Now that all the summer dance programs are wrapping up, I’ve started thinking about my one experience going away to ballet sleepaway camp when I was 15. I’ve always been something of a homebody, and I was really nervous about going away for eight weeks. My coach at the time convinced me that it was a good idea, though, so off I went, moving into an upstate New York college dormitory with what seemed like hundreds of girls and about five boys.
Being away from home was not the only thing I had to get used to. We were dancing about six hours a day, starting with a two-hour technique class in the morning, followed by an hourlong variations, pointe, etc. class. Then lunch, a break, and three more classes or rehearsals. It was hard, and the studios and dorms weren’t air-conditioned. All I could think about most days was how hot and sweaty and tired I was, and trying to do everything right so that I wouldn’t incur the wrath of our strict teachers. I didn’t always succeed, and I remember being shamed in front of a whole studio of dancers when I kept getting a step wrong in rehearsal. It was much more embarrassing getting scolded in front of a roomful of people I didn’t really know and was trying to impress than it was at home with my friends. I think I spent a lot of time being homesick, and I made my parents come visit me as often as they could on the weekends.
Even though it sounds like I was miserable the entire time, camp was actually pretty fun. I made some nice friends, had a lot of laughs, and ate a lot of pecan pie (don’t ask). While I was at camp, I was so consumed with the experience of my first time away from home that I didn’t even notice how much my technique had improved. All that dancing had lengthened my muscles, and I got stronger and more confident. My coach definitely noticed when I returned and started taking classes with her again. I realized then that change happens so slowly in ballet that the actual process of improvement is not very noticeable, but one day, you look in the mirror while doing a combination and you notice how much nicer your lines have gotten. I ended up being happy that I had gone away to ballet camp, since it helped me learn the patience and diligence that is necessary to achieve real improvement. However, I also learned that it’s important to have fun along the way, and keep yourself open to new experiences–in dance and in life.