Ballet in Film: First Position

Have you heard the buzz about First Position? This widely anticipated documentary follows six Youth America Grand Prix competitors. Director Bess Kargman’s experience as a ballet student is apparent in the footage, which films dancers with a real understanding of what makes dance movement something worth watching.

First Position premiered in Toronto earlier this month and is headed to film festivals in Boston, Vancouver, DC and New York City. A handful of stunning and intruiging trailers have been released, including this must-see extended version:

Youth America Grand Prix is the largest and probably best-known student ballet competition. Dancers compete for scholarships at international-level schools such as The Royal Ballet School and La Scala Ballet Academy, higher education scholarships at colleges such as Julliard and even apprentice or corps positions with world-class companies. Even those who do not medal are vying for the opportunity to be noticed by some of the most important and influential decision makers in dance today. Winners at YAGP often go on to rise to the highest levels in companies around the globe.

The stakes are high at the Youth American Grand Prix, but as YAGP founder and artistic director Larissa Saveliev reminded in an interview with Dance Magazine, “The medal doesn’t mean anything. We try to send that message as often as we can. The most valuable experience is the preparation for competing. It’s one thing when you take class and another when you rehearse a variation. And you have to learn as a dancer to able to perform under pressure. But when you are able to overcome your nerves, no audition will be a big deal.” Like the tagline says – Ballet is not for sissies.

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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!

Dancewear en l’air: The Sleek Samurai Leotard

In the immortal words of Miss Piggy, “Hiya!” Yes, whether sheerly for clever marketing or from genuine inspiration, Bloch has created what they call the Samurai leotard, model L2042. But a cool name is not the only thing to like about this ensemble.

Constructed from a “microlux” blend,  the smooth surface is shaped into a curvy silhouette with wide-set and very short cap sleeves. A perfectly placed U back finishes the cut, mimicked by an open metal ring set into the left side of the wide neckline. Placement of the ring creates subtle ruching and a modern, slashed V-neck.

Available in red, black and two pastels, I’d opt for red or black to support the edgy feel of this leo. I’d pair that with black footless tights and a high bun for a look that says… HIYA!

Dear CBT: Choosing My Daughter’s SI

Dear CBT,

In choosing between the NYC and Georgia Joffrey, Point Park University and CPYB, what do you recommend? My 14 year old will also be doing a 3 week instensive at her own studio in August, so no summer vacation for us if we send her to CPYB’s 5 week program.  How would you rank these options?  I don’t want her to over exert herself, but I’d like her to make notable progress this summer.  Thank you for any insight you might offer.

Undecided Parent

Dear Undecided:

I received a bounceback from the email address you provided, which is why your message is being posted.  I understand your desire for your daughter to improve without overexerting herself, but keep in mind that she’s probably not going to improve much if she does not push beyond her comfort zone a bit! The whole idea of summer intensives is that the dancers, devoid of school obligations, can devote double or triple the time to dance that they normally would. Of course you do not want to push her past what her health can handle, but six or eight weeks of dance will not over exert the average healthy dancer if they are kept properly fed and hydrated.

The conservatory-style programs you are considering are all very good. Your selection should be guided by your goals for your daughter. I will not rank the programs for you, but I will let you know what I know of them so you can decide which one aligns best with your daughter’s goals. Please read through Choosing Your SI and take full advantage of the resources I link there.

Point Park is a small program that has actually has had some success sending its year-round students into professional work on Broadway and in modern dance, though I don’t know if its had any success training professional ballet dancers. I understand that its summer session is comparable in intensity and hours per day to many bigger name programs. I don’t think dancers as young as your daughter can board with the other students there, however. Joffrey NYC has a great ballet program, though they also require modern and jazz. NYC is the most revered location. CPYB has an excellent ballet-focused program that also offers other classes but is really known for honing classical technique in ballet students.

Good luck with your selection. I hope your daughter has a wonderful summer.

Spendin’ Cheese: Affording Your Passion for Dance

Unless you’re regularly receiving full scholarships for your dance tuition and sponsorships for your dance gear and other expenses, you may have heard your parents grumble more than once about the high cost of paying for your ballet (or jazz, or contemporary …). There are lessons, shoes, practice clothes, travel expenses, costumes and many other items to pay for in order to keep you in training.

First, the bad news: Your parents are right to question the worth of your many dance-related expenses. Don’t underestimate how burdensome it can be to support this kind of training on an average family’s salary. Good dance training and supplies cost serious money – often thousands and thousands of dollars each year. A proper dance education is a financial extravagance, and raising a family is financially challenging enough without this additional expense.

Some dancers are fortunate to have parents that can – and zestfully do – contribute to their talented offsprings’ pursuits, but more than half of the aspiring dancers I have known came from average financial backgrounds. So how can you make it all work? What do you do if your parents threaten to stop paying for your training?

There is some good news…

YOU can help.

That’s right, you probably have a lot more influence over this situation than you might think. There is a way that you can ease the financial burden, impress your parents with your dedication to your dancing and encourage them to contribute to your training. How you ask? By working!

Ok, ok, don’t click away just yet. Working doesn’t have to mean slaving away at American Eagle for a few bucks an hour. Though that is certainly an option! (Ah, the zen of folding a gazillion skinny jeans into neat stacks.) As a young dancer, I had a few sponsorships and scholarships, but I paid for a lot of my own training and gear as teenager with money I earned babysitting, teaching the children’s classes at my studio and even cleaning houses.

You don’t need three jobs on top of school and dance to impress your parents and be helpful though! Consider taking two babysitting jobs a week. If you charge $8 per hour, you could easily make over $100 per month. Agree with your parents that if they will pay for your tuition, you will pay for your dancewear, shoes and costumes – but you have to stick to the deal. Make sure you can pay for necessities like pointe shoes first and save up for any extra training programs and travel expenses before buying fun leotards and warm-ups.

If you can’t bring yourself to start working or to use your hard earned dollars to help your family with your dance expenses, it might be time to reevaluate whether dance is truly your passion or just a pursuit. If you enjoy it immensely but decide that you don’t want it enough to make sacrifices like this, you might find that you are happier just taking a weekly class for fun instead of a daily schedule. And that’s worth knowing for your own sanity’s sake! If it is your passion, you will probably find that you feel motivated to contribute and excited to be able to start taking charge of your own dance training.

As a final note: Money is very tight for a lot of people these days. My heart goes out to you if your family is dealing with a loss of employment or other financial hardship. There are undoubtedly situations where young dancers in this economy simply will not be able to continue to train regardless of how much they are able to help out. If this is your situation, know that there is a world of dance waiting for you when you are all grown up and on your own. There is a whole universe of people who started or continued dance after high school due to issues like this, and many of them love and enjoy taking class much, much more than they ever would otherwise.

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!