The Washington School of Ballet: A Big-Name Intensive With Individual Attention

Sponsored by The Washington School of Ballet
December 22, 2021

When you think of a top-tier ballet company’s summer intensive, you couldn’t be blamed for envisioning a largely anonymous experience: packed classes, a revolving door of star faculty, and other experiences that are undoubtedly exciting but may not actually lead to much in the way of professional connections or opportunities.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth at The Washington School of Ballet. Its summer programming presents a uniquely valuable opportunity to aspiring professional dancers. Summer at TWSB means intentionally intimate class sizes, a dedicated and caring faculty, and attention to the individuality of each pre-professional dancer who attends. “We don’t believe that every student should spend five weeks with a name tag attached to their leotard,” says Kristina Windom, Upper Division head at The Washington School of Ballet. “Capping our classes at 20 to 25 dancers ensures that every dancer has a relationship with the teacher, and that teachers have the tools they need to make a difference to every dancer.” Windom continues, “We are serious about training the whole student, and this includes a focus on injury prevention, strength training and nutrition. We are adamant about providing our students with valuable ways to improve their personal relationship between the art of dance technique and how to most effectively apply it.”

Noura Sander (back row, third from left) poses with members of The Washington Ballet, including artistic director Julie Kent and associate artistic director Victor Barbee, following her very first performance as a member of the Studio Company. Photo by xmbphotography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

Summer intensives at The Washington School of Ballet certainly made a difference for Noura Sander, now a member of The Washington Ballet’s Studio Company. Five years ago, Sander moved on from another big-name ballet company’s feeder school in order to train at The Washington School of Ballet instead. Looking back on her first summer there, Sander says, “I remember dancing so much and feeling really fulfilled and balanced as a person. Not only did we have classes in classical, contemporary, choreography, flamenco and other styles, we also had mindfulness classes where we visualized and meditated. The environment was very nurturing and one-on-one. I felt so seen.”

You did read that right: flamenco. In addition to world-class ballet faculty, like artistic director Julie Kent and Professional Training Division head Xiomara Reyes, The Washington School of Ballet also offers flamenco, taught by Edwin Aparicio, who’s one of the most sought-after flamenco practitioners in the U.S. It’s this kind of rare class offering that’s kept Sander at The Washington Ballet long after that first intensive. “In most other summer programs I’ve been to, the standard other offering is character dance,” Sander says. “Edwin Aparicio really breaks flamenco down from the very beginning, but by the end of the summer you’re performing five-minute pieces. Flamenco hones completely different skills than classical ballet, and it’s helped a lot with my rhythm, speed and precision.”

Sander sees a direct through-line that starts from the varied skill-building of a TWSB summer program and runs all the way up to her current success in the Studio Company. “My training growing up was strictly classical, so I always felt very over my head training in non-ballet styles at other summer intensives,” she says. “But the program here—both the intensive and year-round—helped me feel more well-rounded as a dancer. We were always pushed, but never overwhelmed.” (Today, this high level of versatility is expected from professional dancers anywhere, even in the classical-ballet world.)

Today, Kristina Windom is the Upper Division head at The Washington School of Ballet. Courtesy The Washington Ballet

In the richly historic city of Washington, DC, The Washington School of Ballet is training 21st-century dancers, says Windom: “Our director, Julie Kent, has been at the forefront of many panel conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, and our entire staff has undergone hours of training on these topics. As an organization, we’re trying to bring awareness to and address inequities in ballet. We’re in the nation’s capital, and we have to reflect our community.”

And what a capital city to experience for a summer (or year-round): Windom raves about DC’s beautiful architecture, plentiful art, Smithsonian museums and more. Dancers in the intensive get weekends off, during which they can go on chaperoned field trips and outings. “It’s a wonderful city to explore for five weeks,” Windom says.

And though The Washington Ballet undoubtedly has the kind of name recognition many dancers look for in a summer intensive, Windom says that’s not really the point: “A lot can happen over the course of a summer intensive. If you’re serious about improving in a multifaceted and interdisciplinary way, come to us.” Students are accepted into The Washington School of Ballet Summer Intensive by attending an in-person audition on our upcoming tour or submitting a video audition. The 2022 Pre-Professional Summer Intensives Audition Tour will take place in January and February 2022 in Houston, New York, Boston, Charlotte and Washington, DC.