2012 Summer Intensive Auditions!

Boston Ballet School studentsThe 2013 Summer Intensives list is posted!

REMINDER: Please share your SI stories/reviews at Ballet Talk for Dancers, which archives this info for research by future students. If you are looking for info on an SI, make a free account there and you’ll have more info than you’ll know what to do with!

The 2012 summer audition dates are in! I can’t believe it’s been a year already! Time to start planning your winter audition schedule, and I’m here to help with tips and links for some of the best programs on the continent. Don’t forget to check out every program’s website for supplemental and alternative summer training programs, such as:

  • choreography intensives
  • mentoring programs for one-on-one coaching
  • jazz/contemporary programs
  • collegieate programs
  • recreational programs
  • add-on weeks to boost program length
  • satellite locations

Be mindful of any pre-registration requirements for each audition. And be sure to have your calendar handy! Continue reading

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Is My Class Schedule Pre-Professional?

The word “pre-professional” is thrown around a lot. I mean a lot. There are a huge range of schools in the U.S. that use the word in their advertisements – sometimes when it shouldn’t be.  What does it really mean to be pre-professional? And what is a solid schedule for a pre-professional dancer?

First let’s define this somewhat over-used word. Pre-professional is used to describe dancers who are training specifically for a professional dance career. Pre-professional training programs are designed for dancers who show promise for professional careers. Admittance is typically by audition and these dancers are trained separately from those who train recreationally so that the classes can keep an accelerated or advanced pace. Pre-pro training is also sometimes called vocational training.

So how many classes are enough? How much is too much? Friends, there are many paths to Rome. I am going to lay out for you an ideal progression with an eye towards the female dancer with an above-average natural facility, but there are exceptions to every rule. If you read this and find you are not where you should be, think about what you want to change – and then figure out how to get there! I started late myself by many standards and in a small town. First I had to catch up to those my age, and sometimes I had to piece together a good schedule from multiple schools. Very often it’s up to you to make it happen!

It all begins with the first dance class (after finding a the right school of course!) There are varying philosophies on the age for starting ballet class. Personally I believe that the earliest age for ballet should be seven. In Russia, the national schools accept students for formal training at around ten. Whether starting at seven or ten, by the age of eleven pre-pro students may be taking daily ballet classes. Pilates, Gyrotonics, or another strength and conditioning program can begin at this age too. When I say daily ballet though… I don’t actually mean every day,  I mean six days per week. No dancer should train seven days per week – the body requires a day of rest to rebuild and recover the muscles!

By age 12, well-trained and naturally apt girls should be ready for weekly or bi-weekly pointe training. As a part of an advancing curriculum, character dance is a terrific add-on in this year for beginning to train in expression, acting and a bit of dance history in a different classical dance form. Hours should range between 9-12 per week. Also at this point, it is time to start auditioning for summer intensives. This will help students to get their faces further out in the dance world, network and explore other schools and potential companies.

With the beginner year of pointe behind her, a dancer at thirteen is ready for more classes and more challenge! Pointe should be studied 2-3 times a week now, always split across the week as evenly as possible. (Guys will often start strength training for partnering at this point.) Also the addition of newer dance forms like modern, jazz and hip-hop are great. The body should be technically ready to build off a solid classical base, and adding non-classical forms of dance as early as possible after that foundation is prepared will ensure that you become a much more versatile dancer. (Some extremely traditional teachers believe these classes are at best a waste of time and at worst harmful to classical training. I disagree with that very much.) A typical schedule at this level would be 12-16 hours per week.

By fourteen on this path, training can take 15-18 hours of classes per week. Girls should continue to work towards daily pointe classes by upping their schedule to 3 or 4 pointe classes per week. Increased mental maturity means that variations and repertoire classes can be added to the mix. These classes can be some of the most valuable for a dancer with her eye on a career in ballet. The choreography learned in variations and rep classes often follows a dancer for the rest of her career!

