Is the School of American Ballet Summer Intensive Right for Your Son?

SAB_logoI’ve gotten several questions in the past two years about the School of American Ballet’s summer program as well as about the year-round residential program. Parents and boys are wondering if the program is rigorous enough compared to others, like American Ballet Theater (ABT). They also want to know if the residential program is a good choice. Hopefully my response comes early enough for those of you still making summer intensive decision for 2014. If not, it will help many of you in forthcoming years.

Let me first say that I am basing my comments only on Julian’s experiences at ABT, the School of American Ballet (SAB) and San Francisco Ballet (SFB). These are the only ballet programs he attended. He did attend the Complexions summer intensive as well. He also attended these intensives a number of years ago; his last intensive was two summers ago at SFB. I invite other parents and dancin’ boys to leave comments below to add to what I have to say. Your feedback on the intensives you attend or your sons attend (pros and cons) will provide a nice resource for other dancers.

Main Reasons to Attend the SAB Summer Intensive

The SAB summer intensive offers a great opportunity to try the Balanchine style of ballet. If your son has an interest in this style, by all means, let him attend this intensive because he likely will not get a chance to try his hand at it anywhere else–at least not in an immersion type of way.

Not only that, your son will have premium living quarters in the Juilliard dorm. No searching for expensive housing in NYC, as you will have to do for the ABT summer intensive. He’ll rarely leave the facility, as the cafeteria and studios are all housed in the same building as Juilliard. Plus,  the kids are well chaperoned.

Rigors of the Program

Julian found SAB’s summer program every bit as rigorous as ABT despite the fact that he spent less time in class per day. (That was a concern of some of the parents who wrote to me.) He never complained about less class time. Of course, SAB has Saturday class and ABT does not. SFB had classes six days a week as well, but the days were a bit longer, I believe, than SAB.

He actually found the SAB intensive quite difficult. Learning Balanchine was very hard.

Specific Things Boys Might Like

What Julian specifically liked about SAB were the boys’ classes and weight lifting. He felt the program was well designed for dancin’ boys. And this was an enticement to him to stay for the residential program. The boys also did a fair amount of partnering.

The Balanchine style of dance coupled with the weight lifting program did a nice job of toning Julian’s body. I can’t remember if it was during the summer or later during the year-‘round program, but his leg muscles became less bulky, which he liked. He had been doing Vaganova-style ballet previously, and his legs were much “bigger” before attending SAB.

SAB’s Residential Program

As for the residential program, I think Julian would highly recommend it, as would my husband and I. If your son does not dream of entering New York City Ballet, then entering the school full time at age 17, as Julian did, provides a phenomenal finishing school. And your son will get seen by some artistic directors who just happen to come to the school to watch class, some of the more than once during the year. Also, almost every major ballet company audition happens at SAB (meaning in the building). This is THE way to land a company job.

If your son dreams of dancing for NYCB, I suggest he enter the school at age 15 or 16, if not earlier, so he has at least two years to train in the Balanchine style and to get seen by Peter Martins. It seemed to use that the longer you were in the school, the higher your chances of becoming a NYCB dancer.

The residential program continues to provide a phenomenal boys class often attended by NYCB dancers—men and women. (They come to the summer intensive class ass well.) It also continues the weight training and partnering classes year ‘round.

How to choose a summer dance intensiveIf your son decides he enjoys the Balanchine style of ballet, SAB is a great year-round program—in particular as a finishing school and to make landing a job easier. The majority of boys end up living in the Juilliard dorms and are chaperoned. They attend New York City public or private schools or do online high school programs. Sometimes the NYC public school classes are held on site, as they were the year Julian attended, which means the older students who need less classes to graduate don’t even leave for academics.

As for as my husband and I are concerned, if Julian had not attended the SAB summer intensive and, subsequently, spent a year in the SAB residential program (giving up his last year of “regular” high school at home), he wouldn’t be where he is now—a corps member at SemperOper Ballet in Dresden, Germany. He received that job offer not in a regular audition but after a normal class watched by SemperOper’s artistic director quite near the end of the audition season. He also received several other job offers, and we attribute this to his varied dance schooling, the “finishing touch” he received at SAB and the ability to audition for so many companies so easily while attending SAB.

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  1. Maria says

    Thanks for these posts! It’s so helpful to learn about your experiences, especially when you can so clearly delineate the reasons for choosing one program over another. Keeping your own dancin’ boy’s needs and growth foremost is of course the primary goal, and your insights help clarify those needs.
    Did your son stay at the SFB program, or are you close enough that you drove in? I’ve heard concerns about their summer residence chaperoning. The program seems very strong however.

  2. Nina says

    I’ll be posting about the SFB program in the next week or two. My son stayed at Jackson House because he was on the watch list for a trainee position. We live an hour and a half away, although we made that drive every day for a year…every day. However, the dorms are 45 minutes away from the studios. I’m not sure about chaperoning. I’ll ask Julian what he knows. Thanks for you nice comment!

  3. Motoko says

    Thank you for sharing your son’s experience with SAB!
    It is really nice to get real information which comes from someone’s experience.

    My son (13 years old at the time) auditioned for both SAB and PNB last year, and got tuition scholarships to both schools, but decided to go to PNB since he’d already gone there once and was familiar with the program. He told his friends at PNB that he had passed up SAB’s offer, and everybody said he wouldn’t get in again because SAB blacklists people who turned down their offer.

    But this year, SAB offered him a better scholarship that would cover both the tuition and housing… so the blacklisting thing was just a rumor! We are very happy for him and now I am sure he will have a great experience based on this article!

    I hope my son will be a professional dancer like your son in the future.

    P.S. I bought your book two years ago and I found it very informative. Thank you!

  4. Nina says

    Thanks for your comment and good luck to your son, Motoko! I am sure he will love SAB. It was the best investment we made in Julian’s future…the SI and the year-round program.

    If you liked my book, I’d love for you to write a review! Thanks so much.

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