How to Survive Your Dance Intensive for Grown-A** Adults (Version 1)

Now that I’ve got a whopping two (2!! Like the number of exclamation points I just used!!) adult dance intensives under my belt, I have lots of facts intel opinions about things you should do to make sure you get through in one piece — and, of course, as your faithful Danseur Ignoble, I am duty bound to share them.

You know, for the good of humankind, or at least dancer-kind, and all that stuff.

So, without further ado, here they are.


First, know that you’re capable of more than you think you are.

Let me say that again, with fancy formatting:

You are capable of more than you think you are.

This week, two brand-spanking new beginners hurled themselves right into the deep end of the ballet tank and not only survived, but got their Kingdom of the Shades on, while C and I learned Albrecht’s variation, which our instructor (a company member and legit danseur who has also danced with PNB) flatly described as “hard.”

At the June intensive in Cinci, I turned out (oh, the puns!) triple pirouettes, did modern dance stuff I had literally never done before, and performed a long-ass piece of complicated choreography with a giant effing blister on the ball of my right foot.

Yes, there were times that we (and by “we” I seriously mean every student at both intensives at one point or another) felt like we were in over our heads.

Yes, there were moments of self-doubt — but in the end we surprised ourselves.

Looking back a whole … um, like, four days? … ago, it’s difficult to believe that I didn’t think that I could nail down both variations. Like, seriously, I was all, “Pffft, no way I’mma learn all that.”

But, in fact, I did — and because of that, I am so much more confident now (I know, just what the universe needed, amirite? :V).

Second, and whether this is more or less important than Point the First is up to you, take care of yourself.

Pack the following, if at all possible:

__cloth tape (it sticks when nothing else will)
__various sizes of adhesive bandages
__a package of large blister-specific adhesive bandages, if possible
__a roll of something like VetWrap or ACE bandaging
__your favorite Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (naproxen, etc.)
__a foam roller and/or a massage roller
__a tennis- or lacrosse ball — your feet will thank you
__your favorite libation (just kidding … okay, maybe I’m not)

I think a foam roller does the job of self-massage more thoroughly, but a massage-roller wand is easier to use when you’re completely exhausted. I took a foam roller to Cinci and a massage-roller wand to Lexington; in both cases, they helped keep my legs in good working order.

Pace yourself.

Remember that even a one-week, four-hour-per-day intensive is just that: intensive.

You’ll very likely be working your body harder than you’re used to.

You’ll be assimilating new technique and/or new choreography at a terrifying rate. This seems to be one of the defining features of the short-schedule intensives aimed at adults: SO MUCH DANCE, ALL THE TIME.

Drink all the water … and then drink more water.

Eat all the food.

Just don’t overdo it during your lunch break. In Cinci, I usually ate a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, a moderate lunch, and everything I could lay hands on after I got back to my AirBnB, heh.

Be gentle with yourself.

Feel for the difference between, “Okay, this is ballet/modern/whatevs, it’s uncomfortable a lot,” and “Holy crap, I think my Achilles’ tendon is about to explode.”

Don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I think I’m just gonna mark through this for now, my leg is feeling funny.”

Tape your blisters before they go rogue.


A timely reminder: don’t be this guy. (Oh, wait. That’s my foot. I’m that guy. Definitely don’t be him; he’s kind of a jerk sometimes.)

You will almost certainly return home from your intensive a better dancer than you were when you left — but not if you blow a tendon on day 2.

Third, don’t skimp on accommodations.

Don’t roll the dice on a dodgy hotel with poor reviews because all you’re going to do there is sleep.

Sleeping may be the single most important thing you’ll do outside the studio, and bad accommodations can really ruin your sleep.

Inadequate sleep will compromise your coordination, equilibrium, and ability to concentrate. It will compromise your body’s ability to adapt to its work load and heal. It will increase the likelihood that you’ll injure yourself (see above).

If budgetary constraints intervene, splitting the cost of a room might be a good way to defray the expense. Likewise, AirBnB often offers really good rates — just be sure to consider a potential host’s reviews (and, of course, treat your host’s place as you would your own). My AirBnB experiences so far have been great.

Also, if you can swing it, access to a hot tub is entirely worth having, but a plain old bathtub will do, as long as it’s deep enough.

Fourthbring twice as much dance clothing as you think you need, be prepared to do lots of hand-washing, or make sure you have access to on-site laundry.

Getting to a laundromat may be feasible if you’re doing an evening program, but probably not so much if you’ve got an all-day schedule. Besides, nobody wants to wait around in a laundromat after 7 straight hours of dancing.

