The Sarasota Ballet’s Summer Intensive Emphasizes Individual Attention and a Professional Performance Experience

Sponsored by The Sarasota Ballet
January 16, 2023

Attending summer intensives is an important step for students considering a professional ballet career—one that can lead to invitations to join year-round pre-professional programs, trainee programs and studio companies. At The Sarasota Ballet’s summer intensive, dancers are often recipients of offers to join the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory full-time, but they also have the opportunity to participate in a community that offers a glimpse into company life.

The Sarasota Ballet is an internationally renowned ballet company known for its artistry, and at the company’s summer intensive, the faculty focus on preparing students to use their individual artistry with confidence and strong technique. With diverse class schedules, students are exposed to multiple ballet styles, variations, partnering, contemporary, and even classes like jazz funk or hip hop, and the expansive facilities offer plenty of space for students as they explore their craft.

Alima Bordley, a Margaret Barbieri Conservatory Student. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy The Sarasota Ballet.

An Eye for the Individual

Education director Christopher Hird strives to create an inclusive environment where students feel comfortable branching out from their usual styles and training atmospheres. “It is a wonderful thing to see students coming here a little bit nervous, then feeling how welcoming the environment is and being free to explore their individual artistic expression,” he says. “We are a slightly smaller program, and I think people often miss the value in a smaller place. At our intensive, dancers can be seen a little more, which helps their individuality be both seen and supported.”

Although the summer intensive’s enrollment numbers doubled last year, The Sarasota Ballet expanded its physical footprint and hired more faculty to support individual student success. Studio company member Ezra Schenck attended the summer intensive before and after the growth, and he was impressed that the amount of attention each student received did not dwindle. “They brought in additional faculty for support,” he says. “Everyone still received a lot of personalized training.” And the new space The Sarasota Ballet acquired last year creates plenty of room to move, with three connected buildings and access to a studio at the summer intensive dorms.”

Community and Connections

The dorms utilized for the summer intensive are part of the New College of Florida and are located just five minutes from the ballet conservatory. (The Sarasota Ballet provides transportation between the locations.) “The dorms really foster a community environment that develops outside of the studio,” says Hird. “The residential students are so supportive of each other—it does not matter what age or level they are.” Last year, Hird says, dancers hosted a talent show in the dorm and invited faculty members to participate as judges, something that highlights the level of community developed during the intensive.

Noah Rodenberger, a Margaret Barbieri Conservatory Student. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy The Sarasota Ballet.

Victoria Hulland, former Sarasota Ballet principal dancer and current artistic assistant to the directors, believes the care of the faculty sets The Sarasota Ballet’s summer intensive apart from others. “The staff truly sees and notices the students, and they become these dancers’ biggest cheerleaders,” she says. The connections made between staff and students extend beyond a few weeks during the summer, too. “Having those connections—and their connections—throughout the country and the world can help direct dancers throughout their careers,” Hulland says. “Attending summer intensive creates these community connections that are vital for dancers’ future success.”

Professional Pathways

The Sarasota Ballet’s summer intensive provides attendees with a unique taste of company life because the faculty is composed mostly of Sarasota Ballet staff and company members, rather than guest artists. “By experiencing the full-time school and conservatory faculty, dancers get a real feel for what it would be like to become a full-time student or eventual company member,” Hulland states. Dancers also have the opportunity to work with Sarasota Ballet choreographers, even learning some of the variations and repertoire performed by the company.

Hird emphasizes that for dancers, it is important to attend intensives with an eye toward the future. “They are often a big recruitment opportunity for the year-long program and eventually the studio company,” he says. “There is a definite pathway—a high percentage of the dancers in the training program began at our summer intensive, and a high number of those move into the studio company and company.”

2022 InMotion performance featuring summer intensive dancers. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy The Sarasota Ballet.

Performance Opportunities

While most summer programs offer a performance component, The Sarasota Ballet’s final showcase is a step above the rest. Dancers who attend both the three- and five-week sessions perform on the same stage that the company uses throughout the year. “Dancers get to actually feel the stage lights and learn about staging,” says Hulland. “It is a different feeling than performing in a studio space, and they get to experience a fast-paced rehearsal process, too—that is what company life is really like.” Schenck agrees that it is incredibly gratifying to be on a stage and do what you love. “To me, performing is the most important part of ballet and it is why I do it,” he says. “It means a lot to know that it is also important to the faculty here.”

For Hird, too, the performance is the best part of the summer intensive. “The post-performance is especially special,” he says. “When the curtain comes down, all the students start screaming together because of what they have achieved. They have worked toward, achieved and performed together on a real stage, and the camaraderie and excitement at the end are spectacular.”

The Sarasota Ballet offers two-week (June 26–July 8), three-week (July 10–29) and five-week (June 26–July 29) summer sessions for dancers 11–22 years old. Dancers who wish to participate in the final performance must attend the last three weeks of the intensive. Auditions are held in person through an audition tour around the country and via video. Dancers must pre-register for all auditions. More information can be found here.