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By Lauren Kay
Pre-college intensives give students a preview of campus life.
Choreographer Bret Easterling (left) teaches at the Juilliard Summer Dance Intensive in 2011. Photo by Norbert De La Cruz III, Courtesy Juilliard.
If you’re a high school sophomore or junior, your mind is probably racing with questions about college: How much do you want dance to be a part of your college experience? If you know you want to major in dance, should you attend a BA or a BFA program? Of the hundreds of programs out there, how do you know which one is right for you?
Sorting through the choices can be dizzying, especially during the hectic school year. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do double duty on your summer vacation: go to an intensive and make headway in the college search?
Colleges think so too, which is why many—including Juilliard in New York City, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Philadelphia’s University of the Arts—offer pre-college dance intensives. These two- or three-week summer workshops give high school students a glimpse into the curriculum, faculty, location, and atmosphere of a school. And, in subtle ways, they can offer a leg up in the audition and application process.
Narrow the Field
For Juilliard alum Spenser Theberge, attending the conservatory’s pre-college program (after his sophomore year of high school) helped to narrow the application field. “I wouldn’t have realized I wanted to apply to dance at Juilliard, or even study dance in college at all, without the intensive,” says Theberge, who graduated in 2009 and is now a member of Nederlands Dance Theatre. “The mini summer version of the school,” as he calls it, sparked his interest in contemporary work, which, coming from a ballet background, he hadn’t encountered before.
With an inkling that Juilliard would be a good fit, Theberge absorbed as much information as possible about what the school was looking for in its dancers, in part by observing full-time students who were taking summer classes. “Getting to see what a Juilliard dancer looks like was huge for me,” says Theberge. “I studied them and noticed they shared a great sense of moving through space, an ability to fulfill each moment, and a sense of individuality unique to each person. For the year and a half between the summer and the college audition, I thought about that and honed my own sense of self as an artist.”
The chance to learn from college dancers, as Theberge did, is a perk of many pre-college intensives. Often, current students serve as resident advisors, on hand to answer questions about college life. For Lina Budesa, this was a highlight of her summer at UArts last year: “I could talk to community advisors about their experiences, shows, and specific teachers,” she says. “The one-on-one time was helpful and gave me an inside view into a real student’s experience.”
College can be exhausting, and pre-college programs reflect that. At Juilliard, UM, and UArts, technique classes in the morning are followed by afternoons with courses like repertory (usually with a modern emphasis), music appreciation, or career preparation, taught by year-round dance faculty and guest artists. Evenings are filled with rehearsals for showings, concerts in town, or professional panels. “It was tough having five classes in a long, tiring day,” says Budesa. “I wasn’t used to such a rigorous schedule.” But the intensity pays off, giving students a taste of the high expectations at a top-notch conservatory.
Increasing Your Chances?
Will attending a pre-college program help you get into that college? While faculty at Juilliard, UM, and UArts say that summer students are not given priority in the college audition, there are some subtle advantages.
First, pre-college intensives give faculty members a few weeks to get to know students, rather than the few hours allotted for an audition. “If a dancer in our two-week program has potential to excel in our undergraduate program, it’s helpful for us to see how they work and grow over the intensive,” says Jessica Fogel, co-director of UM’s MPulse Summer Dance Institute. Elizabeth Dugas, a UM alum now working as a freelance dancer in New York, got a jump start on meeting her future teachers when she attended MPulse in 2006. “I got to know professors one-on-one,” she says. “They knew about my strengths and weaknesses, my style as a dancer and person.”
Savvy students can also gain helpful tidbits for the college audition. “I asked a lot of questions about the academic-year audition,” says 16-year-old Cleo Person, who attended Juilliard’s intensive in 2010 and 2011. “I could see that everything is very individualized at Juilliard. I learned for the audition not to try to figure out what they’re looking for. They just want to see you be yourself and dance the best you can without trying to impress them.”
Regardless of whether a pre-college program gets you into the school of your choice, it can give you new artistic tools to take wherever you go. “I learned to be a neutral palette and absorb each style, instead of bringing one from the last classroom,” says Theberge. Cleo Person adds that at Juilliard, “they take you back to fundamentals to help you be a clean and precise dancer. That strips bad habits and you rebuild from there.” Dugas says her experience at MPulse broadened her idea of dancing: “I learned to be open, not to be a perfectionist. It was a great transition into college thinking for me.”
For more college application resources, pick up the 2011–12 Dance Magazine College Guide (see www.dancemagazine.com/thecollegeguide).
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in NYC.
Pre-College Perks & Particulars
Program: Juilliard Summer Dance Intensive
Location: New York, NY
Length: 3 weeks
Ages: 15–17 (entering sophomore, junior, or senior year)
Audition requirements: Live audition (ballet class, and if called back, a modern class) or video
Highlights: Students get exposure to Juilliard’s faculty and the New York City dance world. In addition to ballet and modern, they sample a surprisingly useful style: ballroom dance. “Ballroom dancing is the foundation of pas de deux work, and that class sets Juilliard’s summer program apart,” says faculty member Andra Corvino. “It’s one of the best ways young people can become socially, physically, and artistically comfortable with each other. It breaks the ice and gives students a sense of dancing with another performer.”
Program: University of the Arts Pre-College Summer Institute
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Length: 2 weeks
Ages: Entering junior or senior year
Audition requirements: None. Teacher recommendation, academic transcript, and personal essay required.
Highlights: Participants meet local Philadelphia artists, see the performances of artist-teachers, choreograph on other students, and visit Philadelphia’s museums. Past guest artists include Judith Jamison and Twyla Tharp. “At our program, students are surrounded by art,” says faculty member Wayne St. David. “It’s a lot about exploring our humanity.”
Program: MPulse Summer Dance Institute at University of Michigan
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Length: 2 weeks
Ages: All high school students
Audition requirements: Live (90-minute modern class) or video
Highlights: MPulse is a program for artists of all kinds, with intensives in theater, instrumental and jazz music, musical theater, and performing arts technology, in addition to dance. “The dancers work with the other MPulse campers, collaborating with young composers and watching their peers perform in music and theater concerts,” explains faculty member Jessica Fogel. Dance students hoping to apply to the year-round conservatory can attend an in-depth info session about the application and audition process. —L. K.