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The Long Road Traveled

Summer Intensive—every major ballet company has one, and most serious ballet students attend one at some point in their lives. But Summer Intensive can lead to bigger and better things than simply learning the Bluebird Variation!

Ballet Austin currently employs 11 company dancers who originally attended our Summer Intensive. That’s over half the company—incredible! These dancers auditioned in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities all across the country just to gain entry into our summer program. Dancing here during the summer means that our Artistic team, Stephen Mills, Michelle Martin, and Allisyn Paino, have a chance to get to know the dancers and watch their progress through the program. At the end of the Intensive, some lucky dancers are offered positions as Professional Division Trainees, and an even smaller group are offered positions as Apprentices.

While Trainees are still considered students, they are the very top level of student in the Academy, and are often on the cusp of choosing a dance career or a different path. They participate in many of Ballet Austin’s educational programs for schools and the community.

Apprentices dance in Ballet Austin’s second company, Ballet Austin II. Ballet Austin II has its own repertoire, which includes works such as Not Afraid of the Dark, Peter & the Wolf, and Quiet Imprint. They also participate in much of Ballet Austin’s educational programming, and are sometimes cast in main company productions.

Ballet Austin dancers Ed Carr, Rebecca Johnson, Oren Porterfield, Chelsea Renner, and Jaime Lynn Witts first came to Ballet Austin during Summer Intensives, became Professional Division Trainees, rose to the level of Apprentice, and then were offered company positions.

Ballet Austin dancers Ian Bethany, Aara Krumpe, Christopher Swaim, Beth Terwilleger, Michelle Thompson, and Kirby Wallis went straight from the Intensive to Ballet Austin II, and then were offered positions in the company.

Read below to hear what a few Company members had to say on the subject.


Michelle Thompson

I attended Ballet Austin's Summer Program in 2001 and was immediately drawn to the training of Truman Finney. The environment at the summer program fit very well with the structured environment I received at the San Francisco Ballet School. I was very happy to be chosen as an apprentice at the end of that summer, because I was excited about the work Stephen Mills had been creating at Ballet Austin as Artistic Director.

The apprentice program provided a valuable step in my young professional life. I had the training from SFB, but the apprentice program allowed for more exposure to Mills' choreography, intensive focus on structure and technique, team building experiences, and an opportunity to see if the environment at Ballet Austin was a good fit for me. It was a good fit! The apprentice program allowed Ballet Austin to get to know me and for me to get to know Ballet Austin. As an apprentice I really came into my own as a dancer, as an artist, and as a team member.

I have taken those valuable lessons and getting-to-know-you moments into my 7 seasons as a company member, trying to never forget what Mills' vision is for the company. Every day I am grateful for that bridge that Ballet Austin provided for me from my training life into my professional life.


Ian Bethany

I first came to Ballet Austin for the Summer Program in 2008. Every day we had repertory classes with Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin. In those classes, I not only had the opportunity to work with Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin, I was also learning choreography by Artistic Director Stephen Mills. I think it was great for me to already start trying to make myself move in ways that Stephen would want.

As an apprentice with Ballet Austin’s second company, Ballet Austin II, I gained the experience of working on new ballets with three different choreographers, one of which was Mr. Mills. The processes of working with each choreographer, where picking up the contemporary choreography extremely quickly was a necessity, were great preparation for my next season as a company member. Prior to my time with Ballet Austin II, I had hardly been a part of the process of making new ballets before. Therefore, my apprentice season helped me feel much more prepared and comfortable during my first season in the Company, as I had to take on such tasks as understudying a piece by Dominic Walsh, and participating in the creation of new works with Stephen Mills.


Christopher Swaim

Here at Ballet Austin, everything goes back to process. When we pick dancers, create new works, or put on a great production it is always based on a process.

When I was accepted to the summer intensive I, like all of the advanced students invited, received a letter saying that Stephen Mills was considering me for an apprenticeship or as a Trainee. The summer intensive is a process for the student to get to know Ballet Austin and the artistic staff to get to know us. Personally, I really enjoyed being able to test out the technique and the repertory before becoming part of the organization. I was also lucky to see the company rehearse which inspired me further.

