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July 3, 2010 / ballerina2thepointe

Summer “INTENSE”-ives


  Summer study programs, especially those for ballet, can be a wonderful change of atmosphere for students, but can also tend to be a bit overwhelming. Personally, I spent my summers “intensively” studying with the same teachers who trained me year-round. I did this for all but one summer, when I went to  the S.A.B. summer program in NYC (just a subway ride away from home). I was never a big fan of summer sleep away camps, though now as an adult I’m painfully aware of all the fun I probably missed out on! I was really quite content staying right in Queens, NY with my parents and ballet school family. The program and classes did intensify though, and quite a bit at that. This is what I find (other than the occasional homesickness) to be the most challenging obstacle for my own students to face.

Technique classes tend to be longer than what is “normal” during the school year; ranging from an hour and forty five minutes to two hours. They are often preceded by a stretching class, and followed immediately by a pointe, partnering, or variations class. A lunch break is usually an hour or two, then there are repertory rehearsals or other classes, like jazz. If students are not prepared to handle such a rigorous schedule, they can easily burn out, or in the worst case scenario, injure themselves.

There are some things, that as a teacher and dancer, I can recommend to help young dancers ease their way into the heavy-duty summer schedule and help them make the most out of  their time in a new school:

Hopefully, before the kids arrive, they and their parents have researched the school well, and are comfortable with the intensity level of the program as well as the training style. That said, as a teacher, I want my students at the Miami City Ballet program (as well as others whom I’ve taught) to know that I look forward to helping them grow as dancers. I want them to leave after the four to five weeks feeling that they are stronger, and more knowledgeable dancers than they were when they arrived. I don’t expect miracles, but I do expect that the students will give me their undivided attention mentally and physically while they’re in my class. I expect them to WANT to learn, and not be afraid to try new things. I know that not all of the students come from a Balanchine background, and that’s perfectly OK. That is the style that I teach, however, and though I would never try to “change” a student’s way of dancing, I hope that they would be open to learning the Balanchine style as well. This will only strengthen them, and enhance their versatility. I had two students last summer, sisters in fact, who were trained primarily in the French style. They were completely unfamiliar with  the Balanchine technique at first, but were refreshingly open to learning and practicing it. They were never afraid to ask questions whenever they needed something clarified. When the program ended, they left with a beautiful new quality of movement.

It really helps, from both a dancer’s and teacher’s point of view, to warm yourself up a bit before the class begins. This not only helps to prevent injury, but if your body is ready to go right from the start of class, then you can immediately start working on improving your technique. The teacher can give corrections right away, and dancers with a warm body can apply them much more efficiently. One also never knows the teacher’s lesson plan for the day. The barre may not be quite as long as one is typically used to, so students should be physically prepared ahead of time.

Injuries are an inevitable part of a dancer’s life. Please don’t hide them! I would much rather a student be honest and tell me if something is wrong than have them push too hard and hurt themselves more. I also take insult if a student neglects to tell me about an injury, but comes to my class with “junk” covering up the ailing body part. There is a dress code, and I expect the kids to stick to it. I will allow them to keep the affected area warm, of course, but I like to be told at the start of class that there is in fact a problem.

One thing that I DEMAND in all of my classes is that the students respect one another. If there is one important thing that dancers need to understand it is that we ALL have something beautiful and special to share, and that we can ALL learn something from each other. I learn new things by watching my students every single day! I ask my students to pay attention to EVERYONE’s individual corrections, and try to apply them to themselves. There are so many kids in each level, and a teacher can’t possibly give personalized corrections to everyone in each class.Chances are, there are a number of students all making the same mistakes. Each and every student is there to learn and improve, and nobody is perfect. Though ballet can tend to be quite competitive, I urge all young dancers to be tolerant , patient, and KIND to one another. This is something that is all too often forgotten in the professional world. (Thank goodness Miami City Ballet is an exception to the rule. I don’t know how I would have survived so many years otherwise!)

One particular subject always seems to be somewhat of an issue each summer…NUTRITION. I have seen some students go crazy eating all the junk food they can find while away from home, and others trying desperately to diet, and stop eating properly altogether. Dancers must remember that thier body is their instrument, their tool, and it needs properly balanced nutritious meals to keep it fueled; especially with the intensified summer schedule. Students should try their best follow the same healthy eating habits that they adhere to while at home with their families. This will insure that energy levels stay high, while keeping illness and injury rate low.

Do try to take advantage of your downtime, both physically and mentally. I love when my students go back to the dorms, ice their tired feet or take a hot bath and think about corrections I’ve given them, or review choreography. It prepares them for advancing further the next day. I DO NOT expect them to do that all evening, however! Remember that this is, afterall, SUMMER VACATION…part of it should be dedicated to HAVING FUN!!!! The main thing is to find a balance between hard work and play. I love it when kids come back refreshed and ready to work after a weekend of fun. They are in a better mood, and tend to be much more focused, which makes my job all the easier!

I hope these few hints will help young dancers (especially those new to summer intensive’s) in programs everywhere to make the most out of their time away from home. I hope those reading will join in a discussion, adding comments, questions, or helpful hints of their own! HAPPY SUMMER 2010!!!!


Leave a Comment
  1. Rebecca King / Jul 10 2010 3:44 pm

    Great tips for all dancers, not just students! Looking forward to reading more and hopefully taking your class soon.

  2. Elise / Jul 10 2010 6:35 pm

    I love what you’ve said here. The advice is spot on. I’ve had other dancers say the same to me. I find it interesting that some vocational schools don’t recommend summer intensives, as they feel the students work hard enough at school. And yet I know so many students who do attend.

  3. Nicoli Greco / Jul 18 2010 5:29 am

    Hi ! Really good tips ! Well, I think I’m applying them, at least I’m trying to =)
    and i’m loving learning and having technique classes with you !
    Thank you ! I really appreciate your beautiful job !

    • ballerina2thepointe / Jul 18 2010 8:09 pm

      Thank you Nicole! You definitely are applying everything that I’ve suggested here, and it is definitely a pleasure to have you in my class!

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