For the past six years, I have traveled away from family and friends for most of my summers. Since the age of 11, I have been attending ballet summer intensives around the country. Traveling by plane, car, or train to help achieve my goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer.
It all started when Nutmeg Conservatory, a dance company from a tiny town in Connecticut, came to my dance studio in Georgia. I was 11 years old and had never thought about leaving home to dance. Following my audition, I found out I received a full scholarship to attend Nutmeg. It was my first time being away from home, so I decided to do the two-week program and have a short but memorable experience to study dance.
Once the summer began my Mom and I took a small detour in New York City for a day to see one of the last Broadway performances of the original cast of Newsies the Musical. We even got to meet cast members after the show. Dinner was New York-style pizza. After spending the night in the Big Apple, it was time to start my journey of summer intensives. First stop, Torrington, Connecticut.
We traveled by train from New York City to the town of Torrington, where we were picked up by my chaperone. I would spend two weeks in a small house near the studio with all the boys attending the intensive. This was my first time dancing with boys around my age. It was an eye-opening experience for me. The days were long, filled with training. We often danced eight hours and then spent our free time hanging out around the house. During free time we had water balloon fights in our backyard, went down to the local Brusters for ice cream, and played games of hide-and-seek at the studio. We also had the opportunity to attend the world acclaimed Jacob's Pillow summer dance festival.
The two weeks flew by as I had very little time for boredom and was going non stop. At the end of the intensive, there was a performance for all the parents before we went our separate ways back to our homes. This would not be my last summer away. There were other cities with summer intensives in my future.
The next summer came quick, and I was off on the next journey. Second stop, my favorite destination of all the summer intensives I attended, Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. But this time I would spend five weeks away from my family and friends. I was attending The Rock School For Dance training six days a week in ballet, contemporary, jazz, and partnering. After classes all day, I went across the street from the studio where the guys lived in an apartment in the heart of the city.
Philadelphia is where I had the most fun of any intensive, I especially liked getting to explore the downtown. Our favorite place to go was Dunkin Donuts, where I would order the Star-Spangled Banner doughnut with the pudding filling. Another favorite we frequently visited was the record shop next to the Starbucks. Along with these evening city adventures, there were weekend activities that included trips to amusement parks, local museums, and the beach.
During the Fourth of July, The Rock took us to the pier in New Jersey where I swam in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. We ended the holiday watching fireworks to celebrate the occasion. That summer in Philadelphia, I made some great friendships and my dancing grew tremendously.
The next three years I attended the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive. Every day was hot, humid, and muggy. The moment you stepped outside you were sweating. Fortunately, we were inside most of the day. This is the intensive where I grew the most in my dance technique. The first year I only participated in the three-week program, which left me wanting more, as I did not want to leave the great friends I had made. But the next two years I stayed for all six weeks and made even greater memories.
Exploring the city of Houston was lots of fun as there were many interesting things to see, like the water wall, and NASA Space Center. Visiting the Houston mall is a must as it is one of the biggest malls I have ever seen. With three floors to explore, featuring a unique waterfall in the center, it was easy to get lost. But my favorite summer activity was a trip to Splashtown Park on the Fourth of July. I am an avid fan of water rides and roller coasters so this was right up my alley.
I will also never forget my last summer intensive in Houston where on the Fourth of July it rained for about an hour and every street in the city was flooded for half the day. But we made the best of it and still had a great holiday. At Houston Ballet I took dance classes with some amazing and well-known artists while also exploring much of its beautiful city.
Last stop, the summer intensive that takes me to where I am today. Cincinnati Ballet’s six-week summer intensive that turned into my year-round home. A few dancers from my home studio who had attended in the past and enjoyed it highly recommended it. I was also looking for a year-round place to study and realized this would be a perfect fit for me. I auditioned in Atlanta with the Academy Director Sarah Hairston and received a full scholarship to attend for the summer. I was stoked, and before I knew it I was packing my bags to leave. My family and I drove there, and settled me into my dorm room at Xavier University.
We trained five days a week working with world-renowned guest faculty. In my free time I made some great friends, we spent endless hours playing board games, taking walks on campus, and every once in a while going down to the Xavier gym and pool. During the weekends I participated in local trips to amusement parks, the mall, and museums. I am a huge sports fan so I enjoyed our trip to the Cincinnati FC soccer game where we watched them win one of their only games of the season.
At the end of the summer, it was time to audition for the year-round program. After a full day of classes, we went to our dorm for dinner before they took us back to the studio for auditions. Nervously, everyone waited to be viewed by the Cincinnati Ballet Academy faculty. Taking the audition class was one last step to show off your talent and work ethic before the final decisions came out. About a week later I received the exciting news that they accepted me to attend the year-round program on scholarship. Now I had to do a quick search for an apartment with my two roommates, friends from my home studio. They were also accepted into the program. We were able to find a nice two bedroom and get everything ready to start the year-round program just in time for our August start.
All the summer intensives I attended truly prepared me to get into a full-year training program. I just completed my first years as a trainee at Cincinnati Ballet. I have been training to become a better ballet dancer for 12 years. This past year at Cincinnati, I have grown the most. I have danced with the company in regular season shows and represented them in outreach performances around the city. I am on my way to achieving my goal of becoming a professional dancer.
The Summer Dance Intensives Mentioned in this Post:
Nutmeg Conservatory Torrington, Connecticut
The Rock School For Dance Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Houston Ballet Houston, Texas
Cincinnati Ballet Cincinnati, Ohio
About the Author: Michael Duncan
Michael moved from home to finish his senior year as a trainee for Cincinnati Ballet in Ohio. Unfortunately, the season was cut a couple months short due to Covid-19 quarantine. He will return there for the 2020-21 season.
Michael is a Renaissance man, not only does he dance, he has performed in several plays, been an extra in the “Hunger Games” movies, and won awards in high school culinary competitions. He is also an avid runner and sports aficiando.
Traveling to Alaska was the highlight of his 9th grade summer. He hopes to visit all 50 U.S, states but first on his list are California, Seattle, the Grand Canyon, Denver, and Niagara Falls.