Choosing the Right Summer Intensive

This was the arabesque photo I used for all my auditions

Summer intensives are important. If you want to become a professional dancer, you can’t just take a summer off. So, no matter your skill level or where you live, audition for summer intensives. The schools can be big or small, but audition and attend. If you’re from a small school, summer intensives are where you can learn more about the art form you’re passionate about. They can also be a chance to try and get into that school for the school year. I came to Boston Ballet through their Summer Dance Program. Before that, I went to Ballet West year round, but first auditioned for their summer program.

This is my second post on summer intensives, so you know that I’m an expert by now ;). Last time I shared tips on how to be presentable at an audition and how to catch the judges’ and teacher’s attention. However, this time I am going to share tips on how to know which summer intensive to attend. To choose you need to know if the teachers liked you, how long you want to dance in the summer, how intense you want to dance in the summer, and if you are interested in the school/company.

In addition to auditioning for Houston, I auditioned for Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), San Francisco Ballet (SFB), and American Ballet Theatre (ABT). These companies are among the biggest in the nation, and all four would look fantastic on a resume, so it was slightly difficult to choose between one or the other. So, what I did was assess the areas which I listed above, and below is part of my thought process in choosing.

The first place I auditioned for was PNB. I auditioned in New York at the SAB (School of American Ballet) studios, and the audition was crowded. At barre I could barely tendu devant because we were so closely packed. Director of PNB, Peter Boal, taught the class, and because I was auditioning next to students from SAB, I felt like I was overlooked because I am not a Balanchine dancer. I got into the program, but only with a half tuition scholarship, which for male dancers is not a lot. I quickly ruled out PNB.

SFB was a much better audition with much less people. It took place in Boston, so I didn’t have to travel, and I was one of only five boys, which is unusual because SFB is such a big company. The teacher seemed to like me quite a bit, though he didn’t hide his favoritism towards one of my classmates. I liked his style of teaching and I had a lot of fun in the audition. I was accepted into the program with full tuition scholarship (dorm scholarship is rare for them to give out). Before I had auditioned, I had heard a lot of great things about them and I was really considering attending. However, their program is only four weeks long, which is short for a summer intensive, and I was looking for an intensive that kept me busy all summer.

ABT gave a pretty good class. I felt like they liked me well enough and I did well in the class. However, I had heard that their intensive was not the best at improving dancers over the summer. I had also heard negative things about ABT’s year round school, JKO (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School). This, along with the fact that they didn’t have dorms and I would have to try and find a relatively cheap place to live in New York over the summer, helped me rule them out fairly quickly as well.

My audition with Houston was an awesome experience. If you want the full details you can read the post “Audition Season 2020.” I was liked by the teacher, the program is six weeks and has a lot of good teachers, and I got full tuition scholarship as well as full dorm scholarship. I had also heard a lot of good things about the Houston Summer Intensive, and so it came down to choosing between San Fran and Houston.

Fortunately I have the luxury of wise teachers I can talk to. So I went up to my teacher, told him about the intensives and my scholarships, and asked him what he thought I should do. Without missing a beat, he told me to go to Houston. So later that week, we registered and I became officially enrolled in the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive.

So again, audition and attend. Make connections, improve your skill, and (one thing I forgot to mention before) remember to have fun!

Enjoy your future summer journeys,

Kai C

PS: This is the parental perspective I’d like to add to Kai’s thoughts:

  1. If your student is younger than 12, summer programs generally are much shorter. At this age, attending one near-by or offered by your own ballet school will be a good way to progress during the summer. Ideally, your school will bring in guest instructors, or you will be able to work with teachers who are unfamiliar to you. This rounds out your dancer, helps him or her learn combinations more quickly, and the student may discover concepts expressed in a new way become more clear. Switching up peer groups can be helpful, and networking with both peers and new teachers is always a plus. When considering local options, the rule of thumb I share with dancers is that if they are the best at any program before they are 17 or 18 years old, they should try a more challenging program. (If you are in the highest level at age 13 or 14, your training will not be helping you progress as it should and could.)
  2. Many ballet companies and programs around the country hold national audition tours (what Kai mentioned above). These not only are an excellent opportunity to work with different teachers and teaching styles, but they also work on the skill of auditioning, which is crucial to a career in dance. These auditions begin early in January and run through the end of March or as late as mid April. You can find audition schedules online and in dance publications. Your studio may post audition tour posters. If you find an audition is occurring near-by, you may consider contacting the school where the audition is held to find out if there are any others scheduled in that school, or ask if they are aware of others in the area.
  3. For dancers age 12 and up, attending as many of these auditions as your budget and schedule allows provides 3 main benefits: as mentioned above it (1) improves the dancers’ skill at auditioning, (2) familiarizes the dancers with various styles of dancing and instruction, AND (3) your dancer will begin to understand what his or her options are and where he or she would like to attend. (Bear in mind that auditioning does not guarantee acceptance. Many programs accept fewer younger students, BUT attending will give your dancer a sense of where she can improve so her chances of acceptance go up the following year.)
  4. Once your dancer has options, I weigh them differently according to the age of the student: For students ages 13 and under, affordability and proximity to home are major factors in what I would recommend. (When calculating affordability of tuition only – not housing – remember to divide the price by the number of hours your dancer will be in class. Some programs look affordable, but may only offer one or two classes/day, or on a few days a week.) When students turn 14, I begin to see acceptance, even without a scholarship, as a foot in the door: perhaps if your student is able to attend, he may prove by his hard work and rate of progression that he is worthy of a scholarship to attend the following year. (That assumes your 14 year old is old enough to be away from home. Before Kai had reached that phase of maturity, we made a summer vacation of traveling with him to PNB, offsetting the cost of taking our family to Seattle by hosting his peers who were also accepted and renting our own home out while we were gone.) If you have a limited budget, you may consider saving, and involve your dancer in earning, what is often thousands of dollars to enjoy this special learning experience. For students with professional aspirations and who are 16 and older (more critical at 17, and crucial at 18), training over the summer with the school of a professional company is most ideal. At this point, I recommend attending wherever enthusiasm for your dancer is greatest – these summer programs are like a farm or recruiting system for future dancers for the company. Many companies don’t like to hire young dancers whom they have had no part in their training, so attending summer intensives as the dancer approaches the end of high school is to open future doors of employment.
  5. Trust your dancer. Even with my professional background, when it fell within the limits of our family’s budget, the choice about where to audition and where to attend was always Kai’s. I often laid out the pros and cons of the programs as I saw them, comparing and contrasting number of classes per day, class sizes, experience of the teachers, and length of the program so that Kai’s decision could be as informed as possible, and I encouraged him to do his own research as well – asking the opinions of his teachers and peers who may have attended one program or another – but the decision was always his. I feel it is important to let your dancers decide because THEIR career they are pursuing.