At fifteen, it is time for daily pointe classes… and pas de deux! (Many European schools begin partnering in early character classes and some U.S. school begin as young as 13, but typical U.S. training and also culture makes 15 a better choice here.) Twice weekly is great for pas classes, but weekly is certainly fine. A dancer at this stage should be training for about 20-25 hours a week.

In the last two years of training, cross-training might be introduced. (Think cardio and special exercises done during the dancer’s free time.) Training hours should increase to 24-30 per week. At the same time, performance opportunities should increase as technique becomes more established and artistry takes increasing focus. If you’ve been keeping track, our theoretical dancer now takes daily ballet class, daily pointe class, partnering, character, modern, jazz, hip-hop, variations or rep and a conditioning class – This translates to three to four classes per day, six days per week! And that’s not counting rehearsals (which don’t count towards technique training, in case you’re analyzing your own schedule), which would then be added on at the end of the day. I’m sure you can see why preparing for a professional career is considered such a serious commitment.

Now you’ve got a full-cycle layout of a training load for a pre-professional dancer. Does it sound exciting and wonderful? Or exhausting? Not everyone knows from the start if they want to pursue dance as a career. We can’t all be like Susan Jaffe, who dreamed about being a dancer and was sure from that day on! But if you are considering it, it’s really valuable to know what pre-professional training is like. Not only can you take a look at how much your would-be future competition is training, you can analyze whether you are getting what you need yet… and whether you want it at all!

Summer Training: Workshop, Intensive or Camp?

Summer programs come in many varieties for all sorts of dancers, but they can usually be categorized as one of three types: intensive, workshop or camp. What defines each? Let’s take a look at each type of  program.

  • Camps – Dance camps usually accept a range of abilites and experience levels and offer classes geared less to professional aspirants and more to those interested in dance to expand their life experience and for the sheer joy of it. The focus is usually on improving technique with a few classes a day while leaving time for lots of fun activities and events for socializing and enjoying the summer. These programs can be as short as one week or as long as all summer. Examples of dance camps include Just for Kix Summer Dance Camps, Brant Lake Dance Camp and American Dance Training Camps.
  • Workshops -Workshops can have the same daily intensity as intensives, but they usually last just 1-2 weeks. Workshops often take place in university settings, regional schools or as add-ons to summer intensives. For commerical dancers and students working towards high-level versatility, putting together a workshop tour of multiple programs that span the summer is a great tool for training. Some workshops are dedicated exclusively to younger dancers or for choreographic experimentation. Examples of workshops include the Broadway Dance Center Summer Workshop Series, the Florida State University Summer Intensive Dance Workshop, the Regional Dance America National Choreography Intensive and the School of American Ballet’s Los Angeles Workshop for Young Dancers.
  • Intensives – Summer intensives (or SIs for short) are designed for professionally-oriented students and generally consist of 4-6 weeks of all-day lessons. They can be competitive and are usually associated with professional companies or residency conservatories. SIs may be based off of regional, national or international programs. Examples are the Boston Ballet School Summer Dance Program, the University of North Carolina Summer Intensive, the Harid Conservatory Summer School and the School of American Ballet Summer Course.

Any of these types of summer programs may offer guest teachers for a few days or weeks out of the program. If you are looking for an intensive, notice that the presence of the word “intensive” does not necessarily mean that the program falls within the above guidelines. On the other hand, true intensive programs may choose not to use the word “intensive” in their title. Take the time to look closely at the daily schedule, faculty and duration of each program to decide where each program falls.

How can you decide what type is right for you? That depends on many factors, including your available funds and scholarships, your dance goals and the specifics of the program’s training schedule and faculty. Make a list and consider your realistic goals and desires in dance. At the higher levels, an audition will certainly be in order, which could possibly limit your options.

Don’t assume that higher level programs are beyond your reach financially – I’ve seen many high quality intensives that cost the same as some smaller workshops. But note that the quality of one is not necessarily higher than the other based on cost, size or other single factors.

