What’s in a (Ballet School) Name?

Whether it’s alphabet soup – SAB, ABT-JKO, SFB, PNB, BBS  – or one-name-celebrity-style – Kaatsban, Joffrey, Rock – major U.S.-based ballet schools often attract young auditionees by their name alone. But what is the actual worth of attending a big-name school? Will it help in your chances to dance professionally? Let’s do a reality check.

The most common misperception about ballet training that I encounter is the idea that attending at a “big-name” school will make or break whether the dancer will be able to secure a professional contract. This is simply not the case. But in order to understand why this is and what can make attending a famous school good, you first need to understand the process of auditioning for a professional ballet company.

The primary concern of most artistic directors when auditioning potential company members is the auditionees dancing ability, plain and simple. For serious consideration for a company position, you will usually need to get invited to a closed audition or a company class. The first step is to send an audition tape package, which may be very similar to an SI audition package, or to attend an open call. Whether you attend a cattle-call (open call) or send a DVD, the primary focus of the initial cut is your dance ability. More often than not, your résumé will just get a quick glance or perhaps not be reviewed at all before that cut.

Once you have auditioned live and in person, the AD (or more likely, the ballet master or mistress), will choose who they would like to speak to or see again. It is usually at this point that only those résumés will be reviewed with any real attention. What’s important to realize from this process is that the résumé is not something you want to count on for getting your foot in the door. The chances of it getting more than a passing glance in the initial stages are very, very small. (That said, your résumé is still an extremely important part of your audition package that should be planned carefully.)

So what’s the point of attending an expensive, famous school in a far-away city if it can’t guarantee you a job – or at least an audition? As you hopefully realized from the audition description, this is all about your dance ability. A high level of technique, artistry and quality of movement are what artistic directors want to see – and a big-name school just might get you there… or it might not.

You see, elite ballet schools across the country, whether big or small, have individualized strengths, features and areas of focus. One school might have small, mostly classical classes that focus on artistry and expression, while another school might have large classes where competition for attention and an apititude in a wide range of dance genres are required. A shy dancer that dreams of performing classic story ballets may not thrive at all in the latter school, but could potentially blossom and find her full potential in the former. The opposite might be true for an outgoing, naturally expressive dancer who is interested in exploring contemporary ballet or mixed-rep ballet companies.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s not at all about the name, it’s about the quality of instruction and finding the learning environment that will best accellerate your dance abilities. What you need at the end of the day is not some mythically ideal resume, it’s an ability to perform in class, auditions and on the stage very, very well. And the school that is going to help you do that is the school you should want to attend, regardless of how recognizable their name is.

In fact, name-recognition can and does prevent some young dancers from getting the best possible dance education. I’ve unfortunately seen more than one student pass on opportunities to train at smaller schools with great reputations for personal mentoring and instead jump on offers at glossy, national-level SIs or satellites. Sadly, these students quickly got lost in the crowd and came home challenged, but not as improved and inspired as they should have been.

There is another important caveat about the largest schools that is important to take into calculation. Whether intentionally or not, they will often take credit for a beautifully trained dancer who they did not truly create. That happens most often when an advanced dancer from a small-town school goes to a major school for a final year of finishing. (Remember Center Stage?) In these cases, the bigger school might indeed transform the dancer from a student into an artist (which the smaller school perhaps could not) but usually have nothing to do with the meat and potatoes of the dancer’s training. Recognizable names attract lots of auditionees, so that some schools are able to recruit dancers that are virtually fully trained and place them in their highest levels. (This is also a great testament to the quality of many smaller schools across the U.S.) Ask yourself how many of the advanced dancers were actually trained by the school’s lower classes.

Finally, for company schools, be sure you are not improperly associating the reputation of an affiliated company to the school. Certain companies only rarely hire from their own school, so that the company could be a completely unrelated picture of the school’s capabilities. You should also consider that a regional company’s school might provide more realistic opportunity for future employment than a national one.

Should all famous schools be avoided as expensive wastes of time? Of course not! Well-known schools have the very important benefit of attracting the very, very best staff. What’s important, though, is to take into consideration the many other factors that are important for good training. There are definitely U.S. schools that have built their huge reputations by simply offering only the highest quality training, however you still must be aware that not all programs are right for all dancers. Think carefully about what you need as a dancer, and then find out where to get it!

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!

Finding The Best College Dance Program for You

Dancing in a great college program gives you the opportunity to refine your dancing to a professional level through one major while preparing for a “back-up” career with a second major – or to continue doing what you love while pursuing your academics. But as a student making plans for dancing in college, you have more to think about than the average teen. What program is right for me? How tough will it be to find what I need from a college program? Can I find the same or better quality training than what I’ve had up to now? Are there programs that focus seriously enough on my dance genre that I can have a chance to turn pro after college? How do I begin researching good dance college programs?\

According to College Matchmaker, which provides links to and info on thousands of colleges, there are 254 four-year colleges in the U.S. with majors for ballet, dance or musical theater. That’s a lot to consider, especially if you don’t even know what you should be looking for. An excellent place to start your planning is by reading through Dance Advantage’s college guide. This section of the DA website provides invaluable information from how to decide what you are looking for in the first place to how to excel once you are there, plus a nice list of external articles and websites to get you well on your way creating and narrowing down your list of colleges.

There is a lot to be gained by pursuing a higher education while refining yourself as a dancer. If you are not sure whether to even continue dancing while in college or whether to skip college altogether and pursue a career in dance immediately, researching your options thoroughly before deciding can give you a more realistic picture so that you can fully assess all the pros and cons.

What makes the “best” college for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your goals in dance, whether you want to get to a pro level via college or go recreational, and what kind of college dance programs are available to you financially. If you have professional contract offers already and are considering accepting one, you should seriously research your options for pursuing your education in that city, though you may not opt for a dance program at all. During your research, don’t get too hung up on terminology for dance programs (B.A. vs. B.F.A, for example). Focus on the instructor quality, the program’s intensity, class offerings, performance opportunities, facilities and of course where the alumni are now. Good programs will require an audition.

Lastly, consider whether to treat your college education and your dance education as separate pursuits, just as you may have done during your high school years. If you have access to a superior dance school, there may not be a college program available to you that will surpass it, so that it is certainly worthwhile to consider enrolling in the dance conservatory or school to continue with dance while taking non-dance college courses. There is a wide variety of quality in U.S. college dance programs today, but for an idea of what to expect, check out this article from Dance Informa Magazine.

As you can tell, there are many, many options to consider even before you start examining college dance programs. But it’s not as daunting as it might seem! Take control of your college future by delving into the articles and links I’ve provided, and before you know it you’ll be well on your way to planning your college career.

Getting Accepted: What Are “They” Looking For at SI Auditions?

Summer Intensive auditions are now in full swing, and I’ve gotten tons of great questions from you guys lately about what the SI adjudicators will be looking for! I know you all sometimes feel a lot of pressure about these auditions, but you should know that the adjudicators will make it as positive an experience as possible. Often, your audition fee will be a “master class” fee, and you will have the benefit of instruction and correction from exceptional teachers during the audition class.

I know what you’re really interested in, though, is the nitty-gritty of how your are being judged. Many factors are considered in your evaluation. I like to divide these factors into two categories: physical attributes and performance attributes.\

By physical attributes, I am referring to the body of the dancer. Dancing is a sport (and of course an art), and just like any sport you must have a body that is physically capable of doing the work required. Your adjudicators will be looking for dancers of a healthy weight who have a suitable physical facility for ballet. By facility, I mean dancers with:

  • Good rotation for turn-out
  • Long, flexible limbs
  • Supple muscularity
  • Balanced proportions
  • An overall good “look”

Of particular interest to auditioners might be:

  • Longer limbs combined with a shorter torso
  • A small head
  • High but strong and controlled arches
  • A touch of hyperextension in the knees

Of course, we can’t talk about ballet bodies without getting to the touchy question of weight. I am not going to sit here and tell you that SIs never accept underweight dancers. Sadly, some SIs might overlook an underweight dancer who is able to hobble through an audition, but these dancers generally do not make it far in ballet (or sometimes even that SI) due to their sheer inability to physically keep up. Without a proper muscular structure and proper food intake these dancers inevitably cannot perform as required. One of the saddest things I saw as an SI student was when dancers were sent home from a program for concerns of being underweight or unable to physically keep up. It goes without saying that being overweight will be similarly inhibiting, and that an athleticly slim figure is often preferred. So the most important thing is to be of a healthy athletic weight, and that means being neither over nor underweight.

Physical attributes are secondary to performance attributes, however, and these attributes include movement quality and the dancers ability to … dance! Performance attributes include:

  • Quality training commensurate with age
  • Good basic placement and core strength
  • Coordination
  • Musicality
  • Proper use of plie
  • Good lines
  • Strong and articulated feet
  • Quality port de bras
  • Extension appropriate for age
  • Strength on pointe, if appropriate
  • Ability to understand corrections
  • Ability to apply corrections
  • Ability to pick-up choreography quickly
  • Style and artistic expression
  • Great mental attitude
  • Passion for and enjoyment of dancing

You probably notice that the first ten items on this list are all related to technique. Remember that these adjudicators are not looking for perfection. In fact, up to the age of about 14, they are giving quite a bit of consideration to the dancer’s potential. If you are lacking in technique due to inadequate instruction for example, you can show through your ability to pick up corrections and choreography that you are very teachable and therefore perhaps an excellent candidate. As you get a bit older, however, adjudicators will be looking for a more finished product. By the age of 17 or 18, you will want to present yourself as a dancer who has most of her technique and movement quality at a professional level. They will want someone at that age to be working mostly on artistry with perhaps some technical fine-tuning remaining to be done.

Do not underestimate the importance of the last two items I’ve listed. Showing your love for dance through enthusiasm for learning and enjoyment of movement can and often does cause an adjudicator to give a student a second, third or even fourth look. Avoid the “deer in the headlights” look at all costs! Be present in the moment, attentive, focused mentally and with your eyes, and remember why you are there in the first place … because you love, love, love to dance!

Merde, ballerinas! May you all have an exciting and educational audition season!!

Dancewear en l’air: The Tie-Dye Camisole Leotard

Looking for something new and fun to wear for rehearsals and auditions? Check out Energetiks AL34, a freestyle and feminine camisole leotard with a tie-dye velvet insert on an empire – remember, that’s “AHM-peer” 🙂 – waist.