Following the Summer program, I was invited to become an Apprentice with Ballet Austin II. It was a great chance to work on my artistic skills while participating in company rehearsals and performing our own repertory. This also allowed the artistic staff to see how we worked in the environment as well as how we functioned in the structure of Ballet Austin.

Coming from the summer intensive through the Apprentice program really allowed me to get a grasp on the way Ballet Austin worked and what the Artistic staff expects out of their dancers, all in an incredibly nurturing environment. The process allows both sides to get to know each other, both artistically and personally. I entered the company knowing what to expect and how I could be successful. It was about learning through watching and trying, as well as receiving valuable coaching and constructive criticism.

I'm excited that, while it felt like a long process, it prepared me to do the best in the Company, and in most cases any company.


Rebecca Johnson

When I came to the Summer Program here at Ballet Austin, it was after a year of a less than ideal situation, and I was very wary of teachers—I was not sure what to think about ballet or who to trust. But within my first week here, Stephen Mills and Michelle Martin had quickly earned my respect and trust. One of the nice things about starting in the summer program and working my way up, was that I was gradually introduced to the great work ethic of Ballet Austin.

After attending the summer intensive, I was invited to join the Ballet Austin Trainee program. I think for me, the significance of my Trainee year was learning how to control my body. As Stephen liked to say, when I first got here I was like a baby deer learning how to stand. It took me that whole year to figure out how to train my muscles to provide the support and the precision required to just fit in with the other girls in this company (plus the muscles make my legs look so much better!).

Following my year as a Trainee, I joined Ballet Austin II as an Apprentice. My two Apprentice years were so important in how they helped me learn how to work with this Company. It was a great opportunity to receive coaching in our Ballet Austin II rehearsals, as I was able to work with different choreographers and get more comfortable with contemporary movement.

In just trying to keep up with people like Jaime Lynn Witts and Michelle Thompson in corps rehearsals, and seeing how much better the finished product was when everyone worked that hard all the time, was really eye-opening. The process of moving through each of these steps, all the way up to the Company, introduced us to working this way in smaller increments, until we were able to truly recognize the value of working so hard so consistently.


Chelsea Renner

I feel privileged to have gone through the Trainee and Apprentice programs at Ballet Austin. I came to Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive in 2005 with dreams of becoming a company member. After the Summer Intensive, I was offered a spot as a Trainee, and accepted it. Participating in the Trainee program was so beneficial for me. I learned many of the values and responsibilities necessary to attain a successful dance career.

As a Trainee, I had opportunities to work with the main company in larger productions like The Nutcracker and Serenade.  I was also able to work with the apprentices, as I understudied and participated in their performances. Both the Trainees and Apprentices got the chance to work with Stephen Mills and members of the company along with many guest choreographers. The broad range of styles we worked in were very beneficial in helping me to become a versatile dancer, which is so important in the dance world. The Trainees and Apprentices are always welcome to watch the company in rehearsal. I learned so much just by watching the way the company worked together and the way the dancers executed the movement. 

After spending two seasons as a Trainee, I was offered a spot as an Apprentice with Ballet Austin II. The Apprentices are afforded even more performing opportunities, performing their own repertory, as well as performing with the main company in larger productions.  I think it is very important for pre-professionals and those early in their dance careers to perform as often as possible, and both the Trainee and Apprentice programs provide many performance opportunites. The Apprentices not only take Trainee class but they get to take class with the main company.  I learned so much by taking company class, watching the clarity of the dancers movement and musicality.  Something that really stood out to me was the way the company danced as a whole even in class.  Everyone’s movement is unified, which makes it easier to work together when learning new choreography. 

After spending one, season as an apprentice I was invited to join the main Company in 2008.  I couldn’t have been more excited—finally, my dreams had come true. Any dancer who is lucky enough to participate in the Trainee and Apprentice programs at Ballet Austin will not regret it.  The opportunities you will get here will help prepare you to become a professional dancer, whether it is with Ballet Austin or with another company.  The things I learned through these programs are things I will carry throughout my life, even long after I retire from dancing, and I definitely have Ballet Austin to thank for that!!

For more information about Ballet Austin Academy and Ballet Austin's pre-professional programs, click here.

For more information on the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive, click here.


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