dance-and-skate

Questioning our pre-pro school goal...?

20 posts in this topic

Since I found BT4D a few days ago, I've read many threads and they have been so helpful for me. Thank you! Now I can actually put my concerns into words (more or less) and want to ask you all.

My son started ballet at 8 at a pre-pro school, and now 14. He didn't care for ballet when he started, but apparently he is good at it, and now he's been serious over the last 3 years. Did SI at two prestigious schools on scholarship, which he loved, and took semi-private lessons last year outside the school, which he enjoyed and improved much.

We've been very grateful for this school for the gift of ballet in my son's life, which helped him immensely in building self-confidence, and his teachers are excellent teachers. My son has always been in all-boys class, which is the reason he did it in the first place, and the whole experience there has been nothing but positive, until now...

My concern is ... It seems that his pre-pro school doesn't do what they say they do. I've read your threads on 'training guidelines' and 'partnering for young boys' etc. and according to those and what I heard from some professional ballet dancers, our school provides the minimum or less than minimum end of the spectrum of training. Yet, they don't offer private lessons and strongly discourage taking private lessons outside. It's become more of a concern for me when last year and this year, he hurt his hip and foot. According to his physical therapist, it was due to bad habits for very basic posture or steps... He is not the only one sitting out in class these days. Another concerned parent talked to the school about a similar concern, but they did not seem to see the need to revise the curriculum at all. I know two girls who left the school so they could take private lessons and 'really' pursue their ballet dream. The school tells us that they are raising professional dancers, and my son is doing fine there. I know they like him, but when I noticed that the company rarely hires their own student, and the tuition is expensive compared to other big pre-pro schools (our school has less hours ), the cause of his injury and how the school responds to them, I feel troubled.

He does respect his teachers and has some long-time good friends, so I don't think he would want to leave the school.

Do I just close my eyes to what I perceive as the double standard of the school, and discreetly take him to private lessons? (unfortunately, he can only take private lessons from the same teacher twice a month at the most since he is in high school now).

This is as concise and clear I can be. Any insight, different perspective, welcome!

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Does your son want to be a professional? Past the age of 12 or so the training should be 6 days a week for technique. Are you saying that he isn't offered class every day? Additionally, a male class, variations, partnering class and modern or jazz one or two days a week.

 

We were in a school we thought was of good quality as it was owned by former Joffery dancers. Turns out it was a recreational school and was not preparing our sons as they should have. We went back after 3 years to watch their year end show and honestly it was terrible. We just were ignorant of what we needed to look for.

 

I'd suggest you travel to a school attached to a company and watch class of the pre-pro students. Get a copy of the schedule. That will give you a good idea of what is needed in terms of quality and schedule. It may be a different style of ballet ie. Vaganova vs Balanchine. But it will still give you a good idea of what's missing.

 

You said he's been to SI. Does he see a contrast between what he's getting at home? We've never had to supplement with privates and are fortunate to have studios in our area that offer male scholarships. I do think it's time for you to look around.

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I have understood, you are in a professional school associated with a company. He has been training in all male classes from the beginning of his training at age 8. So far, this all sounds very good. Unfortunately the company does not have an established record of hiring students trained in the school. This is a big red flag. The training may be good, I have no idea but the AD obviously does not seem to support or agree with the training in the school or they would be considered first for jobs in the company. It is very good business to hire from within. I suggest you ask why! Ask the director of the school and write a letter to the Board of Directors pointing out this very confusing fact. This is not a good sign.

 

Since he is now 14, you might consider looking into residential programs if your "company" based school does not seem to be providing the training you are seeking.

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Hello! I have a son who is 17 :)

If your son's goal is to dance ballet professionally someday, then at this point he should be in class at *least* 3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. That would be a 1.5 hour ballet technique class every day plus at least 1 other class such as variations, partnering, men's technique, etc. By high school age, most guys I know are doing more like 3.5 to 4 hours of dancing a day.

The number of hours do matter. It's all about muscle memory and lots of practice and repetition.

Did he get any feedback from last summer's SI? Did they mention to him any bad habits that needed correcting? Did he seem on par with the other boys his age?

Did your son develop a good relationship with the men's teacher at this past SI? If so, perhaps you can email him and ask for his advice.

Regarding private lessons-- My son has never taken private lessons as I've always felt like his school provided more than enough training. I can see taking an occasional private lesson to work on a specific skill, but the regular day-to-day training should be provided by the school itself.

I'd recommend taking a close look at the older teens (16-18) at his current ballet school. Are there a lot of kids in this age group? Or do the serious dancers tend to leave around 14-16 to pursue better training elsewhere? Of the 16-18 year olds that graduate from the school, do most of them get accepted into 2nd companies/trainee positions (either with that company or another company)?

