Summer Study Survival Guide, Part 1
Even if you’re thoroughly prepared, teaching in a summer intensive, convention or workshop can sometimes make you feel like you’ve been asked to do a lightning-fast petit allégro combination with beats and direction changes all summer long. With a brand-new roster of students from different stylistic and cultural backgrounds, back-to-back daily classes and often a performance at the end, teachers can be stretched to their limit creatively and physically. Here 14 experienced teachers lend tips for getting through those busy months with your health and sanity intact. —Kate Lydon
Part I: Structuring Your Class
Creating a framework of class material or a lesson guideline for a summer study course can be the linchpin to your success. Of course, a willingness to be flexible within that plan is key.
BRIAN REEDER American Ballet Theatre
“I use the school’s doctrine as my backbone, always. It’s not a free-for-all. I can’t come in blindly, and I don’t make up my class as I’m traveling to the studio on the subway.
“For a summer intensive, I know I’ll have to pace the students differently than I would for a year-long program. There can be a lot of information to get across in a short amount of time, so you have to know what your goals are and be realistic within that time frame. You want to challenge your students, but you don’t want to overshoot. You don’t want to burn them out.
“On top of teaching technique, men’s and pas de deux classes, I usually also choreograph three pieces during the summer months—one for ABT’s collegiate intensive, one for ABT’s NY intensive, and one for ABT’s program in Bermuda. You’re interviewing me in October and I already have music choices set aside for this coming summer. I write down ideas for movements as they come to me.
“The pieces have to be age- and level-appropriate but I don’t know until placement day how many kids I’m going to have—if it’s 18 or 25. And my first rehearsal may be the second day of the program, so that can be challenging.
“As far as the choreographic process is concerned, I know it’s going to be different for each program. The collegiate program is going to be more collaborative—older students love being part of the creation. When I work with the younger ones, I know that I will have to set every single step.
“I gear up knowing it’s not just dance camp. There’s a lot of work that goes into teaching in a summer intensive. There’s a lot of information to get across and not a lot of time. For pretty much all of June, July and August, my friends are on vacation and I’m in a really different mode.“
ABBIE SIEGEL Pacific Northwest Ballet School
“At PNB School all of the teachers work off of a syllabus. There’s also a unified style that we want to portray. I don’t write out my classes, but I know in advance what I want to cover—whether it’s specific steps, or theories, or ideas. What I love to do is expose students to something they haven’t done before, or work in a way they haven’t experienced. Gaining strength—whether it’s muscular strength or strength in details and the subtleties of the movement—is a major objective in the five weeks we have them.“
GLENN EDGERTON Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
“Anytime you walk into the studio, you have to be prepared and know what you’re about to present. Have all of the tools in your arsenal ready to go.
“Along with technique classes, we also teach company rep to these dancers. When you have the students in front of you, you start to feel that an excerpt from a specific piece is something they need to grasp. It may be the bare bones of the choreography, but we teach them the essence of the work.”
RISA STEINBERG Summer Stages Dance at Concord Academy
“I go in with a structure or plan of what I want to cover, but since I don’t know who is going to be there, I have to be flexible. The first day, I’m learning who the students are and what they know, and I have to figure out how to get them on the same page. I look at the class in a 360-degree way: What is the end goal and how do I get there?
“Know what you are trying to achieve and what you want your students to get out of it. If you’re getting them ready for rep or rehearsal, you think backwards to forwards. If the students are learning a specific piece of Limón, you bring that into technique class. If you teach something completely different, it’s a profound waste of time.“
Photo: Brian Reeder instructs a pas de deux class at ABT’s summer intensive in NYC (by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of ABT)