This statement-making yet simple leo features a studious pinched V-front and a pinched straight back which keeps the tie-dye accent from making it all look too over-the-top. I just love the look of that pinched straight back, which precisely accents the back muscles.

This limited-edition piece is available in an array of purples, pinks, and reds along with classic black and the cobalt shown here. I would definitely splurge and get the Energetiks tie dye skirt (which I’ll post in un momento) to wear with this fabulous and fun ballet leotard!

Dancers Wanted: Finding Professional Ballet & Dance Auditions

Day in and day out you take class, hear corrections, try to apply them, go to rehearsals, wear out practice clothes and shoes and basically invest countless hours and dollars into your dance education. What’s it all for? For some of you, it’s an excellent way to become physically proficient at a fun sport and art while developing a close group of friends. For others, it’s a stepping stone to your ultimate goal: a professional dance career.

For you special young vocational dancers, I thought you might like a heads up on one of the most vital and constant parts of a professional dancer’s life: Auditions! Auditions may be a part of your career for a very long time, if not all of it. It can be a constant struggle to keep on top of where they are, who’s holding them and what dancers are needed. So in addition to the RSS feeds (on the right) from Voice of Dance and Backstage, I have now added a special blogroll on the right-hand side of this site titled Auditions. Take a look by scrolling down and checking below the regular Blogroll.

On this list, you’ll see links to audition notices from all around the country and the world and links to official audition sites for major dance employers. It’s not all ballet – not every serious ballet dancer finds that there is a place for them or that they even want to be in ballet professionally – but there are plenty ballet auditions as well. I’ll post more in the future about how to enter the exciting but often seemingly scary world of professional dance and professional ballet. As a first step to great exposure in the dance industry, get to planning your SI auditions!

Update: Dance Magazine published a 2011 Jobs Guide in their March issue, and that link has been added to the Auditions list at right. Check it out for the latest company job openings!

Pirouette Perfection with 24 Tips & a Vertiginous Video!

Pirouette help just in time for audition season! You might have noticed that I added a blogroll a few weeks back so you could have access to even more dance articles and resources. (It’s on the side of every page.) I add good new blogs as I find them, but my latest fave is Dance Advantage, which you will recognize from my below post on their Top Dance Blogs competition.

Dance Advantage takes a fun approach to dance student topics like technique, dance programs, performance/competition preparation, dance history, and even professional companies. You’ll love their technique section, which has neat, bullet-pointed summaries of basic and classic technical tips. Their 9 perfect pirouette improvement tips and 15 fantastic turn corrections are sure to help you to understand and stay focused on proper movement quality in a basic pirouette. You have probably heard these tips often from your dance teacher, but it’s great to have a quick reference in print!

Need pirouette inspiration and some more help? I found an excellent video for you from Anaheim Ballet which highlights my absolute favorite theories for achieving your balance point and, thereby, accomplish gorgeous turns:

2011 Summer Intensive Updates!

If you haven’t been regularly checking my recent post on the best SIs, click back over to look for newly added quality regional programs (at the bottom of the post) and additional updated info on individual programs.

Also, Pointe Magazine has posted online two good articles on preparing for this audition season. “Rejected” is one dancer’s story of turning a potentially crushing letter into a motivational tool, and “The August Advantage” is a look into summer intensive extension and add-on programs for advanced, vocational students.

DVD Auditions for the Distance Dancer – Part 1

Uh-oh! One of your top summer intensive choices isn’t auditioning anywhere near you this year, and you can’t travel to them. No worries – DVD auditions are accepted by many national and regional ballet schools. (Though some, like SAB, only accept videos from foreign students.) And with a few tips, you’ll be well on your way to an audition-worthy disk.

This post is in two parts because there are so many tips on this that I’d like to give you. Today, I’ll focus on the content – what you are going to perform for your video audition. In Part 2, we’ll talk logistics, filming style, how-to and putting together the audition packet.

Just as with live auditions, most schools devote at least one page on their website to video auditions: what to wear, what steps to include, what papers to include and how long it should be. Find this for each of your video audition schools and print out the pages for easy reference and comparison. In order to prevent yourself from having to make more than one audition video, read through the requirements of all your schools of interest to see if you can make one DVD to satisfy all of them. Usually, the only time this won’t work is when one school requires a you to send a variation – many schools will not want variations on your video, so you will need to make a separate disks for the two types.

Most schools will simply want a short barre and center class, but with special modifications. If you read all requirements carefully, you will find that most modifications can be combined and do not conflict with each other, so that you can make one class DVD to use for all your auditions. If you can’t however, don’t try to buck the rules. If you need to make different tapes, just go ahead and make different tapes. Run a single taping session and use editing to pick and choose what portions should be included for each school. Then, make darn sure not to mix up those different DVDs.

While some of us (ahem, moi) might make perfectly successful SI DVD auditions without rehearsing, that is not the recommended protocol! I only made my tapes with no rehearsal as a young dancer because I didn’t know any better, and that’s the very reason I created this blog – So other dancers won’t be as clueless as I once was!

You want to decide ahead of time exactly what exercises you will perform, which side you will perform for each, what music you will use for each, etc, and then practice, practice, clean, clean. Make yourself a list so you don’t accidentally forget to perform one during your taping. If you forget to perform a step, it will be impossible to tape a new session and splice it into your DVD without the details of your hair, makeup and background giving away your cheat.

