Summer Program Life

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You made it into a Summer Program, now what? You work hard, you sweat hard, you what? Are you prepared, are you ready, are your parents ready?

Now what? It is a really big step for a ballet student to go to a summer program, especially if they are are young.  But, once your student is there now what?  This isn’t a five week summer camp where kids sit around a campfire singing. Over the next few weeks your child is going to be pushed to the max both physically and mentally. At most summer programs, students will be dancing in between 5-8 hours a day, six days a week. Summer programs are designed to strengthen a students technique, and see if they do well under pressure. Day 1 of a summer program is usually placement day. Even though you are already assigned a level, this is usually done back in January, the faculty look at all of the students’ ability and potential.  Day 1 is where most students will make a good first impression.

Now, while most summer programs are filled with students are pre professional schools attached to companies, there are many students who are there from smaller schools. These students, which might be your child, will be looked at closely. The reasoning? For your child to be asked to stay year round. Usually, they will ask the second to last week during the summer course. A spot in the year round school means that the director, and the faculty see great potential and want to work with you.  This is important, as a year round spot in the school usually can lead to the trainee program, or studio company/second company/ apprentice position.

So, how do you get noticed?

The most important thing to do while at a summer program is learn. Pay close attention to the details.  Even if you aren’t in the top level, showing that you can learn, and you are applying everything everyone is saying shows that you are a smart dancer. No one wants a dumb dancer. Take all of the corrections teachers give you and write them down, so you can remember them, reflect on them, and so on. Take other people’s corrections as well. Most likely it can be applied to you as well.

WORK HARD. WORK SMART! This is a big one as well. During your summer course, go in every group, or at least mark the combination in the back. Show your work ethic. In five weeks, it is hard for a faculty really get to know you. Unlike, your home studio, you have been with your teachers for years… Here, you have five weeks to make a good impression, show your potential and become the best dancer you can be. Working smart is really important as well. Going full out all the time is really important, but exhausting. If you are one of those dancers who goes hard all the time, make sure you are eating properly, and giving your body enough rest. Yes, we all know those intense bunheads who stretch in the dormitory halls during after hours, and that they are constantly fixing their shoes. That is their thing, it might not be your thing.

What to avoid…
Just because modern, jazz, and character aren’t your thing doesn’t mean you don’t try. You still have to push, 100% of the time.

Bad Habits… crossing your arms, giving up after falling out of a turn, letting the stress get to you… all of these things are counter productive to the process but also… It shows a bad attitude. You need to make sure you look attentive and invested without cracking under the stress.
EAT HEALTHY! During a summer program there is a lot of stressers out there, and there is a tendency to stress eat/binge eat sugar. The problem? Super counter productive to what your body really needs during these five intense weeks.

Be Prepared… When and if a school asks you to stay year round, be prepared for the financial costs. A year round program at a pre professional or professional school is costly. For most, these programs are out of state. When asked to stay, it is mid-summer and you have a few short weeks to come up with the financial obligation, relocate your life, transfer schools, and so on. It is a daunting task and you basically have a month to make a life changing, career making choice.  Most students, have to go year round at a pre pro school, and will change year round schools at least once.  Remember, ballet here in the US is not cheap…

Finally, make sure you have fun.

The woman who probably inspired a million girls to be Juliet, Corsaire, and other great VHS we grew up on…

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How to get through a summer program audition…

So, what is the secret to getting through a summer program audition?

easy answer: be good.

If you are thinking, “WTF?” Then you probably aren’t ready for a summer program. Sorry not sorry? Just kidding. But, on a more serious note, you do have to be technically sound for your age. As directors leading auditions, they do take in to consideration: body type, technical ability, work ethic, musicality which unfortunately out weighs potential and love of ballet.

So, if you are ready to audition for a summer program here are some tips:

1. Make sure you do exactly what they ask with port de bras. This includes the preparation. Just because at your school they do a different one, and it is probably engrained into your body, it doesn’t matter. You have to do exactly what they ask. Listen to key words while the teacher is giving the combination; like accent, slice, long, expand. These are qualities, subtle nuances and tips they are basically feeding you. This is what they are looking for.

2. Your audition class is not a warm up. Make sure you get there early enough to stretch, warm up, and basically do a little barre work prior to the audition. Yes, as barre during training is used to warm up and get on your leg… Audition classes are far from that. And as much as people say to just try your best, and relax, the pressure is immense. When auditions say this is just another class, they are basically lying to you because this class will determine whether or not you get in, and get a scholarship…

3. Presentation is everything. I am not talking about port de bras. I’m not talking about musicality, I am talking about what you are wearing. Find a leotard that is super flattering, make sure your tights don’t have holes, and clean up your ballet shoes.  Make sure your hair is performance quality, and a little make up wouldn’t hurt either.

4. Don’t over do it. Don’t be one of this kids in the audition who “feels” the music, and is giving us swan lake realness, or Giselle drama in class… This is dancing, not acting. There is nothing worse than an affected dancer. Directors want to see clean technique so they can mold you into what they want. You have to be pliable both physically, mentally and musically.

