Thoughts on Adult Intensives
Suddenly, here it is almost May.
This happens to me every year, but it’s definitely worse without the structure of the ballet company schedule(1).
- How am I supposed to keep track of which month it is if the only major landmark is Nutcracker? Jeez.
Which, in turn, means that summer is barreling down on us at a staggering rate of *checks google* 1038ish miles per hour, give or take(2), replete with its array of Summer Intensives.
- circumference of the earth/24 (3)
- Wow, only a few sentences in and I’ve already included 2 notes and a note-on-a-note
I’ve already committed to LouBallet’s Adult Summer Intensive, which seems like a really good way to finish out my … seven??? years of training there—a way to spend some concentrated time with some of my favorite teachers and classmates while also, of course, keeping my ballet skills on point(e). Besides, it’s a great program, and we get to learn cool original choreography (some of which has made it to my video CV/audition reel, because I actually felt good about it after watching it).
It’s also fairly affordable, which is more important than usual, since I don’t yet have paid work lined up for, like, after this summer (fortunately, D does).
I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to do basically anything else this summer that doesn’t at least offer me a full scholarship or the equivalent thereof, but there are several programs I’m flat-out dying to attend (DuCon!!!!! ADF! Pilobolus!) if finances magically allow. Likewise, I’m ever-curious about adult SI offerings, and I like to keep an ear to the wind about what’s available—so, from time to time, I go hunting.
And in the process of hunting, I’ve noticed something.
Adult SI Pricing Can Bring You To (Two?), Ahem, Tiers
Yeah, you’re right. That was terrible. Sorry.
In the growing world of adult summer intensives and workshops, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern: there are basically two pricing tiers.
- Tier One: programs that are actually less expensive per week than a lot of (perhaps even most) youth SIs
- Tier Two: programs that are either as expensive as or actually wildly more expensive per week than even top-notch youth SIs
Tuition for the second tier of adult SIs typically runs more than twice the weekly cost of tuition at the first tier, though the dance offerings are often comparable (or, in some cases, richer at the Tier One programs).
I’m curious about what drives the difference in price, and whether the organizers of the different programs (especially Tier Two programs) realize how deeply pricing might impact the makeup of the student body at any individual program.
Given that none of these programs, as far as I know, are restricted to local students only, and that the adult ballet community justly thirsts for quality SIs like hummingbirds thirst for nectar (though it’s fair to say we dancers are less likely to stab each-other in the pursuit of coveted spots around the feeder), “what the market will bear” clearly isn’t the only factor at play. Likewise, all of them have limited spaces, and the number of available spots doesn’t seem to have much to do with pricing models (if it did, we could expect both LouBallet’s and LexBallet’s SIs, which are limited to fairly small numbers, to command much higher prices).
Bringing Tiers To You: A Look At Prices
A brief survey of adult SI pricing reveals a pretty broad range, but it’s worth noting that many of the Tier One programs, though typically open to dancers at all levels, are designed in ways that allow them to serve serious dancers across the spectrum from fairly new beginners to emerging professionals.
Lexington Ballet’s adult SI (scroll to the bottom of the linked page for registration info), at $240 for five four-hour days, continues to be an absolute steal, and I’m not just saying that because LexBallet has been my company and my ballet home for the past few years. The quality of instruction is superb, and I don’t know of an adult SI that’s priced more affordably (unless we start breaking things down per hour, in which case it’s Mutual Dance Theater, hands down). Participants from this SI have found also their way into character roles and even company contracts, thanks to the close participation of LexBallet’s AD, School Director, and other artistic staff.
Mutual Dance Theater’s Modern SI–the one I took a few years ago, before Mam-Luft & Co merged with Mutual–runs $399 at most (late-bird tuition, for disorganized folks like me) for a packed week, with programming 9 AM to 5 PM every day. It’s not ballet-specific, and it’s not one I’d recommend to a true beginner in any dance idiom, but it’s a beast of an intensive (in a good way), and hella affordable. It’s also very much geared towards emerging professionals.
LouBallet, fairly typical of the first tier with its $550 tuition for a 5.5-day program, could almost certainly double its tuition and then some and still fill the spaces. Instead, they’ve chosen to keep the tuition right where it’s been (for which I am deeply grateful). Ashley Thursby-Kern, who runs the program, specifically considers its role in offering an intensive program for college dancers and emerging professionals who may have aged out of youth SIs, while continuing to foster an environment that supports new dancers as well.