There are tons of options out there, and I’m sure you already have ideas about what’s ideal for you. If you’re heading to a summer program right now, think about your experience so you can decide if the program worked well for you. Think about what you want next year. There are tons of options out there, and there really is something for everyone. You have the power of choice, so exercise it!

Prepping for Summer Partnering

Partnering in ballet is one of the most exciting classes for many students – but it can be a little intimidating for sure. Students in local schools often find that their partnering opportunities are limited to conventions, rehearsals for specific shows and summer programs. For students seriously interested in ballet who do not have much access to partnering during the year, I encourage attendance at an SI where it’s offered three times per week or daily. (Some otherwise good programs offer it only once or twice a week – or not at all.) When its time to actually take the classes though, the initial excitement may morph into anxiety. What will pas de deux work be like? What if I mess up or can’t do what is asked? What if I don’t like my partner or he doesn’t like me? What if I do like him?

I promise you that you’re not the only one who feels this way. At many SIs, the majority of female dancers you are with will not have much partnering experience. And trust me, the guys are nervous too – they feel a lot of pressure to “be there” for the girls, and the less experienced ones may be very intimidated by those high expectations. Not to mention that they too have worries about getting steps right and getting along with their partners. Everyone is feeling pressure and nerves, but good pas teachers will do a few things to ease the tension for both sides.

First off, the pairing up will start the class. As you get more advanced, teachers may ask students to pair up on their own, but in the beginning and intermediate levels, the accepted practice is to line up the men and women separately by height and set pairs that match in stature. Some men may be asked to take more than one partner and execute each combination once for each girl. Partnerships might be set for the day, the week or the whole summer program.

In order to get the students comfortable with each other and to ease the tension, the teacher will usually start off with some very basic and often fun trust exercises. (This may be the case even with more advanced classes who are working with new partners.) These should also help both the women and the men feel comfortable with where the guy’s hands will be on the girl’s torso and extremeties. This is often done in a humorous, fun way, and you’ll have an opportunity to get to know each other better, experiment with the exercises and laugh-away some of that initial awkwardness.

From there, exercises will progress slowly with some basic hand-held walks and supported bourees. You might feel like these exercises are not what you came for, but as they say: you have to walk before you can run -or be spun and lifted! So don’t be dissappointed if you aren’t whirled around above the guys head in the first 15 minutes. Trust me that you will greatly benefit from mastering these nuanced exercises. And I think you’ll find that holding an audience rapt while gracefully walking across the stage and maintaining a connection with your partner is much harder than it looks.

Combinations will gradually add difficulty, with supported bourrees becoming preparations for supported pirouettes. Walking hand in hand across the floor may evolve into walking into a supported pique arabesque, which may in turn become a supported promenade. Jumps will start with basic entrechats in place and develop into well-coordinated lifts with running preparations. Before you know it, you will be pulling off multiple pirouettes, finger turns and a variety of fun, basic lifts. All in a day’s work for a dancer, right? By the end of the summer, you may be able to try your hand at some more intricate combinations and harder lifts or perhaps a small piece of classical grand pas choreography.

Dance Spirit recently published an excellent article with a collection of the best tips for partnering newbies from established principal dancers. I am loving this article because it gets down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what it’s like to deal with real-life partnering complications like accidentally hitting your partner and the difficulty of attempting to act as if you’re in love with a guy you barely know! Even many advanced students could stand to learn something from reading it; I remember a lot of women in my advanced classes who just loved to wear those tie-skirts with the ribbons out – not a good idea. So check it out for more details on what partnering class are really like and lots of do’s and don’t’s so you can be totally prepared, calm and collected when you get paired with that cute guy from Iowa for the summer!

BalletScoop Visits Dance Advantage for a Guest Article!

If you aren’t familiar with Dance Advantage, you are in for a treat today. I just contributed a teacher’s article to DA about my favorite ballet movies – I hope you’ll check it out!

