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The dancing days of summer

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As their vacation from school comes to an end, students everywhere ask one another, "What did you do this summer?"

Imagine spending an entire month doing the one thing you love best. Many young people around the country participate in summer programs that emphasize art, sports, and other specialized skills.

Every year, a group of students, 11 years old to young adult, spend four weeks – seven hours a day, five days a week – dancing with the Academy at Colorado Ballet's Summer Intensive Program. What causes these girls and boys to give up their leisure time to dance, dance, dance?

Let's look in on them and see. In a brightly lighted dance studio overlooking downtown Denver's busy Lincoln Street, young dancers prepare for their advanced-level ballet technique class. With legs stretched up on the barre and arms and torsos in all kinds of contortions, the dancers talk quietly among themselves until the instructor walks in.

When Meelis Pakri, ballet master and graduate of the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia, enters the room, all conversation stops. After a brief greeting, he demonstrates the first warm-up exercise, signals the pianist to play something slow, and the dancers begin a series of pliés.

Some of the dancers are professional members of the Colorado Ballet, and some are younger students who were accepted into this four-week course of study that includes ballet technique, pointe, and acting.

Dancers find inspiration in challenges

Sound challenging? It is, but these young dancers talk more about how inspiring and satisfying the whole experience is.

"It's great to see how much you grow," says Elizabeth Martin, who's been dancing for 14 years, even though she's still in her teens. "[Comparing] where you start from and where you end up is definitely rewarding."

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