The dancing days of summer
As their vacation from school comes to an end, students everywhere ask one another, "What did you do this summer?"Skip to next paragraph
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Imagine spending an entire month doing the one thing you love best. Many young people around the country participate in summer programs that emphasize art, sports, and other specialized skills.
Every year, a group of students, 11 years old to young adult, spend four weeks – seven hours a day, five days a week – dancing with the Academy at Colorado Ballet's Summer Intensive Program. What causes these girls and boys to give up their leisure time to dance, dance, dance?
Let's look in on them and see. In a brightly lighted dance studio overlooking downtown Denver's busy Lincoln Street, young dancers prepare for their advanced-level ballet technique class. With legs stretched up on the barre and arms and torsos in all kinds of contortions, the dancers talk quietly among themselves until the instructor walks in.
When Meelis Pakri, ballet master and graduate of the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia, enters the room, all conversation stops. After a brief greeting, he demonstrates the first warm-up exercise, signals the pianist to play something slow, and the dancers begin a series of pliés.
Some of the dancers are professional members of the Colorado Ballet, and some are younger students who were accepted into this four-week course of study that includes ballet technique, pointe, and acting.
Sound challenging? It is, but these young dancers talk more about how inspiring and satisfying the whole experience is.
"It's great to see how much you grow," says Elizabeth Martin, who's been dancing for 14 years, even though she's still in her teens. "[Comparing] where you start from and where you end up is definitely rewarding."
"The more you do it, as long as you're not pushed by a parent or someone [else], the more you grow to love it and the more you want to learn," adds 20-something Tiffany Hartsfield. "That passion is what helps you inspire yourself. You see other people do something, and you want to do it as well."
"It's the thrill of dancing; you can't really describe it," says Elizabeth. "I had to make the choice between ballet and jazz or soccer and lacrosse, and I went with dance because I knew that's where my heart is."
Young dancers' passion for ballet shines through during their auditions for the school, says Gil Boggs, the artistic director of the Colorado Ballet.
When asked what he looks for in a prospective student, he says, "Obviously you look for facility – their ability to 'turnout' (Are their feet pointed well?), how they use their arms. And then just natural ability. But you also look for their desire to be a dancer. You can tell how hard they are willing to work in a classroom when you are giving the steps in an audition, how they approach it. You see it in their eyes."
Dancing takes hard work and discipline, and this program demands both from its students. Tiffany points out that ballet dancers understand the necessity of total concentration and the power of self-control. "Discipline is very important. And that's how most classes are. There's no talking," she says. Everybody is alert, ready to work."
"I came from a Russian technique," says Elizabeth. "The second [the instructor] walks in, you're ready to go; you know what you're doing. That structure in the class is needed because if you don't have it, you can't really grow as a ballerina. It pushes me as a dancer.... I can do so much better when the teacher is pushing us where he wants us to be. It's that intensity factor – when you walk into the room, you know you have to work today." Even if you're having a hard day.