Summer Intensives: When and why attend.

A lot of parents of young dancers who are just becoming eligible to attend these Summer intensive programs are asking me to help them decide if they are ready to go and how to choose a good one.   I am hoping to open up a discussion here, where you will ask questions and share experiences to help you to decide if a summer program is right for your dancer.  I have experienced my own 2 children going to programs and received lots of feedback from parents and children about their experiences.  I would also like to share with you some of the trends I have been noticing in the past few years.

First of all Summer Intensives are NOT sleep away camp.  Its all about hard work.  Yes there are occasional field trips or theme park excursions on the weekends and if your dancer is not too tired or sore to go they can be fun.  There are no camp-fires, no experienced counselors to help handle homesickness and no group experiences to build unity and friendship! Summer Intensives are just that, 4-5 classes per day, rehearsals for a final performance, stiff competition, and often multiple teachers who do not have much time to get to know the dancers

Many professional schools use their Summer Intensives to find prospective students for the school year.  Many aspiring professional dancers use summer intensives to see if a certain school might be a good fit for them and if the directors might be interested in them as prospective employees in the future.  It’s also a great time for an advanced dancer to try a different style of ballet, learn choreography that is in the repertoire of the company it is attached to, or to get special coaching in pas de deux or see professional dancers first hand in class or as instructors.

Make sure your headshot looks like you do in class.

The popularity of ballet and dance seems to be growing rapidly.  The number of summer intensives programs have exploded in the past 10 years.   Remember, running a professional company is expensive and the income generated from several hundred students studying and boarding at a summer program has led many programs to creatively consider how to capitalize on the good name of their company. Some of the income generating innovations include alternative locations in different cities that can accommodate more students. Special programs for collegiate age students, or young dancers have seen a rise in junior programs.  This is all well and good as long as the summer program is offering top notch classes, the best and most experienced faculty and promoting a consistent standard of the dancers they accept so that the environment is challenging, stimulating and carefully monitored.

Young dancers can make excellent progress during the summer when they arrive in the mornings, fresh rested and not fatigued and weighed down by homework.  I love having students during LABA’s 4 week Summer Intensive where I often feel I can  accomplish months of work in just a few short weeks.  If the dancers that are arriving are calm and relaxed,  are getting lots of rest and nutritious meals they can make huge strides during a Summer Intensive program. I strive to no overfill the classes and to give them plenty of quality time with instructors who are experienced with the age groups I have in my program, and who they might not have access to at other programs.  With my regular students I often have the added advantage of knowing how they tick, which group (or teachers)  they will work best with and how to bring out the best in them in the time allotted.

Ask Iker about getting your photos for auditions

As you prepare to dip your toes in the water ask yourself some the following questions:

*Do I have money to spare to spend on a Summer intensive so that I will not have to skimp on year round training or away training later on, to compensate for the cost of a Summer Intensive?

*Is my young dancer ready to go away for an extended period of time.  Can they manage sensible eating choices,  doing their own laundry and cleaning their room without too much assistance?

*Can they keep track of their belongings? Can they sew their pointe shoes?

*Are they able to discern between soreness and injury and are they able to speak up for themselves if they are injured and cannot dance?

*Can they handle criticism, and competition without becoming overly stressed by it?

*Is your dancer mature enough to handle different styles and information and to adjust to new teachers and their way of teaching?

Once you decide to take your dancer to some auditions, then consider the following preparations:

*Check the programs that are not too big.  Look for programs with limited enrollment and a strong experienced teaching staff at the location you are going to choose.

*Check their audition sites and times, locations and fees of the auditions, then set up a calendar for the auditions your dancer would like to attend.

*Figure out what audition photographs are needed for each location and make sure you have the photographs needed for the auditions you plan to attend. TIP: do not use commercial head shots or school pictures.  Make sure your picture looks like your dancers looks at ballet class.  Snap a picture at home before class, or ask Iker for a photo shoot apt if you need more complicated poses.


Alumni Megan Tatum

*Arrive at the audition site at least 30 minutes before with your paperwork complete.  (pre register if that is an option) Write your child’s name and phone number on the back of the picture.

*Video auditions are complicated and time consuming. Attend an in person audition wherever possible.  If you need a video you will need to book a LABA teacher in a private session for approxomately 2-3 hours to achieve a suitable dvd audition.

*Get away from the studio and have coffee with a friend while your child is taking the audition and try not to let the “dance moms” make you nervous that your child is NOT doing enough, dancing enough, taking gymnastics, not wearing custom pointe shoes, travelling to New York on the weekend for extra lessons, taking multiple private lessons, taking height enhancing drugs,  seeing a sports therapist, or not taking more than one intensive…….(believe me I have heard them all)

OK now its your turn.  Please share your summer intensive experiences here.  I’m hoping you will weigh in and ask questions and we can get the conversation going right here.






