Summer Course Survival Guide

Are you going to a summer course in a few weeks?  Chances are that most dancers out there are, and are looking for a way to do your best and get the most out of your summer course.  This blog post will help you do that.


The Basics: What is a Summer Course?

For those of you who aren’t dancers or aren’t familiar with the training process, I’ll provide a brief background on summer courses or summer intensives here.

Basically, this is the process of a clasically trained dancer aspiring for a professional career:

  1. Train at recreational school or small vocational school
  2. Attend summer courses at many larger national/international schools connected to companies
  3. Select a favorite summer program and stay at the large vocational school for the school year
  4. Be taken into the company connected to that large vocational school

Step 2 is the first introduction to the larger vocational schools of the dance world, and that is what makes it so vital to have a good experience and make great impression.

Summer courses or intensives are usually 5 or 6 week programs in which a dancer will move away from their home for a brief period during the summer to attend a larger vocational school.

For older students, these summer courses allow for the faculty and directors at these schools to be exposed to a realm of new dancers that they could possibly ask to stay for the year-round program or take into the company.

For students that are under age 14, I would say, summer courses and intensives away from home are more about building strength and being exposed to different styles of training and repertoire from around the country.  The goal not be necessarily to stay for the year or to be heavily invovled with that school and company, but to enjoy the experience and bring the things you learned back home with you.

Summer Course Preparation

Summer courses can be some of the most intense and streneous experiences of your entire career.  You can’t go into it unprepared and having three weeks off beforehand – you need to be in great shape before you start dancing that much.  If you aren’t, you’ll probably end up injuring yourself.

Your summer course prep starts right now.  You should be doing class 6 days a week and conditioning for at least an hour every day.  Also, make sure you’re adding in cross training like yoga and Pilates to stay limber and strong.

The better shape you’re in before the workload hits, the easier the transition will be.  So, drop down and do the plank!

Caring for Yourself

Summer intensives are called summer intensives for a reason.  They are not light-hearted and easy training – you will work harder than ever and be pushed to your limit every day. Because of this, it’s important that you take great care of yourself and learn how to live on your own successfuly.  You won’t have your parents there to nourish and educate you as well as keep tabs on you, so you need to step up to the plate and focus on your health.

I’ve done blog posts on both Meal Ideas and Staying Healthy, so you can use those as a resource as well.  But, at a summer course, it’s important that you’re utilizing protein to keep you nourished and energized all day long.  It will be an adjustment from a brief summer break where you don’t need much food because you aren’t exercising too much. So, make sure you’re eating lots of protein.  Here’s a few meal ideas for a day at a summer course (BTW all meals will be easy to cook because hey we don’t have our parents or a personal chef!?!?):

BREAKFAST:

  • Oatmeal with fruit, protein powder, and chia seeds
  • A yogurt parfait
  • Omlette with parmesan cheese and spinach
  • Toast with almond or peanut butter

LUNCH:

  • Hummus and veggie wrap
  • Chicken, cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich
  • Couscous, chicken, and veggie salad
  • Pasta with pesto and grilled chicken

DINNER:

  • Meat with veggies
  • Crushed walnuts on salmon
  • Taco salad

SNACKS:

  • Avocado smoothie (add mint, banana, or strawberries for taste)
  • Mixed seeds
  • Handful of walnuts
  • Quinoa bowl

Taking care of yourself isn’t just about what you eat, either.  It’s important that you’re getting enough rest by going to bed as soon as you yawn and waking up early, but not too early.  You don’t want to wear yourself out.  I love the Sleep Cycles app – you can use it to wake you up so you don’t rise in the middle of a dream or a deep sleep cycle.  I highly recommend it – I feel more awake in the morning with it.

This also means that you warm up properly.  Don’t get to class 5 minutes early with cold muscles and spend all your time in the splits are talking to your friends.  Even if you can’t get their early, spend the few minutes with some light cardio to warm up your muscles or some twists to ease up your spine.  Because you have class right in the morning every day, this is very important.  I like reading some professional dancer’s warm up routines for this because having class in the morning is a lot like company class.

What Should I Bring?

I’ve been getting various questions about what you should bring to a summer course and what you should pack in your dance bag.  I can’t tell you what to pack for going away from home because this will be my first summer away (woohoo!), but I can tell you about what to pack in your dance bags because I’ve been going to summer courses at a local vocational school for like…6 years.

