeking out a program where you’ll learn more modern, cutting-edge ballets. During her summer at San Francisco Ballet School, Nicole Ciapponi had a chance to receive coaching from former SFB principal Tina LeBlanc on the renowned William Forsythe work The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. “I had always loved Tina’s dancing and everything by William Forsythe,” says Ciapponi. Most of Ciapponi’s previous experience was in classical choreography, so working on a Forsythe ballet gave her a chance to challenge herself with more contemporary movement—a skill she knew she needed to cultivate before joining a company like SFB. In addition to developing a unique relationship with LeBlanc, the coaching helped prepare Ciapponi for company life: She performed Vertiginous this past year as a corps de ballet member with SFB (see “Best of The Best,” page 60).

Aside from considering a program’s company and school affiliations, style of training and repertoire, don’t forget about the environment fostered by its faculty. As Lubin advises, “There has to be a balance of good people and good ballet.” Speak to friends about their past training experiences, read dance blogs and reach out to potential programs of interest to find a summer intensive where you will be both encouraged and challenged. 


Scholarship Savvy
For many dancers, the stress of summer intensive auditions is centered around getting in. But others are looking for more than that. “I wouldn’t have been able to attend The Joffrey’s summer intensive without a scholarship,” Dara Holmes, now a member of The Joffrey Ballet, states frankly. She encourages young students to audition for programs where they believe they have a good shot at a scholarship. Think about which summer programs tend to accept dancers with your training background, style and body type—or, as in Holmes’ case, programs that have already shown an interest in your dancing. Those are the ones that are most likely to entice you further by sending some money your way.

Even if you don’t need the financial assistance, earning a scholarship indicates that the school is especially interested in working with you. You are bound to receive quality attention and exposure at a program that is willing to cover some or all of your summer training costs. For schools affiliated with a company, a scholarship could also mean, as it did for Holmes, that the company’s artistic director views you as a potential company dancer.

Alexis Branagan is a dance writer based in Princeton, New Jersey.