One of your teachers can help you put together exercises that conform with the audition requirements. Make sure to provide them with the requirements well in advance. If all it says is to include barre and center, here are some sample (Vaganova) exercises you might include for the barre:

Pliés – Just do something straightforward like demi, demi, grand, and a port de bras or port de corp in first, second, fourth and fifth.

Tendu – Three battement tendus (from fifth, first, and then fifth again) ending the third one in demi plié. Instead of en croix, perhaps go front, side, back, and then balance in fifth or rétiré before your reversal. I would also recommend using a full port de bras in each direction to show your understanding of the lines involved there.

Jeté – Two quick battement jetés and one pas de cheval, perhaps with the arm in second and ending with a relevé rétiré balance with arms in first or, if you are advanced enough, with a single pirouette from fifth. Perform this devant, a lá seconde, and devant with your inside leg to jazz it up before reversing, but realize how that will change the pirouette directions.

Rond de Jambe – To a waltz: two slow ronds par terre, two quick ronds, degagé to 90 degrees, demi rond at 90 to a lá seconde, one rond de jambe en l’air, demi rond to derrière 90, close fifth. Reverse. Since this is an audition, I would save time and not include a port de corp if you have already included one with your plié exercise.

Frappé – Two (Cecchetti) frappés devant, one relevé, repeat a lá seconde, repeat derrière, then frappé a lá seconde into relevé and petit battements. Reverse and balance in relevé sur le coup de pied before closing fifth.

Adagio/Fondu – Developpé devant, battement fondu simple to 90 degrees en relevé, hold or balance for a moment and close fifth. Repeat a lá seconde. Repeat derrière/arabesque. Instead of repeating to the side, hold the balance in arabesque for the final counts. Do not reverse.

Grand Battement – Keep it simple with two grand battements en croix with arm in third for devant and derrière.

You’ll note that this is a very short barre with few balances and port de corps. Remember that your adjudicators need only a snapshot of a class.

Center should include an adage, pirouettes, petit allegro, grand allegro and pointework for ladies so advanced. Some sample exercises:

Adagio – Beginning croisé, developpé croisé devant, passé through rétiré to attitude éffacé, stretch to second arabesque, relevé to pas de bourée into demi plié fifth, developpé écarté devant, promenade to écarté derrière, relevé and tombé into balancé to the right, devellopé the left leg through sur le coup de pied to chassé croisé en avant on the left and close the right leg back. Repeat left.

Tours – On the diagonal in fifth croisé with right foot front, chasse croisé en avant to prepare. Tombé pas de bourée to the right, piqué to first arabesque, land in fourth position with left leg front, single pirouette en dehors to fourth, double pirouette en dehors to fourth. (Or balance in retiré and then a single pirouette if that better suits your level.) Perform once right and once left, preferably without a break – Just rond the right leg around at the end of right side.

Petit allegro – From fifth en face, right foot behind: Glissade, jeté right, glissade, jeté left, balloté devant éffacé, balloté derrière éffacé, coupé and brush to assémblé side with the left leg, closing back. Peform right and left, with battu on the jetés and assemblé if you are advanced enough.

Grand allegro – Same preparation as pirouette exercise. Sauté first arabesque, glissade, pas de chat, sauté first arabesque, glissade, grand jeté, pas couru and piqué into third arabesque, chasse into grand jeté en tournant entrelacé landing in fourth arabesque, small devellopé through to devant and chassé into chainés, chassé out and into first arabesque a térre.

If you are over 13, you may be required to perform the whole video en pointe in addition to the next section.

Pointework 1 – En face: two echappés changée to second, one to fourth, and one passé through retire; repeat that phrase to the left; pique with the right leg into pas de bourée suivi traveling right, continue into a small circle around yourself, changée fifth in sous-sous, chassé an avant croisé on the left foot and close right foot behind to fifth. Repeat to the left.

Pointework 2 – En diagonale: pique first arabesque, tombé over, coupe under to renversé, pas de bourée en tournant, coupé over on the left foot into piqué pas de bourée closing in fifth position demi plié, and chassé en arriére to croisé devant in prep for left. Repeat to the left.

Pointework 3 –  Piqué turns en diagonale.

Pointework 4 – If you have enough room on your tape, show off any pointe strengths that you would like in a set of 16 or 32 counts. I always added hops on pointe to my audition videos. Fouetté rond de jambes en tournant (foutté turns) are rarely requested, but do include them if they are a specialty of yours.

Remember to finish each exercise cleanly. And check those requirements – San Fransisco and Miami City have very specific DVD choreography specifications that would not be satisfied by the above sample.

If a variation is requested, make sure you don’t include something so long that you can’t also fit your barre and center while accommodating the time limit. Two of my favorite short variations for pre-pro dancers are Bluebird from Sleeping Beauty and Kitri’s (second) first act variation from Don Quixote. Each one is only about a minute, and both feature jumps, turns and pointework.

See? This won’t be so bad. Videos let you a) audition in the comfort of your home-field-advantage studio, b) create exercises that present you at your very best, c) practice the exercises ahead of time and d) take multiple recordings from which to choose your best execution. In the next post, I’ll help you get this awesome DVD made and help you put together your best video application packet.

