As I await Julian’s arrival home after another year dancing professionally at SemperOper Ballett in Dresden, Germany, I occassionally read the accounts posted in the My Son Can Dance private Facebook group about all the dancing’ boys leaving home to go to summer intensives. My son is taking the summer off, while these younger boys continue working hard.
I remember those days fondly and my time spent chaperoning Julian in New York while he attended intensives. What a great experience for a dancer.
The boys going off to dance for the summer are in a different stage in their dance careers than my son. Julian returns home in a few days—after just turning 21—not as a corps dancer but as a coryphée. He was promoted to what in the U.S. we might call a demi-soloist. Technically, a coryphée is a “small group dancer.” However, he had his debut as a principle dancer this past winter when he danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince. And he also has danced soloist roles this season. At the end of the 2014-15 professional ballet season, he is ready for six weeks of vacation. And his body needs the rest!
For the younger boys still working their way toward professional positions in companies, summer is a time to learn from new instructors in new ballet schools. It’s also a time to be with other—and often more—male dancers. Going off to a summer intensive affords a variety of benefits, but the ability to take class with many other boys is one of the largest.
Most boys struggle as the lone male dancer in class. If they are lucky, maybe one or two other dancin’ boys join them. Even with a few boys in class, it can feel difficult for them to judge their ability. And that’s where the large classes of boys offer such an advantage.
Each boy has his strengths and weaknesses. Each boy has a different level of technique. But standing at the bar and staring at yourself in the mirror—and only yourself—give you no comparison, no way to judge your ability or level of mastery. When you can see the other boys’ reflections as well, you can determine your skill level compared to theirs.
I’m not advocating comparison on a regular basis. However, healthy comparison can be good. And if you don’t ever see that you need to improve, you won’t be as motivated to do so or even know that you must.
And that’s the real key. The boys motivate each other. Whether it’s during barr or while doing jumps and turns or when taking partnering class, they always want to do better, be better than the next guy. Healthy competition is in a boy’s DNA! Put them all in a room together, and they will jump higher, point their feet more, do more turns, and force themselves to stretch in every way.
And that’s why you, as a parent, want to send them off to a summer intensive—or find them classes with more boys during the year. And that’s why dancin’ boys should ask to go to a summer intensive.
If you are wondering how your dancin’ boy measures up–if he’s as far along as he should be at this point, send him off to a summer intensive with lots of other boys. Or, enroll him in a school that has large numbers of boys. Once in a class with five or more boys, the comparison will be clear. You’ll know if your son is ahead or behind as well as if he has talent. Just watch him dance and judge his skill level objectively compared to that of the other boys in the classes.
Once the boys become professional dancers, some boys (and girls) get lazy. They only do what’s necessary. It’s possible that the ballet master or mistress who teaches company class may not demand enough. But put the guys together in a room, and you will still find them pushing each other. Then, of course, there is the desire for parts to keep them motivated!
If your son is dancing away from home this summer, enjoy the time off. No driving! No picking up dirty dance belts off the floor and washing them. Whoo hoo!
If you are a dancing’ boy attending a summer intensive, make the most of every minute. Don’t slack off! This is your opportunity to make friends, move ahead, make professional connections, and have fun—away from home (so be good…). Learn it all. Soak it in. And figure out what you need to do to continue improving during the year.
And if you are pro dancer home for the summer, rest, relax, and give your body some love and attention. Julian always spends a fair amount of time getting body work in the summer…and just doing nothing! Take advantage of the chance to just “be” for a change.
Enjoy the summer!