Preparing For An Intensive Summer Program

Today’s Guest Post is from Nina Amir who blogs over at My Son Can Dance. I have enjoyed following Nina’s adventures in parenting a son who is pursuing serious study of dance. Dancers are receiving acceptance letters about now for intensive summer programs in cities all over the country. If this is your first big intensive, excitement for what lies ahead is probably charged with uncertainty and stress over preparations. Here, Nina shares what she and her son experienced their first summer at American Ballet Theatre’s summer program in New York City. No matter where you are headed this summer, these tips offer great advice from someone who has been where you are now.

From upper left: Manhattan south of Rockefelle...

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You’ve just gotten the email. Your son or daughter has been accepted to the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive in New York City. This acceptance means so much—your child has enough talent to attend one of the premier (if not THE premier) ballet summer programs in the nation, your child has to be ready to endure the rigours of such a program and you have to figure out how to handle the logistics of an unchaperoned summer intensive in the middle of the Big Apple.

Last year I faced these same issues for the first time when my son was accepted into the ABT Summer Intensive program. We went to New York to spend seven weeks together while he danced and I worked. We had some idea what this entailed, but to some extent, despite the bright lights of the city, we entered into this adventure in the dark so to speak.

This year, we are going back to New York again for a second year at the ABT Summer Intensive. We will return with our eyes open and knowing more about what to expect and how to prepare.

Tips For A Successful Summer

For those of you going off to New York for the ABT Summer Intensive for the first time, here are some things to consider as you get ready for your experience—probably the best experience your child has ever had as a dancer—and some tips that might make the program more successful for both you and your dancer.

1. Choose your accommodations carefully.

Quite a number of children in the 15-18 age group stayed in dorms without chaperones. They seemed to enjoy this and handle it quite well. Many moms also stayed in New York University dorms with their daughters, although they aren’t a cheaper alternative.

The majority of the dancers arrived in New York with one or more parents who had sublet an apartment somewhere in the city or in the surrounding area. A few of the kids stayed with relatives in New Jersey or in areas that afforded them the ability to ride into the city by train.

We sublet a very small—too small—studio apartment in an attempt to save money. It was on a lovely, historic street in the East Village. However, we needed more space as well as Internet hook up and cable TV, neither of which did we have. I also failed to ask the owner of the apartment if the kitchen was well equipped for someone who wanted to cook everyday; it was not. So, don’t assume that all New Yorkers cook. Be sure to ask about the amenities included in the apartment. If at all possible, send someone you know to see the apartment, or ask for additional pictures to be sent to you via the Internet.

Also, if an apartment seems to good to be true, it probably is. Try to find a realtor to help you find a place, or be sure you are dealing with a real person. We almost got scammed by one person…I think. So, be careful about the people with whom you deal.

By far, finding housing is the hardest part of going to this summer intensive. It’s time consuming and housing is expensive.

2. Add extra classes, weight lifting or exercise prior to attending the intensive.

Unlike some of the other programs, the ABT summer intensive really is intense. The first week has the kids dancing, doing yoga and pilates six hours a day. They come out tired and sore. In particular, my son was muscle sore from “pressing” girls and partnering them.

Based on what I’ve been told by some experts, I’d suggest that kids add in some sort of cross training—running, jumping rope, swimming, or something else in the weeks prior to the program’s start to increase their stamina. See this post for additional advice from Rasta Thomas. (And this one…)

3. Be prepared for the difference in weather.

My son had some trouble with dehydration the first week. We live in California, and I didn’t really think that would be a problem since we were coming from a dry, hot climate. However, it was so hot and humid in New York that he sweated more than usual and didn’t drink enough. The kids need to have electrolyte packets and other sports drinks along with water to keep them hydrated.

Also bring a variety of clothing. We had tons of rain and some chilly weather early on. Then it got beastly hot.

