The August Advantage

Amp up your training this summer with a mini-intensive.
Published in the December 2010/January 2011 issue.

Across the floor in men's class at Kaatsbaan.

Photo by Gregory Cary

Looking to maximize your summer training? Then keep your calendar open in August. Aside from the plethora of standard five- and six-week programs, August “mini-intensives” have started popping up within the last few years. More streamlined than a typical summer course, these one- to three-week sessions give dancers an extra edge. Some polish your technique with in-depth coaching, some hone a specific style and others immerse you in repertoire and performances. While each has a different focus, they’re all intentionally smaller and geared towards students on the cusp of a professional career. And they can help you start off the fall a step ahead.

Putting the “Intense” in Intensive
These shorter intensives are not for the faint of heart. Kaatsbaan’s three-week Extreme Ballet program in upstate New York enrolls only 35 students. After a combined technique class each morning, dancers split into groups for pointe and partnering, and then even smaller groups—fewer than 10 students—for detailed coaching sessions. These give students an opportunity to focus intensely on aspects of their technique that they wouldn’t normally have time for in a regular ballet class. “We can get very specific,” says director Martine van Hamel. “Often we’ll work on running or walking—in a contemporary way or a classical way, as a swan or as a person. Or we’ll work on pirouettes or port de bras—whatever I feel they need.”

 

“You never get to really work on ballet runs in class, but they’re one of the hardest things to do!” says 17-year-old Karen Moscato of Princeton, NJ, who attended last year’s intensive. “I realized I was running all wrong, but now I can do it quite well.”

 

The intimate class size is another bonus. “A lot of attention is focused on individuals,” says Moscato. “You can be seen by teachers like American Ballet Theatre director Kevin McKenzie.”

 

Philadelphia’s Rock School offers one-week Coaching Intensives in June and August for approximately 30 students. The faculty splits dancers into two levels for technique, pointe, men’s class and Pilates. The latter part of the day includes an hour-and-a-half coaching session with video analysis, where
students perform short exercises across the floor, two at a time, while teachers videotape them.

 

“They watch themselves and say, ‘Oh! I see it now!’ ” says Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, who directs the intensive along with her husband, Bojan Spassoff. “The video reinforces the corrections we’ve been giving. They see it and it clicks.” Themes for analysis might include jumps, turns or even pas de bourée. “The goal is to get to the nitty-gritty that they don’t get in class,” says Wolf Spassoff. “It’s not about the tricks, the 32 fouettés. It’s about breaking everything down, making it cleaner and better.”

 

“Although,” Bojan Spassoff adds, “by breaking it down, you have a much easier time getting to the 32 fouettés!”
   
Performance Opportunities

Some mini-intensives give dancers a chance to enhance their performance skills. At Nutmeg Conservatory’s Apprentice Program, which offers two weeks of classes, rehearsals and performances, “the atmosphere is more like a dance company,” says principal Ronald Alexander. While Nutmeg’s other summer courses break students into smaller groups, the Apprentice Program keeps students together for their morning classes, with the exception of pointe and men’s class. “Then the rest of the afternoon is repertoire, repertoire, repertoire,” says Alexander.  

 

The dancers learn classical and neoclassical variations, original choreography and contemporary works by choreographers such as Momix’s Moses Pendleton. Last year, rehearsals culminated in a performance at Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out stage. “It was the highlight of the summer to perform at such an internationally renowned venue as Jacob’s Pillow,” says Alexander. “We hope to do it every year.”

 

“The program attracts mature students looking to supplement their summer training or prepare for auditions,” he continues. “They want to participate because the idea resembles a professional company.”

Exploring a Different Style
Other programs simply offer a quick immersion in a particular technique. Ballet Chicago’s Advanced Intensive, for instance, attracts students curious to explore the Balanchine style. The two-week course includes a rigorous daily schedule of technique, pointe, variations, pas de deux and men’s class. The intensive also partially functions as an audition period for those interested in Ballet Chicago’s year-round studio company, which performs Balanchine ballets as well as new choreography. “It’s not exclusively an audition,” says artistic director Daniel Duell, “but it does give us a chance to see what students have artistically and technically and a sense of how they are to work with.”

 

At Ballet Chicago and other August intensives, the majority of dancers enrolled arrive fresh off a six-week program. To avoid burnout or injury, dancers must be smart and listen to their bodies. “I wouldn’t recommend going for more than six weeks unless you’re older and truly want to be a professional,” says van Hamel. 

 

Moscato, who trained for nine straight weeks last summer, knows the feeling firsthand. “I was exhausted, but it was worth it,” she says. “I’ve gotten so much better, and it prepared me for the company experience, where I’ll always be working that hard.”
   
Amy Brandt is Pointe’s Ask Amy columnist.