17 thoughts on “Summer Intensives: When and why attend.”

  1. Great article Andrea. At 16 my mother, ( a former dancer and Rockette) sent me to a Ballet West intensive for the summer. It was one of the hardest and most life-changing things I’ve ever done. I don’t think I will ever forget taking class in Aspen outside facing the mountains…wow. I think what I would add to this is that the experience alone is worth it. In other words, don’t worry about whether it will further you to the next step. Just to be around that level of dancing and artistry is more than good enough. The experience inspired me for a lifetime, and even though I ended up going in different directions, my time there was magical. One note of caution: Be prepared for tough constructive feedback. It’s part of the deal when you’re involved at that level. I hope everyone who is interested gets to do something like this, We are very fortunate that Los Angeles Ballet Academy offers this right here in our backyard. 🙂

  2. What a timely discussion, Ms. Andrea! Henry and I were just talking about this at dinner last night. I appreciate all the guiding questions you have come up with in order to decide if Summer Intensive is right for your son or daughter at their stage of development- both emotionally and physically. Henry attended LABA’s Summer Intensive last summer. I can’t stress how important I think it was for Henry to experience a Summer Intensive in his home environemnt first before going out to other programs. Henry had to adapt to the physical demands of hours of intense dancing each day. He had to adapt emotionally to the different teaching styles and critiques that came from the amazing quality of guest teachers he took class from. I believe he was able to rise to the challenges because for the first time he expereinced it he had his home, bath tub, and comforting bed to go to at the end of each day. He developed the callouses on his feet and on his little ego. He saw the amazing amount of growth and learning that can take place in this intense and focused environment. If it wasn’t already the case…he was “bitten” by the performance and dance bug…for life!
    Henry will be 13 years old this summer. As I mentioned, he brought htis very topic up last night…maybe because audition photos were taken….maybe because dance is all he thinks about. Andrea, I am grateful for your real look at what an intensive experience looks like. No matter what happens through this process, I am grateful that there is an option right here in our home studio.
    How do students pick a program? OR does the program pick the student?
    Do you find out directly after an audition if you have been accepted intot he program or do you receive an acceptance letter later?

    Thanks all for your wisdom and support through this process. I am looking forward to hearing others’ experiences. A great conversation…

    1. Hi Daphne.
      To answer your questions:

      How do students pick a program? OR does the program pick the student?

      Most are by audition only. Some programs that are highly popular and have a limited number of spots are difficult to get accepted into. (It gets more difficult as you get older)
      My advise it to do a few auditions some that are a little more forgiving and some that are more selective .

      Examples of programs that have very limited spots. Royal Ballet School, SAB, PNB, Ellison ballet, Harid. (60-160 spots)
      Programs that have limited spots. SFB (however this year they are expanding) Houston Ballet, Washington Ballet.
      Examples of programs with multiple sites & many spots: ABT, Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet New York, Bolshoi School.

      Do you find out directly after an audition if you have been accepted into the program or do you receive an acceptance letter later?

      Most programs mail you a response and you do not find out directly after. A few tell the dancers immediately. SFB fills almost immediately after the letters go out, so its important to register immediately if your child wants to go there.

      Also consider the dance style. Balanchine technique is VERY different to what we do and is better for more older more experienced dancers. Russian and British style is what we do at LABA and therefore the style will be similar.

  3. Thank you so much for this information Miss Andrea! We certainly feel privileged to have taken part in numerous top notch summer intensives at LABA and want to be sure that if we go elsewhere that we are getting the same first class teaching! We will follow your advice and do the research. Thanks again!

    1. Once we get the ball rolling here and get some more feedback we might want to hold a meeting at the studio to talk more about specifics. I can look at your child’s pictures and help you narrow down which auditions to choose from. I have had summer intensive meetings every year for several years and am glad to do it again if I can get a good sized group together at the same time. Auditions usually begin in Jan so next month would be a good time to do it.

      1. We would definitely be interested in attending an informational meeting like that. Samantha also thoroughly enjoyed her experience at LABA last summer and we would like to have more information before deciding on pursuing other programs.

      2. We would love to participate in a Summer Intensives Meeting as well. Count us in when you are figuring out a date. Thanks!

