For dancers, summer is synonymous with summer intensives—weeks-long programs filled with classes, rehearsals, and cross-training. And today, many dancers are trying to cram as much as possible into their warm-weather "breaks" by enrolling in two, three, even four intensives over the course of a single summer. But while dancing literally all summer might sound like a dream come true, the multi-intensive experience isn't for everyone. We asked the experts for their advice to help you figure out which summer strategy might be best for you.
The Pros and Cons of the Summer Intensive Sampler
Pro: Getting to try a little bit of everything
Designing your own multi-intensive experience means having the freedom to try everything from musical theater to classical ballet to Latin ballroom. "The largest benefit of attending multiple programs is the variety of voices, training styles, and genres you'll be exposed to," says Kate Walker, director of the dance conservatory at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. That's what senior Abigail Jackson discovered last summer, when she attended the Alonzo King LINES Ballet summer program, the Rockettes Summer Intensive (RSI), and the summer intensive at her home studio last year. "Every intensive I attended opened my mind and helped me become a more well-rounded dancer," she says.
Con: Only getting a little bit of everything
While it might be exciting to jump from genre to genre, it will likely be more difficult to delve into the nuances of any one style. "It's like reading five books all at the same time: Some people may be able to benefit from that, but not everyone can," says Denise Bolstad, managing director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Especially for methods of dance that are particularly detailed, like Balanchine-style ballet or Fosse-style jazz, a one- or two-week program will only allow for a broad overview of the technique.
Abigail Jackson (center) at the Rockettes Summer Intensive (courtesy Jackson)
Pro: Meeting a lot of influential faculty
It's always good to "be seen" by the teachers who may be involved in your future, and attending several summer intensives gives you the chance to connect with leadership from multiple schools and companies. "That's particularly helpful if a student wants to join a ballet company," says Walker. "Ballet students need to put themselves out there with the hope that they get invited to a year-round program."
Con: Not building deep connections
Bolstad points out that, at a longer program, you're likely to see all of your teachers many times. In a summer of multiple shorter programs, you might only see each teacher once or twice. Less face time with faculty means less-personal corrections and shallower relationships.
Jackson preparing for a performance at the Rockettes Summer Intensive (courtesy Jackson)
Pro: Finding yourself as an artist
Part of the reason Jackson participated in several intensives this past summer was because she was heading into her senior year and wanted her summer experience to inform the big decisions she had coming up. "As a dancer and artist, I wanted to find who I was," she says. And while she loved all of her summer programs, her time at RSI solidified her goal of becoming a Rockette. "On the first day of classes, as I was learning the choreography, I realized this was what I wanted to do," she says.
Con: Feeling more confused than ever
"If you're doing a lot of different styles and genres, it's easy to become enamored of all of them, especially if you're a dancer who's already pretty versatile," says Walker. But if you love every style of dance you try, how can you pick which to pursue? Walker says that she's seen many students return from summer intensives feeling more conflicted about their passions than they were before.
Pro: Dancing more than you ever have before
For most dancers, the biggest draw of the multi-intensive summer is the chance to fill your summer with training. "It's almost an adrenaline rush," says Jackson. "As you go through each intensive, you're feeling like, 'OK, I'm ready for the next one!' "
Con: Dancing more than you ever have before!
Summer intensives are infamously hotbeds for overuse injuries, like Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and stress fractures. And scheduling back-to-back-to-back intensives puts you at a higher risk for these injuries, or for general burnout. "They're called 'intensives' for a reason—the training is intense," says Walker. "It takes a very mature approach to be able to take care of your body throughout that process."
Jackson (center) with friends at the Alonzo King LINES Ballet summer program (courtesy Jackson)
Build Your Own Multi-Intensive Summer
Get Strategic About Scheduling
If you decide to create your own summer intensive sampler, schedule it thoughtfully. Try to give yourself a weeklong break between programs if you can. If you have to go straight from intensive to intensive, book programs in different styles to give your muscles a change of pace. For example, "If you're a ballet dancer interested in contemporary work, summer's a great time to explore that," says Bolstad. "And you'll be using your body differently, maybe not putting your pointe shoes on, which will make you less injury-prone than spending eight straight weeks in pointe shoes."
Figure Out Your Finances
Even a single summer intensive is expensive. If you want to attend multiple, consider how you and your family will be able to afford the cost. Often, scholarships are a big help, whether they're offered by the program or an outside source. "Lots of communities have scholarships that kids aren't even aware of, and frequently a school guidance counselor will know what those are," says Walker. "I always encourage students to look at a local, community level, because then the application pool is smaller."
Keep Mindfulness in Mind
Make the most of your summer sampler by documenting the experience in a mindful way. "I always encourage my kids to keep a journal throughout the summer, because you get so much information in a short time," says Walker. "Especially in a summer where you have multiple intensives, it's hard to retain all of that information." Writing in a journal throughout the summer will also remind you what you loved about one intensive and didn't love about another, which can help clarify your longer-term dance goals.