This year, my packing will have to be a bit different because I’m going to have to walk for 20 minutes downtown Chicago everyday from Union Station, where the train drops me off. So, I won’t be able to bring three suitcases for class.  (haha…that’s SO ME).  Here’s what I’m thinking of packing if you need to go light:

  • All of your shoes you need for the day – I’m bringing one pair of most shoes and then two pairs of pointe shoes…I’ll leave the rest at the house
  • Uniform…ballet skirt, character skirt, leotards, etc.
  • Clear nail polish for runs in tights
  • A little bag of extra hair stuff
  • Deodorant
  • A water bottle
  • Box of various nuts for snacks
  • Cellphone and spare money
  • Headphones for the train and before class
  • My ballet journal and pen for writing down corrections
  • One massage ball and one thera band
  • Toe tape
  • Pointe shoe sewing kit
  • Second Skin for blisters
  • Legwarmers

When I had a car to drive me to and from my summer course, I brought a few extra things in addition to the list above:

  • An extra pair of flat shoes
  • Pointe shoe mending and repair materials
  • More massage items, including a foam roller
  • Various snacks instead of just mixed nuts
  • Hairspray, and more hair materials
  • Various hygeine materials: tissues, chapstick, muscle tape, extra makeup, etc.
  • A spare leotard and tights
  • Lots of warm ups, including socks and Bloch warm up boots
  • Various skirts to choose from

As you can see, if you won’t be walking 20 minutes every day, you can have a lot more options for stuff to bring.

I would also come well-prepared to a summer course with blister and foot-care materials. You are going to be en pointe a lot, so make sure you have everything for any foot problems you may encounter.

If you have a bad blister, I would bring Second Skin or New Skin (even though it is excruciatingly painful) with you to and from the school to wear when you have your pointe shoes on.  Of course, bring toe tape or toe pads if you wear them as well.

For home, I would keep some hydrogen peroxide on hand for drying out your blisters. Castor oil and Aloe Vera are also some of my favorites as well.

Absorb Everything

These summer courses are short – only five or six weeks long.  The teachers don’t know you, much less your strengths and weaknesses, and lots of times the classes are so huge that a teacher won’t correct you for days on end, even if you’re trying your best.

Because of the limited amount of time, everything the teacher says is very valuable. That’s why you need to remember everything and apply it for the next class.  Remember, anybody else’s correction is your correction.

My favorite technique for applying corrections is to write them down.  I’ve talked about this numerous times.  I just finished up the notebook I showed you all in my Ballet Journal + Binder blog post, and I got a new Moleskine just for summer intensive.  It’s really helpful to write down your schedule of classes for the week and any corrections you receive or others receive.

Be Friendly

You’re at a summer course with tons of other people, and they are all in the same boat as you.  Don’t be that girl at a summer course that is like…”I’m here to dance, not to make friends.”  You’re going to have a VERY LONG SUMMER if you keep thinking that way.  So, learn to make friends with the other girls, and you’ll have a good time.

Summer courses can have a lot of drama (but not as much drama as during the year, trust me).  Especially if you’re attending a summer course at the school that you dance at year-round, you’re going to encounter some really amazing dancers probably and you’re going to feel “threatened” because they are on your home ground.  Remember to stay friendly and be accepting.

Summer courses are not about being the best, because you probably never will be.  There will be lots of new talent and lots of new faces, so it’s important to stay relaxed and be your friendly self that you always are. 🙂

Standing Out

Finally, it’s important that you stand out to your teachers as a dancer and as a person, especially if you want to stay there for the year.  You should immediately make a good impression and get close to your teachers.  This all starts at the summer course.

Teachers love it when students ask them questions after class and make an effort to improve their technique.  This will make them want to correct you even more during class, because they know you will take the correction and use it to better your dancing.

Finally, make sure you’re recognizable.  It’s helpful to be the “girl with the good bun” during the first week or “the girl with the bow.”  Having a little signiature look will help them identify you.  This also goes with barre spots – standing in the same spot every day will allow them to figure out who you are as well.  You can be the “girl in the front corner” or the “girl at the back of the front barre.”  This will really help them identify you.

So, get to know your teachers and let them get to know you!


Thanks for reading today’s blog post, and I hope it really helps you at your summer intensives.  I’ll see you here on Friday at gouletballet.com.

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