Summer in the city: sweating it out in the Ailey and Joffrey schools' summer intensives. (Summer Study Guide 2003).
Students, too, for over forty years, have descended upon New York to attend various summer sessions held at such acclaimed schools as the Joffrey Ballet School, The Ailey School, American Ballet Theatre's summer intensive, and the School of American Ballet. The summer semesters allow students outside New York to study in a condensed intensive program and to improve their technique in a more competitive environment.
Last summer, both the Ailey and Joffrey summer-intensive programs had a record number of students. According to Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School, and Edith D'Addario, director of the Joffrey Ballet School, each program enrolled more than 350 dancers. More than half the Ailey students were new to the program, while 40 percent of those in the Joffrey intensive attended for the first time. The Joffrey program has five levels for trainees from ages 12 to 21, while the Ailey summer school has three levels: two junior divisions (ages 12-15), and a professional division (ages 16-25).
Students arrived not only from across the United States but from all over the world. Dropped into the pressure-cooked atmosphere of professional dance training, these teens and young adults have challenges pitched at them from all directions, from adjusting to the accelerated pace of Manhattan and facing the competition to absorbing technical and stylistic corrections during an average of fifteen classes a week. At the end of their two-month courses, students at both the Ailey and Joffrey schools have the opportunity to perform before a New York audience.
"My first day was very scary," said John Michael Takashima, a 19-year-old Joffrey scholarship student from Orlando, Florida, who returned last summer for a second dose of training. "I was nervous about what kind of classes I would be taking, what the level would be, and if I was good enough," he said.
For Katherine Denecy, a 16-year-old Ailey scholarship student from Guadeloupe, West Indies, the first day opened her eyes. "I saw that everybody could dance. I was thinking, `I don't have a place here.' But when I took the first class, ahhhh ..." she said, holding her hands rapturously to her chest.
The acclimation period in summer intensives is said to last less than a week, after which a dancer's desire to work and learn overrides fear or culture shock. "People here really dance," said Kirven Boyd, an Ailey scholarship student who recently joined the Ailey II company. "I love being in a place where people love to move and express themselves."
Alison Taylor Lange, a 16-year-old Joffrey student from California who previously attended summer sessions at ABT Alabama and the Princeton Ballet School, claimed that the atmosphere provides more positive motivation than negative competition.
But even when the transition is smooth, students encounter major adjustments in class size, technical expectations, curriculum, and work ethics. A class of forty-five to fifty dancers can be a shock to students from smaller schools. Denecy had never taken a modern dance class before walking into the Ailey studios. Amir Yogev, a 15-year-old Joffrey scholarship student from Israel, had never had a pas de deux class before last summer. "Most of the boys had practiced partnering before," he said, "but I had to start from the beginning. I got frustrated sometimes, because I just couldn't do it."
Students coming from regional schools may be used to having only one or two teachers. During a summer session at some New York schools, by contrast, they can expect lessons from five or six different instructors for the extensive curricula. The Ailey School offers classes in fifteen different techniques, including ballet, Graham and Horton techniques, jazz, West African, and tap, along with yoga and body conditioning classes. The Joffrey school provides ballet, jazz, character, pas de deux, and variations.
Winthrop Corey, who has taught at Joffrey summer sessions for the last sixteen years, said that the work ethic is decidedly different for most new students. "When they come here they find that each teacher demands something different," said Corey. "At home, they're used to their teacher, but here they have to listen to new voices saying new things. We stress no talking in class and paying attention to all corrections, even those for other people."
At times, the training can be radically different from what students have known. Lily Rose Peck, a petite, blonde, Ailey student who studies at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., said that her Russian-based training had required her to conform to a rigid balletic model. In the Ailey intensive, she found that the freedom of the port de bras allowed her to be more expressive. Students also encounter stylistic variations even within the same technique. For example, Lange was surprised that although she had trained with former Joffrey dancers, the Joffrey school demanded clearer preparations for pirouettes.
Kate Feuer, a 17-year-old Joffrey student from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, said that "most of the teachers allow you to keep your original style from home. They don't try to change you." Nonetheless, teachers encourage students to immerse themselves in different styles, as they would be required to do in professional companies.
One of the first challenges of coming to New York for two months is finding a place to live. The cost of living in New York is often far more expensive than new students might expect. Feuer, who shared an apartment with three friends from Massachusetts, took turns going home on weekends to shop for cheaper groceries. But, she added, "clothing is a lot less expensive in New York, so we're doing our back-to-school shopping here."
None of the Joffrey and Ailey students interviewed had significant problems finding accommodations, which included residences, private apartments, hotels, local college dormitories, and for a lucky few, the homes of nearby relatives. This is a credit to the schools, which assist in the process by providing lists of available residences and contact numbers, plus offering support from the administrative staffs.
The terrorist events of September 11 and safety issues of urban life didn't seem to faze most of the students. "There are always cops on the street," said Takashima. "I feel safe here."
Yogev, who lives in Jerusalem, said, "In Israel you have to worry just walking down the street or getting on a bus. Here, I don't feel scared."
Instead, the ceaseless stimulation and culture of the city captivated many students, most of whom found time to sightsee, attend dance performances, and go to Broadway shows. In addition to becoming stronger dancers, students who study in New York claimed to learn a lot about themselves. "I discovered I can do all these other things besides ballet, and I learned that I can adjust," said Peck.
Lange decided she didn't want to dance professionally but would love to live in New York. Boyd discovered that he is a hard worker. "That's the only way you can achieve anything in this profession," he said. Takashima said he found ways to calm his temper and ease his self-criticism.
But Feuer had a particularly rough summer. Her grandmother died and her Manhattan apartment building caught fire. When a fireman's hose wrapped around her ankle, she got a contusion that led to an infection. But coming to New York, she knew that her determination would be tested, and she made it onstage as a swan in the Joffrey school's August performance.
Along the way, she also gained courage by becoming a New Yorker. "You have to be a strong person in New York and you need self-confidence," she said. "But you can gain that in a big city. I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was."
Former American Ballet Theatre dancer Joseph Carman is a New York City dance critic for DANCE MAGAZINE and a contributor to The New York Times and The Advocate.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2003|
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