10 Minutes to Impress

Help your students make the most of their summer intensive audition videos.

A summer intensive director sits bleary-eyed in front of a monitor for the fourth hour straight, viewing videos of one eager applicant after another. A few submissions naturally rise to the top, while most fade into the parade. “When you watch 100 videos a year, you get pretty smart about what you’re looking for,” says Shelly Power, director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy.

To help ensure that your students’ videos stand out, DT asked for advice from Power, The Juilliard School, Patrick Armand of San Francisco Ballet School and Oregon-based dance teacher and videographer Les Watanabe.

Do your homework: While most schools have similar basic requirements (a short barre, several center combinations, possibly a solo), they often have unique expectations within this structure. Katie Friis of Juilliard says some students make the same mistake: They submit what they imagine to be a standard video, without checking the school’s website.

Multiple submissions: Friis recommends making a list of the special requests of each school and integrating common elements into one video. But if the requests are contradictory, create separate versions. When in doubt about length, it is safe to go with 10–15 minutes.

What to include: Begin with a spoken introduction, including age, home studio and years and styles of training. It is recommended to show one side of each barre exercise (pliés on the right, tendus on the left, etc.) and both sides of center exercises. Some programs will request specific center elements (Juilliard, for instance, wants to see promenades, développés in each direction and pirouettes). Combinations should be simple enough to show foundational technique. SFB’s Armand says he looks for a “waltzy” combination to reveal the dancer’s movement quality and musicality.

Get to the pointe: Unless the school specifies otherwise, the dancer determines when to put on her pointe shoes. This should reflect the current level of training: A 13-year-old might perform several center combinations in slippers, while an 18-year-old pre-professional dancer might perform all exercises on pointe. Keep in mind that some adjudicators fast-forward to pointe work before backing up and watching barre. Every element of the video should make a strong first impression.

Going solo: Schools like Juilliard that teach a variety of dance styles typically request a solo at the end of the video, so that the dancer can show her best work. Adjudicators for ballet intensives, however, are more cautious about judging a student’s trainability by her performance in a variation. “They rehearse those solos for years and years,” says Armand. “I want to see them doing a proper class.”

Getting Technical: The goal is to create a video that is simple but memorable. This isn’t the time for complex cinematography or fancy graphics. “If there’s too much distraction, it’s like, ‘What are you hiding?’” says Power.

“Videos that are highly produced are beautiful and very easy to look at, but my primary interest is the dancing,” says Lawrence Rhodes, artistic director of Juilliard’s Dance Division. “If it’s a little more homemade, that’s not a problem.” That said, the video should look and sound clean, which will likely require basic video-editing software. For example, if a dancer films by herself, she should edit out the seconds it takes to turn on the camera and walk to her starting position. If she is unsure of her editing abilities and has $200 or more to spare, a dance videographer can be helpful.

• Angle: “You want the video to represent what the dancer really looks like,” says Power. “Sometimes people fight with angles of the camera and try to make everything look appealing.” However, filming directly from the front or side can make the dancing seem even more two-dimensional. At the barre, a side view can emphasize imperfections of turnout, so videographer Les Watanabe will often move slightly in front of the student. “And if we’re doing a jump sequence, I might put the camera a little lower so it looks like they’re jumping higher,” he says.

• Sound: Watanabe removes the original sound and imports the dancer’s music straight from CD to the video file. This eliminates any studio echo, loud pointe shoes, air conditioners or cars driving by. “Whether people realize it or not, if the sound isn’t good, it detracts from the visuals,” he says.

• Background: Floors should be clean (no scuff marks), and there should be a clear contrast between a dancer’s attire and the floor. For boys, this means no black shoes on a black floor. Corners should be clutter-free, since they are key in across-the-floor combinations. “And be careful about windows,” says Watanabe. “If they backlight a dancer, it can make them come across as a silhouette.”

• Artistry: Power says that often dancers forget to smile or show their artistry, or they save it for their solo at the end. But there’s no guarantee that a director will emphasize that part of the video. It’s important to have that sense of artistry throughout. DT

Dancer Ashley Rivers is based in Boston.

Don’t…

-Edit or splice film during a combination. “For me, that will straightaway be a ‘Thank you very much. I’m not interested,’” says Patrick Armand of San Francisco Ballet School.

-Include more than one dancer. Professional dancers sometimes include performance footage on their reels, but in a summer intensive audition video, there should never be more than one dancer visible unless the school has asked to see partnering.

-Wait until the last minute. Many schools now request that prospective students upload videos to a designated website. Technical snafus are inevitable—if you’ve waited until the deadline, tech support is likely to be overloaded with requests. —AR

©iStock.com

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.