Westside Ballet’s program, located in Santa Monica, is a bit shorter per session (3 hours/day over 4 days) but offers three sessions priced at $500 each. The faculty includes Martine Harley, who is the company’s AD, and Sven Toorvald, along with others representing some top-tier companies. The third week focuses on pas de deux and variations, and if I wasn’t teaching an SI that week, I’d find some way to get my behind out there for that.
ArtEmotion‘s offering– the most expensive I’ve included in this category–looks very comparable to LouBallet’s and, at $800, still seems pretty approachable to those of us in the “broke-ass dancer” category. This is one of the oldest ongoing adult intensives, held at Ballet West’s Salt Lake City studio, and has long been on my list of Intensives I’d Attend If They Weren’t The Same Week As Something Else I’m Already Doing.
- This is a fugly link, so if it doesn’t work, try this one: LouBallet MBB Landing Page
- Assume that this category includes both “lay” dancers with limited disposable income and those of us among the professional segment who usually have access to at least some summer programming for free, but who might have been impacted by pandmic-related closures and/or impending moves (hi) and, either way, still need to stay in shape until September.
These programs, and programs like them–my “First Tier” adult SIs–are largely affiliated with established ballet companies or schools. Access to existing studio space and, perhaps, a built-in supply of students and teachers explain at least some of their relatively affordable prices.
They also tend to be light on extracurriculars–those factors that might make things feel a bit more like a vacation, I guess. Not that you need them after, for example, eight straight hours of modern dance buttkickery.
Tier Two, meanwhile, is a bit more of a mixed bag: one of the programs in question features one of my favorite master teachers and looks like an absolute banger of a program for focused advanced dancers; others seem a bit more like relaxing ballet-themed getaways.
I realize that this perception is very much colored by my experience as one of the aforementioned Emerging Professionals, with its attendant feature of being both chronically broke and accustomed to dancing 30+ hours per week. As my friend Tony (who looks like a tall Steven McRae) says, “Hi Ho, the theatrical life.”
So what kind of programs, you might ask, are in Tier Two?
First, of course: SunKing, the granddaddy of adult SIs. At the time of this writing, SunKing doesn’t have a website up, and I’m not clear on whether or not it’s actually happening this year (links to SK’s Facebarge), but it was always out of my price range anyway. It was one of the few that had enough draw to offer a partnering class, which would’ve been awesome to take before I embarked on Ballet Company Lyfe (y’all, learning partnering piecemeal while rehearsing actual ballets isn’t ideal, is what I’m saying), but not quite awesome enough to warrant launching an OnlyFans or something at this point in my career. Still, I’ve always had the impression that the actual instruction overall was quite good.
Given the serious, focused programs and excellent instruction available in Tier One, there’s only one Tier Two program that leaves me feeling butthurt about being, well, semi-broke, and that’s Runqiao Du’s inaugural DuCon–which I’d leap to attend, if I could afford it (but I can’t, unless I figure out how to make a few thosand dollars PRONTO). DuCon falls at the, well, less-inaccessible end of my second tier: tuition runs $1499 for one week or $2799 for both weeks, and the program offers an excellent teaching staff (Mr. Du himself, plus others), a 6-day week, and programming that runs from 9:30 AM ’til 8:00 PM Monday through Friday. Moreover, Du’s youth SI (which also runs for two weeks) is priced exactly the same, so we (would-be) adult participants aren’t left feeling like cash cows.
At the far end of Tier 2 is another brand-new event: International Adult Ballet Festival. Not gonna lie—I was intrigued when I heard about this one on the Broche Ballet podcast: the program offers a workshop, showcase, and a competition (not a selling point for me, but certainly a unique offering). However, at only 4 days long, IABF comes with a staggering $2950 price tag. To be fair, that does include hotel room, breakfast, lunch, and a couple other meals–but broke-ass dancers are pretty good at finding cheap housing and food, and if I’ma drop $3k on tuition, it’s going to be at DuCon or ADF.
