The Washington School of Ballet Layers Artistry, Technique, and Mindfulness to Prep Dancers for Professional Life
Ask Harry Warshaw, a Washington Ballet Studio Company dancer, what his greatest personal and professional leap has been, and you might be surprised by his answer: learning how to relax. The lesson came several years ago during his first summer intensive at The Washington School of Ballet, before he joined the school’s trainee program and was then offered his current position in the Studio Company.
During that intensive, he was struck by the faculty’s unique approach that encouraged ease and experimentation over disciplinary instruction. “Even though we were young, they treated us as if we were professionals in how they would speak to us. It was very relaxed,” he says, “and it started preparing me for that intimate conversation that you have in the studio with your ballet masters or coaches or directors. You don’t have to be so robotic.”
Warshaw’s experience is indicative of the school’s holistic approach to ballet education for today’s students, and also how recently tapped Washington Ballet artistic director Edwaard Liang approaches dance: first and foremost, as an art form. In dance training, he says, “it’s important to create an environment where artistry is being fostered at the same time with a very cohesive curriculum.”
The five-week summer program at The Washington School of Ballet includes training in classical ballet technique, pointework, variations, men’s technique, pas de deux, flamenco, jazz, contemporary, character, body conditioning, repertory, and composition. Current trainee Anna Joy, who was invited to the year-round program after attending the 2023 summer intensive, says the curriculum and faculty are equal parts nurturing and challenging while championing diverse dance styles. “By the end of the intensive, we were performing a flamenco piece, and most of us hadn’t ever been trained in flamenco before,” she recalls.
This summer, Liang hopes to challenge young dance artists’ capabilities further in his new TWB Repertory Experience. This immersive one-week program is meant to give dancers a window into the professional world. “I’m so impassioned about this type of experience because it really gives a firsthand account of what day-to-day life is like as a professional dancer,” says Liang. Uniquely, the week will emulate AGMA rules (The Washington Ballet is a signatory of the American Guild of Musical Artists, a union that includes dance companies). Each day will start with technique class from 9:30 am to 10:45 am, followed by a 15-minute break, per the union’s rule, and then a full day working on classical and contemporary rep, including some of Liang’s own choreography. “This week is really about being able to leverage your skill sets and adapt,” he says, “because ballet companies these days have less clear-cut boundaries of classical, neoclassical, contemporary, or modern.”
While the five-week summer intensive and the one-week Repertory Experience bridge the gap from student to professional life—both in the schedule and in opportunities to be considered for trainee or studio company positions—The Washington School of Ballet also provides students with a strong technical and mental foundation. Reflecting on Liang’s approach to daily work in the studio, Warshaw says: “He wants your attention to detail in your body, and to make sure that you’re working in a smart way. If you want to get your leg higher or hold your balance longer, he says ‘Go back to the barre, make sure you’re in the right alignment.’ ”
Even more foundational, Warshaw and Joy both learned to cultivate a sense of calm, preparedness, and community during the summer intensive in mindfulness classes led by Professional Training Division head Xiomara Reyes. “It really changed my mindset,” says Joy about the meditation and conversation-based sessions, “to know that I was in an environment where they really care about the whole person.” Warshaw utilizes those skills in his professional life by letting go of personal issues before beginning rehearsal and practicing visualization to better embody sensations onstage. He’s also learned to be more present with his fellow Studio Company members.
For Liang, that sense of connection is key, whether Washington School of Ballet summer students go on to careers in ballet, Broadway, or beyond. “More and more, we’re disconnected by social media or everything that’s happening in the world. It’s really important to have and hold on to our humanity,” he says, “and I think dance, art, does that best.”
For more on The Washington School of Ballet’s summer programs, including details on auditions and registration, click here.