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.