By Jade Butler, Grand Rapids Ballet Apprentice
Often daunting, always exciting, summer intensives are of the utmost importance for the training of a pre-professional dancer. Most are between three and five weeks, jam-packed with learning, dancing, and making new memories. All professional dancers started as students much like you, attending summer intensives and feeling excited and nervous. As a student, I found that the summer intensives I attended ended up being some of the most transformative years of my training toward become a professional dancer. Whether it be the stellar training, diverse repertoire, adventurous weekend activities, or friendships I made, I never regretted attending a single one of them. Regardless if you’re attending a shorter three-week program or even a longer seven-week program, here are some tips to help you survive and thrive during your summer intensive.
Tip #1: BE NICE
- • As in life, this applies to everyone at your intensive. These are your peers, contemporaries, and teachers. You will run into them again, so always have a smile and a kind word.
Tip #2: BE PREPARED TO GIVE 100%
- • Make sure you’re in shape before you arrive; do not take time off leading up to an intensive. Up to two weeks before you arrive, you should be taking class every day to ensure your body is in good condition.
- • Pack the right things in your suitcase. Of course, start with ballet clothes that follow your school’s dress code, but be prepared to spend time outside the studio exploring your host city. For example, Grand Rapids gets quite warm in the summer but it occasionally has a cooler rainy day (this is Michigan, after all—if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour). So, you should pack summer clothes and a rain jacket. And don’t forget things like a sewing kit.
- • Stay positive. Remember teachers only give corrections because they are trying to help you, so don’t allow yourself to get into the mindset one teacher doesn’t like you. And please don’t fret about your level placement; you are placed in the level in which the school faculty knows you will succeed.
- • Work hard and your effort to improve will be noticed. Give everything your best effort; there’s no time like the present to work hard.
Tip #3: BE CURIOUS
- • The need for a dancer who is able to do both classical ballet and contemporary dance is growing. so it’s important to start as a student—be open to trying new styles.
- • You may be scheduled to take classes you don’t normally take at your home studio like character, hip-hop, or Pilates. These classes are all great ways to grow and learn as a dancer and they were included in the curriculum to help you. And you might just end up loving it.
- • Remember, your teachers might teach a step slightly differently than they do at your home studio. That’s OK. Different styles of ballet steps (Vaganova, Cecchetti, Balanchine) have differences and it does not mean they are teaching the step incorrectly. As a professional dancer, the choreographer wants you to do their step their way—not your way, mom’s way, or your home studio’s way. Again, you will learn something new, which is always a good thing. Trust them.
“One of the best things about a summer intensive is all of the new information you receive. Whether it’s learning from new students attending an intensive at your home studio, or attending a summer program at a different school, my advice is to be as open as possible. Hold on to everything you know about ballet lightly, and see what matches up based on what you see and what you are taught. If something doesn’t ring true, you can discard it when you go back to your normal training in September, but challenge yourself to try new things for the entire time you are in the new environment.” —Steven Houser, Grand Rapids Ballet Company Dancer and Ballet Master
Tip #4: DRESS TO IMPRESS
- • I think you know what I am going to say here: Follow the dress code that is a given to you to the letter. Remember, you’re asked to wear a black leotard or pink tights so your teacher can see your lines well. You’re only at this school for a short number of weeks, so you want to put your best foot forward figuratively and literally.
- • Show up ready to shine with your hair done nicely and pulled away from your face with no holes or runs in your tights (remember that sewing kit I referenced earlier?)
- • Dancing 4-6 hours a day means a lot of sweat, so wear deodorant and shower regularly. This is common sense.
Tip #5: FUEL YOURSELF
- • Make sure you’re eating enough to sustain how much dancing you’re doing every day. When you’re craving a snack, have one, but make sure it’s nutritious, sustainable, and minimally processed. And it goes without saying: water, water, and more water.
- • Sleep six to eight hours per night (maybe even more, if possible). There’s nothing like a full night’s sleep to prepare you for a full day of dancing and working hard.
Tip #6: HAVE FUN
- • Enjoy yourself! Go on those weekend activities; I promise you will make memories that will last a lifetime.
- • Connect with your new friends…Instagram, email, Facebook, phone numbers, Snapchat. Keep in contact and continue to grow your dance network. You may find yourself next to many of them at the barre in the future and a friendly face is always a nice thing to see.
“During a summer intensive you spend the entire day dancing which can take a toll on your body. I try to spend time every morning before class rolling out and time after the day is over to stretch. I’ve found that this is the best way to prep my body for the long day ahead and also relax after a whole day of dancing.” —Sophia Brodin, Grand Rapids Ballet Summer Intensive student