5. Don’t starve yourself before an audition. It doesn’t help you. Make sure the night before, or the morning before you get enough protein, and prior to the class make sure you have taken enough carbs in to get you through the class at 110%.

6. Try not to compare yourself. I mean, everyone sizes up the competition in the room, but just because she has leg up during warm up, doesn’t mean she has clean technique. Or if you see a girl obsessively stretching her feet, when she has beautiful feet, she might just only have… Beautiful feet. And definitely ignore the girl wearing the white leotard when the audition clearly asked for black leotard.

7. The most important thing in an audition is to become unforgettable. In a good way. You want to make a great impression on whoever is judging the class. For example, if they give you a correction, don’t just stand there and nod, actually do the correction a few times to show you are getting it into your body. My thing was always in plies, to look supper effortless, and that moment right before you grand plie, looking the director right in the eyes slightly smiling. Tendus, well I don’t have Alessandra Ferri feet, so I would just try to do exactly what they asked. Whether it be over articulation of the foot, precise accents, over crossed, lifting to come in, the list goes on, but basically trying to do exactly what they were looking for. Then I would try to make an impression during frappes but being super precise and trying to leave the “strike” out there as long as possible. Tendus at center was another chance to make an impression because you can be super musical and elongated. Adagio was always a plus for me as a boy since leg up was easier than turning. Pirouettes I would stick to a clean triple. Definitely was not one of the boys cranking out a million turns. Then petit allegro would be another chance for me to make an impression by being super exact, hitting tight fifths every time, and then beating absurdly. Grand allegro was not my thing either, so I tried my best, and double tours, well, needless to say I would try to make them as clean as possible.

Intro to Summer Programs

The Guide to Summer Programs:

While Christmas is finally here, and Nutcracker is finally over… We now look at the bigger picture, and the next part of the season: SUMMER PROGRAMS!! With auditions literally starting next week, the stress is on. SO, here are some of the truths about summer programs:

  1. Summer programs are not a vacation.  While it might be fun to travel all over the US, the reality is that summer programs are designed for three purposes.
    1. The first is to get the maximum amount of training in while you aren’t in school. So, if you are looking at summer programs as a chance to catch up on technique, then audition away. Dancers drastically change at summer programs for the good and the bad.
    2. The second reason ballet companies host summer programs is to look at the work ethic of potential year round students. For those who are killing themselves dreaming of San Francisco Ballet, your best bet is to go there for the summer. Hopefully, you are around 14-16 with awesome technique. This way you can get asked to stay for the year, and hopefully make it into their trainee program.
    3. Finally, the third reasons companies host summer programs is because it is a huge money maker. If you don’t know the costs of a summer program, check out this post. Summer programs are a way to overflow a school, and make money. It isn’t a hidden fact that ballet companies aren’t doing well, so Summer Programs are a way to generate income to the school/company during the off season (January) and then again in the Summer months.
  1. Names don’t mean anything. While many prestigious schools boast awesome summer programs, it doesn’t mean it is the best training for you. You have to find the school that is right for you, and where you are at in your training. For example, you should not audition for SAB until you are completely sure you are as strong as you can be, technically. SAB is a finishing school, not a training school. If you are behind on your technique, CPYB is the best place to go and get your butt whooped for a month. If you are looking to broaden your horizons in ballet, LINES would be a great add to your resume. And for those of you who are looking for individual attention, go to a smaller program like Ballet West or Atlanta Ballet’s Summer Programs. If you are looking to work on turns, go to the Rock School for Education, and if you are looking to jump go to PNB.
  2. Have back up plans. Like any child applying for colleges, you have to have a plan. Everyone has their dream programs, but then pick others that you know you are going to get into, schools you might get a scholarship to, and schools that are affordable. Have options, because a lot of kids will hit two summer programs in a summer.
  3. How do you know you are ready for a summer program? You have to be mentally prepared because at a summer program the competition in the classroom is stiff. Everyone there is pushing for a year round spot and scholarship for the year. You will be hundreds or thousands of miles away from home, living in dorms, with a hundred other ballet dancers. While you make lifelong friendships, the reality is, they are also your competition. It is easy to become friends, but it is easier to become jealous and get inside your own head, sabotaging your chances of staying for the year. If you are at a smaller school, and you are the best one at your studio, this would be a great growing opportunity.
  4. Finally, use summer programs to see if this is what you really want to do with your life. Summer programs are a great stepping stone to see whether or not you want to pursue ballet professionally. While it is rare for a dancer not to go to a summer program, a summer program is usually required as a bridge between professional schooling and a home studio. Another small step towards dancing Odette in Swan Lake.

You can go to any company’s website or school website to see if they are doing a national tour. The dates are already published. Audition fees will apply. If you don’t have the money, you can call the school registrar and possibly have the fee waived.