David Yow at International Summer School: Inspiration and awareness

David Yow. Photo courtesy of Asian Grand Prix.
David Yow. Photo courtesy of Asian Grand Prix.

It is sometimes said that dance, like other artforms, is unforgiving. As a dancer, one is never complete; and for a young hopeful, dance is a notoriously hard task master. 

This is where the classic ‘summer intensive’ comes in. Here, in Australia, this usually means a hot week in January, and a sure-fire way to kickstart the dance year. Into this pre-season slot, The McDonald College’s much-anticipated International Summer School (ISS) is already fitting a packed program for 2023, headlined by the announcement that former Prix de Lausanne finalist and Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal, David Yow, will be flying down under to lead a five-day ‘holiday’ course focusing on ‘mastering technique, harnessing creativity, and developing artistry and musicality with confidence.’   

“Participating in a summer intensive gives you the chance to be exposed to different ideas, different ways of teaching and learning, and generally increase your awareness about the differences and similarities of dance training beyond your normal environment,” says Yow of the overall benefit of committing to something like ISS.

David Yow.
David Yow.

Sydney-based McDonald College (which has long had a reputation as one of the nation’s top performing arts-focused schools), will throw open its doors from January 16-20 next summer and welcome ballet dancers aged seven to 18, catering for everyone from junior to pre-professional level. 

For Yow, the opportunities that flow from broadening the “training horizon” is something he has personally lived. As he recalls, “I started dancing at six after watching a close friend in a Christmas show. When I asked my parents if I could have lessons, my father had to convince my mother to let me try to get it out of my system…but I never stopped!” 

From there, he cites an incredible roster of teachers who have helped shape his practise and drive his career. After his first instructor encouraged him to audition for The Royal Ballet School (and he got in), Yow took inspiration from as many sources as possible.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and he is now the respected teacher passing on insights, both in his day job at the English National Ballet School and as a guest at intensives like ISS. Reflecting on the latter, he says, “Teaching at summer courses, especially internationally, feels like when you first remember opening your presents at Christmas as a child. It’s always exciting because you don’t know anything about the students you’re going to teach.” 

After a pause for thought, he adds, “We’re lucky that dance is a silent language; so being able to demonstrate often helps break down any misunderstandings.”

However, just as ISS will be intense for students, so, too, will it for the teachers. Indeed, the curious cocoon of the five-day intensive presents a unique set of pedagogic challenges for someone like Yow. “Most often at the end of a short course, there will be a showing or a sharing of work in some form,” he explains. “With that in mind, I tend to work backwards from having decided what repertoire will be shown, and then in class, I’ll focus on the technical elements that will be required to make that happen.”

In short, this means organisation and clear focus. The ISS palette is, therefore, quite unlike the usual, long form dance curriculum. For the participant, this is both a particular challenge and a great opportunity, and Yow’s considered advice is to “be like a sponge.”  

Unpacking this further, he concludes, “Be open to absorbing and trying new things without fear. To get the most out of any type of learning experience, you need to be completely present in the moment, and to do this requires 100 percent focus, commitment and determination. But, most importantly, understand that making mistakes is normal, and be ready to accept positive criticism objectively.”

The short, focused burst of The McDonald College 2023 ISS is designed to give those who attend a chance to dive into the finer details of their ballet technique and, significantly, widen their friendship and creative networks. However, it is perhaps the chance to learn from an acknowledged master and star of the global ballet stage that is the real take-out. As someone who once benefitted from time spent with a wide variety of dance’s finest minds, Yow is living proof that veering off course is sometimes the best way to stay on course.

The McDonald College’s International Summer School will take place 16 – 20 January. For more information, visit

By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.

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