For many aspiring dancers, the end of the school year means its time to start preparing for summer intensives. Whether it’s your first experience traveling away from home on your own or you’ve been attending dance intensives since you were 10, naturally, your nerves are probably building each day.

Although I had attended American Ballet Theater and Joffrey summer intensives prior, my first real experience being away from home was the summer of 2012. It was just before entering high school that I had been accepted on a scholarship to Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Utah. I would be away for a month living in a city I had never visited and, on top of that, I didn’t know anyone else going. Needless to say, I was terrified.summer_intensive -camp-fun-worl-ballet-dance

It wasn’t until the week before I left that my anxiety truly set in but, when it started, it hit full force. Questions like, “who would my roommate be?”, “would I make friends?”, “what level would I be placed in?” and “can I do this?” played on repeat in my 14-year-old mind. I made myself more dizzy with worry than chaines without spotting.

If you’re experiencing these same nerves, know they’re natural but that everything will work out. It did for me and has for so many other young dancers. I had a wonderful roommate and we became fast friends. The two of us quickly formed a bond with a few other girls and I realized how silly I had been to be so worried. These girls had been just as nervous as I was, there was no reason for me to have felt so insecure!

With the “making friends” part out of the way, my nerves were channeled to the intensive itself. Although I was confident in my skills as a ballerina, I had no idea how talented the other students would be and was worried I would be placed in a level lower than what I expected. To my relief, I was chosen to work in the second-to-highest level and was able to train alongside dancers who matched my technical skill set.

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However, I realized that the level did not matter as much as I thought. Every student was able to train under the same prestigious ballet masters, learn challenging repertoire and take classes in every style. So don’t fret about placement tests. You will be assigned the group that will best cater to your needs as a dancer and be given the same opportunities no matter which classes you take.

I expected to get terribly homesick at some point, a feeling many young people face when traveling alone for the first time. However, to my surprise, the weeks went by in a flash and I had such an incredible time both training and going on adventures with my new friend group that I didn’t even have time to think about missing home, sorry mom… Of course there were times I felt overwhelmed, exhausted or anxious as I experienced new teachers, classes and people, but these moments were greatly outweighed by the exciting ones.

Even if making friends doesn’t come as easily for you, that is normal too. Maybe you don’t have a lot in common with your roommate but try to embrace each other’s differences and learn to establish a respectful relationship. There are so many other students also looking for friends so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask to eat lunch with someone. It may be out of your comfort zone, but having a friend or two will drive away feelings of homesickness and improve your summer experience tremendously.

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My biggest advice to anyone attending a summer intensive this year? Embrace every second! Embrace the nerves, the excitement, and the unexpected. You’ll be learning techniques and styles you may never have been introduced to before so take advantage of this new instruction and add to your skill set, even if the classes seem foreign or scary. Form relationships not only with your fellow dancers but with your instructors because these connections will be instrumental to your success as a professional in the future. Explore your new city! Not many people get the opportunity to live in a brand new place for a summer so go out on the weekends and enjoy all your new home has to offer. Lastly, relish in this incredible gift you’ve given yourself, to dance.

Six years later, the summer of 2012 still goes down as one of the best of my life and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities, friendships and experience Ballet West gave me.