In-House Summer Programs

Designing workshops for students who stay home

Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet’s summer intensive offers classes in additional genres, as well as performance opportunities.

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 

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.)

Performance Opportunities

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

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.

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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.

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