4. Include vitamins, herbs, and nutritional supplements to the daily regimen.

I added in extra vitamins and herbs to my son’s regimen of nutritional supplements. I found some of that helped prevent overuse injuries. Despite the fact that he also danced on Saturdays and some evenings at other studios in the city, he had very few overuse injuries. Watch my blog for information on great supplements to keep your kids dancing healthy and uninjured.

5. Make use of wellness resources made available

Be sure your son or daughter takes advantage of the physical therapist provided by ABT if they run into any problem. (Most of the kids had some sort of foot problems or shin splints.) She is great and really helps. My son had one problem early on with his foot, and she solved it quickly with exercises. We also found a chiropractor who was a former dancer. He was super. (You can contact me if you need him.)

6. Take advantage of the city (but don’t walk too much)!

There is lots to do in the city, and the dancers have the weekends off. It’s easy to get around using the subway. It’s also pretty safe, despite what people think about New York City.

Be sure to have good walking shoes, and insist that your dancer wear them, too. ABT requires that the kids not wear flip flops or other sandals (but the kids don’t listen). Their feet are tired at the end of the day, and walking on the pavement doesn’t help. My son’s feet and legs were extremely tired the first two days we were in the city, and he refused to wear the good running shoes we had bought just for that purpose. He did wear them more after that.

7. Let your son or daughter enjoy being with the other dancers in the program.

Many parents are afraid to let their children leave the studio during lunch. However, the kids tend to go out for lunch in groups. The area is pretty safe and doing things together breeds friendships. My son regretted not doing more with the other dancers, such as in the evening and on weekends.

8. Take advantage of the dance happening all around.

Go see dance. Let them take extra dance classes on the weekend (but make your child take at least one day off to rest). We went to see modern and contemporary dance at The Joyce and The Joyce Soho as well as taking advantage of the discount tickets offered to us to American Ballet Theatre productions.

My son also took tap classes at least twice a week at Broadway Dance Center and hip hop classes as well. (We found that these didn’t use the same muscles as ballet; thus, we weren’t too worried about overuse injuries from the extra classes.) We then stayed in New York City for an extra week, and he danced every day for another six hours at Broadway Dance Center. Next to his time at ABT, this was the best experience he had in the city. Many of the dancers also went to Steps on Broadway for additional jazz or ballet classes; we just never made it there.

9. Offer encouragement to help your child through a rough beginning.

Dancers need to know the program is harder than anything else they may have done before. At the end of the first day they are tired. The next morning, they may be wondering how they’ll make it through the second day. At the end of the first full week, they will wonder if they can make it through the whole program. However, by week three, they have settled into the routine and adjusted to the strenuous nature of the program. At the end of the six weeks, they will be in great shape and wish the program weren’t ending yet. They’ll know they could dance for six hours a day every day…and they’ll want to do so.

10. Know that as a parent you’ll be in the city on your own while your dancer dances.

Parents are not allowed into the ABT building or up to the ABT offices in general until the one—yes, one—parent observation day. So, find something to do or bring something to do. I work from home, so I was busy every day in our tiny apartment. Other parents shopped or visited museums or went to Broadway shows. All the waiting around, walking back and forth from the ABT studios and hearing about your child’s day second hand will be worth it, however, when you see the final performance and see how much he or she has improved.

For more information on the ABT Summer Intensive experience, check out my blog, My Son Can Dance, and read the archived posts under the category titled “summer dance programs.”

Nina Amir is a journalist and author currently writing a book meant to mentor young boys (age 10-17) who dream of becoming professional dancers. She realized what a difficult road it was for young male dancers early in her son’s career. She interviews top male dancers and teachers asking for their advice, experiences, and tips so young boys who want to follow in their footsteps will have the strength, inspiration and tools to do so. My Son Can Dance is meant to chronicle Nina’s struggles, what she has learned and the experiences with her son in the hope that she might be a mentor other parents of young boys who want to dance.

