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What IS a Summer Intensive?

It's that time of year again! Pre-professional students and emerging dance artists from all around the country have made their way to Ballet Theatre of Maryland for a 5-week summer intensive program. But what exactly is a summer intensive?


For many advanced students, summer programs like ours are an opportunity to study more intensely than they're able to during the school year. Most ballet companies and pre-pro training programs will offer a 4-6 week course where students train all day. A few notable outliers may even go for eight weeks!

This format means that students make huge leaps in their technique, stamina, and artistry in a short period. As they get older, summer programs are often the gateway into a trainee, second company, or apprentice program.


This is the case at BTM, making our summer intensive an integral first step in joining the company. Think of it as an onboarding process: Over these five weeks, our newest dancers have the opportunity to receive training, learn the company culture, and show the Artistic Staff their strengths.

 

These experiences serve dancers well in the long term. Conservatory Principal Emily Carey explains it this way:


Emily Carey, our Conservatory Principal

"Our summer intensive offers two levels: Intermediate, for students aged 11+, and Advanced, for pre-professional students and emerging professional artists. Both programs are designed to challenge and assist dancers in improving not only technically, but also artistically. By taking ballet and pointe classes along with 2-3 other dance styles daily, students have the opportunity to hone in on "nitty-gritty" improvements that will make them stronger technically.

 

"What I find special about our summer intensive is that it also offers at least two hours of choreographic rehearsals daily. The balance of learning classical repertory and having new choreography set on them gives them a true look into a professional rehearsal setting and further challenges them artistically. At the end of the summer, they get to perform said works at our in-house, End of Summer Showcase. It's always so wonderful to see not only the choreography come to fruition, but also the students emerging into stronger, well-rounded dancers!"


Here's a closer look at what that entails.


Areas of Study

The "intensive" nature of a summer program is partially due to the number of classes dancers take per day. These classes fall into a few distinct categories.

Rachel Visosky, who has been promoted from trainee to apprentice for the fall

Core Classes

Ballet: Most mornings begin with a two-hour ballet class taught by Artistic Director Nicole Kelsch, Conservatory Principal Emily Carey, or other faculty members. This two-hour format provides plenty of time for personalized corrections and a focused approach to technique.


Pointe/Variations: Most days, we follow ballet class with pointe or variations class. Whether they are practicing a simple pointe combination or learning an iconic classical solo, these classes strengthen dancers' legs and feet, refine their pointework, and develop their artistry.


Partnering: For many female dancers, summer intensives may be one of their first opportunities to take partnering classes. As in ballet class, partnering teachers give center combinations that systematically grow in complexity and difficulty. When there are more female than male dancers in class (which is often the case), the gentlemen will circle back to do each combination with every one of their partners.


Supplemental Dance Classes

  • Character: Many classical ballets include stylized dances that represent the folk dance traditions of various nations. In Swan Lake, for example, guests at Prince Siegfried's Act III birthday party dance the mazurka and czardas to show that they are visiting from Poland and Hungary. Taking character classes prepares dancers to perform character roles in many ballets.

Students of the 2023 Intermediate level perform a character dance staged by Roman Mykyta
  • Modern: Just as classical ballet has its own language and defined methodology, modern dance masters of the late 19th and early 20th century created methodologies that present-day choreographers still draw upon. This summer, students will focus on the Horton technique of modern dance.

  • Jazz: Another important dance form of the 20th century, jazz originally blended African dance traditions with popular dances like the Charleston and Lindy Hop.

  • Contemporary & Improvisation: Characteristic of the mid-20th century onward, contemporary dance melds ballet, modern, and jazz dance. The looseness of this movement style goes hand in hand with improvisation, which is a valuable skill when dancers are involved in creating a new work.


Supplemental Classes

  • Pilates: On Fridays, ballet class is preceded by Pilates with Anmarie Touloumis. A former BTM dancer who now teaches Pilates for Evolutions by Coppermine, Anmarie regularly teaches company class during the season. She is a well-loved presence around the studio!

  • Stretch & Conditioning: An important part of preparing dancers for a professional career is teaching them how to maintain their instrument. Hand-in-hand with Pilates, this class alleviates some of the acute challenges of dancing in a summer intensive while also instilling healthy habits of self-care.

A slide from a Ballet Vocabulary lesson
  • Ballet History, Vocabulary, and Theory: This class, offered exclusively to our Intermediate level, provides younger dancers with many of the "Whys" surrounding ballet. Understanding the history of ballet and the internal logic of our technique and terminology helps put their studies during the school year into a wider context.

  • Seminars with Professional Guests: Each week, BTM brings in a guest speaker to educate dancers on important topics such as nutrition, mental health, and physical training. These seminars encourage a positive long-term relationship with ballet for both the Intermediate and Advanced levels.


Rehearsals

In addition to their intensive study of classical and contemporary techniques, summer intensive students also prepare for the informal showing on the last day of the program.

Trainees and apprentices of Summer 2023 performing corps work

Classical Repertoire: Our summer intensive showcase often centers around repertory that the professional company will perform during the season. Last year, that meant that dancers in both levels presented variations from Sleeping Beauty as well as a corps de ballet sequence. This summer, students will study sections of Swan Lake Act II.


The benefit is twofold: incoming trainees and apprentices gain experience with an upcoming ballet early, and the Artistic Staff can use the time to develop their vision for the full company production. During the season, both of these will help streamline the staging process for Swan Lake.

Benta Owino, a Conservatory student and rising senior, performs a Sleeping Beauty variation in 2023

New Work Rehearsal: In addition to learning portions of the classical repertoire, students also attend rehearsals of an original work. This summer, company dancers Isaac Martinez and Madison Sweeney will both present new choreography.


Below, Ellie Goods and Erin Jenkins perform my 2023 summer work "Persuasive"


Like the classical repertory rehearsals, new work rehearsals allow dancers opportunities to develop into professional artists. The growth they make during this time may be incremental in the short term, but it can add up to big changes in the long term. Ellie Goods, who has been promoted to an apprentice with the company this season, has this to say:


Ellie Goods who, along with Rachel Visosky, has been promoted from trainee to apprentice

"The past two years being a trainee at BTM’s summer intensive, I feel like I have improved in my technique a lot and have really been able to grow as a dancer. BTM’s summer intensive has helped me expand in a variety of dance styles, such as character and jazz, which we don’t always get to work on during the season.


"Classical Repertoire and New Works is a great way to work on dancing as a group with the other trainees and apprentices, which gives us a taste of dancing in the Corps, and it also helps prepare us for dancing with the company at the start of the season. Coming back as an apprentice this summer, I plan to focus more on my artistry and refining my technique. I am looking forward to learning and growing more in my third season here."


As Ellie says, attending a summer intensive can be an important rite of passage for dancers. As they grow in their professional journey, returning to the summer intensive can even serve as a helpful benchmark for the progress they've made.


As our summer intensive dancers dig into the complexities of Swan Lake and their New Works, we'll be back soon for a deeper look at their showcase rehearsals. Choreographers Madison Sweeney and Isaac Martinez are cooking up some new works you won't want to miss, as well as a sneak peek at the choreography the company will perform in Swan Lake next April!


 

If you'd like to catch our new dancers in shows throughout the season, consider becoming a season subscriber! Subscribers save up to 30% on tickets compared to folks who buy single tickets at a time.

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