Affording Summer Intensives

My post on the subject in a Facebook group became so lengthy, I decided it was worthy of a post. 🙂

On the subject of affording summer intensives (because this was far too long for a comment on another post) from the perspective of a former professional ballerina who was the oldest of 9 from a poor family, a mom of an aspiring dancer, and a current ballet teacher:

Should the summer intensive be a financial priority for your family? You need to answer yes to the following questions:

1) Is your dancer age 12+ currently dancing nearly every day? (MAYBE at 12, 5 days a week is OK. Four days IF he/she at age 12 has multiple classes on a few of those days.)

2) Does your dancer’s happiness INCREASE as their time in the studio increases? (They may be doing one class 5 days a week, but does the thought of doing TWO classes 5 days a week make them feel excited or overwhelmed?)

3) Does their ability/maturity/desire exceed the capacity of local options to meet their needs? (ie: are they the best at their school/in their level? Or perhaps they are not the best yet, but do their ultimate goals out-pace the skill and experience level of their local teachers? If not, there may be more affordable options closer to home.)

4) Is a professional career their top priority? (I’m an advocate of a balanced life. But it should be the PARENT reminding the dancer to not neglect family or an education, for example, and NOT the dancer saying, “but I also want to XYZ.” If your kid is fretting that they’ll not get to hang with friends over the summer, or miss the family camping trip, they may not NEED to go, whether or not they otherwise think it would be fun and YOU can afford it.)

5) Do you see your dancer doing dance homework? (NOT watching dance on youtube. NOT dancing around the house. Actually stretching and doing exercises EVERY DAY?)

There are LOTS of kids who like the idea of dancing professionally. But you have to want it like crazy. You have to LOVE 6 hours in the studio EVERY DAY. It’s so incredibly competitive that if you aren’t ALSO working on your own, the job will go to someone who does. When faced with that reality, many kids discover they don’t want the WORK of dancing professionally. And if they don’t, they don’t REALLY want the job. (Notice I have not mentioned what their peers will be doing, nor have I mentioned what their teachers suggest. A teacher’s job is to advocate for the progression of each dancer. And YES, if your child doesn’t attend a summer intensive when all their peers are, it IS likely he or she will be “behind” in the fall. But there is no race to a job. Most companies simply won’t employ kids – dancers younger than 18 – so you may have time to gain that improvement. And no one makes it to the pros because it’s what their friends are doing anyway.)

BUT if you answered yes to all of the above, here are some thoughts on affording things:

1) Ask the program about financial aid. Many have an application process whereby you may qualify.

2) See if your dancer can earn extra money by teaching or being a teacher’s assistant to younger kid classes. This will not only make them a better dancer, but IF they dance professionally, teaching experience helps them with a smooth transition into a post-performance career. (If they don’t have classes, could you create a camp?)

3) Start a go-fund me account, approach local businesses about sponsorships, drop other costly commitments from your dancer’s schedule.

PLEASE INVOLVE YOUR DANCER IN THE FUND-RAISING EFFORTS. On my own path to a professional career, I saw too many dancers who were miserable in the grind of their training but who felt they could not quit because their families had sacrificed too much. Your sacrifice, while offered with love and hope, can lead to causing your dancer to feel trapped in a life which doesn’t bring him or her joy. Don’t burden your dancer by jeopardizing your family’s well-being.

Finally, because housing is often more than 1/2 the expense, here is what my parents have done, and what I have done to support my dancing son:

1) My mom would reach out to the congregation local to my program to ask if anyone from our church could house me. While I didn’t get to be one of the cool kids in the dorms, I knew without this option, I could not have gone at all. And as I got older, I grew to deeply appreciate this support network which expanded beyond my ballet-focused peers.

2) When my son trained for a year in Boston, I discovered that there are host family businesses. Generally they focus on foreign exchange students, but if you can find these companies, they have access to families with experience hosting youth and these were often more affordable than dorms/rent.

3) Contact the school/program and ask if there are local families who would be willing to host an extra student. For older students and depending on the city, rent can be less expensive than dorm costs. Ask the school or program if they are aware of other students who could share rent/an airbnb.

My dancing son (with eyes closed), his dancing buddies, and the sibs and hubby about to embark on an adventure in Seattle. (2017)

4) Our experience in Seattle/PNB: My son was accepted but dorms were $1k above tuition (if I remember correctly). Anyway, I forget the connection now, but we found a family who was willing to rent us their home for 5 weeks while they vacationed. It was still crazy expensive ($6k for 5 weeks?) BUT my son had two kids from his school who also couldn’t afford the dorms. I offered to act as host mom, they chipped in a reduced cost for rent and food over what the dorms would be, and I drove my whole family (including my 3 younger kids) to Seattle. I drove the boys and shopped and cooked for them. During the day while they were in classes, I took my little 3 to adventure in the city. My husband, working at home, moved in with his parents so we could rent our own home on Airbnb which also offset costs. In all, I believe my family spent $1k on housing in Seattle for 3 kids, 3 dancers, myself and my mom (who came to help before my husband could take vacation time). This was my first exposure to going big on creative solutions. Since that time I have also found:

5) (this provided housing for us over one of the summers in Boston for much, much less than an Airbnb), and With either of these websites, you DO NOT need to have people stay in YOUR home. My experience has been that exchanges ARE difficult to find and arrange. 

6) BUT I have seen miracles again and again. I know it was God helping me as a poor kid, to enjoy the opportunities I did, and I’m certain God has helped my family be able to support my son in his professional aspirations. So finally, I must add: PRAY. (And if you aren’t a person of faith, nothing like a powerful miracle to change that! God is in the details!)

Hope this was helpful, and GOOD LUCK!!!