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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Summer Intensives: When to Start?

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My pastor's granddaughter is going to her first summer intensive outside of her own ballet training company. She's ready to branch out and although this one is "in town" and hosted at a local college. It's a step in the right direction. I have encouraged her to START going AWAY to SI's when she is 13 or 14 and target ONE company per year to sample their fare. We didn't start with my dd until she was 16 (too late in the game) and when she was injured and couldn't attend the SI she'd gotten into, even later. By the time she got to NY for the first time, she was 17. Any thoughts on this?

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I might be unpopular but (1) I don't think summer intensives are necessary unless the dancer has professional aspirations, (2) If a 13-year-old isn't ready to leave home for several weeks, I wouldn't push her and (3) whether a dancer attends the same SI every year or a different one ever year is a personal decision. If you find your "dream" intensive when you're 13 and it's a good fit and you keep getting invited back ever year, why give it up just for the sake of change?

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tutumomma77, I don't think there's a generic answer to your question. Some students go to SI's quite young and love every minute of it. Others don't; they're too young. You know your own child. If I remember correctly, my daughter turned 12 at her first SI. She was used to being away from home for a couple weeks at a time visiting friends. Five weeks was a stretch, she later said, but she was very grateful for the opportunity and has always looked back very fondly to her first SI. It's magical.


In today's day, when companies treat their SI's like a long audition for their trainee/apprentice ranks, you may be right that it's better to go sooner rather than later, assuming the dancer is ready to be away from home. My daughter attended 6 different SI's in her years as a student dancer (a couple during the same summer and a repeat summer at one school). She sampled so many different styles of teaching and movement over those summers.


And then there's all those other intangibles about how much kids mature when they're away. And all the new friends (many for life) and new geography and new cultures to explore. It's about so much more than ballet.

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I would add, that for us (living near a major city) an away SI was really not a necessity, in my DD's opinion, until she had been on pointe for a year. She felt that until she went on pointe she would rather swim, ride her bike, be a kid....but keep in mind she was dancing in a pre-pro track all school year so a break was really important.

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I will add to the chorus of "it really depends." My DD, for example, was never particularly concerned with the mania that sometimes surrounded SI acceptances at her school, and only ever attended one in all the years she trained at the pre-pro level. The other years she took open classes near home, as we live in a large city with many options there, and did conditioning on her own. She just felt like the few weeks of extra dance training weren't worth the stress of all the non-dance drama that went on. So before you start favoring any particular training strategy, you really have to weigh a number of factors, including your DK's age, motivation to dance, level of progress in their training, openness to new experiences, and ability to manage their own time/be independent. If the child isn't ready for that level of commitment, I wouldn't push it too hard.

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Hindsight being 20/20 for my oldest (turning 18 soon) and my youngest nearing 15 I would still say I don't know the right answer. Both my dancers have a desire to dance professionally. But if the young dancer you are advising it mature enough, I'd agree with your advice.


Both my dancers did SIs at our original home studio for many years quite happily. Then, at a teacher's encouragement, I traveled to an SI with both my dancers one year when they were young 13 and not quite 10. It is a wonderful SI, we (all of us, me included) learned a lot. My oldest thrived but my youngest was very unhappy being away from Dad and dog and home. So that was with a parent.


After that they changed studios. Youngest quit for a time for multiple reasons. Oldest stayed at the new home SI for two more years. Oldest went away again at 15 and then left home at 16/17 for a residency program. We've learned a lot, the dancer about dancing, the parents about navigating a ballet program and parenting long distance.


Our home studio has top-notch training and is a very safe and sheltered environment. Not perfect by any stretch, but feels so much like a family atmosphere. It does not mimic what we've found the dance world, as a whole to be. We were very naive. I wish I had allowed the older to fly a little sooner to a SI. With limited schools to compare to I think our experience was a bit narrow. I've found our responses to situations to be very emotionally driven.


Youngest has returned to dance and for several reasons must stay at the home SI this summer. This dancer has learned from the older and has a desire to go away to a residential a little sooner. But we will still have only a couple of experiences to base decisions on. Obviously, when we choose one experience we, by default, miss out on another.


I think if I had a dancer en pointe, I would agree with buzzandmoo's daughter and not go away until pointe training had gone on for a year. I've also suggested to a young friend in this very similar situation that she look at what level she would be placed in a program--knowing the numbers do not mean the same thing across the board.

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If I knew then what I know now...

First, I believe in sending kids away for at least a week during the summer (intensive, camp). It fosters independence and gives them great life experiences, and the opportunity to make new friends. I didn't know about summer intensives when DD was younger, so she went to camp at a fairly young age for up to two weeks.


I think a one to three week intensive for younger kids who want to go, love to dance, and are mature enough to be away from home is appropriate.


I think that by age 12, young dancers should definitely be looking at intensives if they want to go, love to dance, and are mature enough to be away from home. I don't think it's necessary for them to have professional aspirations yet. It's quite possible the intensive itself with give them clarification. I think kids can grow up a bit and mature when they are given the opportunity to be on their own in an structured environment.


By age 14, I think most dancers have determined whether they want to dance in the future or not. If they definitely have professional aspirations, then yes, they need to go. If they have college aspirations, then they need to decide if they are going to continue dancing, if it's worth the expense, and if they still love it enough that they want to keep growing as a dancer. I also think they should consider that they may be taking a spot from someone who wants to dance with all of their heart.

SI's are very expensive, so if a child has natural ability, but not a love for it (just a like), or as they get older and determine that they are not going to dance professionally, then it boils down to making a mature decision.

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