One more thing: if you’re anything like me, you may not need street clothes at all. I didn’t use the ones I packed for Cinci, so I didn’t pack any for Lexington. When I went out for lunch, I just wore clean warm-ups. It worked fine for me, but YMMV.

Fifth, speaking of warm-ups, a few good pairs of legwarmers won’t go amiss.

Once upon a time, I used to be the kind of dancer who rolls up to class in tights and a shirt; maybe some socks if it’s cold.

Now, I’m the kind of dancer who rolls up to class in four seasons’ worth of clothing.

Upstairs: fitted tank vest, ultra-light v-neck T, sometimes a gilet/vest (fleece or down if it’s cold), hoodie. I haven’t yet taken to wearing a weighted gilet, but I know someone who does.

Downstairs: tights (length varies by season),  technique shoes, legwarmers (thigh-length stirrup style or, if it’s really cold, the full-length ones that literally come up to my armpits), capri-length joggers*, footwarmers.

Oh, and maybe some socks if it’s cold.

*I would rock the ubiquitous “trash-bag” warm-ups if I could ever figure out what size to order; they’re great for getting recalcitrant hip-flexors and turnout muscles warm. For now, that’s what the capri-length joggers are for.


Because concert dance is an exercise in beating the crap out of your body, and it helps if your muscles are warm. I’ve accrued far fewer injuries since I started dressing up like a lunatic who lives in the wardrobe department of an abandoned 1980s workout video sound-stage.

In point of fact, the only people who routinely wear even more layers are, in short, the entire company, especially the guys. Presumably, they know what they’re about.


Case in point: this is ABT, not us, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere. (Source:

Anyway, legwarmers are now such a critical part of my dancing life that I feel really, really unhappy if I have to begin class without them.

Also, for those of us who use dance belts: bring one more dance belt than you think you need. There will almost certainly be a day that you do not freaking well feel like washing your dance belt and hanging it up to dry (my money’s on Thursday).

Last, but not least, don’t use your victories to beat yourself up.

I learned a lot of valuable things at the Cincinnati intensive, but this maybe the most important one.

As dancers — perhaps especially as the kind of dancers who drive ourselves hard enough to go to intensives when we could, by rights, be sitting on the beach somewhere —  we’re hard on ourselves.

We hold ourselves to really high standards, which is fine. That’s how we roll.

However, we also tend to beat ourselves up — and, worse, to use our own victories as our bludgeons.

Too often, when something goes right, we kind of just take it in stride (okay, okay: sometimes we write a blog post that’s all like OMG YOU GUYS TRIPLES!!! — but not nearly often enough).

Then, when we don’t do the same thing as well some other time, we tend to think,


Curiously, this does not actually seem to help us become better dancers (let’s face it —  most of us are pretty motivated without all the sturm & drang).

We would do ourselves a huge favor if, instead of using our victories to beat ourselves about the ears, we used them as reminders: “It’s cool. I had that down on Thursday; I’ll get it again.”

Intensives are great opportunities to work on that — so maybe give it a try.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2016/07/24, in balllet, intensives, modern, summer intensives and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This is useful. Thanks.

    • You’re most welcome! I hope it helps with your upcoming adventures.

      The biggest mistake I made this time was the lodgings part — definitely not going to make that mistake again!

  2. Spot on! I laughed out loud and groaned along with you as I read this piece. You really hit the highs and lows that adult dancers go through during an intensive. You should write up pdf pamphlet for “What to Expect When Experiencing an Intensive”©

    No, wait, now I’m excited about writing a booklet like that. Lol. My husband has written several short/booklet stories mostly for children. Between his writing and illustration skills and my dance experience we might have a really fun and perhaps helpful booklet! Love your blog.

    • Thanks, and ooh, what a great idea! I will definitely do that! And I hope you will, too, and will let me know when yours is ready so I can get a copy and post a link! 💖💖💖

  3. This post had me laughing and nodding, trying to figure out how to bookmark on my phone (because I should really be working instead of looking for summer intensive info.) Trying to figure out which summer intensive you did in Cincy—will be attempting my first this year and that one would be close enough to drive to. Thanks for the motivation and info! 😀

    • Thank you! The one I did was with Mam-Luft & Co. You can find this year’s info here:

      It’s such a great experience, and I hope you’ll love it as much as I did.

      • Thank you! I will keep that in mind for if I survive this year. I have a show the first week in June. I was considering Lexington or Sun King, but am afraid that Sun King might be too long of a day for my over-40 body and Lexington dates might not work for this year. Thanks for your input!

      • You’re welcome, and Merde for your June show 😊

  1. Pingback: The Ultimate Guide to Summer Dance Intensives | Joy of Dance

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