Summer is usually the time when a studio’s best students leave home to attend intensive programs. But what about those who don’t go away? Perhaps they are too young, or they didn’t get scholarships and can’t afford the tuition, room and board. Maybe they were rejected at auditions, or simply want to stay home and dance for fun.
Creating an in-house summer program can be a great way to cater to these students, enabling them to dance more, improve faster and not feel left out. If you’re thinking about holding your own intensive, consider the following strategies to make it a successful venture for both you and your dancers.
Dance All Day
During the academic year, dancers have a limited amount of time during the week to train at the studio. The summer break is an opportunity for these students to immerse themselves in dance. At Northwest Florida Ballet in Fort Walton Beach, a portion of students enrolled in the school need financial assistance, which makes going away to a large summer intensive unfeasible. In response, when NFB started its own workshop, it worked to make it affordable. “We don’t want them to be left out,” says Todd Eric Allen, NFB’s artistic director and CEO. The school offers a four-week program in which dancers can work from 9 am to 7:30 pm, with breaks for lunch and dinner. “It’s a very intense schedule for them,” says Allen. In addition to technique, pointe, variations and men’s classes, the session includes Pilates, stretch class and foot-care seminars, among others. “We try to balance the schedule so they’re not killing themselves all day,” Allen says. “They have some brain work to do.”
The Marjorie Kovich School of Ballet in Norman, Oklahoma, offers a two-week, two-hour-a-day intensive for intermediate students. Advanced dancers attend a four-week session that meets for four and a half hours each day, taking technique, pointe, variations and modern classes. They also have Pilates, nutrition lessons, museum trips and flamenco dancing. “They’re used to just having ballet during the year, so we come up with something that’s going to be enriching and informative for them,” says Kovich. Last year, her students learned the history of modern dance through video and film and then worked on different modern styles in the studio. “They get a lot out of these extra classes,” says Kovich. “Even though I have some students who are interested in working toward a professional career, most of my students want to do it for fun, because they love it.”
Guest teachers can help generate interest and boost enrollment by offering students new perspectives. Allen prefers to hire guest teachers still dancing professionally, such as Atlanta Ballet’s Brandon Nguyen and Ajkun Ballet Theatre’s Billy Blanken, to work with students and then perform at the end of the intensive. “A lot of the instructors are also choreographers, and they’ll teach their own rep to the students,” says Allen, giving dancers a unique collaborative experience and exposing them to a variety of styles.
Pamela Hayes, director of Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet in El Dorado Hills, California, uses her summer session as an opportunity to introduce students to genres that they don’t focus on throughout the year, like musical theater. Choosing whom to bring in also allows her to oversee her students’ training and provide them with a consistent philosophy. “Not sending them away means I don’t have to worry about other people’s ideas confusing them,” she says. On the other hand, it can be a challenge to balance guest-teaching fees and travel expenses with summertime’s typical low enrollment. “You’re taking a gamble with how many students are going to attend the intensive,” Hayes says. “It’s a struggle to make it affordable; there’s no doubt about it.” (See sidebar.)
NFB students who attend the entire four-week program have the opportunity to be part of two beach performances, danced on a portable stage with lights. But every Friday, parents are also invited into the studio for an informal showing. “Students get to do what they’ve learned that week in variations and repertoire classes,” says Allen, “little bits of ballets or some modern work.” The dancers can show their progress and gain performance experience in an intimate and supportive atmosphere.
Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet students are welcome to participate in a summer performance held in a theater during the last week of their workshop. Students spend the end of each day in rehearsals if they choose. But they’re also inspired to get moving independently, often convening in a free studio to work during their breaks. “They’ll put on music and improvise, practice choreography, dance to their heart’s content,” says Hayes. “The benefit of staying during the summer is that they literally get to live at the studio and dance all day.”
Perhaps the best thing about the summer is that dancers get to spend time together doing what they love. They improve faster, build friendships and gain more confidence. “When it comes time to perform, their bond shows onstage,” says Kovich. “They work hard and support each other, and the summer just reinforces all that.” DT
Julie Diana is a principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet. She has a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania.
Studio Summer Programs: How to Make Them Profitable
If you’re paying guest-teacher fees and losing some tuition due to low enrollment, your summer intensive might be costing you money. Consider the following ideas to address these issues, remodel your workshop and actually make a profit.
Schedule the program early in the summer, before most other intensives begin. Northwest Florida Ballet runs its workshop from early June to early July, before its dancers leave for outside intensives. “The only downside is that some school districts are still in session,” says Todd Eric Allen, artistic director/CEO. These students might miss the first week, but they are still able to attend the rest of the program (at a prorated tuition).
Ask students what they want to study. One year they might want to try flamenco dancing, the next year jazz or hip hop. “I set a schedule and see what the response is,” says Marjorie Kovich of the Marjorie Kovich School of Ballet. If the students don’t show interest, or enrollment is too low to support the cost of a particular class, she will substitute something different. “I adjust to what fits for me and for them.”
Split the session into parts. Kovich sometimes offers a two-week intensive before many of her students go away, and then another two-week program when they return.
Photo by Karina Minteer, courtesy of Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet