Summer is HERE! Is your plan for summer dancing ready? Here are suggestions on how to plan for what age.
First, I’m going to assume you take your dancing seriously. If not, you likely wouldn’t be reading! (If you like to take an occasional ballet class for recreation purposes, you probably don’t need a summer training plan.) And if you only take a ballet class as a supplement for other dance training, your summer training needs should be addressed by the teachers of your primary focus.
But if ballet is your thing, and you have dreams of “going pro,” summer quickly become an important opportunity to massively progress your technique, and you don’t want 3 months to pass away without making use of a more-free schedule to benefit your ballet!
If you are/your dancer is under age 10, focus on having fun and staying active. Your school might offer summer classes. Enroll in those to maintain your flexibility and ballet coordination. Summer can also be a great time to try a new studio for a short commitment. See if you are ready to turn it up a notch by working with a more demanding teacher, or take an extra class or two each week. Shaking things up with a new school exposes you to the progress of another group of peers, corrections and combinations that you may not be used to, and all that is GOOD!
Unless the dancer struggles with hip rotation or has very limited flexibility, class a few days a week for 4-8 weeks over the summer can be sufficient to not LOSE ground. And if you are working MORE often, or in a more serious class, this increased commitment can prepare you to advance and refine your technique more quickly in the fall.
At age 10-12, it’s a good idea to be intentional about maintaining core strength, placement and coordination. You are gearing up for work on pointe, or perhaps have just begun your journey. Newly found strength through your feet and ankles as you work en pointe can be easily lost. Be sure to be in class 2x/wk for at least 5 weeks in the summer AND continue your core and ankle strength exercises you have learning in your ballet classes AT HOME. And if you already have pointe shoes, you can even wear them around the house (with socks over to keep them clean) just to ensure your feet don’t widen or grow out of them by the time fall classes begin again… and if and WHEN they do, you’ll know you need to get new shoes BEFORE that first day of class in the fall).
By age 12, I would encourage dancers to begin to look locally for an “intensive” environment: something for 2 weeks or more where you can dance every day, taking multiple classes each day. If you haven’t done this before, a shorter format is fine: 2 weeks, perhaps 2-3 classes/day. I love taking this smaller bite to see how it sits with the inspiring dancer. If it made him or her happier or more excited to dance, it’s a good sign that it can be ramped up the following year. That still gives you the REST of the summer to make plans for. Be sure, before increasing your dance load, that you stay in shape leading up to an intensive by taking at least 3 technique classes/week. If everything around you is closed, do a daily barre at home and be sure to do some core exercises and stretching.
I’ll mention at this point that it is unwise to not do anything for more than about 2 weeks at a time for a few reasons:
1. As you hit growth spurts, joint mobility and/or flexibility and strength can be difficult to maintain. Breaking for too long makes catching up for time lost all the more PAINFUL and difficult.
2. Advancing ballet technique is created by layering coordination: on top of core placement we layer leg movement, on which we layer arms and head, on which we layer dynamics, speed, and artistry. Without regular maintenance, these layers of coordination break down quickly and dancing becomes less natural and more strained – more like trying to keep too many balls in the air while juggling: to get one thing you’re more likely to drop another.
3. The muscles used in ballet technique are smaller and more specific than the larger muscle groups we use to live and get around, and even do many sports. Ballet may be one of the only ways to best work these specific, refined muscle groups. That means if you aren’t dancing, it is likely you are losing strength.
4. Finally, in a competitive field, it’s good to keep your improvement on pace with your peers. One missed summer may not make or break your chances of getting a job. But it can lead to a sluggish return to normal in the fall, which can put you a bit behind. And if you compound that with 2-3 missed summers, your progression can be set back by a whole year.
Can you EVER TAKE A BREAK? YES! You don’t want to dance so much you feel dread, resentment, or burn-out. Go on vacation. Hang out with friends. Relax. While you are relaxing, stay active and stretch – don’t just sit on the couch. But yes! Take guilt-free breaks!
Back to the run-down by age. At around age 14-15 it’s good to begin exploring intensives offered by professional companies. These become a necessity through the duration of a dancer’s training years (18-22) for a few reasons:
1. They are the first indication of your ability to land a job, and your first toe in the door. Many companies like to hire the dancers they train – it makes their schools look reputable and the dancers will already be familiar with the repertoire and style. So the connection to the company of your choice (even knowing what YOU like or dislike about a certain company’s location, repertoire, or culture), or a connection with a company that likes YOU is a valuable thing to cultivate.
2. Instructors at these intensives are creating the dancers of tomorrow. You will want and need to know how they would improve your dancing if you want to land a job in the next few years.
3. Peers at these intensives are future company members. It’s nice to ensure your skill set is relevant, AND it is wonderful to make friends and connections with other dancers with similar aspirations.
4. These are the best glimpse into the life of professional dancing: long hours day after day, week after week, with lots of different styles, in a highly competitive environment. If you discover at age 15 that the stress of such an environment isn’t good for your body or soul, it’s nice to re-evaluate your goals at 15 instead of discovering at age 18 that professional dancing isn’t for you.
(5. Especially for boys, these Intensives become so critical. Many local schools don’t have male teachers or male peers to demonstrate the necessity for excellence. Boys should go to intensives with male-specific conditioning classes, technique classes taught by male instructors, and men’s classes where they can be in a room full of dancing men. Men must learn how to dance as men FROM men! Even incredibly knowledgeable female instructors simply cannot fill in the gaps.)
(At age 16+ the above advice still applies, but by then, this should not be new info for the dancer! He or she is already on board and doing and preparing for everything I’m talking about!)
Leading up to these intensives, it is SO CRUCIAL you prepare. If you go into them out of shape, your chances of getting injured is significantly higher. Find a way to be in a full ballet class 4-6 days out of a week. Keep your cardio up too (and work extra hard on this if you are attending an intensive in a higher elevation than where you train). If you can’t find any open classes, reach out to a local studio and inquire about renting space to give yourself a full class. (Make sure to jump and turn to BOTH SIDES!) Add to these classes, work and exercises you can do at home.
AFTER the Intensive is a better time to take a week or so to unwind (stretching and staying active as you do). Then you are back in the studio to ensure that your first class of fall semester will be an impressive one (even causing your teachers to wonder, “this kid looks SO GREAT! Do we move them up a level?”)!
Whatever your age, create a plan that provides an opportunity to use a freer summer schedule to invest in your dancing. Your body will be better off for the effort and you’ll have more fun as you progress to be an even more capable dancer!