Ask the Experts: How to get the most out of a summer intensive program

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Many kids take the “Summer time, and the living is easy” route from a popular song. No worries about school, homework, projects or tests.

Several other young people test themselves over the summer by attending high level dance intensives. These include getting stronger, learning new skills and challenging routines, and making new friends. Unfortunately, I have seen many unhappy campers return from intensives with unwanted injury or illness souvenirs.

Follow these tips to make a more positive “How I Spent My Summer” essay after summer
intensives.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: FIRST OF ALL, BE COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

There’s a good chance that things may always not feel right or go perfectly at a high level
intensive. Maybe it’s the first time away from home – a little homesickness kicks in. Beds might be too hard, or too small. Dorms may be too loud. Food might not taste good, or become boring after a few days. Drills or classes seem repetitive and fatigue may set in after days of a packed schedule. You might not be the best – other dancers may shine or seem to have an easier time.

Some of this being uncomfortable can be reduced by reading the following tips.

Keep in mind that being a bit uncomfortable is part of learning and growth.

Rather than expecting perfection in performance and surroundings, celebrate giving the best effort at all times. Embrace a process where there will be triumphs and failures, and become stronger in that journey.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: MAKE A GOOD FIT WITH OTHER DANCE ACTIVITIES

Try not to rush from tough Spring or Summer programs right into intensives
Summer intensives teach higher level skills with increased repetitions with more
talented dancers. Try to take time off right beforehand to increase enjoyment and the
overall learning process.

Don’t leave intensives and step right into another intensive or full Fall dance activities
Insufficient recovery after high level intensives increases overuse injury risk and may
reduce full utilization of new skills. These bits of time off after (and before) intensives
are the best recipes for success.

Don’t be afraid to toss in a summer camp that isn’t based on dance
Nothing wrong with having other forms of fun at camp without the usual dance
demands.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: MINIMIZE THE ROLE OF INJURIES

Eliminate the mystery of injuries
Limping into intensives often leads to painful flare ups and early rides home. Previous
injuries shouldn’t reduce your ability to perform at your best. Don’t suffer the
disappointment of giving instructors any reason to doubt your abilities.

Visit with a sports medicine specialist for any pain or change in ability to participate.
Get an accurate diagnosis, sensible rehabilitation program, specific injury prevention
tips, and realistic intensive expectations.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: IMPORTANCE OF DOING YOUR HOMEWORK

  • Make certain to do any prescribed rehabilitation or injury prevention routines while at the intensive
  • Observe those days of rest
  • Intensives don’t have to be all work and no free play. Take a minimum of one day off per week from organized activities to reduce risk of overuse injuries.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: BELIEVE IN THE VALUE OF SLEEP

Yes, the beds might be too hard or the dorms too loud. There are temptations to stay up late playing video games, hanging with new friends, or texting people back home. Don’t forget that getting at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep is essential to prepare your body for demands of the next day.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: OTHER WAY TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Don’t forget the sunscreen: Nothing like major sunburn to create an embarrassing and painful early intensive departure.

Bring necessary medications: Many medical conditions, such as asthma, can worsen with high-intensity exercise in unfamiliar environments. Visit your regular physician or sports medicine specialist to discuss illness control and get adequate supplies of needed medications.

Know what medical resources are available: Ideally, a high level intensive has high level medical support. This may include a team of athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other sports medicine specialists. In the real world, this important coverage is often sorely lacking. Identify local off-site resources and even make appointments ahead of the intensive. The quality and availability of medical support can make or break your experience. Be certain to choose intensives that have this type of medical support team behind you.

SUMMER INTENSIVES: FLUIDS AND FOOD ARE IMPORTANT

  • Remember fluids are your friend
  • Summer intensives often are in hot and humid studios. Early and regular access to
    fluids is essential. Water is a sensible first choice, with fluids containing salt and sugar needed more for exercise lasting over an hour. While sport beverages can work, using infant electrolyte replacement fluids can actually be more effective in humid environments
  • Food is recovery
  • Being away from home for the first time, unappealing cafeteria food, or apartment
    living without prepared food can be challenges. High level performance needs high
    level nutrition.

 

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Focus on the following items:

  • Post-exercise protein intake – good sources include chocolate milk, Greek yogurt,
    and peanut butter
  • Fruits and vegetables – especially berries and cherries which are natural anti-
    inflammatory agents that can reduce post-exercise muscle soreness
  • Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and leafy green vegetables for additional protein
    along with iron sources

Finally, the key is to have fun! Don’t judge yourself or others and remember, it’s a learning experience. Give your all and take or leave any advice and feedback that is given to you. Whether you enjoyed it or not, a summer intensive is an experience of what being in a higher level dance company is like. You will make a whole new family of friends and also have an idea of the demands required out of professional dancers.

Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, Chapman University Dance Department, and Orange Lutheran High School. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit activekidmd.com or follow him on twitter (@dockoutures).

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