Preparing Your SI Audition Season

You have reviewed the summer intensive audition tours for this season and know what schools are visiting your area… You have been taking classes for a few years at least and are excited to see what the student audition circuit will be like… Visions of acceptance letters are dancing in your head! But wait – how do you get from sitting in front of your computer to opening one of those promising envelopes?

Preparing an optimal audition season for yourself takes thoughtfulness and preparation. You are going to have to be very proactive and responsible. There are a lot of to-dos, but it’s all very straightforward. And wouldn’t you know, I’ve got it all laid out for you in a nice checklist!

_____ 1. Get organized! Open a Word document and start a numbered list of the auditions you want to attend. Include all of the auditions that you are interested in, even if you’re not sure you can make it. Note the date, time and location (studio and city) for each one.

_____ 2. Rearrange your list by date, placing the earliest audition at the top. Look for conflicts. Inevitably, two good schools will overlap on one date, and you will have to choose between the two. If this happens, take a good look at the schools and talk to your teachers to decide which one you prefer.

_____ 3. Go down your list and ask yourself – What auditions are coming within easy traveling distance of your hometown? Which ones would require significant travel? Are those auditions worth a road trip? Can you get together a group of other dancers for a carpool to some of the auditions that are farther away? Make notes about this for each audition.

_____ 4. Share the list with your parents. Talk to them about your desired audition schedule and which auditions they will drive you to or that you will be allowed to drive to. Mark all of those auditions on your calendar and on your family calendar.

_____ 5. For those auditions that your parents either cannot drive you to (or that you are not allowed to drive to), ask if you would be permitted to go with a friend or with another dance parent. Contact dance friends that might be interested in carpooling and see if they (or their parents) can take you together or with a group, and then put these auditions on your calendar and your family calendar. (If you are unable to get to an audition that you really wanted to attend, don’t worry – a DVD audition is a good alternative. I’ll talk about those in a later post.)

_____ 6. You should now have your final schedule! It’s time to preregister. Quite a few schools have made preregistration available on their websites. Carefully check each school’s site to see if this option is available. Some schools have made online preregistration mandatory! It would be very embarrassing to get turned away for overlooking this step.

_____ 7. It’s time to get prepare your audition materials. Most schools have a page on their website describing the audition requirements in detail. Print out this out for each of your auditions.

_____ 8. Let’s talk about photos first. Each school has unique photo requests that are usually listed on their website, but you will be pretty much set for anything if you take the following shots in pink tights and a black leo (no skirt) with full stage hair and makeup and in pointe shoes (if you are that advanced): 1) a close-up headshot from the collarbone up, 2) full body first arabesque, 3) full body tendu a lá seconde with arms in second, 4) full body favorite pose. Professional photos are not necessary and are not the norm for students, but a teacher may be able to better than a parent for taking photos that show you to your best advantage. A size of 5×7″ is usually preferred. Write your full name and age on the back of each print.

_____ 9. Next is money, honey. SI auditions usually cost between $30 and $35 payable in cash, check or money order. You will have to check the audition information for each SI to find out which payment methods are preferred for each. Be up front with your parents from the get-go about this if you are relying on them to cough up these fees. If they cannot or will not subsidize your auditions (or any other aspect of your training for that matter), you are going to have to decide how important this is to you and, if it is truly important, how you can earn the money you need perhaps by becoming an assistant teacher or offering to clean the studio for your directors.

____ 10. Finally, there’s always random stuff that schools will want. (For example, SAB requires proof of birth at the audition.) You need to carefully read the websites and maybe even make a few phone calls to make sure you collect what you need to have.

You’ll notice that as a student, résumés, professional photos and recommendation letters are not a part of most auditions. Not only that, such materials will often be turned away by schools that do not specifically ask for them.

Now that you have your materials, go back to your list and create an audition packet for each school. Pay special attention to photo size and type specifications, payment preferences and preregistration. If you have read each school’s website carefully, you will be a-okay.

You have now prepared an excellent SI audition season for yourself – Well done! In my next post, I’ll let you know what to do on the day of an audition – and what to expect.

2011 Summer Intensive Auditions!

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR 2012 AUDITIONS.

Here it is: the 2011 audition schedule of the best of the best summer intensives. You don’t want to miss auditioning for these major players. (As you might have guessed, most are affiliated with professional companies.) Check out the tours and start planning your audition schedule for 2011. I’ll be posting soon on how you should prepare your annual SI audition season!

(Want to know what the audition judges will be looking for? Click here for my recent post on that very topic. Accepted to multiple programs? Click here for tips on choosing your SI.)

So without further ado, here’s The List:

School of American Ballet
Affiliated with New York City Ballet: http://nycballet.org/nycb/home/
Summer Course: http://www.sab.org/summercourse/overview.php
Audition Tour: http://www.sab.org/summercourse/national_auditions/audition_tour_schedule.php

Ah, the Big Kahuna of SI auditions, the SAB audition may be the most selective and toughest audition that will tour near your town. High arches and hyperextension are pretty much requisite. Not to fear, while making it into the SAB SI (not to be confused with their LA young dancer’s two-week session) is often the only way to get into their year-round program, it is certainly not the only path to a professional career. This is a must for your audition list, but don’t be shocked if you are one of those who don’t make it. If you do, check out some Balanchine videos to decide if you are interested in being trained at the school, and be forewarned that the highly competitive lifestyle of the program is similar to European state schools like the Paris Opera Ballet School and the Vaganova Academy.