Don’t get me wrong, IABF sounds like a really fun event–but it’s pretty clear that I’m not really their target audience (this isn’t a program that believes adult dancers can’t build careers in dance, but I don’t think it’s really intended for those of us who are already doing so). Likewise, the website’s vibe is more Awesome Ballet Vacation than Come Get Your Ass Handed To You For A Week Or Two. There’s value in both those approaches, of course. Likewise, the event does bill itself as a festival, rather than as a Summer Intensive: more, “Come celebrate ballet!” than “Come suffer with us!” And it’s good that such a thing can exist.
But still. $2950 for 4 days. Wow.
Do Different Tiers Reflect Different Audiences?
As an autistic person, I am perhaps more inclined than most to sort of forget that people can be interested in the same things I’m interested in, but experience those interests very differently(6).
- Some people can apparently like things without tending to rebuild their entire lives around those things! Who knew?!
It doesn’t automatically occur to me that someone else might want to take a summer intensive for different reasons than I do, or maybe, for the same reasons, but perhaps prioritized differently.
Life, for me, the drivers (at least, the ones I can think of right now), ordered by priority, might look like this:
- Refine and improve technique for upcoming season and/or auditions
- Dance AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
- Learn new steps and/or new partnering skills
- Learn repertoire
- Maintain at least the bare minimum fitness level that will prevent me dying on Day 1 of new company class, assuming successful auditions
- Ideally, add a useful piece to my audition reel
- Hang out with my peeps, new and existing
Explicitly not in my list are the following:
- Take a break from my regular job (because ballet is my regular job)
- Find out what it’s like to be able to dance full-time (again, bc that’s basically already my life)
This makes it difficult to imagine choosing a 4-day intensive at any price when there are so many available that run 5 or 6 days or longer: my primary goal is to immerse myself in a demanding curriculum for as long as possible.
Likewise, I find it difficult to imagine being a dancer, but also being satisfied living a life in which a four-day ballet immersion would feel that much different from, like, normal life, because my experience of being a dancer has basically been, “Holy heck, drop everything else, this is the thing
i MUST do.”
And yet, rationally, I am aware that I know people in that exact target market—people who have very demanding careers that they love outside of dance, not to mention family lives that don’t basically also revolve around ballet, but who also passionately love dancing.
Quite a few of them could easily afford a few thousand dollars for a short, almost-all-inclusive ballet intensive. Time is probably in shorter supply for them than it is for me, and the sheer convenience of having almost everything planned out might mean saying, “Hey, I can do this!” instead of “Wow, yeah, I don’t have the time/mental bandwidth/whatever for all this planning.”
Likewise, the fact that I straight up forgot to put “have fun” on my list of priorities says a LOT … though mostly what it’s saying is that, even during the roughest parts of my first year with LexBallet, I still had fun, and I still wanted to be there more than I wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
So it doesn’t occur to me to put “have fun” on the list, because, even if the atmosphere somewhere turns out to be awful, I’m going to enjoy dancing anyway. Especially if I know I’m only there for, at best, a few weeks.
For someone who’s returning to work in another field after their summer program, on the other hand, fun and relaxation might be much higher priorities. There’s something to be said for options existing that fit the needs of people in that situation, too.
Conclusion: I Which I Leave You In Tiers
(Or not, depending on if adult summer intensives are of any interest to you at all.)
Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the Most Important Thing In The World.
But it’s a valuable insight for me (as someone who is fully behind the idea that different people have different wants and needs but who is also sometimes an absolute bonehead at imagining them), and I hope it might be helpful to others considering adult summer programs—especially, maybe, those considering their first adult summer program.
For me, for example, Mam-Luft (now Mutual) was in many ways a great first summer program—but it was also extremely demanding, often emotionally challenging, sometimes lonely, and just plain physically exhausting. I definitely had some major breakthro moments, but I also failed A LOTTTTT in front of 50 people, with no hope of fading into anonymity, since I was the ONLY guy that year. Oh, and I shredded my foot.
If I hadn’t, by then, already been a pretty experienced student, quietly putting in the foundations for a career in dance; if I was of a less stubborn constitution; maybe especially if I’d taken that SI knowing I had to go back to stressful job, I might’ve felt very differently about exactly the same experience. It might even have made me conclude that SIs weren’t for me, which would’ve been a shame.
So maybe the real TL;DR for this post goes like this:
- There are a lot of adult summer programs now! That’s awesome!