Truthfully, there aren't that many ballet schools which consistently turn out professional male ballet dancers. Reading professional dancer bios, you'll find the same dozen or so schools turn up over and over again. A lot of guys end up leaving home around age 15-16 to receive professional male training elsewhere. Very few professional male dancers have had the luxury of living at home during those final years of training (age 16-18). My son no longer lives at home. It's hard, and I miss him, but that's the reality of male ballet training.

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Thank you for your suggestions and input. Moxie, the contrast my son sees in SI's and his year-around school is the hours, he gets to do partnering at SI which he loves, and that other students are more serious.

And Vrsfanatic, you really got the gist of my concern, better than I could articulate! I feel reluctant to ask the school principal why the company does not hire the students from within, but maybe I need to ask and clarify things. It's not that it never happens, but when a student does get hired, he or she seems to stay for a couple of years in the corps and move to a smaller company elsewhere. None of the principal dancers are from our school.

Slhogan, my son had a great experience at last SI, and one of men's teachers told his dad that he wanted my son to come back next summer and work with him more. He was on par with other serious kids. I will talk to his current teachers first, his school principal and go from there. Knowing the other parent had a rather unfruitful conversation with the principal, I'm not expecting much, but maybe they need to hear the concern from many families. Never thought about contacting the SI teacher, but I'll keep that in my mind. Thank you.

There are a lot of boys in the older men's class (15-18), and if I remember correctly, they do 3 to 3.5 hours a day, 6days a week. However, my son is a later bloomer, (he is the shortest of his age) so they won't move him until he grows taller, so no partnering nor more lessons til then.

Over the years, the school has told my son that they could see him becoming a professional dancer as long as he keeps training there. I think my son has some confused perception, on one hand, he thinks becoming a professional dancer is attainable with what he does at the school, but on the other hand, he feels like he needs more training and desires more hours through private lessons outside. We both wish the school provided more hours of training there! I don't think he is ready for a residential school, and he has other interests and wants to live a high school life. Maybe ballet is not for him to pursue if he is not ready to give up those at this age.

The unfortunate thing around all this for me is, I feel like I can't trust the school or the teachers as I used to. I will start by talking to the school principal and the teachers. Thank you!! I will let you know how that goes!

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Hello. I talked to the school principal about my son's foot injury and asked if they would give him private lessons to get his basic technique straight. The principal said the school does not do private lessons, would communicate to all his teachers to look out for his issue during class, and recommended seeing a sports medicine doctor. We spent a good long time talking about the details and history of his injured foot, but I don't think there would be major changes. I am takin him to the doctor the school recommended, since his foot has never fully healed.

As for why the company does not hire students trained in the school, I didn't get to ask. We just didn't go that far in our conversation. However, even I, a non-ballet expert parent can find out easily and tell the company has an established record of hiring students trained in another school, not ours.

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I hope your DS journey will be a productive and happy one. Seeing an MD is a good new beginning.

 

I had suggested you ask the AD of the company why the students in the school are not hired by the company. You might not receive an answer, but the wheels will begin turning. If you were ever able to plant the question in the head of the Board, you might be surprised as to how quickly things might change.

 

The truth be known, most professional company schools in the US do not produce dancers from their own school. Most bring talent from all over the world for anywhere from 6 months to a year, place them in the upper level ballet class, trainee program or 2nd company. The most talented move upward from there. While good ballet training may or may not be had in a professional ballet school connected to a company, the economics of ballet school in the US may often times work against the well intentioned teachers and directors of qualified teaching programs.

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The truth be known, most professional company schools in the US do not produce dancers from their own school. Most bring talent from all over the world for anywhere from 6 months to a year, place them in the upper level ballet class, trainee program or 2nd company.

vrsfanatic, this has been my understanding too. Sadly, this is what I see in DS's and DD's ballet school as well. What would be your suggestion to the young aspiring US dancers who are not international competitions winners yet dream of dancing professionally?

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vrsfanatic, thank you for stating that clearly. I understand the economics of ballet school, supply and demand.

My question is more clear now, and it is this. While they operate as many other ballet schools do in the US. and as many other companies do, why the school tells us students/families that what they do at school is enough, strongly discourages students to take private lessons, strongly discourage participating in competitions, personally discouraged us to moving to a residential program (last summer as he was leaving for SI), and still tells me and my son that he has a potential to become a professional dancer.

I say again that I don't know anything about ballet, but looking at the statistics and what I've read on this forum, and looking at other boys at SI's, my son might have potential, but lacks hours of training.

If they are up front about what a male ballet student should expect at this age to aspire to be a professional, my son may not peruse it and that's ok with us. And if he chooses to want it, knowing that he needs to give up other activities he's enjoyed so far, and focus on ballet training, and possibly training in a residential program, we want to support him in his endeavor.

Last time I talked to my son about these things, he did not really get it, but I will continue this conversation. And I should talk to the AD and ask my questions or what he looks for...

by the way, is DS "darling son"? My ESL didn't catch it til now. how sweet :-)

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How sweet "Darling Son"! Actually DS simply stands for Dancing Son. We also have DD, Dancing Daughter.

