It’s that *magical* time of year for ballet students — SUMMER INTENSIVE TIME! Whether you are going away for the summer or staying at home at your regular ballet school, the summer is a great time to really make improvements in your dancing. Even though when I was a teenager and went away for the summers to train I thought I knew what I was doing, looking back I was pretty clueless about a lot of things. So, for all you students out there who have begun your summer training or are about to, here are a few thoughts that you will likely find to be useful!
- You need to look “put together” every single day for every single class. This means a nice neat bun that is slicked back, no holes in your tights, clean leotard, shoes that don’t have huge holes in them, not wearing any “junk,” etc. As a teacher, I always greatly appreciate the students who come to class looking like they took some time (even if just 10-15 minutes) that morning to look nice for class. When you are in a studio with 20-30 other students in it, the students who have that “put together” look will stand out in a good way and look more professional. This applies to non-ballet classes, too.
- As far as leotards go, yes you want to try and wear leotards that will make you stand out in class, but not in an obnoxious way. I know that leotards with printed fabrics have become quite popular especially now that you can order customized ones, but you have to be really careful when wearing something with a print on it in class because sometimes they can look a little tacky. If just a very small portion of the leotard is printed, it’s probably ok, but solid colors are much safer!
- If at your summer intensive the dress code is just a black leotard everyday, there are other ways to stand out besides wearing colored leotards. Hair accessories are a great way to do this, but again, you have to be careful that what you put in your hair doesn’t look obnoxious or tacky. Sparkly hair clips/combs/barrettes, small to medium-sized flowers, small to medium-sized bows, and flower wreaths are all great things to wear next to or around your bun.
- Get plenty of sleep. I know it’s exciting being away from home in a dorm with a bunch of new friends, but if you don’t get sleep, it will absolutely affect your performance in class in a negative way. And trust me, a teacher can tell when a student didn’t get enough sleep the night before and is not likely to have much sympathy for you!
- You are going to have to be assertive in class if you want to get seen. This was one thing I learned very quickly the first time I went away for the summer because let me tell you there are some pushy girls out there who will make sure they stand front and center in every single class in hopes of getting the most attention and corrections from the teacher. You don’t want to be “that girl,” but you do want to make sure you get seen, so if the teacher asks more people to come forward to the first line or go in the first group across the floor, you should volunteer. Just make sure you know the combination!
- Make eye contact with your teachers, smile, and generally just look and be engaged during class. Very often if a teacher senses that a student is not paying attention or engaged with what is going on, they will just start ignoring them. This is one of the worst things that can happen to you as as student.
- When you put lots of teenagers together, there will be some sort of drama that goes on at some point and you need to try your very best to steer clear of it. It will only be a distraction, so be selective with the other students that you choose to hang out with.
- Try your very best to make healthy choices with what you eat while you are away. I know very often students just eat at a dining hall or food court type place everyday at summer intensives, so it is going to be up to you to be conscious of what and how much you are eating. You will be burning a lot of calories everyday with all your dancing, so you need to make sure you eat enough and drink LOTS of water. At the same time, though, don’t just eat pancakes and pizza everyday. Your body needs a variety of nutritious foods.
- You probably won’t be the best dancer in your class (even if you are at your studio back home). And you need to be ok with that. With that being said, you need to focus on YOURSELF and YOUR improvement during the summer and not what others are doing, who is the “best,” who is the “favorite,” etc. The sooner you learn this the better.
- If there is some kind of performance or demonstration at the end of the intensive, don’t get hung up on the casting or who “has a solo” or whatever. You as a student have no control over who the teachers choose to dance certain parts, so its not worth obsessing over. All you have control over is how you do each day in class, so that is where your focus should be.
- Most intensives range from 3-6 weeks long and have you dancing 6-8 hours a day depending on your age. This is a lot, so you need to really be aware of how your body is doing throughout the session and make sure you don’t injure yourself. That being said, you will almost certainly get pulled muscles, inflamed tendons, bruised toenails, blisters, etc. and you need to know how to take care of these things yourself so that you can keep dancing through them. You should not have to sit out of a pointe class because you have a blister.
- Know how to do your own laundry. I was always shocked by how many girls had no clue had to wash their own tights and leotards while away from home.
- Take some time to research who your teachers are and what kind of careers they have/had. It will make you appreciate their classes more.
I’m sure there are probably MANY other things that I have forgotten to include, but at least this is a start! Happy summer dancing!