Unlock Your Individual Artistry at The Sarasota Ballet’s Summer Intensive

Sponsored by The Sarasota Ballet
January 13, 2022

A five-week summer intensive accounts for less than 10 percent of a calendar year, a blink of an eye in a young dancer’s training. Yet these brief programs promise technical gains, artistic discovery, networking opportunities and eye-opening life in a new city. Many dancers and parents likely wonder: Do these promises materialize as real progress in such a short time frame?

For 20-year-old Emmanuelle Watkins, the answer is a resounding yes. In 2021, she attended The Sarasota Ballet’s summer intensive after already securing a spot in its trainee program for that fall.But during the end-of-summer performances, her curtain call was accompanied by an unexpected announcement: Watkins had been promoted from trainee to Studio Company member.

Emmanuelle Watkins, former summer intensive student and current Studio Company member, in Arcadian Broad’s Davis Dances – Odyssey. Photo by Frank Atura, Courtesy The Sarasota Ballet

The curriculum, teachers and repertoire were all key to creating an environment where she and many other dancers have flourished. Could summer at The Sarasota Ballet unlock similar growth for you?

Strong Foundations

In two summers of ongoing pandemic challenges, The Sarasota Ballet has held in-person summer intensives. Adaptations have included mask requirements, virtual options and more flexibility in the programming, allowing students to select how many weeks they’d like to attend.

Whether attending two or all five weeks, the students have a full battery of classes, says Dierdre Miles Burger, assistant education director and head of curriculum. With five to six hours in the studio each day, dancers take at least one technique class and one pointe or men’s class, followed by a second technique class, modern, repertoire and pas de deux for older students.

The teachers emphasize strong foundations: “Technique void of any mannerisms or stylistic affectations,” says Burger. Physical cross-training, like Pilates and yoga, is accompanied by health-mindset coaching in partnership with Artists Becoming, a consultancy led by two former professional ballet dancers who offer wellness and mindfulness workshops.

It’s a Performing Profession, After All

A consistent draw has been the end-of-summer performances. Burger says that younger students benefit from more performance exposure, while older dancers with professional aspirations have the chance to hone their onstage chops.

Leading up to the performances, students often take class onstage—a transformative experience for Watkins. “I’m used to noticing things in the mirror, checking my alignment, my posture, even just looking at myself in the mirror.” Without that crutch, she says, “I got to focus on my whole person as a dancer, my whole body, rather than just one specific thing that I was looking at in the mirror.”

In addition to learning and performing classical repertoire, older dancers have contemporary pieces created on them. In 2021, students premiered work by company members Arcadian Broad and Ricardo Graziano, who is also Sarasota’s resident choreographer. “The complexity and the challenge that [Broad] put in front of the students is equal to anything you would see asked of a professional company,” says Lindsay Fischer, assistant education director.

Fischer says he saw dancers mature overnight as they worked through and performed choreography that was made for them. “Even if it’s just eight counts, that is the beginning of discovering how to be you,” he says.

For Watkins, the creative process led to her promotion. “She was in the work that Arcadian put together, and [director] Iain Webb saw her in it,” says Burger. “He had an opening in the Studio Company and he moved her into it. It was from that opportunity.”

Leadership Matters

Students have many summer programs to choose from, including many that offer performances and choreography workshops. For Fischer, having recently joined the faculty from the National Ballet of Canada, there was one clear reason to choose The Sarasota Ballet: the quality of the leadership. “Everybody that gets hired gets hired with an eye to ‘What kind of human generosity and tolerance is this person going to bring to teaching the art?’ ” he says.

Even outside of pandemic times, he’s wary of summer intensives that pack in as many students as possible. “I have serious doubts when I see somebody try to franchise training,” Fischer says. Furthermore, he believes that good artists are inherently good people, and they learn by example. From The Sarasota Ballet’s director Iain Webb to faculty members with decorated backgrounds, he says this sense of caring runs throughout the organization. “The attitude here is that you are responsible for a person’s whole life when you agree to train them as an artist,” he says. “There are no great artists who are inferior or mean-spirited people.”

Terri Jean Thomson, former summer intensive student and current Studio Company member, in Ricardo Graziano’s Feira De Castro. Courtesy The Sarasota Ballet

Finding Your Voice

While a summer program can be a direct launchpad into a new career phase, oftentimes the benefits are more indirect. Fischer sees The Sarasota Ballet’s goal as giving students the tools they need to be self-directed, to participate in their own teaching and to find their voice no matter where they go after a single summer program. “If you don’t become a professional dancer—and not everybody who goes to a summer intensive will—if you find your voice as a teenager, in a room with 10 or 15 other young people, you will have that voice for the rest of your life, whether you express it physically, by painting or by speaking, or just in your daily life,” says Fischer. “That moment of discovering your value as an individual cannot be taken away from you once you found it. And I think any serious study of the arts should have that as its foundation.”

How to Audition

Auditions for The Sarasota Ballet’s 2022 Summer Intensive will be held in person January 9 through February 14 at locations locally and nationally. Testing and proof of vaccination status are required for in-person auditions. View the full schedule and register here.

Additionally, The Sarasota Ballet will host virtual auditions, accept video submissions, and participate in the National Summer Intensive Audition Tour by virtually viewing auditions at partner-school locations.