First Summer Intensive? Next Generation Ballet Is the Place to Be
Attending summer intensives is a rite of passage for aspiring professional ballet dancers. Between the rigorous training, eye-opening social experiences and career-launching exposure, these opportunities can be incredibly inspiring—and intimidating—for students and parents alike. Enter Next Generation Ballet, located in sunny Tampa, Florida, where director Philip Neal has crafted a summer intensive that caters both to first-timers and seasoned summer program pros.
Neal’s training philosophy at Next Generation Ballet is based on a few simple principles: “Give dancers a really good foundation, and then guide them to discover what specifically they want to pursue, and how to get there,” he says. With a wide array of levels, two-, three- and five-week options, and no more than 20 to 25 students per class, the curriculum prioritizes solid technique along with an American sense of lightness and speed. “We shape dancers who know how to perform at a professional level, adapt to various styles and avoid injuries,” Neal says.
Next Generation Ballet’s summer intensive allows dancers ages 12 to 18 to make leaps and bounds towards those objectives in just a few weeks. Dominika Afanasenkov, who attended the program for four summers and trained there year-round for two years before transferring to the School of American Ballet, always looked forward to summers at Next Generation Ballet as a chance to refresh her technique and hone her performance experience. “Of the five weeks, the first two are very much focused on training and gaining confidence,” she explains. In addition to ballet, summer students experience a variety of classes, from Pilates to jazz to flamenco. After the first two weeks, the program shifts gears towards an end-of-summer performance (for students participating in the three- or five-week programs) at the Straz Center’s 1,200-seat auditorium. “You get the chance to showcase all the ways you’ve improved,” Afanasenkov says.
Next Generation Ballet’s full-time faculty is the heart of the program’s success. “It’s crazy how much the teachers care about you,” Afanasenkov shares. “They do a great job catering to each student with individual corrections, and class is very collaborative.” The faculty’s attention to detail extends well outside the studio, too. “Because so many younger children do the program, they aren’t just our teachers, but also our parents, in a way,” she says. “They pay attention to how we interact outside of class, and make sure we’re all in a nurturing environment and have what we need.”
The program’s high-caliber guest faculty further expose summer students to subsections of the ballet world, inspiring potential career paths. “During my summers, I got to take from Kyra Nichols, Silas Farley and Edward Villella, which was how I first learned about Balanchine technique and New York City Ballet,” Afanasenkov says.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Next Generation Ballet’s summer intensive is its convenient proximity to the largest performing arts center south of the Kennedy Center. The Straz Center is literally next door to their studios. “I got to rehearse and perform so many times on the same stage that world-class ballet companies have visited,” Afanasenkov says. “At a young age, I was already comfortable with being onstage, the rules backstage and all the little things that a professional would need to know, like doing my hair and makeup correctly.”
After class and rehearsals, summer students still don’t have to go far, considering they’re housed and fed right across the street from the Straz. “A lot of families feel secure knowing that everything their child needs will be in a block radius,” Neal says. “I also make myself and my staff as accessible as possible during the summer to answer any parents’ questions.” The folks at Next Generation Ballet like to have a bit of fun, too. Summer activities include trips to nearby Busch Gardens or Disney World, Q&As with professional ballet dancers, movie nights and beach days, and more.
Between its stellar faculty and state-of-the-art facility, a summer at Next Generation Ballet can alter the course of your future career. Just ask Afanasenkov, who, after training with Next Generation Ballet, is now in her final year at the School of American Ballet in New York City (you may recognize her from the Disney+ documentary “On Pointe”). The faculty members at Next Generation Ballet make a point of tailoring dancers’ training to their ideal next steps. “I encourage them, even the very young ones, to do their homework on what companies they want to join someday, so they understand what’s out there and we can start working towards their specific goals,” Neal explains.
Keen on giving your first summer intensive a try? Next Generation Ballet will be touring the country to hold in-person auditions, as well as a virtual Zoom audition, for summer 2022. “We’re looking for dancers with a strong technical foundation and the ability to absorb information quickly,” Neal says.
From her own experience, Afanasenkov encourages summer program students to be observant, focused and ready to learn, especially if intensives are new to them. “At Next Generation Ballet, you’ll be exposed to so many new styles and dancers from all over the world,” she says. “Take in as much as you can, because you’ll carry the knowledge and inspiration you find there throughout your whole dance career.”