Nichelle Strzepek makes sure to keep great dance articles coming at Dance Advantage. There’s something for everyone – teachers, choreographers, students and professionals. Click around while you’re there and you’ll find technique tips, dance history, dance news, dance games and way more for students. I always keep a link to this great site on my blogroll for you guys. Enjoy!

Dear CBT: How to Fix Popping Hips?

Dear CBT,

I used to dance. When I was about thirteen I got less serious, and I quit at fourteen. I am sixteen now and getting back into ballet, and an old problem I had is still around and annoying me.

When I extend my leg to the front, there is a point at which my hip will pop. It is not a subtle pop, but one that can make my leg shake and jar me out of alignment slightly for a split second. It’s not violent, but it isn’t gentle. (It doesn’t hurt, it just feels like stuff is getting rearranged. The pop is mostly felt from underneath but isn’t quite in the butt.)

I don’t remember having this problem when I was young and my hips were narrow, so I somewhat suspect that this has to do with the different angle after my hips widened, if that makes any difference. I don’t know if I should be stretching, strengthening, or both, or how to get at the muscles most effectively.

All I do now is sit on the floor with “butterfly legs,” lean forward with a straight back, and slowly straighten my knees while trying to delay the pop as long as I can. The right leg always goes first. I can get it to about half a demi plié’s worth of bend with effort, but just beyond that there is a pop.

What should I be doing to minimize this problem? It’s distracting and uncomfortable, and I feel like it inhibits extension that my flexibility would otherwise allow.

Thanks for your time. 🙂

– Snap, Crackle, Pop

Dear Snap,

I answered this question a while back in email, but I am posting a modified response now due to a recent increase in very similar questions. Hip popping is all too common in dancers. It is usually related to technique problems and overcompensation for a technical weakness through improper placement or alignment. Most of the cases I’ve seen have been tendon rolling over bone. Untreated, it can go from painless annoyance to painful, inflammed hindrance.

The most common diagnosis for this issue is “snapping hip syndrome”, which usually refers to popping on the outside of the leg when the iliotibial (IT) band snaps over the greater trochanter. Massaging the length of the IT band with a foam roller, careful stretching and (if needed) physical therapy can usually correct this problem. I personally battle with this issue, though it goes away when I care for it how I am supposed to!

Hips are complex systems, and sometimes snapping occurs at the front or, as in this case, behind the hip. Again massage and careful stretching can assist by releasing nerve and myofacial tension, though CAUTION must be taken not to massage the direct front portion of the hip without professional assistance, as this area can be very delicate and may be seriously harmed with improper pressure!

Clicking underneath or at the back of the hip to me indicates a possibly more serious issue, as this would imply development of a disability deeper within the hip socket, not around the outside of it. Forcing turnout could cause this sort of issue. In order to better understand these and other variations of hip popping, please read through these articles:

http://dancers.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=22506.

http://www.theballetblog.com/q-a-a/newsletters/117-is-it-normal-for-a-dancers-body-to-crack-and-pop.html

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/uncategorized/16-dancing-smart-newsletter-62008

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/hips-knees/3-dancing-smart-newsletter-122807

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/uncategorized/462-snapping-at-hip

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/hips-knees/379-hip-pops-sounds-of-trouble

http://blog.thebodyseries.com/hips-knees/14-14

I recommend that you also have this page of anatomy handy in order to better understand the info:

http://students.clinicalbodyworkers.com/students/frame_page/muscle_chapter_3_hips.htm

Bottom line, I definitely recommend that you get a professional medical opinion on this from someone that has dealt with dancers before so they can determine exactly what movements are contributing and what technique problems you have that are encouraging the problem. Also, make your teacher fully aware of the issue. S/he should be able to work with you and your doctor to spot alignment and technique issues that may be contributing and help determine whether there is some greater anatomical problem.

Above all, listen to your body. These clicks and pops are direct feedback that your body is being harmed. Please don’t wait until your are in pain to figure out how to stop a damaging progression.