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  1. Jessica says:

    I just got accepted to the ABT summer program!! Thank You so much for posting this.. its my first time attending a summer intense program. by reading this helped me alot.>!!

    • Congratulations! I’m so glad this post proved helpful to you. I have a series of them that I posted last summer while Julian and I were in NYC. You might find them useful as well. Please visit My Son Can Dance. Hope to see you in New York during the ABT Summer Intensive!

  2. Nina! Reading this helped me alot! My daughter is 16 and while she has attended intensives in Toronto, Chicago and Columbus, NYC is HUGE for us! She will be staying at the Webster Apartments. Did you know anyone who stayed there? Any feedback for us on them? She’ll be on her own… 🙁 I’m happy to hear you will be returning with your son – sounds like he is an amazing dancer – I look forward to meeting you at the performance!

    I was happy to hear that the kids do adhere to the buddy program, that’s very important for me…especially unchaperoned. I’d love to exchange some info with you – I’m ‘gathering’ the troops so to speak, keeping my baby safe in the BIG APPLE. I look forward to hearing from you… Wendy

    • Wendy,

      I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about Webster Apartments. I actually had my hubby look into it for me after I saw your comment, but we can’t stay there…only girls! It’s a bit farther north of ABT than we like to stay. We prefer to be within walking distance. Given the fact that it is farther north, I wondered if there are other girls staying there. Are there? The buddy system I spoke of tends to apply to the kids staying in the NYU or New School dorms. Many of the kids in New York alone stay in those facilities, and they are paired up in rooms–occasionally also with kids from other summer intensives. They make friends and then buddy up. They shop together for food and do all those sorts of things together.

  3. My daughter has just been offered a scholarship at ABT through the YAGP Finals. She will be turning 14 in May. I am very concerned about the lack of housing, however; and am now wishing she had been offered something at SAB because of it. Do you have any recommendations of where to begin looking for housing? We are not at all familiar with New York.


    • As I mentioned in my comment to Wendy, it seemed last year that the unchaperoned kids had a great time in the NYU or New School dorms. Julian knew many kids staying in the New School dorm, and that is very close to ABT. I even dropped him off there occasionally to hang out with them. There are Resident Advisors that check in on them at midnight to make sure they are in their rooms, and there is a security guard at the front door. If he goes back next year, I’ll send him alone, and that would be my choice for him. I’d select the New School dorm, which is, by the way, co-ed.

      If you want to find housing for yourself and your daughter, last year we did it through Craig’s List. We also used some apartment listing services that had both free and paid services. We used the free ones. This year I am using actual real estate services; there are a variety to choose from. They are much more expensive, however. I’m struggling with the cost, but the apartments are much nicer. Some apartments are just bare bones boxes with the essentials. These are cheaper. Others are nice and lived in looking but expensive. You may also able to stay in the NYU dorms with your child; we didn’t find this to be a less expensive option, however.

      ABT should be sending out info on all of this soon.

  4. Hi! I just wanted to let commenters know that if you leave the checkbox that says “send me an email when new comments are added” checked when adding your comment to the blog that you have subscribed to the conversation on this post. This is a great way to keep on top of any new information from Nina or other readers. Replying to the new-comment emails will reply to the administrator address on the blog (that’s me – Nichelle), not the commenter. However you may reply to the commenter by following the post URL and replying on the blog post (chances are they’ve subscribed to new comments too).

    Also, while your questions are most welcome on the blog, please consider Nina’s valuable time when asking. I am sure she will offer as much assistance as she can but she is also a busy mom and writer. Consider first if your question truly requires the knowledge of someone who has been a participant/parent at the intensive, or if you might find your answer through other means such as a search engine. This is not a reprimand, I know that it is a relief when you find someone else in your shoes and you want to ask them everything. This is just a reminder so that we can make the best use of everyone’s time. Thanks 🙂

  5. Our Emily (who will be 14 in May) received a summer intensive scholarship to ABT, also. Have you decided where you will be staying. Since she will be only 14, she has to have a chaperone. We’d love to hear from you.