ABT Summer Intensive (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre)
Affiliated with American Ballet Theatre: http://abt.org/
Summer Intensive: http://www.abt.org/education/summerintensive.asp
Audition Tour: http://www.abt.org/education/nationalaudition.asp

This one is also a must for your schedule. ABT and NYCB are the top New York City ballet companies, but they feature totally different techniques and their ballet schools are similarly contrasted. While SAB and NYCB train and feature Balanchine-style exclusively, ABT is accepting of many techniques and has developed its own synthesized training curriculum. Their audition tour is comprehensive, and they offer extension programs in addition to their main New York City program. Be advised however, that while some students who only make it into a satellite are able to get into the elite NYC program in a subsequent summer, the satellite programs are not nearly as revered as the NYC program and are thought to be more on the level of a good quality regional school’s program. This year, the satellites include Detroit, MI; Tuscaloosa, AL; Austin, TX; and Costa Mesa, CA.

Bolshoi Ballet Academy
Affiliated with the Bolshoi Ballet: http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/
Summer Intensive: http://www.bolshoiballetacademy.com/program.htm
Audition Tour: http://www.bolshoiballetacademy.com/auditions.htm

This program takes place in two U.S. locations, Middlebury, CT, and NYC. It is affiliated with the world-famous Bolshoi, and will pay all expenses for 10 select students to attend their SI in Moscow. For more information on the Moscow program, see http://www.bolshoiballetacademy.com/nsli.php. Additionally, two students will be selected to perform in the Academy’s Gala Performance in Moscow, all expenses paid. Highly elite.

Kirov Ballet School
Affiliated (informally) with the Kirov Ballet: http://www.mariinsky.ru/en
Summer Intensive: http://www.kirovacademydc.org/curr/summer_index.html
Audition Tour: http://www.kirovacademydc.org/news/cal_index.html

Audition dates are not yet listed for this prestigious Vaganova technique school, but check back regularly. The fall/winter session is an academic boarding school for dancers. Safe to say this school is one of the top 5 nationally.

Harid Conservatory
No Affiliation
Summer School: http://harid.edu/Summer%20School.htm
Audition Tour: http://harid.edu/auditions.htm

Harid offers some of the most solid training in the U.S. Very competitive school, very superior training. Like the Kirov, the Harid school is an academic boarding school in the fall/winter. Easily a top 10 school; I believe they only accept 50-60 students for the summer.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet School (Canada)
Affiliated with Royal Winnipeg Ballet: http://www.rwb.org/
Summer Intensive: http://www.rwbschool.com/
Audition Tour: http://www.rwbschool.com/pro/Auditions/AuditionTourSchedule.aspx

Just like at SAB and many other top schools, Royal Winnipeg’s summer session serves as the second portion of the audition for their fall/winter session. (The first part of the winter audition is the audition tour.) RWBS teaches the Cecchetti technique and is a partner school of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne. See my earlier post about the documentary TuTuMuch for additional information. Also, check out the School of National Ballet of Canada, a state-funded school with a similar audition process.

Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet
No Affiliation
Summer Intensive: http://www.gelseykirklandballet.org/summer.html
Audition Tour: http://www.gelseykirklandballet.org/academyauditions.html

This very new and very elite school is the brain child of Gelsey Kirkland – if you don’t know who that is, please get your google on and educate yourself! Gelsey envisioned a ballet school that would not only train superior technicians but also superior artists. The focus at this school is on expression and the art of performing story ballets, and the faculty includes legendary master teachers like Gelsey’s former mentor David Howard. You are going to need to have your technical ducks in a row or have exceptional potential if you want to be accepted into this school.

Kaatsbaan International Dance Center Extreme Ballet
No Affiliation
Summer Intensive: http://www.kaatsbaan.org/extreme.html
Audition Tour: (At the bottom of the above linked page.)

This outstanding and selective program takes place in Tivoli, NY, and boasts some of the finest faculty and founders that the U.S. has to offer. When I auditioned many years ago (and was accepted – woohoo!) I believe that they were only accepting 35 students nationally, so it is competitive to enter. The program is for dance students who are deemed truly capable of becoming professional artists. During the program, students are divided into small groups for personal mentoring and coaching.

Boston Ballet School
Affiliated with Boston Ballet: http://bostonballet.org/
Summer Dance Program: http://www.bostonballet.org/sdp.html
Audition Tour: http://www.bostonballet.org/school/summer/SDP-Auditions.html

The Boston Ballet School Summer Dance Program, is highly competitive to enter and provides one of the most elite programs in the nation. Like SAB, this one truly is a must for your SI auditions list… Ok, so I’m a little partial! Once in the program, you will have an opportunity to audition for their excellent school year programs.

Pacific Northwest Ballet School
Affiliated with Pacific Northwest Ballet: http://www.pnb.org/default.aspx
Summer Course: http://www.pnb.org/PNBSchool/Classes/SummerCourse/
Audition Tour: http://www.pnb.org/PNBSchool/Classes/SummerCourse/#AuditionTour

Possibly one of the top ten ballet schools in the country, PNB School in Seattle is without question worth your audition time. Famous for accepting a young Jenna Elfman into their program, they do tend to often favor taller blondes.

