What A Summer Intensive at the School of American Ballet Feels Like

What A Summer Intensive at the School of American Ballet Feels Like

While every day at the School of American Ballet held all the promise of my ballet future, I often felt one step behind, unsure of where I stood or whether I was even noticed. There were some days when the white walls of the studio felt like they were closing in on me. Other days it felt cavernous, full of so many other people I felt like I might be swallowed up. Every day I tried as hard as I could to be perfect.

Regardless of the cloud of uncertainty constantly hanging over my head, I loved ballet and performing and I had been dreaming of attending the School of American Ballet for years.

So I continued taking the overly-refrigerated train every day with a clump of men in suits, and riding the bus (no air-conditioning) to and from SAB in temperatures that hovered over one hundred degrees, and I did everything my teachers asked. I was lucky to have the ability to learn choreography quickly, which differentiated me from some of the others, because I always knew what the next step was.

The teaching style at the School of American Ballet was very different from what I was used to: we were shown each exercise (either an actual demonstration by the teacher or told verbally with a series of hand gestures to illustrate) and we repeated what was given. Days and weeks passed this way, usually with no comments from teachers.

We had technique class every morning, variations en pointe two afternoons per week, and character class. I hadn’t been dancing en pointe for long, but my feet were already giving me problems. The bunions on the joints of my big toes continued to grow and every class was excruciating—it felt like being stabbed with skewers or hot daggers. Some days I was close to tears. Most days I surreptitiously took off my shoes for a split second while the other group of dancers were in the center… a few blessed moments to relieve the pressure was the only way to get through each class.

One class at a time. One day at a time. That was the only way to keep moving ahead and I was determined to do exactly that.


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The School of American Ballet Summer Intensive: Week 2

The School of American Ballet Summer Intensive: Week 2

There was a lot to figure out in the early days of my first Summer Intensive at the School of American Ballet. Once I had figured out how to navigate my way through the Metro North train system and the busses of New York City there was a whole other system to figure out: the hierarchy of faculty and students. The faculty was different from what I was used to: not only were they difficult to understand (many of them were hand-picked from Russia by George Balanchine and spoke with heavy accents), they were impossible to decipher—but every comment and correction from them was like a precious nugget of gold (to be later analyzed in private from every possible angle) because you were good enough to be worth their time . The other dancers were easier to figure out because they were all intent on the same goal: being asked to stay on at the end of the summer as a permanent student.

Each class I sweated profusely (both literally and figuratively), watching my technique (in the mirror) and the instructors (out of the corner of my eye). It soon became apparent that once we finished barre exercises and moved on to the center of the floor, dancers were placed in rows according to rank—the further front you were placed, the more in favor you were.

I wasn’t used to being in such a competitive arena. While most of the other girls were nice, some went out of their way to be catty. More than once I had to defend myself from snide remarks from a girl from New Jersey who decorated her bun with a ribbon tied in a big bow that exactly matched the color of her leotard. She was annoying, but I found her whole color coordination thing even more ridiculous and more than once I wanted to tell her to where to stuff New Jersey.

In the end I decided to focus on being my best and tuning out the rest—it was just noise. Knowing that everyone else was there for the same reason I was made me work harder than I ever had before.

More from today’s dancers at the School of American Ballet:

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School of American Ballet’s Summer Intensive: Week 1

School of American Ballet’s Summer Intensive: Week 1

This week is the first week of one the most major events of the summer for young ballet dancers: the School of American Ballet’s Summer Intensive. From now through the end of July, during the five weeks of SAB‘s Summer Intensive, I will share the story of my experience there as it ended up drastically changing the course of my life.


My first ballet teacher took me to SAB to audition one February morning and I began my first Summer Intensive that June, a month after I turned thirteen. At the time I had no idea how difficult it was to be accepted—SAB’s National Audition Tour covers two dozen audition locations around the country at the start of each calendar year and they have also recently begun accepting video applications from students outside the continental U.S. Out of the thousands who audition only 200 students, aged 12 to 18, are chosen to train at SAB with the School’s renowned faculty (many of them danced with New York City Ballet). There is always the hope to be invited to stay on as a permanent student and continue their training in SAB’s Winter Term.

Many dancers come from out of state, some on their own, and some with family (most often their mothers). At the time I attended the School it wasn’t always easy to find an affordable place to sublet for the summer… many students ended up couch-surfing or squeezing into tiny apartments with a flock of other dancers (today the School operates a seven-floor, 191-bed residence hall located in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building, the same building which houses the School’s teaching studios, dining hall, administrative offices and physical therapy room. For these students the commute is now a simple ride on the elevator). I was able to commute from home by train and rode into New York with another older dancer who was living with my ballet teacher. Since classes began at 10am we rode in with a herd of business men in suits who were headed for Wall Street. Instead of following them to the subway we grabbed the 104 bus across town, which was always an educational ride through Times Square, countless seedy X-rated theaters, flashing neon billboards and a freestanding kiosk where young guys signed up for the military.


From the outside, SAB didn’t look particularly impressive. It was housed on the third floor of The Julliard School, a nondescript building located at 66th and Broadway. The front lobby was even less appealing: the dark floors and feeble overhead lighting felt oppressive, but it was air-conditioned and a security guard monitored everyone’s comings and goings.

Once you entered the glass doors of SAB, everything changed. The studios were impeccably clean and bright, with incredibly high ceilings and large windows that flooded the studios with natural light. A glossy black grand piano sat in the corner—a live pianist played for every class. Even the smallest of the four dance studios was several times the size of my ballet studio back home, and the floors were smooth and even… no more hair-raising pirouettes on slippery linoleum marked up with paint spatters (my ballet studio at home hosted artists and painters a couple of nights per week during off hours).

