Many people believe that if an intensive is linked with a professional company or university that it must be good. This is not always the case.There are a lot of wonderful programs out there. The Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Delta Festival Ballet are among a few with excellent programs. Some others are not quite as beneficial. Here is a list of pros and cons of summer intensives along with a few tips about choosing a school.
The Pros of Intensives:
For many dancers, the summer is a time when their own school may be closed, and a serious ballet dancer's body cannot afford to take the summer off from dancing, so an intensive is a great opportunity to experience a professional environment, check out a university program they may be interested in or study with some of the best in the art. I would encourage dancers to experience an intensive the summer between their freshman and sophomore years of high school. It can be a defining moment for them in their lives.
An intensive away from their usual school takes them out of their "safe zone" and helps them see the real ballet world. It gives them diverseness in their training and most importantly it gives them a chance to see what dancing for your livelihood is really about. For some dancers, they return home and realize that a professional life in dance is not the right choice for them and begin to look at other possibilities while still taking classes for the enjoyment of it but for others it reinforces their desire even more and builds their confidence that dance truly is their life.
Since most of the "major" programs (meaning schools connected to companies like ABT, Houston, SF, PNB, etc.) are geared for the upper Intermediate and Advanced Level students, it is best to be at this level in order to obtain the benefits of the program. Younger and/or less advanced students might be better off at home in their own school, with classes which are best suited to their abilities, and teachers who know what they need at the time. Different methods and styles are fine for the more advanced student, but others need to have consistency in their training until the placement, strength and knowledge are sufficient to deal with the differences they will encounter in other programs.
Students can benefit greatly from Summer Intensive programs. Going away from home for a few weeks is fun and educational, a good part of growing up! Working with different teachers and in several forms of dance which might not be a part of the regular school-year programs are major benefits. Also meeting lots of other dancers from around the country is great fun! Many of the programs also have a performance at the end of the course, which makes them even more fun!
It is also important for dancers who are nearing graduation to attend programs where they might have an opportunity for work with the company in the future. For instance, if a particular school shows a lot of interest in you, perhaps gives you partial or full scholarship for a couple of summers, that would be encouraging in terms of your potential for that company. Some of these schools/companies like to see the students for 2 or 3 summers, and then place them in their top level class for a year or two before moving them into the company. So, aligning yourself with a summer program connected to a company becomes more important when you are around 16 and 17.
Most of the camp-type programs are best for the younger student. The training is less intensive, but there are lots of other things to do. There are some camps who have well-known, highly qualified teachers, and some which are basically just camps who happen to also offer dance. If you are a serious dance student, with a career in mind, I would suggest that you discuss the places you are interested in with your teacher. Summer is such an important time for learning and growth in dance, and you don't want to lose training by going somewhere that offers less dance or less quality training than you receive at home.
For dancers wanting to major in dance in college, I also recommend they attend their top choice of school summer intensive the summer between their junior and senior years. This is great because it allows the faculty a chance to get to know them before they are auditioning for their program as well as gives the dancer a chance to try on the university.
Not all university programs have affiliated intensives; most do, but in the case the school the dancer is interested in does not, then a preprofessional program like The Joffrey or San Francisco Ballet is a great choice. A preprofessional program will help the dancer reach their peek right before the college auditioning season and is an excellent reference on their college application.
The Cons of Intensives:
I think it is important for everyone to remember that the first and foremost reason a university or professional company hosts an intensive is to raise money. In the university's case, they may offer classes to their dance majors in the summer but it is also a great recruitment program for future students. For the professional companies it brings in much needed dollars to a profession that needs it badly. I think that sponsoring an intensive to make money is fine, and I have no issue with it.
What I do have an issue with are the ones who tout guest teachers who may have taught one class in the past but will not be present in the current year, although the publicity materials make it appear as though they will be. Or the professional company that appears to be hosting the intensive but is only linked because it is being held in their facilities and their staff is not involved in the actual teaching of the classes or choreography. I knew a student that attended an intensive where this was the case. It was linked to the company, but no one from the company was present. It was a horrible experience for her and she came home after four weeks weaker and far more discouraged than before she left.
Cost - If you can't afford it, don't give up without a try for financial aid and/or a scholarship. If the school is really interesting in having you in their program, they will try to help you as much as they can. Some have more money available for this than others, but it is always worth a try. If you can't go, then stay in your home school's program and spend the summer working intensively, as you can accomplish as much in one good summer course as you can in several months during a school-year!
Teachers, dancers and parents absolutely must research, ask questions and read between the lines before accepting any position with an intensive. There are as many bad programs out there as there are good ones, and all involved should always look closely before making any decisions, after all, it's the dancers' bodies, their training and their money that is at stake.
When chosen carefully, the decision to attend a summer intensive may be a very rewarding, satisfying way to build both dancing skills and self-confidence. As with anything else, just be informed and aware of what you want and whether an intensive meets those needs.
Nichelle @danceadvantage has a great resource of links to help students audition, prepare and select the right intensive for them.
If you can't get to an audition, call the school and see if they will accept a video audition. Be sure to inquire what they would like to see on the video, as some want barre work, and others prefer a bit of center, some pointe, and maybe a variation.