Using Summer Intensives to Recruit New Students
May 30, 2024

College professors, ballet masters, and studio faculty know that a summer intensive is one of the best ways students can try a program before committing year-round. Intensives are also one of the best recruiting methods dance educators can use to find new students. 

“Try before you buy,” is what Diane Bedford, clinical associate professor at Texas A&M, tells students when they’re looking for college programs. In fact, multiple students who try out A&M’s program during a low-stakes summer intensive consistently join their dance science program each year.

For Jessica Spencer, artistic director of Thomas Dance Studio outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, summer intensives are vital: “It’s probably the most important time for us in terms of PR and finding new [students] who might be a good fit for us.”

Dance Teacher spoke with Bedford, Spencer, and two other educators from studio backgrounds to share their tips for making the most out of your summer dance intensive to gain new students and bolster enrollment.

Photo courtesy Texas A&M.

For Colleges and Universities

Bedford believes it’s imperative to make your intensive “a reflective sampling of what it would be like to be a student.” Aim to structure your intensive similarly to your year-round curriculum to give students a taste of your program.

Jen McGinn, associate dean and director of undergraduate studies for the School of Dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, agrees. UArts has the unique format of five different units for its undergraduate dancers: studio practices, somatic and kinesthetic studies, improvisational and compositional classes, performance-based based courses, and capstone projects. “[Students] get to have a taste of all of those key areas of our curriculum in the three weeks,” says McGinn.

When it comes to creating an intensive program, McGinn also recommends hiring a mix of faculty and guest instructors to conduct the intensives. To keep content fresh and engaging, UArts students work with a new instructor each day throughout the three weeks, alongside a consistent group of core faculty. Additionally, Bedford stresses the importance of incorporating school faculty for your intensive because it gives students a chance to begin building relationships with them, which can go a long way.

Giving students a feel for campus life beyond the dance department also helps students understand what it would be like to be a student there, so make sure to allot time for activities beyond dance classes. For instance, McGinn recommends giving students the chance to connect with other departments on campus. The most common feedback she receives is how much the students enjoy collaborating with other dancers and the music department during a large, two-hour improvisational jam session.

Jen McGinn with students from the UArts PreCollege Summer Institute in Dance. Photo by Jungeun Kim, courtesy UArts.

McGinn and Bedford also recommend hiring current undergraduate students as residential assistants or interns to connect with summer students, plan evening activities, and offer advice throughout the intensive. Both schools help attendees with resumé writing, choosing a college, or financial counseling, which shows students the school is invested in helping them with more than just dance training. “Get feedback from the participants about what they liked or would change,” says Bedford, noting how A&M’s intensive is never the same from year to year because they’re always tweaking. 

When recruiting for their schools’ degree programs, Bedford and McGinn promote their intensives and offer scholarships to students at multiple conferences. Educators and institutions can also reach out to studios where past students have come from and send them brochures to share with their families. They can also market summer intensives through Dance Magazine’s Summer Study Guide (which is published by Dance Media, Dance Teacher’s parent company); at events like National High School Dance Festival and New York City Dance Alliance; and on social media. 

For Studios and Pre-Professional Schools 

Similar to collegiate programs, studios and pre-professional schools could also benefit from using their full-time staff during their intensive programs to give new dancers an authentic feel for their year-round classes. “People come to our school because of us,” says Vanessa Zahorian, artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Her international faculty attracts students from all over, including California, Utah, and Japan, so she makes sure they have the opportunity to dance with the renowned instructors. 

At Thomas Dance Studio in Pittsburgh, Spencer has her staff lead their children’s classes and fun themed camps—she’s found that including special themes excites dancers to keep training during the summer, and this year, they’ll be doing a Taylor Swift theme, complete with friendship bracelets and Polaroid photos. 

Photo courtesy Texas A&M.

However, for their two-week intensive for competitive dancers, Spencer brings in 10 to 12 guest instructors. “Don’t be scared to reach out to people,” she says, adding that bringing in teachers with name recognition from conventions (even small ones) or from social media draws more advanced students.  

Zahorian also promotes her academy’s intensives through Dance Magazine’s Summer Study Guide, sends brochures to local studios and other ballet schools, places posters in nearby dance stores, and asks friends to promote it to their students. The studio also holds a summer launch week in February, after summer registration opens, to offer discounts on summer registration. Last year, to promote summer classes on social media, the celebration included photo opportunities and a giveaway of beach balls, sunglasses, and sunblock. 

And at the end of the day, connecting with new families is what’s important. “Make sure they feel seen, heard, and recognized right off the bat,” says Spencer. “And follow up with a thank-you email.”  

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