- The programs can be roughly divided into two pricing tiers
- The price of a program doesn’t directly reflect the quality of instruction—most of them look pretty solid!
- The less-expensive programs seem more likely to attract a mixed student body of both amateur and professional dancers
- The more expensive programs are more likely to include things like meals and extracurricular events
- Before you choose a program, it’s a good idea to hash out your needs, goals, and priorities (Will you be going straight back to work in a busy emergency room? Consider a shorter or more relaxed program—you’ll still learn a lot, but you won’t return to work exhausted)
- If you choose a shorter or more relaxed program this year and discover that you want to go harder, you’ll have gained valuable insight for next time
- On the other hand, if you choose a challenging program send find it’s a little too much right now, you can either try again next year or try an easier one next year
- If you get to go to DuCon, please tell me whether it’s as awesome as it sounds so i can figure out whether i need $3000 extra next year 😅
A Final Note: American Dance Festival & Pilobolus
Although I could arguably include American Dance Festival’s Summer Dance Institute in either one of my tiers, and would love to attend the full program, I’m setting it off to one side for now. In short, although full-time tuition runs $2,275, it’s comparable in length to a full-scale youth SI, and offers a staggering array of programming geared towards developing professional dancers. Likewise, you can actually Choose-Your-Own-Adventure your way through it by taking individual classes at $750/4-week class.
Likewise, although the cost-per-session of Pilobolus’ excellent program has increased to around $1000, its generous scholarship program makes it relatively accessible, though you can still rack up $3000 in tuition if you go for all three sessions at full cost. It’s also kind of in its own category because, honestly, a lot of ballet people probably wouldn’t be super interested, which is fine.
Ballet Intensive Dispatch: Day 1
This week involves four hours of class in the evening, so I suspect I’ll mostly report in the morning.
Yesterday, after a great class with Ms. T of Advanced Class, I took B out for a celebratory lunch, then dithered around buying the things I had meant to buy already but forgot, then hopped into my trusty Subaru and drove to Lexington.
After a near-miraculous parking space appeared (in which I parallel-parked like a boss), I snagged a tiny salad at a nearby Panera*, crammed it into my face, and wandered back to ArtsPlace, where the Ballet makes its home.
A quick aside: under most circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend “tiny salad” as the ideal energy source for four hours of conditioning and dancing. I was still feeling fairly stuffed after my enormous lunch calzone, which I nearly finished.
As a fueling strategy for this particular schedule, “Huge lunch; light supper” works brilliantly. I think, though, that I will also bring a light snack to eat before rep tonight.
We’re a group of fifteen or twentyish, and I am not The Onliest Boy this time — there are two of us, both fairly well matched in terms of technique and ability, though quite different in build (C is much more Hallbergian than I, and also a head taller).
Class began with an hour of Pilates-based conditioning led by Ms. A1. I spent the hour reflecting on how grateful I am for the conditioning we do at Suspend, without which I might very well have silently wept through most of the hour in question.
After a brief break (and a small wrestling match with my dance belt — I wore the oldest one, which is now slightly too big, which in turn frankly boggles my mind), we proceeded to technique class with Mr. J.
He explained that he’d be giving a fairly basic class so he and Ms. A could get a sense of where we were as dancers.
He kept his word, but it was still a very good class — I enjoyed his barre, centre, and adagio combinations, felt good about turns and terre-a-terre, and the tempo of the petit allegro (simply: glissade – assemblé, glissade – assemblé, glissade – changement – changement -changement) was such that, instead of being an ongoing train wreck, I got to show off some beats here and there.
It was also such that I didn’t crash and burn when I discovered the inevitable slippery spot on the floor.
I enjoyed the heck out of our medium allegro — the famous sauté arabesque/sauté passé that I love so ridiculously – and added cabrioles because everything needs more cabrioles.
Grand allegro was equally pleasant, and for once my saut de chat was fully functional, if a bit Third Reich-ish about the arms at times. Of course, there was also pas de chat, which is, at the moment, the joy of my existence.
After another brief break, we divided by gender for variations/repertory. Mr. J gave the two of us a lively, vigorous dance based on Petipa, with just enough bravura to make it shine but not so much that we won’t be able to master it by Saturday. I’m enjoying it immensely, even though it took me the entire class period to get my head around the fact that I’m supposed to do my first turn more or less backwards.
