Summer Courses – Diving in with Eyes, Ears, and Mind Wide Open

By Emma Love Suddarth

We all know the feeling. The letter comes in the mail—you recognize the logo on the return address. The tremendous excitement is equal to the overwhelming anxiety at the idea of opening it. Finally, you work up the courage to dive in and tear open the envelope. “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to…”.

Summer courses. They are such a necessary element in the journey of a ballet dancer, but they can be daunting knowing where to start, what to look for, and how to approach them. Here are a few thoughts to equip you with as many tools and as much knowledge as possible, in order to feel assured in every step you take—in selecting, in auditioning, and finally, in the studio.

Three dancers stand facing the barre in a studio with white walls. One looks over her shoulder, observing the teacher who is out of sight.

So where should you even go this summer? The ballet world is both incredibly intimate and equally vast, and, as a result, the number of summer course options is endless—it might feel impossible to know where to begin. The best first step? Google, google, google. Research, research, research. The most beneficial aspect of a summer course is exposure—exposure to new styles, new teachers, new corrections, and new ways of thinking about every single step, even a plié. In a ballet career, this element comes into play virtually every six weeks, or every single time you transition to a new rep, meaning different works with different demands, and new stagers with new ideas. Beginning this understanding as a 15-or-so-year-old at a summer course will lay the foundation early for the entire road ahead. If it is a school that is connected to a company in which you are interested—research that company. What are the backgrounds of the dancers there? Who are the teachers in the school? Do they offer a diverse variety of classes that you may or may not have been exposed to thus far in your dance life, that could benefit you as you grow as an artist? Every single experience you have, every single class you take, and every single tendu you do contribute to the overall trajectory of you as an individual dancer—the most important takeaway is approaching each step in a manner in which you are able to gain absolutely everything possible from it. Do your research—eyes wide open.

So, you’ve decided on a select few, now how do you tackle the dreaded audition class? No fear—remember, every dancer you look up to now was once in your shoes. Do all the things that make you feel confident—wear the leotard you love, give yourself ample time to get situated and warmed up before the class, get yourself ready in the way that makes you proud to be YOU. And then, most of all just approach it in the same way as your research—how can you get everything possible out of that one class that you can? Listen. Listen to every thought, even if it’s not directed at you. Take everything in that is given, in each combination and every single step, and do not be afraid to put yourself out there doing it. Do not be scared to fail—it is far better to try and fall than not to try at all. After all, you’re there to learn…not impress. Bravery will be a priceless tool to carry with you for the entirety of your ballet career. Take it all in—ears wide open.

A dance teacher assists a student who is wearing a black leotard and is standing in arabesque.

You’re there. You’ve unpacked. You’ve made up your twin bed. Now is the time to get everything you can from the next five weeks. Coming from someone who loves to write, but never journals, write it down. Be a sponge. Take in every note, every thought, every combination you love throughout your day, and then, when you’re elevating your sore toes at night back in your dorms, write them all down. No matter how hard you try, you will never remember them all. And, as a dancer who had a fifteen-year long career at PNB, I can promise you that the thoughts in that first summer course journal continuously apply. And help. After some time has passed, those words may take on an entirely new function, but they will still be relevant and always ring true. Don’t waste a second of such a precious opportunity. Take it all in and store it away—mind wide open.

You have the tools. You have the skills. You have the heart. Now put them all in action and dive in headfirst—you won’t regret it now, and you won’t regret it in all your dancing days to come.

Are you ready to dive into your summer course experience right away? Why not start by learning more about PNB School’s Summer Course!

About the Author: Emma Love Suddarth is a writer/former ballet dancer currently based in Seattle, Washington. She studied dance with Sharon Rogers and then on scholarship with the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and she attended summer courses at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Ballet Academy East, and PNBS. Suddarth joined Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2008. While at PNB, she performed featured roles in works by George Balanchine, Crystal Pite, William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Alejandro Cerrudo, David Dawson, Ulysses Dove, Jiri Kylian, Jessica Lang, Margaret Mullin, Benjamin Millepied, Mark Morris, Kent Stowell, and Susan Stroman, among others. She originated leading roles in works by Eva Stone and Price Suddarth. In September 2021 Suddarth retired from stage performance. During her tenure at PNB, Suddarth was a regular writer for the PNB blog. She also became a contributing author for In 2017, she began writing for Pointe Magazine, a product of Dance Media, appearing both online and in print. In 2022, Suddarth joined the Pointe Magazine team and took over the “Reverence” column of the newly launched Pointe+, as Pointe Magazine took on a solely digital platform.

Photo credits: Featured photo – Students at PNB School’s 2023 Summer Course, photo © Angela Sterling.  Students at PNB School’s 2023 Summer Course, photo © Angela Sterling. Jonathan Porretta and students at PNB School’s 2023 Summer Course, photo © Angela Sterling.