San Francisco Ballet School
Affiliated with San Francisco Ballet: http://www.sfballet.org/
Summer Summer Session: http://www.sfballet.org/balletschool/summersession.asp
Audition Tour: http://www.sfballet.org/balletschool/summersession/auditions.asp

San Francisco Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet are the two most prestigious ballet companies on the west coast. This is definitely a top ten school and one for your audition list.

Joffrey Ballet School (NYC)
Affiliated with three pre-professional touring companies: http://www.joffreyballetschool.com/touring-company-overview.html
Summer School: http://www.joffreyballetschool.com/summer-program-auditions.html
Audition Tour: https://thriva.activenetwork.com/Reg4/(S(jsm3oejrjzusn255awyuda45))/Form.aspx?regkey=RpYOYPxE378wNjTYCkFkMw%3d%3d

As the original school of the Joffrey Ballet when it was still in NYC, I understand that it holds no formal affiliation with the company today, but does enjoy an informal linkage. Many graduates of the NYC school have gone on to professional careers with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. This is a highly competitive and historically prestigious school, easily in the top 15 nationally. Receive training from outstanding former dancers and master teachers like Gelsey Kirkland while experiencing NYC life. In order to see the audition schedule, you will need to select the programs of interest while creating a free account at the above link.

The Rock School for Dance Education
No affiliations, though formerly attached to Pennsylvania Ballet
Summer Ballet Intensive: http://therockschool.org/summer/ballet_intensive
Audition Tour: http://therockschool.org/summer/audition

The Rock usually has one of the more comprehensive tours, so if you are in a state that isn’t visited often by major schools, you may be pleasantly surprised by this one. The Rock is a great beginner audition because usually they do not have a limit on how many students they accept. In other words, if there are 20 students from one city that they like, they will invite all 20 instead of having to cut it down to fit a set acceptance limit. If you’re good, they will accept you. Also, they are somewhat flexible on body type. If you love Balanchine style but were not accepted to SAB, Rock is an excellent possible alternative for you. In addition to the SI, check out the very selective coaching intensive at http://therockschool.org/summer/coaching_intensive.

Miami City Ballet School
Affiliated with Miami City Ballet: http://www.miamicityballet.org/
Summer Program: http://www.miamicityballet.org/school/summer_program.php
Audition Tour: http://www.miamicityballet.org/school/admissions_auditions.php

Even before Alex Wong made it big on SYTYCD, Miami City was a highly revered ballet company and school. If you love Balanchine technique, this is an excellent alternative to SAB. Very competitive.

Joffrey Ballet Academy of Dance
Affiliated with Joffrey Ballet: http://www.joffrey.com/
Summer Intensives: http://www.joffrey.com/academy/programs/summerintensives
Audition Tour: http://www.joffrey.com/academy/programs/summerintensives

Joffrey Ballet’s Chicago home is the site for their Chicago Academy’s summer intensive. See above for the famed NYC Joffrey Ballet School summer info. Joffrey Academy is pretty flexible on body type acceptance, even more so than the NYC version I believe.

Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet
No Affiliation
Summer Program: http://www.cpyb.org/summer-programs/5-week-summer-program
Audition Tour: See Below

Marcia Dale Weary is a true teachers’ teacher. She has turned out countless professional dancers and contributed significantly to pedagogical study. To apply to the CPYB Summer Ballet Program, fill out the form at http://www.cpyb.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/2011-5_Week-Summer-Ballet-Program-Application-1110.pdf.

There are countless very worthwhile SI’s hosted by regional companies and schools. I’d recommend that you check out these links to good quality regional SIs: Alvin Ailey, Anaheim BalletAtlanta Ballet, American Academy of Ballet, Ballet Austin, Ballet Chicago, Carolina Ballet, Cary BalletFestival Ballet of Rhode Island, Goh BalletHouston Ballet, Julliard, Kansas City Ballet, LINES BalletLong Beach BalletLouisville Ballet, Maryland Youth Ballet, Milwaukee BalletNashville Ballet, Nutmeg Conservatory, Orlando BalletPittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Texas Ballet TheatreVirginia School of the Arts, Walnut HillWashington Ballet.  In the U.S., there are good quality SI programs in nearly every major city. Compared to the national-level programs I have featured, these good quality second-tier schools accept more students, are often willing to overlook technique in favor of very good potential and are more accepting of different body types. Additionally if you are not quite competitive at a national level but are getting old enough to start planning your professional career, regional schools and companies may be a smarter choice for you in order to look for potential work opportunities.

For a complete list of all of your SI options (but with only basic data and contact info), check out Pointe Magazine’s summer intensives audition issue (Dec 2010/Jan 2011, available now) or their online summer study guide. Currently, Pointe has yet to update their online guide, but things don’t change that much from year to year, so you can check it out now to get a feel for things and check back later or buy the print version for the 2011 info.

Update: Comments are now closed for this post and for those older than 90 days. However, you are invited to comment on newer ones. Just visit the home page to see the latest posts! If you are looking for advice on choosing the right SI for you, read this post and comment there if you need further info. If you are looking for 2012 information, look for my 2012 list this fall. Thanks!

The 2011 SI Audition Season is Here!

People, it’s time. Time to get prepared for the 2011 Summer Intensive audition season!! For serious dancers – whether aiming for a pro or college career out of high school, summer intensives with top schools are a vital part of thorough dance training. And top SIs do not admit students without an audition.