        1. Thank you so much for this blog and for directing me to the replies. I appreciate this wealth of information. Both of my girls have had great experiences at LABA’s Summer Intensive Program. However, we are also interested in attending the summer intensive meeting. In addition to the ballet programs, will you be speaking on any jazz/contemporary summer intensive programs?

          1. Laura I am not familiar with that many summer programs for Jazz or Contemporary as much as I am with ballet. They do not seem to be as popular. However you will see very full classes at the Edge PAC in Los Angeles or at the Broadway dance center in New York. Many Jazz focused dancers go to conventions for additional training or take Master Classes during the year and many of the Jazz competition crowd spend their summers at National finals. Due because of the nature of the dance style the Jazz/contemporary crowd might enjoy time at a resort with dance, convention and r&r all rolled into one. Doug and Friends was fantastic for our students that attended 2 years ago and the students that went really loved it, however it was cancelled in the summer of 2012, I believe because of low enrollment. Hubbard Street ran their program in LA 2 years ago and it filled so quickly that they found a bigger venue last summer in Iowa. Their Chicago program is for 18 years and up. Complexions has a program in New York and Lines contemporary dance has a program in San Francisco that you might want to check out. However most good ballet programs also incorporate modern, or contemporary in their programs and I feel that the LABA program does that better than most. Our access in the summer to great contemporary, jazz or musical theater teachers makes that facet of our program very strong. I did see video of the Joffrey Chicago programs contemporary and Jazz classes this year (because my daughter was studying there) and felt that they rivaled what I would see in LA. The influence of Hubbard Street and River North Jazz companies there bring a rich jazz influence to the city. In my opinion contemporary dance at some ballet intensives is an afterthought and is not to the standard of the ballet classes, this is a mistake since professional ballet companies today do a significant amount of contemporary dance in their reportoire and the dancers are expected to be able to handle the material. Also many young dancers at Summer Intensives have a strong interest in contemporary dance. Hope this helps.

  4. Great article Andrea! My name is Isabelle Overstreet and I am a previous dancer with Los Angeles Ballet Academy. For the past few years I have gone away almost every summer to a different summer intensive to experience many of the things you commented on above. I have to agree that my time at these summer intensives definitely were not like a sleep away camp. Most nights I was to tired to even stay up till lights out and weekends usually meant lying on my bed until I got enough energy to get food. That said, these intensives were my favorite part of summer. Spending four to five weeks surrounded by girls that all were as dedicated and determined to dance as I wanted to be pushed me to try even harder, and allowed me to connect with some amazing people. Although some of the bigger named summer intensives like ABT were a good experience, I think that my time spent at the smaller programs benefited my dancing the most. At a smaller intensive the teachers really strived to know my name and focused more on improving my technique. I would suggest for anyone just starting to go away to choice someplace where they would not get lost in the crowd, and to not let prestige names be an influence in the decision making process. Hope my experiences are helpful to those interested!

  5. Thanks for posting Izzy. One thing that you bring up is that I think these days people are starting to think “outside the box” and are looking at smaller programs with great faculty to train with. With so many programs getting so big its a good way to find specialized training without the big business.

  6. I’m Sabrina Sellers, and I too am a LABA Alumni. I have been spending summers away from home for about 4 years now. I think that summer intensives really challenged me mentally and physically because like Miss Andrea mentioned, you deal not only with the physical demands that dancing five to six days a week puts on you, but the mental challenges of being competitive with a new crowd of people. My best summers were spent at the Washington School of Ballet. The first year I went, I didn’t really know what to expect. At first I was overwhelmed by the amount of dancing I was doing and the talented dancers in my class, but I improved so much that summer that I went again a second year. Those summers were extremely challenging, but it was a great way for me to push myself and try things I had never done before. I remember coming back in September and feeling like my technique had improved. I agree with Izzy that when choosing an intensive don’t automatically go for the big named company’s intensives. Look at the teachers, the styles they focus on, and whether or not you liked the audition class. I feel that those are good indicators for which intensive would fit best.

    1. Sabrina I know that one of my concerns about Washington ballet is that many of the technique classes are on pointe. Can you tell me which levels (ages) do all their technique classes on pointe. I do think this is a very good program but for anyone not ready for 3-5 hours on pointe a day they might want to think about that. Also how many boys were at the program?

      1. Well, I was in level 8 and we had none of our technique classes on pointe, so in total we had about 3 hours of pointe a day, but I know Izzy’s class had a teacher who liked all their classes to be on pointe so the level 7’s had to do practically 5 hours of pointe. It really depended on the teacher I assume. As for the boys, The last summer I went they maybe had 10 to 15 boys.

  7. My daughter, Genevieve, has participated in 4 summer programs in 3 different schools outside of LABA.  I will write about our experiences in 3 installments.

