On Summer Intensives for 11 Year Olds

Summer Intensives for 11 yo at major dance schools can be hard to find. Here are some reasons why that might be, and what to do about it if your 11yo dancer is dying to try one out.

Summer Intensives at elite schools (and often connected to companies) are GREAT ways to explore your dancer’s suitability to a career as a professional dancer. The programs are generally at least 3 weeks long (can be longer), the teachers have danced as professional ballet dancers, dancers train for at least 3 classes/day, 5-6 days/wk, and you must audition into them. They help dancers discover if:

1) They have an interest in the WORK required to dance professionally. Classes are demanding and rigorous: taught by former professionals, they keep dancers on pace to dance in the industry.

2) They have the stamina for the work. Classes are relentless, mimicking the demands of a company schedule: dancers are totally exhausted by the end of the day.

3) They can withstand the competitive nature of dance. This continues even AFTER a dancer lands a contract with a professional company!

As you might imagine, this is a lot to ask of 11yo. It’s likely why this kind of programming is NOT generally offered for 11yo. It’s why I recommend keeping your 11 yo close: in case she doesn’t hold up under this kind of exhaustion and pressure. There are the dance demands, and then there are the maturity demands: navigating relationships with roommates, social pressure, doing his own laundry, ensuring she eats well, maintains your family’s values. Most 11 yo won’t have the maturity to hold it all together AND enjoy the process.

If you have a near-by program that checks some boxes above, they can be great options for 11yo’s. Prioritize getting good training first. THEN get a ton of it. THEN add the competitive component. If you add these a year at a time, your dancer will still NOT be “behind.”

To parents of 11yo dancers, I recommend continuing to maneuver through opportunities with phrases like, “Do you want to try (whatever new and hard thing) and see if you like it? It could be (exhausting/really demanding/too hard/scary) but it would be a great chance to see if (whatever it is) is for you.” If/when he pumps the breaks, respect that MORE than his teachers telling you about her potential or some “amazing opportunity.” If/when she pumps the breaks, try phrases like, “That was a lot for someone your age. I’m proud of you for giving it a go. You might do/feel differently as you get a little older, but we can wait and see.”

There is no way I would have sent my 11 yo dancer away. At 11, he did a 4 day/week, 2-3 classes/day program (Ballet West) while we (mom and sibs) stayed with Grandma. He loved it, so the next year he auditioned into their full intensive and HE stayed with Grandma. Only after he loved it and thrived there did he go away for the summer. (And we joined him at PNB too, but he’s a boy and their maturity tends to lag.)

Don’t let anyone panic you into doing something for your dancer’s career that he or she, as a person, is not ready for or doesn’t find joy in doing. Burn out is real. Beautiful dancers, pushed too hard, too fast sometimes don’t make it as far. Let your dancer call the shots about the opportunities you as the parent are willing to provide.