There are a lot of considerations that dance students and their families should discuss before an SI is chosen. We’ll get into those in another post. Focusing on the audition season itself, you need to know that even if you are 100% positive that you will not be able to attend an out-of-town summer intensive, it is still an absolute must for you to attend the summer intensive auditions that tour to your town. Why?

First off,  the more experience you have taking part in auditions, the better. Auditions are a way of life for dancers, and getting comfortable with the process is best accomplished by experience. You should consider auditions to be a vital part of your dance education.

Secondly, the audition results can give you an idea of how you are progressing. Are you good? How good? It can be nearly impossible to get a feel for your own talent and technique just from taking daily class at a small-town studio. Finding out what major schools are interested in you – and which ones aren’t – can help you understand how you are perceived and what kind of potential you are thought to have.

In addition, you will have a chance to be seen by top companies and schools who may recognize you next year if you are unable to attend the SI but do audition again. Often, SI schools send the same few people to the same cities, so that the Tulsa team, for example, will be fairly unchanged year after year. If you stood out at all, you may have made an enough of an impression with the adjudicators that they remember you from the prior year. You’d be surprised how often this happens and how much it can help with your training career.

For dancers located in areas without access to the very best schools, summer intensives can be their only access to opportunities to be trained by national master teachers, to be taught by professionals currently dancing with top companies, to meet other serious young dancers, to be seen by artistic directors and to devote a whole month or more of full 8-hour days to their dance training.

Summer is often the only time a young dancer has when time is not split between school, homework and other activities. Those dancers who do not take advantage of this time – even by attending just a local dance intensive – are not only wasting an opportunity to focus on dance without distraction; they are creating large developmental gaps between themselves and their many peers who do attend intensives.

These are just a few of the reasons that you should make SI auditions an annual part of your training process. In the next post, I will be providing links to audition tours and websites for the best of the best in SIs. Take a look, and start planning your 2011 audition schedule!

Ballet in College = Smart Ballerina!

Still deciding whether to go to college before trying to have a dance career? You’ve gotta read this article from the recent issue of Pointe Magazine!

I’m a huge proponent of dancing in college before taking on a career – and of doubling your major so you can have a marketable non-dance career track available. The refinement and maturity that a good college experience provides combined with a respected dance program experience can make the difference for your dancing between student-quality and professional artist-quality.

Going to college before you invest time and money in pro auditions is a very smart move for many reasons. Just ask any of the dancers in the feature article or professional dancer Lindsey Fitzmorris, graduate of SUNY Purchase and official graphical image of BalletScoop!

Dance Unions & Contracts: Meet AGMA

AGMA is the American Guild of Musical Artists, and if you’re thinking of dancing professionally, you could one day be a member. AGMA is a union of professional performing artists, including musicians, opera singers and dancers. AGMA negotiates contracts with performing companies, administrates retirement funds, posts auditions and hosts a relief fund for members in need.

If you are interested in dancing professionally, you might like to check out this page to review AGMA union dance contracts of some major companies for the current and recent past few years.

Tis the Season – for Casting Stress!

Fall audition season is wrapping up and cast lists at tons of schools are either in the works or already posted. Welcome to casting season! Have you been waiting with bated breath to scan your school’s bulletin board for your name? Do you already know what parts you’ll be working on this year? Is it stressing you out? How are you dealing?

You know casting season can be tough. After a year of hard work and maybe a summer intensive or two, a lot of students dream of solo or even lead roles, but not everyone is going to get what they want. If you are still waiting for your cast list to be posted, how should you deal with the pressure of the wait?

When you start thinking about that elusive cast list and all the “what ifs” that you cannot control, turn your mind to the things that you do have control over. Ask yourself, what should I be working on in class to keep improving? What are my goals for this year? Most teachers will be more than happy to talk to you one-on-one about what you need to improve most and how to go about focusing on those issues. Working on strengthening specific areas of your dancing will help you to continue on a path to success regardless of how the casting turns out.

Have you already found you name up on the casting list? Did you get the parts you hoped for? If not, are you motivated to work harder? Or are you busy picking apart the students who got the roles you wanted? If the second one sounds like you, it may be time to take a deep breath. Casting season is often when rumors about favoritism and politics take hold and may start running rampant among students and even – shockingly – among parents. Don’t get caught in this spiral. All it will do is keep you from focusing on you and how to get where you want to be.

I know it can be hard – especially if you have friends or even parents telling you that you deserved the role that Suzie got, but I promise that 99% of the time, casting decisions are made with careful attention to countless factors. For example, different students need different treatment at different times in their growth – Sometimes a students needs to be pushed to handle a solo role, and sometimes they need to be pushed to learn how to dance as a team member or team leader in the corps. Once again, the solution is to shift the focus from other students back to yourself. Focus on your dancing, what you need to do to move forward and how you can work on things that might be holding you back.

Finally, if you got that coveted role you’ve been dyin’ for – Congratulations! But remember, the work doesn’t stop here. An important solo or lead role can mean much longer rehearsal hours and a tougher standard that you need to meet. A lot more may be expected of you than you’ve had to deal with before – and you’ll still need to get all of that homework done! Take advantage of the guidance that your teachers and directors can provide.

However the casting chips may fall, remember congratulate yourself for working hard and getting through a competitive audition process. And get ready to rehearse your butt off!