    Genevieve’s first introduction was with Royal Ballet School, RBS, at White Lodge for younger students.  At eleven years old, the one week program was indeed a gentle introduction to at least 6 hours of dancing.  The program opened with a family orientation which allowed us to get a glimpse of what’s ahead, the international students enrolled and the school facilities.  My daughter first learned to be responsible for her class schedules and learned to navigate to the various studios spread across the facilities.  It was a proud moment when she recounted how many other foreign speaking students she helped to find their way.   After conquering the labyrinth, my daughter learned to overcome and start appreciating the high caliber level of dancers around her.  Surrounded by talented dancers, Genevieve became more motivated to raise the bar on herself to push for greater achievements.

    Not only were we happy with the teaching standards and class make-up, we were extremely satisfied by the summer program team’s efforts to ensure my daughter felt a sense of belonging.  Rather than staying at the White Lodge dormitory, Genevieve stayed with us in a hotel in Twickenham, next town over Richmond.   Despite her external living arrangements, the summer coordinator extended an open invitation to eat dinner and participate in night group activities with her dance mates .  

    We all  loved her total dance and cultural experience.  In just a week, she learned to adapt to various teaching styles and learned British English idioms like “ring my Mum”,  ask her to  “collect me.”  We still giggle fondly every time she utters this in her British accent.   Genevieve and her friends also raved about RBS’ famous snack biscuits.  I never tasted it but they couldn’t eat enough of these biscuits.  

    Royal Ballet School was indeed a very memorable and GREAT first outside summer intensive experience for Genevieve.

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  9. I am Megan Tatum’s Mom; she is an alumna of Laba and currently in her second year of full time study with Houston Ballet. Megan left to attend year around study at Houston Ballet at the beginning of her senior year as a direct result of Summer Intensives.
    Megan attended Summer Intensives beginning at the age of 10 where she was staying away from us but you have to know that your child is mature enough to be away and still maintain focus and health. I may have looked at Summer Intensives differently as Megan always made it clear that she wanted to dance professionally.
    Megan has attended 7 Summer Intensives, not including Laba’s that usually fit in perfectly when she would return home. One Summer she attended two Intensives that toed perfectly into each other. Most of the Summer Intensives were amazing and some were not worth the money and effort.
    I also stress the importance of #1 the teachers as it is very important to experience different Master teachers’ teaching techniques and also that your Son or Daughter gets “seen” as the Ballet world gets quite small as the numbers dwindle at the most advanced levels. Exposure definitely helps for future opportunity.
    I am also a firm believer that you need to plot out and time the Summer experiences carefully as Summers are limited and these Summer Intensives are the perfect opportunity to see what your Son or Daughter likes as well to figure out what teachers and ballet Companies like your Daughter or Son. In two cases of acceptance, we forfeited scholarships to attend another Summer Intensive that we felt was more important for her to experience at that particular time.
    A parent must strive to accept the most learned choice of programs suited for your child as I have seen more that one child either so discouraged, burned out, or injured when returning home that they eventually quit dance.
    You need to consider which programs offer year around instruction if that is where your Son’s or Daughter’s interest lies, as most all the Ballet Companies admit to year around from Summer Intensives.
    Despite what has been said in previous comments about big programs with “names, when building a Dancer’s resume, it is important to have some prestigious programs listed and I can say that the prestigious programs were not always among her best experiences! She has actually been asked about her experiences at Royal Ballet Upper School (Ballet heaven!) during an open audition!
    It is important that your student know that just because all of his or her friends are going to a Summer Intensive, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best choice for your student and they will make friends during the Summer. I remember the first few Summer Intensives that Megan would be crushed if she had no friends going but towards her High school years she didn’t really need her friends as she looked forward to meeting new friends. With many Summer Intensives completed, your child will always know someone or will know a friend of a friend!
    Summer Intensives also teach life experience and your student will develop self reliance, growth, and maturity while away from home.
    It requires a certain amount of planning and work for the parents getting your child ready, so pick wisely to make it the most rewarding experience possible for what ever your student is looking for.
    It is very important to plan to do ample auditions as you will never know what may happen… injury, standing on the wrong side of the room, or just schedule conflicts. We tried to always have a “plan B” and options. It is very important to go to the audition collected, organized, and early so that your Student may give his or her best effort. Always double check as you go out the door that you have all the necessary items and that you have an extra leotard and tights and equivalent for boys to avoid any extra stress.
    Audition time is an exciting time that never ends and the experience with auditions is priceless…we are currently looking ahead to auditions for Megan.

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