It’s off-season for Ballet Arizona company dancers Kaelyn Magee and Colleen Buckley, but there is little down time as they are both RA’s for The School of Ballet Arizona’s Summer Intensive.
As RA’s, they are first and foremost responsible for the safety and welfare of the students but the day to day is constantly changing depending on the needs of the students. Throughout the program, Colleen and Kaelyn live in dorms with the students, take them grocery shopping – helping them prepare adequate and healthy meals, and facilitate group activities.
SBAZ Summer Intensive students leaving for the studios.
The day starts early, 6 am for Kaelyn, who begins the day reading David Hallberg’s book “A Body of Work” (she highly recommends it!), and 6:45 am for Colleen, who immediately begins getting ready for the day ahead. After a quick breakfast, they make their way down to the dorm lobby to take attendance and make sure all the students are up and ready. By 8:30 am, they all grab the city bus and head to Ballet Arizona’s studios.
Both Kaelyn and Colleen take ballet class every morning with level 5 students, not only does this allow them to stay in shape over the summer but it gives them an opportunity to work on their technique and set themselves up for the upcoming performance season. After a quick snack break, they indulge themselves in a pointe class with Ballet Mistress, Lisbet Companioni, a treat Kaelyn says because, “it’s a full hour devoted to focusing on quick pointe work, challenging pirouettes, and centered on articulating the feet.”
Next comes a lunch break, where both Kaelyn and Colleen join the students in the lobby, where they talk about the classes they just took and different things that they are all working on. Then it’s a bit of a free for all.
SBAZ Summer Intensive students at the Phoenix Art Museum.
Depending on the day, Kaelyn will go check-in with the School Manager to keep her up to date on all of the day to day activities, observe a pointe or repertoire class by SBAZ teacher Fabiola Ambrosio, whose knowledge and teaching style Kaelyn greatly admires, or do some elliptical training followed up with a yoga class with the rest of the students.
Colleen’s afternoons vary as well, occasionally taking yoga, conditioning or modern classes, but making sure to spend time in the lobby, reading or stretching, so students can find her if they have any questions.
By 4:30 pm, it’s time to go home. Colleen and Kaelyn gather the students in the lobby to once again take attendance and make sure no one is getting left behind. Then they all walk to the bus stop and head back to the dorms. In the evening, students have some free time to explore the city of Phoenix, the pool at Hotel Palomar is a current favorite, Colleen says. Throughout the week, they will put together different group activities for students, whether its going to the Phoenix Art Museum, an Arizona Diamondbacks game, First Friday Artwalks, or a trip to the grocery store.
Each and every night, they all come together for dinner at 7:30 pm, which allows the girls to bond with all of the students and create a family-like atmosphere. Afterwards, it’s time to unwind for the night and relax. By 10 pm, Colleen and Kaelyn do bed checks and make sure all of the students are safe and sound for the night. Once that is over it’s time for them to go to bed and prepare for the next day!
SBAZ Summer Intensive students at dinner.
Did you participate in summer intensives growing up?
I attended summer programs from the time I was 11 to 18 at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Studio School of Classical Ballet. I remember always looking forward to those intensives because not only did they elevate my technique and artistry as a dancer, but it also was an avenue for me to speak with professional dancers and teachers, gain information about what it takes to become a professional and discuss my goals with some of the best people in the industry.
In terms of improving myself as a dancer, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t participated in those intensives. Keeping up with the pace of the programs at a young age always pushed me to higher levels then I had previously thought possible. The first two days were always tough but day three seemed to always be the hardest, my calves and feet were always sore after dancing for ten straight hours back to back days. After day three however my muscles and body began to adapt to the strain and it pushed me to be more confident in myself.
Looking back I often times attribute my success in my own personal life to those summer intensives as well. They provided me the life skills necessary to be successful outside the studio as well such as independence, responsibility, and organization at a very young age. For example, when I was 11 at the PNB intensive, I had to budget money, do my own laundry and prepare my own meals.
Leaving home to live in a different state and study with world-renowned teachers and learn different dance forms and styles, coupled with a crash course of how to be responsible and independent helped shape me not only into the dancer, but also the person I am today.
My studio had a rule that you couldn’t go to other schools’ summer programs until the summer after your sophomore year in high school. This was because my teachers wanted us to have a solid base of technique so that we wouldn’t be confused by stylistic differences at other schools and so that we would be mature enough to manage our own technique if we went to a bigger program where it could be easy to get lost in the crowd. Therefore, I spent many summers at home at the Draper Center for Dance Education. Those programs were extremely beneficial to me! The combination of our year-round faculty and carefully selected guest teachers plus an intense 9-5 schedule including 2 ballet classes a day, pointe, variations, repertoire, and other dance styles provided the perfect environment for me to increase my technique and love of dance. Once I was old enough, I attended Milwaukee Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet’s summer programs. It was great to be exposed to different teachers, different styles of dance, and different philosophies of ballet, such as the Vagonova method or the Balanchine style. It was also great to meet other ballet dancers, because there is so much to be learned from watching the other students in class!
What are you looking forwards to most next season?
We are so fortunate to have a Balanchine program every year, and I can’t wait for our next one. We will perform Emeralds, which is one of my all-time favorite Balanchine ballets. It will also be a Ballet Arizona premiere. I can’t wait for the opportunity to perform this piece on stage, as well as Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. There is something so liberating about dancing Balanchine’s ballets, and I always love how he marries the music to the choreography and the way I feel when I dance his pieces. I feel fulfilled and alive when whenever that time of year comes around.
I am most looking forward to the premier of The Firebird! I think Mr. Anderson’s choreography is thrilling to watch and to dance, and he always gives extra attention to presenting the story of the ballet and making the characters real for the dancers and the audience. I can’t wait to experience his unique version of this classic ballet!
SBAZ Summer Intensive students at an Arizona Diamondbacks game.