Where might dance take you? Joffrey Ballet School’s summer dance intensive is a great place to start discovering all the paths dance can take you down.
For Amber Weissman, who graduated from Joffrey Ballet School in May of 2019, dance led her to a contract with RWS Entertainment Group, as a performer in RWS’s production of The Charlie Brown Christmas Spectacular in Mason, Ohio.
But that performance opportunity was just one path Amber has followed. After the show closed, Amber traveled to Memel, a small town in rural South Africa that is still recovering from apartheid. There, Amber is volunteering for three months as a dance teacher and is curating the Memel Primary School’s first-ever dance program.
Why Memel? “Due to its past, Memel has been left struggling with poverty and it’s still very much segregated,” says Amber. “Unemployment is high, with families living in uninsulated shacks, nutrition is poor and until recently there weren’t many extracurricular activities for the children, especially the young girls.”
So Amber traveled to Memel through a Vermont-based nonprofit organization called SheWinS, which is dedicated to providing after school activities and empowering the young girls of Memel.
The mission for the dance program Amber is creating at Memel Primary School is to create a fun and safe environment for the children to express themselves through dance.
“The children here aren’t exposed to all of the different styles we have in the US,” said Amber. “They have their traditional Zulu dancing and now we are introducing them to techniques like Jazz, Ballet, and Hiphop.”
It’s an unusual path for a professional dancer, but a rewarding one for Amber. And it all started with a Joffrey summer dance intensive.
We asked Amber about her experience with the Joffrey.
Finding Her Voice at Joffrey
What was your experience with the Joffrey? What sessions / intensives or courses did you attend and for how long?
When I was about 12 years old I did my first Joffrey Ballet School summer dance intensive. It was the Jazz and Contemporary program in New York City. Being exposed to so many new artists and experiences in that short intensive allowed me to find a deeper love for dance and for NYC.
After that, I continued to do the intensives every year, mostly the Jazz and Contemporary intensives but also the Experience, and one year I did the ballet intensive in Denver because I’m from Colorado.
When I was 16, my mom and I decided it was time to get serious if being a dancer was really what I wanted. I squeezed in the last of my credits and graduated high school a year early in order to move to NYC and join the Joffrey Ballet School’s Jazz and Contemporary year round trainee program.
After three years of being in the Jazz and Contemporary program, especially under the direction of Angelica Stiskin, I found my voice as an artist, was able to work with some of the best teachers and choreographers, gained so many life-long connections with other dancers, and received my Certificate of completion.
What was your experience before attending Joffrey’s programs or intensives?
Before attending Joffrey I grew up competing with a small studio from my hometown. My few hours a night of dance class after school wasn’t cutting it for me and I was always craving more. I decided I wanted to make it a priority and Joffrey allowed me to do so.
Immersed In Dance and City Life
What specific experiences stand out to you?
I loved getting to work with MADBOOTS dance company. They’re my favorite dance company in the city and it was really surreal having them come and set work on us at Joffrey Ballet School.
I also loved doing an Immersive art gallery installation with Terk Waters. It was such a great experience getting to perform so close to your audience. Because of that experience I now know that I would love to do immersive dance theater one day.
What were your favorite classes or instructors and why?
I always loved Bradley Shelver’s ballet classes. Bradley is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Not just in dance but in everything. It seemed that almost every class with Bradley I would have some sort of huge epiphany and things would just click in my mind and body a way they never have before.
I also loved Contemporary with Angelica Stiskin. I’ve never felt so safe and yet so uncomfortable in a class all at once. A safe space to be pushed out of your comfort zone. Angelica’s class also gave me a newfound appreciation for movement and all of the different textures your body is capable of.
Describe your experience at the Joffrey overall: dorm life, after hours activities, sightseeing, etc.? Do you have any favorite memories, friendships or relationships that you developed during your time with us?
I stayed in the dorms my first year of the Jazz and Contemporary trainee program. It was a great transition to living in the city because I wasn’t alone. I had all of the other students who were also new to New York and Joffrey Ballet School.
The dorms also allowed me a chance to grow really close to the other students. I met my best friends through Joffrey, one of whom I live with today. Some of my favorite memories are from my time at Joffrey. One of my favorite memories is that after classes my friends and I would go eat at By Chloe or hang out in Washington Square Park.
What advice would you give to a young dancer considering a summer dance intensive?
My advice would be to stay open minded while taking classes from all these different teachers who have different ideas. Also, try to take everything in during those few weeks. I used to keep journals of corrections and quotes that my teachers had given me.
What’s next for you, Amber?
Right now I’m focused on my work with the young dancers in Memel. In the past SheWinS has provided soccer and track and field opportunities for the kids there. But this is the first time a real dance program is being offered to the students. Depending on how this program turns out SheWinS is considering continuing dance classes in the future.
So right now I am laying the groundwork for dance technique with the kids and developing a curriculum that makes sense for an introductory dance program. At the end of the semester, we will be holding a showcase for all of the students providing them a chance to perform and show the community all that they’ve learned throughout these few months.
Where Might Dance Take You?
Amber is one of many Joffrey alumni who is enjoying opportunities to travel, perform and collaborate with others who are passionate about dance. If you’re ready to learn more about where dance can take you, register today to audition for one of Joffrey’s summer dance intensives!