Many dancers aim to take their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it is difficult to get to know organizations without experiencing them physically first. Even when the world isn’t practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn’t always possible. So what can students and their families do to research programs and find out what’s best for them? Who do you talk to and what questions should you and your parents ask?
Here, the leaders of the pre-professional program share some practical tips for taking the next step in your dance education.
What do you want exactly?
Before you start asking questions, think about the answers you are looking for. “Know what you want from a program, so when you do your research, you can be sure your boxes are checked,” says Georné Aucoin, artistic director of the International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. .
Raymond Rodriguez, director of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, the official school of Joffrey Ballet, urges students to consider whether they can or want to move, as well as their family’s budget. Also think about the style of ballet that interests you. “Russian? Balanchine? Generalized American? Only you and your family can determine your needs,” Rodriguez says.
Runqiao Du, artistic director of the Kirov Academy Ballet in Washington, DC, agrees and says he even asks prospective students to list three reasons why they want to attend. “A lot of times they tell me it’s because they want to dance, or possibly tour with a company,” Du says. “That’s not a good enough reason. A pre-professional program is like going to graduate school. No one would go to graduate school without researching whether the program is right for them personally. It is up to the dancers to know what they are looking for.
Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet
What questions should you ask?
There are so many details associated with choosing a pre-professional program that it can be difficult to know what to ask for. Here are some starting points.
Day-to-day class structure:
According to Aucoin, it’s important to find out about the number of students in each class, the daily and weekly schedule (ask for their current schedule to get a general idea of the hours), and how the schedule balances technical class with rehearsals.
Rodriguez also recommends asking questions about the program. “How versatile is their training? Rodriguez asks. “Are these strictly ballet lessons, pointes, variations and pas de deux? Or are you also going to have contemporary, modern and jazz? »
A good program should have the vigor of a professional company, Du says. “In a company, the course lasts 90 minutes, followed by five or six hours of rehearsal”, he specifies. “Your mind and body need to be prepared to do this by the time you join a company, so choose a school that has hours that will train you to be ready.”
Tuition and housing should be among your first questions. “Find out in advance about the financial cost of the program to see if it’s possible for your family,” says Aucoin. If you’re from out of town, ask if they offer accommodations (and how far those offers are from the school), or make recommendations if they don’t. “In our school, we usually make suggestions [to stay with] families who might be willing to host,” she says.
You also want to research the program’s approach to academics, to see if it matches your personal goals. Some offer on-campus academics or are associated with a nearby high school, while others offer distance learning options. “Is there a culture of taking education seriously, or is it lower on their list of priorities?” Aucoin asks. She adds that she’s even asked parents if her faculty monitors their students’ non-dance education (they don’t), as well as their stance on dance/life balance (they think it’s very important).
Courtesy of Kirov Academy
If your goal is to eventually join the company affiliated with the school, ask how many dancers attend each year. “If the answer is only one or two students, you might be better off training somewhere else,” Rodriguez says. “For example, half of Joffrey comes from intensive and academy, and he’s only 11 at this point.”
If the program isn’t related to a company, ask about opportunities alumni have landed since graduating. Does the school regularly place dancers in companies and do they seem to have strong ties to the ones you are most interested in?
Research the program’s artistic staff, including the director, ballet masters, and teachers. Search online for speeches or lectures your alleged professors have already given to see if they resonate. “Most directors have a real story,” says Rodriguez. “Does his artistic career intrigue you? Do you think participating in an environment led by someone with experience will help you grow? »
Get answers to your questions
In 2021, your best method of gathering information will still be the company website. For example, on the Frequently Asked Questions page of the Joffrey Academy website, you will find a downloadable Parent and Student Handbook that covers many of the questions mentioned above.
You can also discover the school’s stylistic and technical trends on their Instagram and YouTube pages. Plus, in a time when in-person visits are rare, exploring a school’s stream can give you an idea of its facilities. You can also use social media to search for former students to get more in-depth information. “Ask them about the pros and cons of their experience,” Du says.
Photograph by Karl Hoffman, courtesy of the city’s International Ballet School
If you still have questions, Aucoin recommends emailing the school or requesting a phone conversation. “Sometimes if there are a lot of inquiries, it’s just easier to talk on the phone.”
Of course, the best way to get to know a school is to visit it in person, especially once travel restrictions are lifted and it’s safer to take classes with groups. Intensive summer courses are an ideal way to do this, but you can also try planning a visit during the school year. “In all honesty, it’s the easiest way for students to learn about the program, and for us to get to know them too,” says Aucoin.