My name is Allison Shi; I am a sixteen-year-old ballet student at the Indianapolis School of Ballet and a Motionwear model. This past summer I had the amazing experience of attending Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program. Going into the intensive I knew very little about the school, the company, or the program itself. I knew that the school was world class (only a world class school could produce the likes of Sarah Lamb), I knew of ballet royals such as Misa Kuranaga, Jeffrey Cirio, and Dusty Button, and I knew that the program was a popular one in the ballet student community. That’s as far as my knowledge extended, but by the end of the summer, I was infatuated with both the company and the city.
In the Studio
[We took our first glance at the red brick building, which was dotted with windows and breathtaking in every way. My friends and I have to look almost straight up due to its height, but the sign that proudly reads “Boston Ballet” is just above our heads. The windows closest to the ground display pictures of a few of the ballets the company has done, and we point out the dancers we have admired for years. The only thought that enters my mind is I could get used to this.]
The training I received at Boston Ballet was distinctly Balanchine based. Margaret Tracy, the Artistic Director of Boston Ballet School, is a former NYCB principle, and both of my main teachers were professional dancers who graduated from the School of American Ballet. However, the style varied from level to level and from teacher to teacher. All of the teachers were professionals or former professional dancers.
I believe I improved at this intensive because of a few factors:
1) The teachers were helpful, experienced, and talented, and each one made an effort to correct everyone. Also, just watching the teachers demonstrate was as educational as it was inspirational. We grew to love our teachers over the course of the five weeks, and often attempted to show our appreciation.
[“Okay, here’s the plan,” I begin to explain to a new wave of level 3B girls. “We walk into class pretending that we don’t know it’s her birthday, but after PSevHan(one of our main teachers) gives the plié combination, the pianist plays ‘Happy Birthday’ instead of the plié music. We sing as we pull out our party hats and rush forward with cookies, cupcakes, and the cards. Sound good?”]
2) I learned a lot from my classmates. They each had some sort of nuance or quality that I liked and tried to incorporate into my own dancing. Also the atmosphere created was one of hard work; I somehow felt motivated to wear pointe shoes for classes in which I didn’t have to wear pointe shoes, and I actually enjoyed it. This was out of character for me.
[“Is anyone wearing their pointe shoes for barre?” I hear someone say.
“I am!” I reply.
A collective groan ripples throughout the hall outside of studio three.
“You guys don’t have to if you don’t want to,” another classmate responds.
But as we find our spots at the barre before class, I notice that everyone is wearing their pointe shoes.]
3) The schedule didn’t have too many classes or too few. The curriculum was enjoyable and beneficial, although I wish we had partnering more than once a week. Having around four classes per day allowed us to continue pushing our stamina and technique without exhausting us completely.
There are seven studios; studios one and two were located in the basement and were the smallest in size. I only had lecture, pilates, and character in these studios. Studios three through six were the same in size and shape; they are spacious, but they have very patchy floors (mostly sticky floors with random slick spots). Most of my technique, pointe/variations classes were in one of these studios. Studio seven is the biggest studio; it is the famous one with the beautiful semi-circle windows and a meeting room on the upper level with a large glass window so that people who are in meetings get to watch the dancers, I guess. I would like to note that the floors seemed fairly hard and some dancers felt that their shin splints worsened because of this. Many people slipped on the slip spots in class or were annoyed by the sticky parts. You get used to it, but it never stops being annoying.
[We walk into studio seven and immediately recognize where we were. The signature Boston view and the signature Boston Ballet windows and the signature Boston Ballet School artistic director Margaret Tracy and panel of teachers greet us as we walk in for our placement class.
“I heard that these floors are really slippery,” I hear pretty much everyone murmur.
We all race to the rosin box and crunch our pointe shoes into the substance liberally. Surprise! It didn’t help]
Lunch was held in the basement. The food was only okay, so sometimes a group of us would buy a Clif Bar from the vending machine and a large smoothie from 575 Market (I highly recommend 575 Market. They have amazing smoothies, juices, and cookies bigger than your face.). Many dancers would stop by The South End Buttery for salads, coffee, or yogurt (I heard that one of the SDP students found a snail in a salad they bought from The Buttery. There are a couple of ways you could interpret this; 1) they don’t wash their salads well enough or 2) their salads are pesticide free. It’s really up to you.)
I had two muscle spasms on my back/neck during the program, so I spent some time in physical therapy. Some said that PT didn’t help them with their injuries, but I truly believed it helped me. The process included e-stim, heating, massaging, and icing. Also, sometimes Boston Ballet dancers work out up there and the physical therapists are super nice and will talk to you about college and cookie recipes. The treatment is free, so if something is bothering you I would suggest that you book an appointment right away as it usually takes about a week to actually get an appointment.