  6. What area would it be considered ? You see ads for Queens etc, what area should I be looking for to be with in walking distance. Your information is very helpful- thank you for sharing ;)Also if anyone else is going for 2011 there is a facebook group at . Hopefully it will catch on so we can have discussions. First time so stressful! 😉

  7. My granddaughter, Emily, stayed at the New School dorm with a chapeone (address 318 E. 15th St.) last summer while she attended ABT on a full scholarship. I would definitely recomend it–it is within walking distance of ABT–felt very safe there. Security is excellent. In the beginning, the moms walked the girls to and from ABT; but within a very short time, Emily made some very good friends and they walked together to and from. I was lucky enough to be her chaperone the last week and enjoyed staying at the dorm. It’s clean. Each suite includes two bedrooms (each sleeps two), a small kitchen and small bathroom. She has since been named a National Training Scholar for 2010-2011, received a full scholarship for the summer intensive 2011, and during the second-last week, was offered a full scholarship to JKO for 2010-2011; but parents decided to hold off till 2011-2012 because of her age.

  8. Hi Ann! Wow she must be very talented! I read on the ballet talk forum that there were some issues with bugs and mice at new school and some noise. Did you experience anything like that? It does seem like a good choice especially since they let a parent chaperone stay there but after reading that I got worried. I’ve been looking on Craig’s list but am a little worried about getting scammed. Thanks for the info!

  9. We found the New School building at 38 E. 15th St. to be really quite clean. There is a large laundry room down stairs and a lounge where there is a TV, also. There are no TVs in the rooms, but there is hook-up for computers. As I mentioned before, the security personnel were quite diligent and most were friendly. When we left, they thanked us for our behavior and respect. As for safety, I doubt much could get past those folks. We found no bugs or mice. Of course I was there only one of the weeks. (I believe this was the Styvesant building). If you have more questions, I’m sure my daughter (Emily’s mom) would be glad to answer them, also, if I can’t. I would definitely stay there again.

    We now have the daunting chore of finding a safe place to live during the school year, as this dorm is mostly filled by some art school, etc. The kids are there on their own and were told by the building security that things were quite different then. Security told us their job was much more difficult. Any ideas? Unfortunately ABT does not furnish housing.

  10. Just popping in here….my daughter went to ABT last year and stayed at the Webster (an all female building which provides two meals a day). It was clean, but very small rooms with a single bed, dresser, sink and a shared bathroom. It was very affordable and the food was good – cafeteria style (breakfast and dinner). Cost was $265 inclusive per week. Kaity was 16 and was fine on her own – it’s a short bus ride to ABT (34th Street to 19th).

    She did have friends who stayed at the New School and there were reports of bugs that I heard about 🙁

    NYC is the summer is wonderful! A great experience for our dancers! My daughter is currently attending the Joffrey Trainee Program in NYC.

    Good luck to all of you!

  11. Thanks again for the info ladies! Hopefully it was that one building. I did find a couple of apartments but t be affordable we would need a couple of other kids to share. It’s easily over 3k a month or about 135-150 a night to sublet. Ann I would love to talk with Emily’s mom if she has time and hope other parents find this board or join the facebook group so we can coordinate maybe. My facebook is if anyone messages me there I can send them my personal email. 😉 Would love to find other parents in the same boat!

    • Gina,

      Sorry it took me so long to reply to you. We’ve had a number of family “emergencies” recently. If my daughter, Joyce, has not contacted you, here is her email address: joyceandchrishayes AT yahoo DOT com.