 

As for advice, without seeing a child for more than a class, I prefer not to make blanket recommendations. What my experience has taught me is that the quality of training with ballet professionals who truly care about children is paramount. Since each child is different, there is no such thing as one path. I work in a successful residential program. I know what we consider to be advantages our students have over non-residential programs. For some of you, what we consider to be advantages, others may find as disadvantages. I work where I work because I do believe in the immersion of the study of classical dance is paramount for a select group of students. When competing with selected students who have a training background of multiple hours a day in a well thought out curriculum, in most cases, our educational system cannot compete. This has little to do with a lack of talent in the teaching of ballet in the US. Our teachers are incredibly dedicated and immensely talented. Our system of training, meaning number of hours available for serious training is lacking in selectivity and a financial base.

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Thank you vrsfanatic, I agree with you. Training with ballet professionals who care about your child IS paramount.

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My statement actually was "the quality of training with ballet professionals who truly care about children is paramount".

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Dance-and-skate,

 

Here's our solution to the number of hours problem, and it might not work for you, but I thought I'd share it.

 

My ds is at a small, regional pre-professional training program that tends to train students until 16 and then send them elsewhere for the finishing touches. In this fashion, we've had several alums enjoy professional careers.

 

My ds, a h.s. junior, has not yet moved on. He wanted to stay home at least one more year because he's at a great public h.s, so we find ourselves facing some issues similar to yours. The studio promises pre-professional training but doesn't really offer enough hours or intensity for a 16-year-old male. There are a lot of cancelled classes, too, because the administration caters to a younger group of students who appreciate days off for trick-or-treating, etc. The classroom instruction he does get there is satisfactory, and the performance opportunities are outstanding and very professional, but the hours of actual class offered don't support the rigorous performance expectations. The injuries I've seen over the past few years tend to be those that a good training schedule is designed to prevent.

 

Our solution this year has been to travel to another studio (1.5 hours away, alas) a couple of times a week where a seasoned master teacher offers regular high-level classes. My ds has an early dismissal from h.s. on the days we travel. Both studios have been amenable to sharing my ds, because they are glad to have him for partnering. Between the two studios, he is getting much better training and hours this year. Our goal was to reach 15 hours per week of ballet instruction (with rehearsals and contemporary and jazz on top of that), and although that probably doesn't sound like a lot to some, I'm pretty pleased with the results. My ds usually has 5-10 hours of rehearsal per week, where is is actively working on pas and variations for upcoming performances. I don't know if we can do this for more than one year (and my son might be looking at residential programs for next year) but the two-studio solution has worked much better than I thought it would.

 

Just fyi, if you look at various well-known training programs, there are vast differences in the number of hours offered to students. This variety can make it difficult to figure out what's ideal.

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Dance-and-skate,

 

Sounds like your son isn't getting enough hours. One way to figure it out is to take him to an esteemed instructor - perhaps even one that he had at the SI - that can tell you if he is improving or not - or at the level that can be expected given his number of years. We were facing this same dilemma with our 14 year old son - and decided (with him) that if he wanted to pursue a professional career, then he could need to go away to a residential program. We tried to piece it together for 6 months (driving to various studios hither and yon) but that proved tiring. During that 6 months - he danced with a professional company and the bug bit hard - and he decided to go away.

 

Usually a mom's intuition is right - and it sounds like the school isn't up to par even though it's attached to a professional company. If it's true - then either go with mln's advice - or take a long and hard look at the residential route. No mom (or boy) wants to take that route willingly - it just sometimes becomes necessary. Our son now says that he wishes he would have gone away sooner (he went away when he was turning 15). It's a tough decision for a family...

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My DS :-) has 5 days a week, 8.5 hours total and that's including 1 modern. The school does not move boys to the next level unless they reach a certain height regardless of skill, so even next school year, my DS who hasn't hit growth spurt and is very short for his age, probably will stay in this level as a 15 year old, going on 16. In the next level, the hours almost double. There are actually students like mln's son who come from far away, or move here to enroll in this older men's section.

 

Thanks to mln, boydancermom, for sharing your journey with your sons.

For now (while he is still short) we will first try adding 1.5 hr technique class with the semi-private class he used to take last year from this master teacher, and she would be the perfect esteemed instructor to ask these questions about hours and skill levels. ( why did't I think of that?) However, our school would not be amenable about taking lesson outside, so we would keep it under the radar. Even then, he won't have any partnering.

Our company dancers, who are mostly trained elsewhere, say they started partnering around 13-14 years old and their hours of training is many more than the students at our school. Our principal and the teachers do seem to care about my ds, and we appreciate it, but I feel like I'm not getting the big picture from them...

I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself here.

 

Anyhow, even though it still does't seem enough, we will start with one more class with the master teacher, and go from there.

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