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The Programming Pivot: 2020 Summer Intensive

Ballet students in class, wearing masks and socially distanced at the barre.

By Mary Ashley Ray

During a typical summer, Texas Ballet Theater facilities are bursting with energy, students filling the studios and hallways during their summer programs. Students aged 12-21 come from near and far to train at Texas Ballet Theater School’s Summer Intensive, hosted at both TBT’s Fort Worth studio and the nearby Texas Christian University campus.

However, 2020 has been anything but typical. COVID-19 presented a challenge to the annual Summer Intensive. It was no longer safe to hold classes at their normal capacity or even provide hands-on corrections and adjustments, much less offer housing for students attending from out of town.

TBTS staff were determined to find a way to continue offering the program, knowing how valuable it is for young dancers with dreams of pursuing a career in ballet. With that goal in mind, they got to work. Discussions with health professionals and colleagues from across the dance industry informed the creation of a reimagined, hybrid Summer Intensive program fit for 2020.

On July 6, 2020, the program began for 56 hybrid and 15 virtual-only students. While about 75 percent of participants are usually from out of town, this year’s dancers were all local and were mostly current TBTS students. Their days looked different than those of past summers. Previous years’ participants spent six full days per week in the studio with about four classes each day. To keep all students and faculty safe amid the current pandemic, this year’s program included a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction.

Dance students and instructor wearing masks and socially distanced in the center of a studio.
Students and TBT Associate Artistic Director Tim O'Keefe at TBT Fort Worth.

Students were divided into pods of 10 or fewer, only interacting with those in their pod for the duration of the program. Each pod spent three days dancing in the TBT studio, in masks and maintaining social distance, and three days participating virtually from home. Virtual days included a combination of pre-recorded classes, “zooming in” to take classes happening in real time at the studio, and supplemental videos such as interviews with TBT company dancers and faculty.

Safety for all participants was paramount, so staff created a set of comprehensive protocols to guide students and faculty through their days. Students danced within their own boxes, taped out on the studio floors and had assigned spaces for storing their things during classes. Everyone in the building wore a mask or face covering and completed a health screening questionnaire before entering. In addition to these and other measures, the building was thoroughly cleaned both throughout the day and at the end of the day.

As July came to a close, so did this unforgettable Summer Intensive. Friends and family virtually attended the students’ showcases via Zoom, and instead of packing up their dorm rooms and traveling across the country, students simply grabbed their dance bags and headed home. It will certainly be a summer to remember – one of both world-class dance instruction and top-notch flexibility from students, faculty, and staff.

“I would love to tell you how thankful and impressed I am with your response to the COVID crisis. TBT has been the most proactive and innovative of all schools and organizations we are involved with.” – TBT School parent