During my junior year in college, my ballet training was getting more serious. By then, I had nearly 3 full years of ballet training, sprinkled with many different styles of dance. I was studying computer science at Pace University, but really wanted to see how far I could take my dance training. So, I decided to apply for summer intensives. I didn't care if they placed me in a class with 10 year olds, as long as they would let me train.
As I really wanted to go to a summer intensive, my only criteria for choosing auditions were:
1. Did they accept students 21 years old?
2. Did they have an upcoming audition in New York City?
I ended up with the following spreadsheet of auditions to attend:
All of the auditions required photos, so I worked with a friend of mine to take the photos to fit these requirements. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but here's what we ended up with. I remember not liking any of the pictures, as they all had things that I saw I could fix, but after hours and many different photo shoots, I decided these had to be good enough.
Each was more intimidating than the next. I nervously went to CVS to print my photos and registration forms before each audition. The Bolshoi audition was by far the most intimidating. The auditions were nearing the end, and, while I had learned SO much about how to audition, I was sure I wouldn't get any of them. None of the auditioners had even given me a second glance.
I remember that at the ABT audition I met a helpful young dancer who told me that the previous summer he had gone to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's intensive, and that it was a great program. I applied to CPYB that night. That night, I also found Gelsey Kirkland's intensive, which happened to meet both of my criteria (upcoming audition in NYC, and accepted 21 year olds).
The final audition I went to was at Gelsey Kirkland's studio. She ran the audition herself. She wanted the dancers to dance with feeling instead of robotically, so I decided to go for it. I remember her watching me for a while and smiling. My heart leapt, and in that moment, I knew I had a chance.
When the acceptance information arrived, I was accepted to Gelsey Kirkland's intensive (2 weeks) and to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (5 weeks). As the schedule worked out, I decided to do both, and to round out the summer with Kat Wildish's 3-week adult intensive at Alvin Ailey. All in all, it was shaping up to be an exciting summer.
Preparations and logistics
In order to afford all three intensives, I would need to spend all of my savings, and wouldn't be able to work during the time to make more money. I arranged a freelance web development job to at least hold me over with some extra income while away. Although that meant I'd have to spend my free time actually building the website.
Lodging in NYC for Gelsey Kirkland's intensive was easy. I already lived on the Upper East Side and would just have to take the 6 train down from 77th to Canal Street.
As for lodging in Pennsylvania, I needed to find somewhere to stay for the 5 weeks. I found that some dancers' families who lived locally would take in dancers for less money than the dorms. I called many of them on the list, and actually offered my services (clean house, babysit, etc) in exchange for room and board. One wonderful family agreed to let me stay, in exchange for tutoring a high school sophomore to finish the schoolwork required to pass the year in school.
I went down to meet the family in April ahead of time, just to know what I was getting myself into. The arrangement felt good to all involved, so we agreed, and I saved a lot on lodging.
The first day of Gelsey Kirkland's intensive arrived. I hadn't taken a ballet class in a couple of weeks, since I was working as much as possible to save up. (Bad idea. Not recommended!) The first day involved a long time on pointe, and I was near tears by the end of the day. On the one hand, so excited to be there, but on the other, in over my head.
By the end of the two weeks, we had learned the variations for Giselle and performed it at the end. Dancing under Gelsey Kirkland and with so many pre-professional dancers was a dream come true. There was so much to learn, and those two weeks were definitely "intense."
Right after the Giselle performance, I ran, yoga mat bouncing and pointe shoes dangling, to the bus in Chinatown (on which no one spoke English) to head down to Pennsylvania, where the audition placement would take place the next morning. I arrived in Harrisburg after dark, and the family I would stay with picked me up at the bus stop.
On the first day of classes, I was thrilled to have placed into a level with 16 year old girls who had been dancing since they were little girls. I got to wear black or blue leotards, and sew ribbons onto my ballet flats. I also got to attend pointe class every day. As the 5 weeks went on, I spent time between classes alternating between building the website and tutoring the student.
By the time I returned to New York City, my technique and strength had improved drastically. The articulation in my feet was noticeably improved. 5th position was stronger. I could finally do the splits.
As I rounded out the summer with Kat Wildish's intensive, I was so happy to see how far I had progressed. I couldn't really tell how far I had come, until I was back in a familiar context and could see the difference since the last time I had taken Kat's class.
All in all, an experience of a lifetime
I learned a tremendous amount from that summer and lived my dream for 10 weeks. Had I known in advance how difficult all of it was going to be (from the auditions, to getting the photos, to the logistics and expenses, to simultaneously working and dancing), I may not have done it. But, I'm so glad and thankful that I did it because it was an experience of a lifetime and had huge benefits. With the age limits in place at so many intensives, it was really my last shot and I couldn't be happier that I took it.
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