Higher Ed: 3 Ways High School Dancers Can Get a Jump-Start on College

High-schoolers who participate in Rutgers University’s summer program are mentored by a grad student.

Over the past five years, pre-college summer intensives—a chance for high-schoolers to live out their college dance aspirations a few years early—have blossomed. “As students begin to conjure in their minds what a BFA experience might be like, this is a way for them and their parents to live out that imagined possibility,” says Donna Faye Burchfield, who directs the school of dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The students’ time on campus introduces them to the dance styles they would study and the personality of that particular dance curriculum. “It’s also about students wanting to see if dance is what they want to do with their lives,” Burchfield adds. 

For any student on the fence about a dance degree or looking to give a specific program a test run, there are several different kinds of pre-college intensives to try.

Putting the “Intense” in “Intensive”

Although these programs are called “summer intensives,” they are very different from an intensive you’d find at a local dance studio or ballet school. In a college setting, “intensive” essentially means that the program will simulate a conservatory BFA experience, with technique work (usually in ballet, modern and/or contemporary), dance-based academic study and composition and improvisation courses.

In particular, the improvisation and composition courses help dancers find the first hints of a unique voice in their work. According to Barbara Bashaw, who directs Rutgers University’s summer intensive, students may initially feel intimidated by these courses but emerge confident—and prepared for the improvisation portion of college auditions. “For some students, it opens up a whole area of dance that they didn’t realize existed,” she says.

As part of dance-based academic workshops, such as dance history, nutrition and conditioning, students begin to think—and talk—about dance in a new way. “They learn about how technical training connects with history, pedagogy, choreography, the world, and they start to build a bigger vision of what the field of dance is,” she says.

Building relationships with other dancers and mentors is often at the center of these programs. At Rutgers, which offers both five-day and two-week intensives, each high school student is matched with a graduate student who coaches them in class and has one-on-one college and career discussions. 

In some cases, students may earn college credit for these courses. At the University of the Arts, students earn three dance elective credits for the three-week program, transferable to most colleges to meet dance, arts or physical education requirements.

Hot Town, Summer in the City

Some programs reach beyond the college experience to introduce students to the “real world” of dance in all its myriad forms, from company life to community outreach.

Barnard College’s Dance in the City program inducts high school juniors and seniors into New York City’s dance scene. This program gives students 10 days to explore dance locations, meet working artists and discuss current dance and cultural issues in a course called “The World of Dance: From Theory to Practice.” “We look at, how do other issues going on in the world take form in movement?” says program creator Sydnie Mosley. Students spend time in the studio, in morning technique class and an afternoon academic course, during which they translate the day’s studies into movement. “I wanted to show the different things you can do professionally with dance that’s not just being on the stage,” says Mosley. “I wanted to give students a taste of what it’s like to be a dancer in New York, right now.”

Whistle-Stop Tour

Boston University’s REACH Summer Apprenticeship Program gives dancers the chance to create and tour work. The five-week program, which offers partial and full scholarships, attracts students from diverse backgrounds—studio-trained dancers as well as those proficient in one particular style, like hip hop. Participants spend time on BU’s campus and get a feel for the discipline and hard work needed to perform academically and artistically at the college level.

“We get such a cross-section of dancers,” says Micki Taylor-Pinney, program coordinator. For the first three weeks, students take daily technique classes—often in genres new to them, like traditional Haitian, Chinese dance or krumping—and work with faculty to put together a 45-minute show (of both repertory and original material, created by the students). The final two weeks are devoted to touring the new piece throughout the Greater Boston community.

The main requirement is that students be willing to try everything. “It’s great for our teens to see the role that dance can play in their own lives—and to put it in a larger context,” says Taylor-Pinney. “They’re going out and realizing that this is much bigger than their own dance worlds.” DT

Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston.

 

 

For more college-based summer dance experiences:

American Musical and Dramatic Academy amda.edu/high-school-summer-program

Barnard College barnard.edu/precollege

Boston Conservatory bostonconservatory.edu/summer-dance

Boston University bu.edu/fitrec/recreation/dance-program/reach-summer-apprenticeship-program

Columbia College Chicago colum.edu/academics/special-programs

DeSales University desales.edu/home/academics/divisions-departments/division-of-performing-arts/youth-programs

Drexel University drexel.edu/westphal/about/summerHighschoolProgram

The Juilliard School juilliard.edu/youth-adult-programs/summer-programs

Marymount Manhattan College mmm.edu/depart

ments/dance/high-school-summer-intensive.php

Point Park University pointpark.edu/BusinessandCommunity/CommunityClasses

Rutgers University masongross.rutgers.edu/extension/summer-programs

University of California, Los Angeles summer.ucla.edu/institutes

University of Michigan music.umich.edu/special_programs/youth/mpulse/sdi.htm

University of North Carolina School of the Arts uncsa.edu/summersession/dance.htm

University of the Arts uarts.edu/academics/pre-college-programs

Photo by Jaqlin Medlock, courtesy of Rutgers University

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.