By Amber Keeley, School Director

Welcome to 2015!  At Out on a Limb we are keeping it fresh with a new logo, new classes, new apparel and best of all, a new blog to keep you up to date on the latest and greatest happenings. I can't think of a better way to start the new year!

Question: What makes January exciting for many ballet students? What is it about one of the coldest months that opens eyes, raises nerves, challenges, and inspires dance kids all over the country?  I'm talking about summer intensive program auditions! Every January, large ballet and contemporary dance schools from around the country go on national audition tours seeking dancers for their summer intensive training programs.

Our students should audition for these programs for several reasons. First, the more audition experience one gets, the more confident they become in front of an unfamiliar audience. Obviously, as a dancer this is a wonderful thing. The confidence we gain when we are young also serves us well later in life. Second, it gives them a great opportunity to see what other dancers from their area are doing. They can meet new friends and be inspired by seeing other dancers who are pushing themselves to perform to their highest ability. Third, auditioning for summer intensives is a fantastic way to take classes from outstanding instructors representing dance companies based all over the country. Summer intensive program participants get feedback and instruction from some of the best in world - how priceless! There is usually an audition fee, but the experience of taking classes from an expert working with a prominent dance company is really exciting and well worth it.

Putting yourself out there in an audition, especially at first, can be daunting. You get your freshly-laundered black leotard and pink tights on, you put your hair in an immaculate bun, you show up early to get some nerves out and be sure you're nice and warmed up… and then you just hope you shine! The students at Out on a Limb get quite a bit of experience putting themselves “out there” in front of other dancers. It's a wonderful thing, and because of it they will be more comfortable in an audition setting. They, like me, can laugh at themselves. That means they are also usually okay with “going for it.” To be honest, I think they would have an absolute blast!

Although our students should audition for the audition experience itself, the end result is that they will or will not be accepted into a program. Rejection is something artists need to learn to deal with positively, and auditioning helps in that area.  Limb kids are tough and believe in themselves. Rejection won’t kill them.  Getting accepted into a national summer intensive can be difficult, but it isn't impossible.  

When I was a dance student, I auditioned for many summer intensives. For the most part, they were really fun!  I loved taking classes from someone new. I didn't audition because I wanted to go out of town for the summer. I auditioned because the auditions were exciting, they were held at my own ballet school, and my friends were auditioning. So, why not? When I was twelve years old, I was accepted into the Boston Ballet summer intensive program. My parents seriously considered sending me to the three-week session, but in the end they decided I should wait one more year. I was slightly disappointed, but I was also relieved. I wanted to dance with the Boston Ballet, but three weeks felt like a long time to be away from home!  At that point in my life, I hadn't been away from home for more than one night.  

I can remember my least favorite audition like it was yesterday.  The 1986 “Prestigious Ballet Company (PBC)” summer program auditions. We were at the barre in our black leotards and pink tights with our audition numbers pinned in just the right place, below our chests and above our centers. A serious-looking woman walked up and down looking us over and speaking in muffled tones to a man who walked beside her and wrote her notes on a clipboard. We stood in first position and simply waited for her to make our body evaluation and move on. She spent about two seconds looking at me. I was disappointed because I knew I could dance. I also knew that she was not going to give me a second glance once we started to actually move. I was too short, probably too stocky and just not the right “look” for PBC. We then did a few exercises at the barre, developpes and grand battements. I pushed hard to give her my very best and show her I was more than just a 4’11” body in a leotard. She never even blinked in my direction. I was sad but not surprised. That particular ballet school had a reputation for only taking dancers of a very specific height and body type. I thought I could convince them otherwise with spirit, passion and talent…not so much. Oh well, that is how it goes sometimes and I got a cool t-shirt out of it. What a great lesson I learned that day. I realized that although the rejection stung, I would not have chosen them either. Even at age 12 or 13, I knew without question that I didn't want to dance with a company that saw me only as a body.

My friends and I awaiting our flight to Seattle for the PNB summer intesnive

My friends and I awaiting our flight to Seattle for the PNB summer intesnive

When I was thirteen I was accepted to the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) summer intensive in Seattle. They not only accepted me, but offered me a full scholarship (training plus room and board) for six weeks. How could we say no? Three other girls from my dance school and I attended the six week program. It was amazing! I missed being home and was blessed with the opportunity to make a trip back for a short visit in the middle of the session, but what I learned was absolutely invaluable. The classes were incredible, the days were long, the independence was curious, and I made wonderful friends from around the country.  

I would love the Limb kids to jump at the opportunities they have this January to audition for summer intensives with companies around the country. It's fun, exciting, scary and inspiring. They may learn something about themselves that they didn’t realize was there… courage and spunk and might!  Sounds pretty great, doesn't it?   

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