Tips & Advice

Choosing the best summer intensive for you!

Stephanie-Burg. Photography by Richard Calmes.
Stephanie Burg. Photography by Richard Calmes.

I loved going to summer intensives. Starting my freshman year of high school, I was able to go to one or two programs every summer and vastly expand my skills as a young dancer. Because of my small studio and small town, videotapes and summer programs were really the only way for me to get exposed to world-class dancing and training. Fortunately, a couple of my teachers were really encouraging and convinced my mom to let me forge ahead! In addition to learning from unbelievably amazing teachers over the years, I saw new parts of the US and Europe, and met a lot of wonderful people including: a woman who would employ me at the very same intensive I took as a student, a fellow dancer who (13 years later) would ask me to perform in her own company’s Nutcracker, so many stunning dancers I took class with who are now on the world’s biggest stages, and even one woman whose company performed at the very first intensive I ever went to and now we share an office! Whether you learn new dance skills or learn how to live with roommates, summer programs help shape who you are and give you amazing new experiences.

Here are a few questions to seriously ask yourself to help you choose a summer intensive that is best for you!

When is it and can I fit it in my/my family’s schedule?

This might be the answer you have the least control over if you’re working with school, family vacation, or summer job schedules. As much in advance as possible, find out about all of your possible obligations and have an honest discussion about what things you have to do and what things you can miss. Remember, sometimes you’ll have to make sacrifices in order to pursue dance. Maybe your family will go on that fun trip without you. But also remember that your family is probably making sacrifices for you to be there and pursue your interests.

What is the schedule?

Most summer programs’ daily schedules for intermediate to advanced dancers are going to be all day long. There will be some variation with start and end times, so make sure those work for you. Also check the overall schedule of which classes are offered and how frequently they are offered. If you think you’re signing up for a mixed-genre intensive but half the classes are just one style, maybe look at some more options. Of course, a big difference between programs is duration. They tend to last anywhere between 1 and 6 weeks. If you haven’t been away from home much before, you’ll probably want to go to a shorter program, whereas if you’re ready to seriously delve into intensive training then a longer program is probably right.

Who is teaching?

This is really important even if you can’t really know how much you’ll like the instructors until you get there. Doing a little bit of research can help because finding out about the instructor and seeing where they trained, performed, and taught can tell you, for example, if their modern class will probably be Horton or release technique, or if they usually teach bunheads or comp kids. How did I learn I loved Balanchine technique? Summer program sophomore year. A bio can’t tell you if they are excellent teachers, but you at least won’t be surprised when your contemporary class is thrashy vs lyrical.

What do I want to get out of my time there?

To me, the number one purpose of a summer intensive is to learn, to learn as much as possible from great instructors and become a more skilled dancer in turn. There are a lot of other reasons you might want to go to a program though. Maybe you want to be in a big city or on the beach. Maybe you want to go where the host school/company is offering scholarships/apprenticeships. Maybe you have no boys at your school and you want to learn partnering. All these other factors are valid and you should think about what you might like, especially if you have a couple to choose between.

Do I want to go by myself?

Going off to a summer intensive where you don’t know anyone can be daunting, but it’s also going to be an amazing opportunity to meet people you could end up being friends with and even dancing with many years later. A group of people working really hard together every day can be a truly bonding experience, whether it’s your best friend at your side or a bunch of strangers becoming new friends. And even if you don’t become friends with everyone you will learn a lot about yourself and working with others! I met some amazing people during my summers of training and now I have friends from all over the world thanks to it. I’ve also gotten some excellent dance jobs out of them too.

Can my family and I afford it?

It’s really unfortunate but sometimes whether or not you can afford something is what limits whether or not you can do it. That’s just the way the world works. So be really honest with yourself and your parents about what you want to do and where you want to go, and also keep an open mind. More expensive does not equate to better in many many situations. If money is an issue, you do have options! Of course you can choose less expensive programs that still have great offerings, choose a program that allows you to live at home or with friend/family, apply for a need-based or merit-based scholarship, and ask for support from family, friends, and local businesses who will chip in a little bit towards your tuition.

What style of dance is emphasized?

This is what you’re going to be doing all day! Most intensives do offer multiple styles, so even if you go to a ballet intensive you might have a jazz class and a choreography class every afternoon too. Check the sample daily schedule to make sure it has what you want and that it’s offered to all levels.

Are you ready to audition or would you prefer not to?

Just as more expensive does not mean better, there are excellent summer intensives that just ask for an application and photos and don’t require an audition. Back in the olden days when I was going to summer programs, we didn’t have the option to send video links, so we pretty much had to audition in person, and we just auditioned for the programs that came to the nearest big city! But the first summer program I went to didn’t require an audition, and it was a fantastic experience with big name teachers and high-level instruction. I may never have learned more as quickly as I did there.

Win 1 of 50 Summer Scholarships with the Joffrey Ballet School. Enter here.

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

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