Since I haven’t had a moment to even think about transcribing the tape of my interview with Denise Wall, I thought I’d try to at least write a post this week that would be useful to someone — that someone being parents and boys (and girls) going to a summer ballet intensive (American Ballet Theatre in particular) next year. So, here goes.
1. Housing may not be too important for the dancer, who is only there in the evening and on weekends, but for the parent who spends much of their time in there, it’s everything to the experience. Now, some parents just cut out every morning after dropping the child off and go shopping or to the theater or otherwise amuse themselves. For these people, maybe the apartment isn’t too big a deal. However, I spent everyday in the apartment working. I regretted skimping in this area. Next year, I will spend a bit more, if need be, to get a place with decent AC, a microwave, an well-outfitted kitchen, cable TV, high-speed Internet, and more space.
2. Be prepared for the weather. It was surprisingly cold in New York City the first two weeks. We needed jackets then and umbrellas almost the whole time. Prepare for everything…
3. Bring supplements and nutritional products to address the dancers’ needs for electrolytes and overuse injuries. Even those first few weeks, the days got hot in the afternoon, and Julian ended up with heat stroke. Yes, he got dehydrated despite the humidity in New York. (In dry climates, you are warned to watch for this, but in humid climates where you sweat a lot it’s just as easy to dehydrate.)
Be sure to have water bottles and packets of electrolytes or some type of sports drink, preferably with not much sugar added. (I had to give in and let Julian drink Gatorade, despite it’s high sugar content, because at least I knew he would drink lots of that during the day.)
There are supplement that help you avoid overuse injuries and inflammation in the body. Do your research or watch for an upcoming post (by moi) on these products and take lots and lots of them to help your body deal with the immense amount of physical stress placed upon it during the intensive. Also, ice anything that is sore or twisted; don’t use a bag of ice if the sore place fits in a bucket of ice water. Ice water is by far the better choice.
4. Use the program’s physical therapist for any and all soreness or injuries. It lessens the time the dancer is injured tremendously.
5. Be careful about how much walking and extra dancing you do outside of the intensive. Julian and I did 30 minutes of walking a day, to and from ABT. We also walked a lot on Saturdays and a little on Sundays. He took some tap classes on Saturdays and once during the week during the first four or five weeks, because tap didn’t strain his body in the same way as additional ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, or hip hop classes, thus possibly causing overuse injuries. We added in a little jazz and hip hop the last two weeks when he was feeling strong, but never more than one class during the week and two on Saturday. Always take one day off; give your body a chance to rest.
We know some people who didn’t do this. The son ended up with an overuse injury at one point from walking everywhere all the time and dancing 7 days a week.
6. Allow your son to spend time with new friends. Don’t be surprised if they aren’t as good about keeping in touch afterwards as he thinks they will be or they say they will be. Prepare him…
7. have your son get a lot of sleep.
8. Get to the studio early, so your son has time to change, stretch and generally prepare for class. At ABT NY, a line forms outside the building quite early, because the kids aren’t allowed inside until 8:30 a.m. on the dot. (Classes start at 9:00 a.m.) Those who like to get upstairs (They walk up three flights; they aren’t allowed to use the elevator.) and have lots of time to prepare, get there early…very early. However, if the kids show up “late” (8:45 or 8:50 a.m.), it’s clear sailing up the stairs with no line at all. It’s their choice. Wait in line. Don’t wait in line. They’ll still be on time for class if they can be changed and in the studio in 10 or 15 minutes.
9. Don’t expect to ever see the inside of an ABT studio except on parent-observation day.
10. Be prepared to allow your child to have some freedom, even if they are in New York City. Most of the kids like to go out to eat together — even the younger ones. I told Julian he had to have a buddy at all times, and the “buddy rule” seems to be an existing unspoken rule for most of the kids (especially those staying in the dorms without chaperones) — unless they live or around the city. He went out to lunch a lot, sometimes just joining others even when I had packed a lunch. He even rode the subway with the other kids up to their rehearsal for their final performance and back. However, he ended up walking back to Union Square by himself when his buddy dropped him off at a subway stop and continued on his way (by subway). I, of course, didn’t discover this until much later.
11. Realize that this is the best experience your young male dancer may have had up to this point in their career. Being in a room with other phenomenally good young male dancers brings out the best in them — or it did in Julian. It makes them work hard. It allows them to work together. It gives them a chance to learn from each other and to teach each other. It allows their abilities to improve faster than they ever have before. They get a chance to compare their work ethic to that of other boys their age and at their level. Plus, they get more opportunities to practice (or learn) partnering than ever before.
If you, as a parent, are wondering if you should spend the money (and the time) sending your son to a summer intensive (and chaperoning him), they answer is “yes.” Take a second mortgage on your house if need be. I think the experience was life changing for Julian. I wouldn’t change a thing about going (except the apartment we rented and tearing my ACL when I twisted my knee on the stairs to that apartment). And we’ll go again next summer if they’ll have us…even if I have to borrow the money or charge the whole thing.
12. Take a little extra time if you are in New York to allow your son to take classes at the other amazing studios, like Alvin Ailey, Steps on Broadway (although we didn’t make it there…) and Broadway Dance Center. Going to Broadway Dance Center for a full five days was a superb experience for Julian. He had taken classes there once or twice a week the whole time he was at ABT, but being there every day for 5-7 hours with all those amazing dancers and teachers also pushed him to his physical limits and changed his perspective on his own dancing ability and goals. In fact, every class he takes now seems easy since then (one negative). He misses the challenge of those classes and instructors, and the energy of being in a room packed full of people hungry for dance. So, stay longer, and take advantage of all that New York has to offer. Your son won’t regret it. It’s a superb investment.
13. Have fun. Splurge. Go to some shows. Stay out late. You never know if you’ll have the opportunity again to live and play in the city that never sleeps. So, don’t sleep your time away. contribute to its name.
14. Enjoy your time with your son. I think being in New York with Julian changed our relationship immensely. We are closer now, and we understand each other better. We get along better. A bonding happened in that little studio apartment, as well as at the shows and on the subways and at the dance classes, that never would have happened had we just stayed at home or had he gone off to Jewish camp. So, make the most of being your son’s chaperone. In fact, don’t be his chaperone. Be his mom…be his friend.