Students model their camp t-shirts.
“Dance is a young person’s game,” said Ballet staffer (and former dancer) Douglas McCubbin. He was responding to my comment that after my four years here, it still amazes me how talented the dancers in Summer Intensive are at such a young age. The average age of our students is 15½ and a majority of them are already whipping out fouttés and have other tricks in their ballet bag. Watch the more advanced classes and you’ll see t-shirts from other professional dance schools sprinkled throughout the studio. For some, it suggests Milwaukee Ballet’s Summer Intensive is not their first rodeo. For others, they are simply repping their hometowns. Students do travel from all over the country and the globe for this intensive after all.
This is the first rodeo for 16-year-old Benjamin Simeons from California. He was awarded a scholarship last year, but unfortunately had to miss it due to a knee surgery (at 15?!). Now he’s excited to finally be in class. Benjamin discovered Milwaukee Ballet through a recommendation from his local school director and has been enjoying the first two weeks. “It’s a good program,” he says. “It’s a lot work and I’m tired, but not to the point where I feel I’m risking injury.”
When asked for a favorite class Benjamin wastes no time answering Men’s Class, explaining, “Back home we only had Men’s Class once a week and it wasn’t as advanced as it is here. And both teachers we’ve had [Company Dancer Ryan Martin and Ballet Master Denis Malinkine] have been really good. I'm really looking forward to class with [School Director] Rolando.” I sat in on one of the classes Ryan was teaching last week, and I have to say I was a little amused at how often Ryan had to remind his young men to wait while he explained something fully. They were also so eager to learn the next jump or turn.
Even Benjamin’s goals are tied into Men's Class. He says, “One of them is to put on some muscle mass (I’m thinking partnering class every day will help). And the other is to improve my technique, especially in Pas. I need to work on my presentation.”
This rings true for 16-year-old Marta Kelly from Florida who also spoke about presentation, “My goal for a while now has been to cross that line between being a student and a professional. I see the Company dancers that come and take class and you can always tell the difference in how they present themselves.”
Marta feels the structure of this Intensive will help her achieve this, noting, “I like how it’s a continuous flow instead of stop-and-go. Our bodies can get into a rhythm and you’re not exhausted at the end of the day. It’s also training our bodies for what it’s like to be a professional dancer. It’s really, really good.” Marta is getting a true feel for the dancer's life for these six weeks, forgoing the dorms in favor of staying with a host family. She wakes up daily at 5 a.m. and takes a bus to the studios.
Interestingly enough, while 165 students are here in hopes to someday be a professional dancer, a few of our Company dancers are here getting back to the basics. Dancer Janel Meindersee explains, “These classes bring me back to a student mentality of striving for perfection. Summer as a student was completely focused on ballet, which is the opposite of how it is dancing as a professional. It feels good to go back and take student classes and be in a student atmosphere again, and focus on the things I don’t have time to focus on during the season.”
I’ll check in again with the students a little later in their stay to see if they’ve made any progress on their goals. Janel is confident they’ll take a big step forward. “The students are working hard and doing well ,” she notes. “They’ve improved a lot in only two weeks.”