It should make one heck of an interesting foil to the ladies’ piece — the famous entrance scene from “The Kingdom of the Shades.”
We got to see their piece (which was totally unfair to them, as we didn’t show them ours!) and I was quite impressed with how well they had it down, this being only the first night, and theirs being a much larger group with a much greater range of skill. The moments that always give me chills succeeded in doing exactly that. I can’t wait to see the final performance!
I’m much less stressed-out about rep here than I was in Cinci. First, it’s ballet, which is my “mother tongue,” so it’s simply easier to memorize. Second, it’s a shorter piece than we did, and I don’t think there will be as much adding of a whole new scene on the day before the performance!
I feel like we’ll have our piece not only learned, but well-polished, on Saturday.
Funny little sidebar: in class, I noticed that C was wearing white shoes and I was wearing black ones.
Does that make me the bad guy? 😀
Danseur Ignoble: The Final Countdowwwwwwnnnnnn
Da-na-na-naaaa! Da-na-na-na-naaaaaa! Da-na-na—
In only nine days, we’ll be leavin’ on a jet plane for the desert, where we’ll remember our names, ’cause there ain’t no one for to give us no pain (unless we ask really nicely, I guess?). What a nice surprise for our alibis!
Or something like that (you can thank my step-Dad for innoculating me with a healthy appreciation for Classic Rock, though at the time I rolled my eyes about it).
This morning, we ferried the Community Cargo stuff down to Nashville. It will ride from there with a group of Burners who had some large art projects going but had room in their convoy, so that will be cool.
The cool part is that the Community Cargo stuff is set to arrive the day after we do, which will let us get our camp and staging area set up before everything arrives. The even cooler part, of course, is connecting with local Burners (one of whom has already seen me on some of my best and worst days in ballet class).
Predictably, we listened to show tunes all the way down to Nashville. On the way back, we chatted for a while, then Denis napped while I listened to the André Previn recording of Swan Lake that’s available on Amazon Prime (note to self: it is better to listen to show tunes while driving). We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day for a long drive, either.
About an hour ago, the Costume Department informed us that our bolero jackets are done and apparently so cool that the Momma is thinking about making one for herself (she was going to go with a different design).
I am busily finalizing other wardrobe stuff for That Thing In The Desert, including a corsety thing I have never really been brave enough to wear in the past. I think I’ll give it a test run at tomorrow’s party. If I can survive several hours in it, I will probably feel comfortable wearing it on the Playa.
I should note that physical discomfort isn’t the problem (mine isn’t a serious corset — it’s more or less decorative). It’s more that I continue to be shy about my moobs. I figure that if there’s anywhere on earth you can be an androgynous corseted dancing boy with moobs, Burning Man is that somewhere. Besides, if I’m going to wear the skin-tight bodice of my tutu costume thingy, it’s just silly to get all shy about wearing some other skin-tight costume thingy.
Nonetheless, I hope to return next year sans moobs. Really, I don’t really relish the idea of going to Sun King with moobs, mostly because partnering class, and Sun King happens before Burning Man (which happens before Grad School, which is another thing I’d like to do sans moobs).
Oh! Speaking of summer intensives for adult dancers!
I didn’t realize this ’til a few days after the registration deadline (at which point I wasn’t sure we could swing the $900-ish tuition), but Lexington Ballet has an adult intensive. The website notes that it’s geared towards adult beginners, so it sounds like a great option for many of us out there in the Ballet Blog-O-Sphere (even those of us who have progressed beyond the beginner realm can always use some back-to-basics work to tune things up!).
LexBallet’s intensive takes place over the course of five evenings (3.5 hours per night) and one Saturday, which means that out-of-town students would also be able to explore the area a bit. Lexington has been making an effort in recent years to turn into a real college town, with arts and museums and cool bike trails and stuff, and it’s a nice place to visit.
Obviously, it’s a no-go for this year (since it’s already over, and all), but it’s worth looking into for next year.
I’ve dropped them a line to see if they’re planning on doing it again. If they are, I’ll let you know!
Meanwhile, I will try to keep my head together. My energy level is definitely much, much higher than it has been, but my emotional state has been a bit touch-and-go, so I’m trying not to tip myself over into a mixed state. Fortunately, I will be dancing my butt off for the next several weeks, which should help with damage control.