You be the Judge: Choosing Your SI

Have you been accepted to more than one SI? Congratulations! If your parents are considering allowing you to attend but you (or your parents!) are feeling clueless about how to choose one, read on to hear how to find your best summer training experience.

During your SI auditions, not only are the judges assessing you – You should be assessing them as well. Often, the audition is the first stage of substantive contact that a student has with a potential summer intensive school. Whether or not the audition class is also a master class, you should be able to get a feel for the teacher and whether they represent the kind of school you would like to attend. Ask yourself these questions during the audition:\

  • Are they working from a technique that I enjoy and want to learn more about?
  • Is the teacher/auditioner likeable and someone that I would like to be around for six weeks?
  • Is the teacher good at managing the class?
  • Does their audition process foster a professional and efficient learning environment?

You can extrapolate a lot about a school from your audition experience, just the same way that they are extrapolating a lot about you from the same brief encounter. Not every student is the right fit for every school – and vice versa! The audition is both their opportunity and yours to assess whether your talent and level will be best cultivated in their environment.

Nowadays, acceptances are more quickly available than ever. Many SI programs will post them online. Once you know what your options are, it is time to employ your power of choice. Using your audition experience and an easy activity, you can ge a clearer picture of your favorites and not-so-favorites. Before assessing the schools who have accepted you though, you need to take some time to decide what you are looking for in a school.

Because consistency in training is absolutely essential for younger dancers, I recommend that dancers stay with their home studio until they reach 13. For students between the ages of 13 and 15, I recommend that SIs be chosen first and foremost for individual attention and nurturing developmental environments, like many rural, suburban and smaller regional programs offer. Conservatory SIs are excellent for this and have the added appeal of offering a taste of their year-round program. Also for younger dancers, splitting the summer between two different programs can be a more realistic option than for older dancers.

From the age of about 15-17, I recommend that students push themselves to attend more competitive programs, perhaps in urban areas farther from home where there may be greater chance of exposure to directors/choreographers and increased development of the students personal responsibility. When the students get to the age of 17 and older, I recommend that they seek out programs that are commensurate with their ability in terms of potential employment – so no SIs without professional affiliations unless they are specifically looking to enter a conservatory year-round. I also recommend that students give special consideration to programs extending scholarship money, which may mean the company has interest in potentially employing the student in the future. At any age, if the student is interested in a conservatory prep school, the appropriate SI should be chosen in order to serve as an audition for the year-round program. (Don’t know whether you want a company school or conservatory? Check out this great article from Dance Magazine.)

Once you’ve decided what kind of program you need, create a spreadsheet or handwrite a chart with your SI options listed down the left side of the page. At the top, make columns with these headings:

  • Techniques:
  • Audition Experience (Poor/Average/Excellent)
  • Location (Rural/Suburban/Urban)
  • Distance from Home (Close/Mid-range/Far)
  • Supervision (Tight/Medium/Light)
  • Environment (Nurturing/Average/Competitive)
  • Class Sizes (Small/Average/Large)
  • Teachers (Good/Excellent/Unknown)
  • Pro/Prep Programs (Trainee/Apprentice/Conservatory)
  • Level (Local/Regional/National)
  • Reputation (Good/Excellent/Top)
  • Scholarship Offered (Yes/No)
  • Performance Opportunity (Yes/No)

These list is not exhaustive, so be sure to make columns for features of interest to you that I may not have included. Next, indicate the response that you prefer for each feature. For example, a young student leaving home for the first time and her parents might want the options I’ve placed in bold here:

  • Techniques: Cecchetti Ballet, Partnering, Modern & Jazz
  • Audition Experience (Poor/Average/Excellent)
  • Location (Rural/Suburban/Urban)
  • Distance from Home (Close/Mid-range/Far)
  • Supervision (Tight/Medium/Light)
  • Environment (Nurturing/Average/Competitive)
  • Class Sizes (Small/Average/Large)
  • Teachers (Good/Excellent/Unknown)
  • Pro/Prep Programs (Trainee/Apprentice/Conservatory)
  • Level (Local/Regional/National)
  • Reputation (Good/Excellent/Top)
  • Scholarship Offered (Yes/No)
  • Performance Opportunity (Yes/No)

Once you’ve decided what your preferences are for each feature, fill in the boxes for each school by reviewing the information made available by the school website, in the brochures and if necessary by phone call. Once you have everything filled in, look at what schools have all of your preferred features and which ones are easily ruled out.

