From Studio to Summertime

The School at Jacob’s Pillow students. PC Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow

Start planning your summer break now.

Though summer offers a much-needed break for college dance students, it can also present a dilemma. After spending the rest of the year adhering to such a structured schedule, how do you best utilize three months of free time? With all the available options—from intensives to travel to performance opportunities—three months can all of a sudden feel incredibly short. Make the most of your time by prioritizing and planning ahead. 

An Alternative Abroad

Participating in a dance-focused study-abroad program over the summer can be a great alternative to a traditional semester-long trip, especially for dancers who are double-majoring or who don’t want to take time away from their training. “It was long enough so that you’re not a tourist,” says Madison McGrew, a recent University of South Florida graduate who studied in Paris her final summer of college. “But it’s not too long so that it throws you from the progression of your training.” Experiencing dance in a new culture can transform your artistry in a way that pays off back at school. “I feel more open to guest artists and master classes now,” says University of Wyoming student Laura Kelly, who studied in London and Paris and was exposed to a wide variety of dance styles in her travels. “I’m more willing to see what someone else has to say about dance, or experience their approach to it.” Programs vary, but generally include daily classes, outings to shows and cultural sites, and performance opportunities. Though some dance department programs are exclusive to majors, others, like USF’s Dance in Paris trip, are open to college dancers from other schools.

Lawrence Rhodes’ Summer Intensive Advice

Jacob’s Pillow offers a variety of intensive options, including ballet. PC Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow

With the number of summer intensives available to college dancers, it can be overwhelming to choose the one that will serve you best. We talked to Juilliard dance division artistic director Lawrence Rhodes about how he advises his students:

If you’re a first-year or sophomore: “Do a program that is going to benefit you physically and technically, and keep you on track to get your body in the best possible shape. If you sense that you need more exposure to modern or ballet, choose a program that features it.”

If you’re a junior or senior: “Go some place you want to be seen. You want people to notice you’re there and find out that you’re coming to the end of your training. Generally, programs like dancers who are loyal. If you really have a great desire for a particular company, you should go to the summer intensive a couple of times to have a foot in the door when you audition.”

If you want to choreograph: Find an intensive that is focused on your artistic voice, like BODYTRAFFIC’s exploration-focused program.

If you need exposure: Use your intensive to “broaden your palate,” says Rhodes. If you haven’t seen much dance or are still deciding what kind of work to pursue, Rhodes recommends American Dance Festival and Jacob’s Pillow as places where dancers can experience a variety of styles and ways of working.

If you can attend two: Do it! Be strategic about contrasting them based on your needs and where you are in your training. (For more, see page 130.)

If you can’t attend any: Intensives can be cost-prohibitive. Look into programs that offer scholarships, but if it still doesn’t work out, all is not lost. “Return home and study with your old teachers,” Rhodes suggests.

DIY Cross-Training Regimen

Transitioning from a strict training schedule into summer break can be a shock to the body. Katy Keller, a physical therapist for The Juilliard School, lays out the keys to successful self-training and the common mistakes you should avoid:


Take a rest week at the beginning of your summer. Intensify your training gradually.

Try a new physical activity, like hiking or swimming.

Consider what else you’re doing. If you have a summer job that requires prolonged standing or weight-bearing, choose a low-impact activity like floor barre or Pilates. If you’re traveling, keep in mind that carrying heavy bags or sleeping on different beds could impact your body.

Focus on your body’s weaknesses. If you’re naturally hypermobile, focus on strength and control. If you have a tighter structure, try yoga or Gyrotonic to improve flexibility.

Adapt to new environments. Have patience with your body as you come across new floors, climates, diets and more.

Use your resources. Get exercises from your teachers and trainers before you leave school, find instructional videos and programs online, and use props to build an at-home workout.


Introduce a new, high-impact activity, like running or sports.

Be inconsistent. Regardless of what else you’re doing over the summer, try to maintain a base level of conditioning for an hour or two a day.

Rest right before you go back to school. The last month of the summer should include your most focused training. 

Stay Local

You don’t need to be in a big city to have a productive summer. If you’re stuck in your hometown, there are ways to grow—while giving back. “Make the most of your artistic community. Go see work, participate in improv jams, start making something, collaborate,” says Colleen Thomas-Young, who co-leads the University of South Florida’s Dance in Paris trip and teaches at Barnard College. Volunteer to teach at your local dance studio—going back to basics can clarify your own technique, and developing your voice as a teacher will help you down the road. Use free time to choreograph, work on your dance reel, perfect your resumé and update your headshot.

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