For most teens, summer is a time to kick back and relax. But for dancers, the school-free days provide an opportunity to spend more time honing their skills. The School at Jacob's Pillow, located in the tranquil Berkshire Hills, offers summer programs in range of dance forms. Amaya Perea, a 20-year-old from Santa Barbara, CA, who grew up studying ballet and flamenco, attended programs at The School in 2008 (flamenco) and 2009 (jazz/musical theatre dance). Amaya was recently accepted at the selective CAP 21 musical theater conservatory in NYC and she spoke to DS about her experience at The School at Jacob's Pillow.
Dance Spirit: How did you hear about The School?
Amaya Perea: I got a scholarship in flamenco through YoungArts and the director of Jacob's Pillow asked me to come to the Cultural Traditions: Flamenco program in the summer of 2008. I immediately fell in love with it--the people, the energy and the environment. That's how I heard about the jazz/musical theatre program.
DS: What did you like about the environment?
AP: Jacob's Pillow is a small community in the middle of nowhere; it's like a hidden treasure. You live in close quarters with everyone, and the teachers and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival performers stay on campus, too. You all eat together, so you get to mingle.
After class you can talk to your teachers and get to know them on a personal level, which adds to the whole experience. [Broadway veteran] Dana Moore came in and choreographed for us and I was able to talk to her and ask for her opinions about the industry and what schools would be good to pursue. She mentioned CAP 21 and I took her advice and auditioned--she actually wrote my recommendation.
DS: Had you always been interested in musical theater?
AP: I had done a few local things, but not much. The School at Jacob's Pillow was definitely a big turning point. Before attending, I wasn't sure if musical theater was what I should be doing. Afterward, I knew without a doubt that it's what I have to do.
DS: What was the program like?
AP: It's small [the program is capped at 24 students], so you get to know the other dancers and connect with them. Chet Walker is the director and he taught most of our classes. Every day we had jazz or ballet in the morning, then pilates or yoga, and then we had a lot of rehearsals. We danced from 9 am until about 4 pm, or sometimes later in the evening, like 9:30. We were working towards a big performance.
DS: Did you work on all aspects of musical theater?
AP: It was mainly dance, but acting played a part in the dancing and singing. Ric Ryder taught us voice lessons. We had to bring a solo to the program and we took turns singing for the group. It was terrifying at first! Because we each had our own strengths and weaknesses, he worked with us individually and helped us find the content of the scene.
DS: How did you change as a performer?
AP: It really built up my stamina. We had to work so hard. My dancing is now sharper and bigger because Chet pushed us to open up and not hold back. I also gained confidence in singing and strengthened my voice.
DS: What was your favorite part about your experience at The School at Jacob's Pillow?
AP: The studios are open all night, so a lot of us would get together late at night and sing and dance. Another big moment was doing the performance at the end. They brought in a bunch of Broadway stars and dancers who performed with us. It was incredible to be on the stage with them.
Photos top to bottom: Amaya (second from left) performing with the Jazz/Musical Theatre program at Jacob's Pillow in 2009 by Karli Cadel; Amaya Perea by Natalie Perea.