      *editor note: altered the address to save you from spam that would probably result from a published address

  12. Hi ladies! I’m so glad you are connecting with each other here! I can’t resist jumping in on the bugs/mice topic.

    I worked at an all-girl 8-week summer camp for three summers and I just have to say that anytime you’ve got kids/teens (or college kids for that matter) staying in a building together for extended periods… well bugs and mice aren’t unusual. Yes, camp is rural but there are definitely bugs and mice in a city too. The thing is, the kids tend to bring food into the building. When mom isn’t there to make sure they are storing it away properly or cleaning up after themselves, bugs and mice will quickly figure out where to find food. Plus, it only takes one sighting for wild stories begin to circulate. So, my advice on that particular matter is to try to impress on your own child how important it will be to put away THEIR snacks and food – sending them with some airtight containers wouldn’t be a bad idea. In group living, you can’t control what other kids do or don’t do but little things like this can help their room stay bug-free! Hope you all have a great summer experience!

  13. Thanks for the great summer tips, should tell my mom about number 7 😉

  14. Hi there,

    I am so glad I came across your blog and insight into ABT in NY. My daughter was also accepted. She will turn 16 right before she leaves. She has attended other summer intensives, but they have all been chaperoned. So this will be her first like this and I will not be able to stay with her. We are all a little nervous, but know this is an amazing opportunity. We have also been looking in the dorms at New School. Walking distance is our preference. I have a few questions for you if you don’t mind.

    At the New School dorms, did they kids have any meals? If they do not offer meals, do you know what their kitchens supply any cooking pans or utensils?
    Did either ABT or the dorms help them with finding roommates? My daughter will not know anyone and she really wants room with a dancer. I am happy to hear that a lot of the kids seem to dorm there. So I am hoping that she will have people to walk to/from with as well as staying in the same place as her.
    Also, she also would love to know if they go out in groups on the weekends to explore the city? She has never been to NYC before and would love to be able to do some fun things on the weekend.

    Thanks so much for your reply! I see that your son attended a couple years ago.

  15. I’m not sure if there are utensils, etc. in The New School dorms, but I assume so. I’ve never heard that the kids have to purchase them. Typically the dancers are all put together, although sometimes from other programs. The kids do walk to ABT together–and back. They do a lot together. And I’m sure they will explore together as well.

  16. Hi Nina- I am so relieved to have come across your blog. My daughter was just accepted in the NY SI. We were shocked and delighted at the same time and now she and I are planning our trip to NYC. She is 12 (turning 13 this summer) and I’m feeling anxious about doing this on my own.
    I loved reading all your tips, they helped put me at ease as we have only two weeks to decide if this is a for sure thing. She was also accepted into the UCI one (which is 15 minutes from our house) but I feel like we can’t pass on this opportunity.
    Where are you in So. Cal? Also, do you know of a way to find out or hook up with any other girls/ moms who are going to the NY SI? It would be great if she could meet up with a few girls who are her age before the intensive.
    Thank you!

  17. Silvia Cunha says:

    My daughter got accepted to the ABT summer program!! Thank You so much for posting this.. its my first time attending a summer intense program. by reading this helped me alot.>!! She’s 12 years old and I’m feeling anxious. Thank you!!!!

  18. Ann Slouffman says:

    There’s no need to feel anxious. It’s a great experience and she’s love it. Of course, especially the first few days, she will probably come home tired. Of course my daughter stayed with her part of the time. The rest of the time her dance teacher from back home stayed with . Emily had received ascholarship to ABT summer intensive when she was 13. During the summer intensive she was offered a year-round scholarship. She is now 16 and in Level 7 at JKO (lives with her other grandmother in NYC).

  19. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for this site, info and posts. My daughter is accepted into Joffrey for a summer intensive, but NYC is like another planet for us. Housing and being sure she is safe is a HUGE concern for me. She, on the other hand, sees NYC as a dream come true. I don’t think she has watched as many L&O episodes as her mom . . .

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      My daughter is going to the Joffrey summer intensive this summer as well. SHe is 14, doing Jazz & contemporary program 7/29-8/16, flying alone, staying in dorm and first time in big city. What are the dates your daughter is going? Just looking to connect with some others that are going!