That summer New York (and the rest of the country) hit record highs; every day was a sweltering 100-degrees-plus and the busses weren’t air-conditioned. Heat radiated off the sidewalks in waves, and the asphalt was hot enough to melt the rubber soles of your shoes. Even a trip across two intersections to grab something for lunch at the deli seemed daunting in that heat.


But every morning, a few blocks before we reached SAB, when the bus passed Lincoln Center—home of the Metropolitan Opera House (where American Ballet Theater performs), the David Koch Theater (where New York City Ballet performs) and the famous spraying fountain—my heart grew wings thinking about the future.

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Dance Blogs: My Top 5 Favorites

Dance Blogs: My Top 5 Favorites

If you are a dancer or dance fan looking for information about dance, a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a dancer, the internet is your friend. So much information! There’s a veritable plethora of dance blogs. Here I share with you my top five favorites dance blogs that are elegant, well-written and visually compelling… in other words, delicious on many different levels.



The Ballet Bag breaks down the myth that classical dance is for traditionalists, and covers it under a younger light. This blog aims to be one of the most stylish dance webzines on the blogosphere, to feature dancers, companies, performances, and dance media crossed over with other art forms and cultural references: pop culture, cinema, rock music, etc. In short, here’s where dance meets remix culture.

Emilia & Linda. Photo: Elena Murchikova / The Ballet Bag ©

The Ballet Bag was born in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible and to Give Ballet a New Spin and show it under a different light. When writing capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, the blog crosses it with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music). The “Bag Ladies”, Emilia and Linda, also use web 2.0 to network with dance fans, companies, dancers, writers, bloggers, etc. sharing what’s good, fun and interesting in the balletsphere.




Tutus & Tea is produced by Shelby Elsbree, a dancer with Boston Ballet. She is also an inspired and accomplished photographer and ‘Petite Épicurienne’ (her own words). Here you will find chronicles of her daily culture and culinary curiosities as a ballerina. Elsbree loves to dance, eat, cook, bake, chop, prepare, rehearse, perform and present, and is excited and honored to share these passions with you in a ‘behind the scenes’ perspective of dancing, cooking, baking and exploring. She has a great eye and all of her images present things in a beautiful light.

photo by Shelby Elsbree


photo by Shelby Elsbree

Elsbree the dancer has been featured in DANCE Magazine and Pointe Magazine and her recipes and photos have also been published in Pointe magazine. There is a lot to enjoy here, from delicious treats to exquisite photographs and an inside look at the life of a dancer.






Ballet Shoes and Bobby Pins tracks the dance experience; from the friendships dancers form during their years of education, to the stress they endure, and the passion that keeps driving them forward. A statement on this blog reads, “Through the good days and the bad days, we dance because we feel a pulse within us to move. It is this lifestyle that we want to capture and share. We strive to create a community of dancers, dance educators and dance enthusiasts who are there to discuss, share and support each other, as we all journey on in dance.”

This  blog has a lovely design and is packed with tons of valuable information for dancers, would-be dancers and those who enjoy dance. It’s a blog that my Teen Me would have adored.Topics include: interviews with professional dancers, how to make a dance life work, history of key playersin dance, nutrition, and ways to teach dance.

Sheena Jeffers
photo by Chelsie Darling Photography

Creator Sheena Jeffers has been dancing since she was 5. She is a dance educator who believes dance makes people stronger. She says, “Dance makes us think; it makes us imagine possibilities. I have seen dance change lives and I believe dance instills confidence, character and self-worth. Humans are made to move, and made to feel. I believe whether you choose to dance recreationally or professionally, dance can show you how to do all of that, and more.” This philosophy led her to create a line of T-shirts. Sales go to help provide ballet shoes and leotards for children in need.

photo by Colleen Banman













Tendus Under a Palm Tree Rebecca King, a Corps De Ballet dancer with Miami City Ballet. In this blog, readers can follow the everyday life of a professional ballet dancer living and working in one of the most glamorous and trendy places in the world, Miami Beach. King’s mission is to provide insight into the life of a professional ballet dancer and to create an entertaining blog that will appeal to people who know ballet and those who don’t. She says, “Ballet is a glamorous art form and I want to reach out to people to educate them and excite them about what I do for a living.”

Rebecca King in Concerto Barocco
Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty





Behind Ballet The Australian Ballet‘s blog looks at dance through the prism of fashion, music, art and literature as it unravels the stories behind the company’s productions and mine ballet’s juicy past to find the new in the old and the old in the new. From The Studio, Ballet Vs. Fashion, Imperial Suite, Ask Colin (ballet advice from Colin Peasley, The Australian Ballet’s longest serving member and a founding dancer of the company, who performed a record 6,406 shows over fifty years.)

Here you will find well-written articles with stunning photographs, and an overall feel of elegance woven with humor.  Contributors include past and present dancers Juliet Burnett, Laura Tong, and Annie Carroll, the Ballet’s head of Millinery Vicki Car, editor Rose Mulready, and other writers and journalists. The Australian Ballet is headquartered in Melbourne, a city much like my own beloved San Francisco. Current ballets include Imperial Suite, Bodytorque.DNA (a series of new ballets from up and coming choreographers), and Cinderella.

Natasha Kusen rehearses Richard House’s Control (part of the Bodytorque.DNA season)
photo by Lynette Wills

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