The Summers of a Young Dancer
It is common as a serious ballet student to use summers to train away from home, get exposure to a larger ballet world than your home school, and improve.
Away from home for my second summer, I am attending two incredible ballet intensives, one in Connecticut, the other in New York City. So as I write for you some of the things I’ve learned about summer intensives (SIs) along the way, I am also living it!
Before You Go
Find out as much as you can from others who have gone to the intensive before you.
I have found that people are more than happy to fill you in on details about your program that may have been left out of your school packet. I try to join a Facebook group of other people who are attending my intensives. Though you won’t necessarily continue friendships with all these people, it helps to make connections initially.
Read every correspondence from your school very carefully.
Updates can show important changes that you might need to know.
Set goals for yourself and stay focused on your purpose for going.
A saying I like is “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!“
Do not go with any preconceived expectations or you will surely be disappointed.
As my mom always says, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” and you can handle anything!
Maybe you are hoping to make lots of friends, to really get a ton of attention, have a blast. While all of these things might happen, they may not happen exactly like you expect. Be flexible and have an open mind and you will enjoy whatever happens.
Make sure that you pack (compactly) everything on the list sent to you.
This year I went to a remote area at first, so there was not really a place to get things that I forgot. But always pack as tightly or lightly as you can. Getting through a busy airport, onto a subway, and up thousands of stairs is always easier with less unnecessary baggage.
Bring things that are familiar and comfortable that make you feel at home.
Of course you will need bedding, toiletries, cleaning products, sleepwear, clothing, dance wear and shoes, but take pictures, a comfy blanket, posters, your favorite perfume, a stuffed animal… whatever you can use to make yourself a home away from home.
Increase your activity in advance to keep up with the rigor of a summer program.
Take some extra classes, run, or workout with cardio and strength training. Get used to eating healthily, keeping hydrated, and getting plenty of sleep. Continue this pattern after you arrive at your intensive and you will feel and perform much better.
When You Arrive
I really think this is the hardest part of the entire summer intensive experience!
Remember, whatever you are feeling, most likely, others are feeling it too.
Have a positive attitude, a friendly smile, genuine warmth and sincerity.
I’ve got along with everyone at both of this year’s summer intensives. Yet, there are those that I am drawn to and choose to get closer to. While you won’t be friends with everyone at your intensive, you will eventually fall into a group where you feel comfortable and that you genuinely belong.
Seek to break the ice and make others feel welcomed and comfortable.
Try not to always be the one that others have to speak to first. I used to wait for others to speak to me but I am getting better at this. Now I try to greet others and make them feel at home. I reach out to anyone who looks lost, alone, or uncomfortable.
Ask others about themselves. Most people feel comfortable sharing about themselves when asked, but not everyone.
Respect others and they will show respect back.
Respect differences, especially if students come from other countries/cultures.
Respect your roommates. Keep your surroundings neat and clean. No one appreciates living in someone else’s filth and clutter.
Respect the rules. Listen carefully and familiarize yourself with school rules and observe their policies. They vary greatly. After all, the school was generous enough to offer you a spot, your family was generous enough to help you get there, now it is your turn to show generosity in the way that you conduct yourself.
Be a good representative. You represent others – your family, your hometown, your particular ballet school/program.
You are not at home so use good judgment.
- Never go off alone.
- Always let others know where you are going if not at the school or dorm.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Know who is with your group and who is not.
- Listen to and trust your instincts about people.
- Know good proactive self-defense.
Second Summer Seasoned by the First
As I traveled for hundreds of miles toward my second summer of ballet intensives, I could not help but think of flying to Boston about the same time last year for my first summer away.
Since I started at a late age, it was all totally foreign and new to me. I was just told that I should do it. So I auditioned and chose the school that seemed the best for me in regards to training, scholarships, and overall reputation.
I had no idea what to expect. My mom knew that I must really be in love with ballet because:
- I had never, and I mean never, been away to any overnight camp of any kind.
- I did not know a soul at this place that I was going.
- It was literally hundreds of miles away from my hometown.
Though it’s my second summer away, I initially felt some of those same feelings again: a combination of joy, excitement, apprehension, and outright fear of the unknown situation that lay ahead of me.
Of course now, all my initial fears are put to rest and this is the most amazing summer that I have ever experienced! I am so very thankful for the honor and privilege of going to these two schools.
“Feel afraid, but do it anyway,” when it is something healthy and good, of course.
So that is exactly what I did this summer, and the results have been fantastic!
What was your first summer intensive away from home like?
Do you have more tips to share?
Alison Shames is just an ordinary 14-year-old girl who loves ballet and hopes to be a professional one day. She began her ballet training at 12 years old and trains 6 days per week for 4-6 hours each day with some amazing teachers from Norway, Dominican Republic and Cuba. Alison studies Vaganova technique, modern, contemporary, character, classical variations, African movement, and loves flamenco, Bollywood, Chinese fan, and other cultural dances. She attended her first ballet intensive last summer at Boston Ballet School and is looking forward this year to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet summer intensives. She has difficulty naming only a few of her ballet inspirations but includes Tamara Rojo, Adiarys Almeida, Carlos Acosta, Maria Kotchekova, Natalia Osipova, Vladimir Malakhov, Alina Cojocaru, Li Cunxin, Sokvannara Sar, Joseph Gatti and Svetlana Zacharova among them. A resident of the southern United States, Alison loves that dance is a universal language and brings the world together. You can find her Tweeting @Balletgirl96.