You worked hard all year, you were accepted into some of your favorite summer intensives, you chose an intensive (or two), and finally you arrived, with bulging bags of new pointe shoes (Russian Pointe, of course) and extra tights.
Now, it’s time to put your “best foot forward” by working hard and learning as much as you can. Your summer teachers are meeting dozens or hundreds of new dancers, so it’s important to think about how you can make the best possible impression – whether you’re hoping for an invitation into year-round studies or an apprenticeship or simply the unique guidance that a great teacher can provide when he or she takes an interest in you.
Choose the right program for you
Alexandra Koltun stresses the importance of the right match between dancer and program. “Be curious about who’s a good teacher for you. Do your homework,” she says. If you choose a summer intensive based on its prestige, you are not necessarily making the best choice for your unique strengths and needs, she adds.
Program choice remains an important recommendation even after summer is underway. First, remember that you’ll start thinking about next summer sooner than you think! Observe the ways in which your choice this summer is or isn’t a good match, such as class sizes, location (studying far from home could be exciting and inspiring, or homesickness could get in the way of success), how well you hit if off with teachers and other students, and so on. If you feel that you’ve made the wrong choice, do your best to maintain good cheer, work hard and make the best impression possible, but use what you’ve learned to make a better choice next time.
Second, it might not be too late to jump into another program after the one you’re in is over. Some studios, like Koltun’s, allow students to join later in the season for a shorter period. Your experience at the beginning of the summer could lead to a smart choice for the end.
What do teachers notice?
“Your work, skills and attitude will make you stand out,” says Reznik. “Good, hard-working dancers will always get noticed by a professional staff. Be ambitious to work and to improve.” Her number-one factor: “Have the ability for consistent improvement.”
Talent vs. dedication
Of course, natural ability and your current level of development are part of the picture. “A&A Ballet’s mission is to approach each student in an individual way by analyzing and developing their own potentials, charisma, musicality, etc.,” Reznik says. Some of the stand-out qualities they look for are “musicality, coordination and clarity of training.” However, Reznik adds, “I adore and will always support a pure talent, but without hard work it would be worthless.”
Koltun holds a similar view. “I am a hard worker and I expect students to work hard, too.” She values natural ability but notes that without passion and work it isn’t enough to make a dancer stand out. “Some dancers show much more desire and dedication and that’s where we see progress. They steal my heart,” she says.
Appearance and demeanor
Looking neat and behaving well in class matter “100%” according to Reznik. “Sometimes we forget that you have to develop your habits right from the beginning. You should respect yourself, other students and teachers by keeping your appearance as perfect as possible.” If the program has a uniform or other dress expectations, follow all guidelines carefully. You want your dancing and positive attitude to be what make you stand out, not edgy dancewear. Pushing the rules with a creative (but not quite within guidelines) leotard, or wearing more accessories than necessary, can backfire by making you look disrespectful.
It’s also essential to maintain a demeanor of attentiveness. Some teachers do not mind if you ask a quiet question or share ideas with another dancer, if it’s directly related to the class. However, you should not succumb to chatting. Don’t count on new teachers having the same in-studio style and expectations as those at home; you can’t go wrong by being quiet, polite, attentive and cheerfully receptive to corrections.
Many teachers do, however, like dancers to speak up during class if they have questions. “We love students who ask questions,” Koltun says. “Not all teachers do, but anyone we hire believes that dancers shouldn’t be afraid to ask, such as when they aren’t getting a combination.” Observe your teachers to discover their preferences.
The bottom line
“Really have a clear picture of what you are trying to accomplish at the program and use every minute of it,” Reznik advises. “While the summer time is fun, please remember that your first priority is to learn and to improve.”
Before founding A&A Ballet in Chicago, Anna Reznik and her husband, Bolshoi graduate Alexei Kremnev, were founding artistic directors of Joffrey Ballet’s Academy and Studio Company. A graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Ms. Reznik toured throughout the world as a Principal Artist with the Moscow Festival Ballet (later the Russian National Ballet), England’s Northern Ballet Theatre, Cincinnati Ballet, BalletMet, Tulsa Ballet Theatre, as well as in the galas with the Bolshoi, Russian and European Stars of the Ballet, often performing alongside her award-winning husband.
Vaganova Academy graduate Alexandra Koltun founded Koltun Ballet Boston in 2012, with her husband, Bolshoi graduate and former soloist Alex Lapshin. Previously, Koltun was a principal dancer with Boston Ballet and soloist with Mariinsky/Kirov Ballet and taught for several years for Miami City Ballet. Lapshin was also a principal dancer with Boston Ballet and Vienna State Ballet.