- Jennifer Milner
Staying Home for the Summer
It’s the only topic in the dressing room: “I got into Boston!” “I am going to SAB!” “I can’t wait to go to Ballet West!” And then the question you are dreading:
“Where are you going this year?”
Ballet summer intensives feel like a rite of passage, a must-do if you’re on track for a professional career. The opportunity to go study with nationally-recognized teachers is hard to pass up; and for dancers whose social calendars are nonexistent thanks to heavy ballet schedules, a summer intensive is the closest thing many will get to an old-fashioned “summer camp” experience. Summer intensives escalate a dancer’s technique, widen a young artist’s cultural horizons and dance vocabulary; and provide lifetime memories with friends who share the same interests you do.
So why on earth would you stay home?
There are many reasons for remaining home for the summer season: perhaps your parents aren’t ready for you to live in a strange city for several weeks without family support. Maybe you auditioned but didn’t get into any of the schools to which you were applying. Or perhaps your family simply isn’t in a place financially where an expensive summer away is an option.
Regardless of the reason, staying home over the summer while all your friends are away can actually be a good thing. So if you find yourself looking at a homebound summer this year, here are some suggestions to make the most of your “vacation” months:
Take stock of why you are staying home
If it’s parental concerns over your ability to live independently, have a respectful conversation with them about what you can do over the next year to show them you are ready to manage your life away from your parents. Emphasis on RESPECTFUL conversation! Your parents will appreciate your willingness to put in the time over the next year to show them you’re capable of handling more independence. If it’s financial considerations, this knowledge will give you a year to plan ways to help out financially: organize a bake sale to cover tuition costs; research local young dancer grants and figure out how to apply for them so you’re ready next year. Studying ballet is financial investment, no doubt about it!
If you are staying home because you didn’t get into an intensive, use this summer to take a long, honest look at yourself and figure out what you need to work on. Ask your teacher for an honest evaluation, and concrete suggestions she can make on areas that need improvement. Then get to work and know that you’re already setting yourself up for next year’s success! Also consider researching additional schools for next summer; perhaps there’s a summer intensive out there that’s a better fit for you style-wise than the ones you applied to this year.
Plan out your own home-grown summer intensive
Find local intensives Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you can’t have your own
intensive. If you live in a large-ish city, chances are there’s more than one good pre-professional school that offers their own small intensives over the summer. Take your studio’s full intensive, and look into taking a one- or two-week at another local studio. While most studio owners don’t want you to take regularly from another studio during the year, they often see the benefit of allowing students to study elsewhere briefly in the summer. Getting outside “eyes” on you is always helpful!
Dance down at your school Dancing down refers to taking classes below your level. I highly advocate this for any dancer; going back to the basics is an excellent way to build strength and re-examine your technique. Take a class a few levels below yours on pointe for an added challenge!
Take private lessons Local teachers usually have more free time during the summer, and taking privates with your favorite instructor is a great way to improve your technique. Pick out a favorite variation to work on, or do a pointe class! You will get your teacher’s undivided attention, for the fraction of the cost of an intensive.
Try new dance styles Check your city’s recreational offerings, or look online to find a
ballroom dancing studio - you never know what you’ll find! A four-week tango class might improve your partnering skills, and six weeks of jitterbugging will certainly help your stamina and jumps in class!
Cross train Summer’s the perfect time to investigate ways to get your body at peak performance level. Hit your neighborhood pool and swim laps before class to build stamina; find a Pilates instructor and try some privates; see what classes are offered at the YMCA. When the fall comes, you’ll find yourself in prime condition for Nutcracker auditions!
Tap into other dancer friends Talk to other
girls staying home, and set up a group that will challenge each other. If your studio lets you use the space during off-hours, take turns choreographing on each other. The new choreographic styles will challenge you, and you may discover a love for creating works that you didn’t know you had!
See a lot of world-class performances One of the best parts of a summer intensive is the chance to watch the company at work, and learn from the professionals. You can’t see them live, but there’s a wealth of top-level performances out there for you to see. The library may have the Bolshoi or Royal Ballet on DVD; Netflix often has full-length ballets and dance documentaries on demand, and many ballet companies broadcast their rehearsals and company classes live for World Ballet Day and more. Hit YouTube for “Royal Ballet class” and see what comes up - and dance along with them if you can! Amazon carries many DVDs for a reasonable price; I encourage you to look beyond the Swan Lakes and Sleeping Beautys and go for something like Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Norwegian National Ballet’s unconventional but brilliant A Swan Lake. Exposure to a variety of techniques will inspire you and broaden your horizons.
What of the cost of this? Fair question. If money is truly tight, brainstorm ways to pay for the “extras”. I know one dancer who babysits for her favorite teacher in exchange for privates; another helps in her studio’s lower-level classes as a way to pay for her own extra classes. Teachers will work with you if they can.
Make your own “summer camp” experiences.
Take this chance to re-connect with all your non-dancer friends! Be a typical teenager! Sleep late! Take up a new hobby - who cares if it’s weird? No one will judge if you’re crocheting while you binge-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or if you’re truly desperate, you could (gasp) hang out with your family and remember why you like them. Except your little brother. Everyone agrees he’s totally unlikeable.
Know that staying home has its own rewards.
One of my dancers chose to stay home last summer; her parents did not have the resources to spend on a full summer away. They did, however, offer to spend some money on privates for her instead, and she spent the summer dancing down at her local studio, taking all her usual ballet classes, taking pointe classes and Pilates with me as well as working on variations. When fall auditions came at her studio this year, the director called her aside. He said, “I don’t know where you studied this summer but you’ve progressed tremendously. Well done!” You can honestly bloom right where you are planted.
One other advantage to staying home: you are right in front of your director all summer. He or she will see your drive and commitment, and will have you foremost in his or her thoughts when casting comes up for the fall.
So wave sadly goodbye to your friends as they head out of town in June; it’s ok to miss them. Then look around you - you’ve got the entire summer stretched in front of you, and the possibilities are endless.
Did I leave out your favorite part of staying home for the summer? Be sure to post it in the comments below!