Most of the Summer Dance Program students stayed at Boston University’s dorm on Commonwealth Avenue. The girls were put three to a room and the boys were put two to a room. Boys were put on a separate floor and were not allowed to use the elevator while girls were not allowed to use the stairs. Each room had three loft beds, each with one desk and one bureau. A microwave-refrigerator was included, and every room had a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower/bathtub. Each floor had a handful of RAs who were helpful, kind, and overall people that I could both talk to as a friend and respect as a person that could get me in trouble. I believe that that balance is very necessary.
[“CAN I LAY BY YOUR SIIIIDDE,” my roommates belt as I make a weak attempt at completing some of my summer homework. I quickly realize that my efforts are useless as I pull out a banana and a jar of peanut butter. After all, this was our nightly routine.]
A few programs were held by the RAs in the dorms at night or on the weekends. I would suggest that, if you have the chance and if you have the ability to tolerate large, loud groups of teenagers, you should attend at least a few of them. They are casual in nature and usually fun in an unintentional way. For example, I would consider the talent show to be a standout memory in my mind, but not because of the amount of talent that was revealed in the show.
The building itself is located very close to a Barnes and Noble Boston University bookstore, a T station (subway station), a Dunkin Donuts, a City Convenience (corner convenience store), and the dining hall. A little farther away (but still within walking distance if you’re ambitious enough) are a Target, Panera Bread, and Chipotle.
The dining hall was overall a pleasant experience. BBSDP shared Boston University’s dining hall with a few other conferences that would typically take all of the fruit and pumpkin bread, but other than that they weren’t a problem. The dining hall had vegan and gluten-free options as well as definitely not vegan or gluten free options. Along with the vegan section and the gluten-free section, there was a deli, an omelet station, a dessert bar, a waffle maker, a salad bar, a pizza area, a coffee/drink dispenser, a table overflowing with bananas and apples, a cereal bar, and a couple ice-cream machines. The dining hall was decently clean and an enjoyable place to eat, but the napkin machines were always empty.
[It’s the last day of the intensive.
“Are you ready?” I ask my friend as we enter the dining hall for the last time.
“I’m ready for my waffle.” she replies.
Once our cards are swiped, we power walk to the waffle station with comical but deadly serious determination. After the waffles are cooked, we eagerly yet delicately construct a mountain of toppings to crown our beloved pastry. Whipped cream, chocolate chips, blueberries, and syrup engulf the waffle, but we don’t care. We had waited five weeks for this moment.]
The dorms were comfortable, practical, and overall an excellent home. I looked forward to entering the dorm every day (mostly because of the air conditioning).
A few Boston favorites among the SDP students included the Charles River Esplanade, Newbury Street, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Boston Harbor (North End). The Esplanade is a dock and sidewalk next the Charles River. The dock was an incredible place to relax, watch sailboats, and view sunsets. Newbury Street was arguably the most visited attraction at BBSDP2015. It is an array of stores including Brandy Melville, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Georgetown Cupcakes (which has amazing vegan cupcakes as well as amazing normal cupcakes), and local restaurants and boutiques. My personal favorite was the Museum of Fine Arts. It has an incredible collection of classical and contemporary art, and at the time of the intensive they were displaying an extensive Hokusai collection, including the very famous “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” The Harbor and the entire North End is definitely a must visit; it has a historical significance and it is surrounded by a beautiful park. Plus Little Italy is near by, and there you can find an almost annoying amount of Italian restaurants, bakeries, and gelato stands.
[I smile down at the water, wondering if it was going to feel as good as I thought it would. I unzip my backpack, pull out a single teabag—chai rooibos—and chuck it into the Boston Harbor. Definitely, I conclude.]
The best part about Boston is the T system. It’s similar to a subway system, and it can take you anywhere in Boston. Boston Ballet SDP gives you an unlimited T card, which means that you can ride the T as many times as you want. All of the SDP students used the T to get to the studios, Trader Joe’s, a restaurant, or anywhere outside of walking distance. There are no city boundaries, so essentially if you are back by your check-in time, you could visit New York City if you wanted.
I highly recommend this program and would consider going back again. Incredible memories were created at this program, and it gave me many important yet rare experiences. I made some great friends, I absolutely fell in love with the city, and most importantly my dancing improved. When I returned to my home ballet school, even my teachers noticed and approved of my progress. Again, if you get the chance, I would definitely recommend attending Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program.