It may not be possible to find all the information you need from the school’s publications. If you are looking for real dancers’ and parents’ descriptions of the particular SIs that you review, check out my favorite resource for chatting on all things ballet, BalletTalk for Dancers. Create a free account to view their substantial and comprehensive message boards for virtually all 2011 Summer Intensives. All BalletTalk message boards are moderated by respected ballet professionals.

These activities should narrow your list considerably and give you a better understanding of what you want to get from your summer investment of time and perhaps significant money. The idea is to find the best program for you personally – what’s best for you might not be what’s best for your friend – but don’t stress if you end up with more than one awesome SI option. That’s a good thing! Most known SI programs offer great instruction in a safe environment, so there aren’t many wrong answers when it’s time to choose. And the sheer number of hours you will put in at such a program will virtually ensure that you will see some very decent improvement over the summer. With a little bit of research and effort though, you can help to ensure that you won’t just be headed to a great summer intensive – you’ll be headed to the program of your dreams!

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6 thoughts on “You be the Judge: Choosing Your SI

  1. brookeann says:

    I am 15 years old and I have been dancing ballet for about 2 years now . I have ballet 2x weekly which adds up to 5 hours and also have modern and jazz which is another 3 1/2 hours of dance.I will be beginng pointe this jan. I am interested in auditioning for Joffrey ballet school NY, san francisco ballet, Orlando ballet, Boston ballet, and possibly washington ballet. I have never auditioned for anything so i’m nervous and was wondering if you would think I would have any chance of getting accepted into any of these.

    • ClassicalBalletTeacher says:

      Hi BrookeAnn. I’m sorry but I don’t have an answer to your question – I simply cannot evaluate you without seeing you. At 15, you are behind the curve in training generally, but that shouldn’t stop you from reaching for greater heights. I would like to see you increase your training hours.

      That said, it is never a bad idea to go for something that you want and take a chance. Best case scenario, you get into a fabulous school and have an opportunity to attend a solid program that can help you catch up. Worst case scenario, you don’t get into any of them but you’ve still gotten to meet and see other dancers your age to get a feel for your own accomplishments so far, and you will also have valuable audition experience under your belt that will serve you well in the future by making you more comfortable with the whole audition process. I had some great auditions and some terrible auditions during my training, but I never once left one thinking I’d have been better off not going. Just go for it, enjoying your dancing and try to learn from everything you see and hear. Best of luck!!

  2. Pey says:

    I’m a 15 year old girl finishing my 9th grade school year this year, about 5 feet tall, long limbs that hyperextend, short torso, thin, flexible, and have a great turnout, extention, tendu and high arches. I have been training in ballet since I was 3 years old. I have auditioned for Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Interlochen summer intensives. I believe this is my time to be sent off to a ballet school, many different teachers have told me this. I cannot decide between the two (in hopes that I make it through to both programs) and I’m having a hard time figuring out which is best for me. I would need a scholarship, do you know which school I’d have a better chance of getting a scholarship for year-round schooling? My academics are great, and schooling is very important to me. I want a program that will push me, be concerned on my nutrition and health, will care about schooling, and will benefit me most in the long run. Do you have any input or idea of where I should go from here? Or maybe another school and intensive that might be an even better fit for me? Please let me know! Thanks!

    • ClassicalBalletTeacher says:

      Hi there. It sounds off the top of my head that RWB is more suited to your needs, but I’ve heard great things of Interlochen. I just don’t know much about whether it would fit within your parameters there. You might want to look into Walnut Hill (expensive if you don’t get a scholarship though), Nutmeg Conservatory, Harid Conservatory, National Ballet of Canada, North Carolina School of the Arts, Kirov Academy of Ballet, The Rock School, South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Idyllwild Arts Academy. You should be able to find information on other dancer’s experiences at most of these programs by visiting the proper forum at http://www.dancers.invizione.com.

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