Evelyn Kocak in Giselle (Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet)
There's nothing like the thrill of attending a summer program. Getting to experience new teachers and classes can make a world of difference in your technique. Meeting other students who are as obsessed with dance as you are can lead to lifelong friendships. And sometimes, a summer program can alter the course of your dance career. Just ask pros Evelyn Kocak, Stacy Martorana, Mayumi Enokibara and Stephanie Klemons, who shared their life-changing summer intensive experiences with Dance Spirit.
Between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, I switched from the ballet department to the modern and contemporary program. My teachers had been encouraging me to change majors, though I was hesitant. I'd only taken a few modern classes as a ballet student, and while I'd excelled in them, I was scared. So the next summer, I went to the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, ME.
It was a truly eye-opening summer. I'd never experienced so many different styles of modern and contemporary dance. There was this whole world I hadn't even known about. Each class was exhilarating. I was sweating, dancing as hard as I could; I felt free. It confirmed that I was on the right track—there was a sense that this was where I was meant to be.
I also learned how much classical technique is necessary for modern. I figured out how to combine my love of ballet with these new ways of moving. That's been useful in my professional career—Mark Morris' work is so precise and technically demanding. At Mark Morris Dance Group, we take ballet class every day with Mark, and I love starting the day that way.
Martorana performing with MMDG. (Melanie Futorian, courtesy MMDG)
I was 15 when I first attended the Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell intensive. But Suzanne had been my idol for a while. I read her autobiography when I was 12, and I knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps—to attend the School of American Ballet, join New York City Ballet and perform George Balanchine's ballets.
If you want to be a Balanchine dancer, Suzanne is one of the greatest sources to learn from. The program was pretty small—about 30 dancers—and she was the only teacher. I got to develop a real relationship with her, in an intimate environment, which was so special.
Working with Suzanne solidified my love for Balanchine technique, and encouraged me to join a company that appreciates Balanchine dancers. I actually returned to Exploring Ballet over the next three summers. Before joining Pennsylvania Ballet (a company with roots in the Balanchine tradition), I was a NYCB apprentice and danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet for a year.
Kocak in rehearsal. (Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet)
Mayumi Enokibara, Corps de ballet, Miami City Ballet (and cast member, “Strictly Ballet" Season 2)
I attended Miami City Ballet School's summer intensive for the first time in 2011. Getting to take classes from so many company members—like Patricia Delgado and Jennifer Kronenberg—was amazing. It was my first time learning Balanchine technique, which was pretty shocking. I'd never experienced it back home in Brazil. But I fell in love, hard.
I also learned to speak English that summer. I had studied it a little in school, but I wasn't strong. At first, it was so hard to understand teachers and communicate with anyone. But the friends I made during the program were so helpful. They'd correct me if I said something wrong, so I learned quickly.
The summer program was five weeks, and in my fourth week, I was asked to stay at the school year-round, with a full scholarship. I knew there weren't opportunities like that in my hometown in Brazil, so I was extremely excited. My parents were worried—I was only 14—but they knew how much it meant to me. Two years later, I became an apprentice with Miami City Ballet, and two years after that I was asked to join the main company. It's been a dream come true.
Enokibara performing with MCB. (Marissa Matluck, courtesy MCB)
Stephanie Klemons, Dance captain, swing and associate choreographer, Hamilton
As a kid, my summers were spent at sleep-away camps, including Buck's Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, CT. When I was 18, I was hired to return to Buck's Rock as a dance counselor—but when I got there, it turned out I was going to be the resident musical theater choreographer. I had no idea what that entailed! I'd never created dance for a musical. By the end of camp, I'd choreographed a number of shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
That summer really sparked my interest in choreo. I majored in dance and choreography at Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts. The year after graduation, I met Andy Blankenbuehler at an audition for In the Heights, and later I became the associate choreographer for the show's first national tour. But I often think back to my sink-or-swim summer at Buck's Rock. These days, if I'm not sure I can accomplish something, or if a new experience seems overwhelming, I remember that sometimes, you have to just go for it.
Klemons rocking out on an NYC rooftop. (Kamille Upshaw, courtesy Klemons)