Finding the Right Fit
Help your students choose summer intensives tailored to their needs.
Audition season for summer intensive programs will soon be in full swing—and that means students will be coming to you, looking for advice and ideas about which options to pursue. Steering your dancers to a summer program that suits them is important to their overall growth as dancers. DT asked several veteran instructors how they facilitate the conversation.
Research, Research, Research
It’s helpful to begin the summer program selection process by doing a significant amount of research, beginning at the start of the school year. (Not sure where to look? Start with DT’s Summer Study Guide.) Heather Raue, co-founder and director of the Crooked Tree Arts Center dance department in Petoskey, Michigan, spends three months researching summer intensives before creating a specialized packet of audition sites and dates for each of her serious students. “I pick programs that would suit each one best and that would give them the most exposure,” Raue says. “Many of my students want to be professional dancers, so it’s important for them to learn firsthand from companies they may be involved with some day.”
The Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts, encourages its students to do their own summer program research before talking things over with their teachers, says Michael Owen, the school’s director of ballet. He asks his dancers to look at the specifics of each program: who the teachers are, how many students are in each class and what wellness programs are offered (physical therapy, nutrition, strengthening). Raue also asks her students to do research to supplement her packets, so they’ll get to know the full range of options.
Narrow Things Down
When discussing summer program options, encourage students to think outside the box. Sometimes, it might be beneficial for a dancer to choose a program that doesn’t focus on her main style—a modern intensive for a ballet dancer, for example. That can be especially helpful if the student is unsure where she fits in the dance world, or if your studio doesn’t offer a range of dance techniques, says Brenda Froehlich, owner/director of the Wilton Dance Studio in Wilton, Connnecticut. “Today’s choreographers are either trained in or are experimenting with a multitude of jazz, modern and contemporary techniques, making it necessary for a dancer to be versatile,” she says.
Raue, whose program is ballet-focused, says that she sometimes recommends another style of dance for the summer if a student has a gift that they haven’t realized. “Sometimes a dancer doesn’t recognize that she might be gifted in a different genre because she loves one form and pursues it so diligently,” she says. Summer is a good time to develop different talents without abandoning the “first love” altogether.
Owen encourages his students to look into smaller intensives, as well as the bigger, better-known ones. “Smaller programs can be beneficial because students have more individual attention,” he says, adding that a program’s prestige is less important than the opportunities it presents for growth. “There are a myriad of places that are very good.”
Raue is frank with her students, since summer programs can be very selective. “They need to know that not everyone can be a ballet dancer,” she says. “However, I tell them if they want something badly, I’ll do whatever I can to support them.”
Involve Mom and Dad
It’s helpful to bring parents into the process as well. After talking with pre-professional students about their top-three summer program choices, Melissa Allen Bowman, artistic director of The California Conservatory of Dance in Mission Viejo, schedules meetings with each student and her parents to make sure they’re on the same page—especially if it’s a student’s first summer intensive experience. “Most parents don’t know what they are getting into,” she says. “They haven’t realized that their 12-year-old wants to go off to Alabama to a program that costs so many thousand dollars. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, it changes a lot of perspectives.”
Prepare for Auditions
Knowing how to audition is a big part of the summer program process. If students aren’t sure what to expect on audition day, they won’t perform as well—which may cost them admission to their dream program. That’s why Bowman hosts an “Audition Preparation Week Intensive” at the start of the season: five days of master classes with guest faculty, concluding with a mock audition, which includes an evaluation of each student’s performance. This discussion is held after the audition in a group setting, so that all of the students learn from each other, which ultimately increases confidence levels during actual auditions.
One common mistake? Taking too long to learn combinations, which can be disastrous during an audition. “If the students are not picking up the combination quickly, we as teachers need to work on understanding how they learn—whether it’s by marking, or watching the teacher perform the combination, or focusing on the rhythm,” Bowman says. Once students figure out which method works best for them, teachers should encourage them to practice it during regular classes or on their own.
Despite the best preparations, some students may still find a thin “thank you for auditioning” letter instead of an acceptance packet in their mailboxes. “I explain to my students this is part of a dancer’s life,” Owen says. “I try to help them understand they can channel the negative energy into positive energy by applying it all the more to their work.”
It can also be helpful to remind students that their careers do not depend upon getting into a specific program, Froehlich says. “We ask them to be open to learning new ways of working,” she says. “You come away from every audition with a little pearl.” DT
Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from New York University.
Photo by Randall Goss, courtesy of Heather Raue