Dancer to Dancer

Why You Should Try an Unfamiliar Dance Style This Summer

Christopher Perricelli leading class at Gus Giordano Dance School (courtesy Amy Giordano)

There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.


Why Summer?

An intensive's deep-dive format can feel totally overwhelming, even in a style you're confident in. But that unique format is also what makes it the best time to try something new. "Immersing yourself in intensive summer study allows for pure focus," says Limón Dance Company program manager Becky Brown. Unlike a master class or workshop, a summer program permits dedicated practice over the course of several weeks, giving you the time you need to absorb detailed instructions.

Embrace Being Not-Perfect

Feeling out of your depth is a good thing—it means you're growing. But don't be nervous that attending a summer program outside of your style will mean weeks of awkwardness and discomfort. Michelle Chassé, director of Boston Conservatory at Berklee's Musical Theater Dance Intensive, often sees contemporary and ballet dancers attend the summer program, but the compressed time frame and high level of intensity quickly help them feel at home. "Students are really challenged, even bewildered, in the first few days of the program," she says. "But by the end of the first week they've already begun to absorb and digest what they're being taught."

Boston Conservatory at Berklee's musical theater dance intensive students Celia McLennan and Michael Haggerty (photo by Eric Antoniou, courtesy Boston Conservatory at Berklee)

Reap the (Career-Building) Rewards

In addition to the training you'll receive, an intensive is a major networking opportunity, because it gives you time to build relationships. And if you spend part of your summer with an entirely new dance community, you're likely to create dozens of relationships that might not otherwise have been available to you. "Use the intensive as an opportunity to expand your network of contacts," says Amy Giordano, executive director of the Gus Giordano Dance School in Chicago, IL. "Parents, teachers, photographers—you're exposed to all these new people."

Change Your Big Picture

It seems counterintuitive, but spending a summer studying an unfamiliar technique might just make you better in your "home" genre. "Every style incorporates inspiration from the others," says Brian Young, owner and director of Sweatshop Dance in Denver, CO. "So learning a new style of dance might be just what you need to connect the dots, even in the styles you're most familiar with."

Or a summer program experience could change the course of your career. Student Ilana Cohen studied primarily ballet before attending her first Limón summer program. "I'd started to feel stuck in my ballet training," she says. "My body wasn't physically shaped to do it, and while I had taken classes in more contemporary styles, I didn't understand them because I couldn't see what the goal was." When she first started studying Limón technique, the framework and instruction made sense. "Before the intensive," she says, "it had never occurred to me that it would be possible to consider a career in dance."


Want to branch out, but not sure which intensive might be right for you? We've got some ideas:

If you're a bunhead who's ready to loosen up, try: Complexions Contemporary Ballet summer intensives

If you're a contemporary dancer who wants to dig into improvisation, try: The Gaga intensives

If you're a tapper who's eager to explore rhythm in a different way, try: Belén Maya flamenco workshops

If you're a comp kid who lives for acro, try: Bandaloop


A version of this story appeared in the January 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Summer Study Style Challenge."

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