The Big Benefits of Training Locally This Summer

April 29, 2021

With summer approaching, where you’ll train is probably at the forefront of your mind. Major schools are making huge shifts to create COVID-safe dance spaces, including limiting their summer intensive enrollment, and traveling logistics are more complex due to limited housing options. While many ballet schools partner with local colleges to provide dorms for summer students, this year, that isn’t a possibility for most. “If you don’t have a relative in the area, it’s a huge problem,” says Lisa Collins Vidnovic, artistic and executive director of Metropolitan Ballet Academy & Company in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

If you’re unable to attend a large intensive this year, take heart. Big-name schools attached to esteemed companies have their strengths, but more often than you may think, you don’t need to go far for top-notch training. A rigorous program in your area, whether it’s at your own studio or another within driving distance, may be just the ticket. “It doesn’t have to be a large school attached to a major company,” says Nancy Davis, artistic director of The Portland Ballet in Oregon, which is offering a four-week intensive this year. “Good training is good training.”

Nancy Davis teaching Level 3 dancers at The Portland Ballet.
Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy The Portland Ballet

Alexandra Koltun, co-founder and director of Koltun Ballet Boston, points out another perk: By staying local, you’ll be near family and friends, and also save on housing, transportation and food. You can then redirect that money toward other training expenses, such as private lessons or costumes for competitions.

Read on to find out why attending a summer intensive at a regional, independent studio is not just a good option this year, but a great option in general.

Varied and High-Quality Training

A lot of smaller studios are staffed and directed by teachers with impressive credentials. (Koltun, for example, trained at Russia’s Vaganova Ballet Academy and danced with both the Mariinsky Ballet and Boston Ballet.) And they often curate their summer faculty roster with just as much intentionality and standards as those of larger programs. At National Ballet Academy of Denver, a private studio in Colorado (with a new satellite branch in New York), artistic director Cornell Callender tries to expand his dancers’ horizons by hiring guest teachers from a range of training backgrounds, such as Houston Ballet principal Karina González and former English National Ballet répétiteur Yuri Uchiumi. “There is a pool of knowledge and experience achieved from successful careers that each teacher brings into the classroom,” says Callender.

Students at the National Ballet Academy of Denver
Courtesy National Ballet Academy of Denver

Many private studios also try to expand their typical offerings during the summer, adding classes such as variations, men’s class, partnering and repertoire. Collins Vidnovic, for instance, schedules a contemporary week, Pilates and conditioning on top of her school’s ballet curriculum. Lorna Feijóo, artistic director and founder of Feijóo Ballet School in Dickinson, Texas, says that along with ballet and contemporary classes, their five-week intensive will be offering Afro-Cuban dance, music education, and seminars on health, costume history and dance history. And at Portland Ballet, Davis has added a seminar on mental health for dancers.

If there are limited options at your home studio this summer, research what else is in your area. Look for nearby intensives, workshops, master classes or even open classes you can supplement your training with. If you’re not sure what to look for, ask your teacher for a recommendation.

Alexandra Koltun with a student at Koltun Ballet Boston
Courtesy Koltun Ballet Boston

A Personal Experience

One of the greatest benefits of training at a smaller studio is getting more individual attention. “When you go to big intensives there are usually so many people in a classroom,” says Feijóo, a former principal with National Ballet of Cuba and Boston Ballet. “There’s more attention here. The important thing is the quality of the time that you’ll spend in that intensive, not the quantity [of dancers].”

Smaller numbers mean more tailored classes and corrections, and stronger connections with faculty. “Small schools have the ability to design the curriculum to suit the individuals,” says Callender. “They can set higher expectations that students can then meet at a faster rate. Instructors have more time to evaluate each dancer and offer more personalized advice.”

Consider what you want from performance opportunities, as well. Not all summer programs include them, but at a smaller studio you may have a greater chance to shine. “There aren’t as many people vying for those roles,” says Davis.

Dancers from Feijóo Ballet School
Rhonda Floyd Photography, Courtesy Feijóo Ballet School

Health and Safety Measures

Even with recent COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, health and safety in the studio is still very much a concern. Like many larger institutions, smaller studios have gotten creative and done remarkably well crafting safe class experiences. “As a private boutique school, we took all the measures,” says Koltun, adding that they reopened safely (doing away with Zoom classes entirely) by spacing dancers apart, cleaning frequently and limiting the number of people in the building by requiring parents to stay outside. And Collins Vidnovic notes that Metropolitan Ballet will hold its classes partially outdoors this summer.

Consider the space you’ll be dancing in and know what your comfort level is with proximity to other dancers. If you stay at your home studio, you’ll know what to expect, but if you’re interested in attending another nearby school, see if you can visit before you apply. (That said, summer programs are expected to fill up this year due to limited enrollment, so make sure you’re proactive in reaching out.)

An outdoor class at the Metropolitan Ballet Academy
Courtesy Metropolitan Ballet Academy

While you may not be able to attend a large conservatory or company-affiliated intensive this year, don’t write off the smaller schools that enrich your community. If you stay put and train exclusively at your home studio, remember that your teachers know and care about you and will be able to provide the guidance you need. “The trust between teacher and student,” says Koltun, “accumulates during the year and expands even more during the summer.”