I’ve gotten a lot of reader questions about my time at White Mountain Summer Dance Festival in response to my Summer Dance Festivals and Conferences (Part 1) post, so I wanted to provide a bit more information here. I was at White Mountain in the summer of 2008, which was the first year that the Festival was held at Sarah Lawrence College. That was the summer after my sophomore year studying dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Festival came at a perfect time in my dance training. I found that the instruction I received at this festival helped me understand some of the concepts I was studying in school in a different way, and I left the festival feeling like something had finally “clicked” in my body.
As far as the training went, it was definitely rigorous. When I attended the festival, we started the day at 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. with an hour of Pranayama yoga, which involved performing up to 12 sets of sun salutations to wake up the body. After breakfast, the other dancers and I attended a sort of conditioning/physical therapy class to get our muscles prepared for the long day of movement. Technique classes happened back-to-back after that, and both were an hour and a half; students alternated every other day starting with ballet or modern, and then attending the opposite class. There were two modern teachers and one ballet teacher, so I found that it was refreshing to get two different styles of Modern (one more Horton-based, one more based in release technique). I found the ballet class appropriately challenging, and I am sure that it could be taken en pointe should a dancer wish to do so.
The rest of the day was spent in an hour-long Laban Notation class (I sometimes skipped this because getting some rest was far more appealing), a second (longer) yoga class (which was taught by the AMAZING Sarah Irmhoff-Jones) and then a repertory rehearsal. After dinner there was an anatomy class and a group activity.
Teachers were available to students for questions before or after class, and they gave individual feedback during class as well. For less technique-centric student concerns, group activities in the evenings presented a great opportunity to ask the festival faculty questions about the professional dance world, about their teaching experiences, and about life in general. I found all of the teachers to be very friendly and knowledgeable.
There were a few showings throughout the festival – one at the end of each week if I remember correctly – so there were opportunities to perform in both individual work and reconstructed works by known choreographers. I didn’t personally participate in the Choreographic track at the festival, but if you leave me a comment, I can put you in touch with some dancers who did.
High School Participants
In the summer of 2008, there were students at the WMSDF who were in high school, and (if my memory serves me correctly) most of them took the lower level technique classes. It appeared that all of these students bonded well and that they learned a lot by the end of those three weeks.
In my opinion, this festival is a good introduction to college-style dance for high school students, and also to what it is like to have a vigorous schedule full of dance-related curriculum. If a dancer isn’t familiar with modern dance, this festival will be an introduction to some of the concepts he or she will encounter in the future. Even if a dancer ultimately pursues ballet, contemporary choreographers often incorporate modern dance concepts, so having familiarity with modern dance will be helpful.
Food-wise, the college lacked a sufficient amount of healthy food to feed all of the dancers, but I believe that was rectified in the last few years. As I mentioned above, I attended the festival in its first year at Sarah Lawrence College, so there were still some glitches that were being worked out. That being said, it is possible to buy one’s own food, too, so the college dining plan isn’t necessary. BUT I will stress that having the meal plan is way more convenient than making one’s own food.
If a dancer gets the Sarah Lawrence Meal Plan, he or she will eat with a lot of the other students. Only the students not on the meal plan (these were generally the older students) didn’t eat with the festival participants at meal times.
I made it into New York City on weekends, but I also took that time to rest!! This festival really taught me how to pay attention to my body’s needs.
Summer in New York is VERY HOT. Most of the dancers stayed in dorms without A/C so a fan was necessary. I also grew to appreciate cold showers during my summer at WMSDF.
If you have any questions that I didn’t answer, please leave me a comment below! Happy dancing! 🙂