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ballet vs gymnastics


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#1 slhogan

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 08:17 AM

First, a warning-- this post is very long.

We're new to ballet-- my 7 year old son has only been dancing since the fall-- and I'm much more familiar with how gymnastics works, so please forgive my ignorance of all this. But, it just seems like ballet develops so *slowly* and I just want to make sure I'm doing the right thing with my son.

His ballet teacher has repeatedly told me that my son has a lot of talent and with his passion for ballet combined with his natural ability he can go far. I know he's one of the best in the class although many of the girls have been dancing longer than he has (e.g., she has him standing front row center during center work while many of the girls with more experience in dancing are still in the back row).

Yes, I'm being obnoxious, but like I said, we come from a gymnastics background and things seem to operate differently there. When he was 6 he was identified as having a lot of talent and potential for gymnastics and was placed on the boys team. His skills weren't all the way there yet, but in gymnastics they always pull the talented kids out of the regular recreational classes and begin more focused training with them. Does this sort of thing not exist in ballet? I know our ballet studio doesn't seem to have an accelerated track and from reading tons of posts on Ballet Talk these past few months, I don't seem to read any mention of them. Being familiar with gymnastics, it seems odd to me that a teacher would identify a student as having natural ability in ballet yet keep him in a regular class. The classes seem to just progress by how long you have done dance-- that is, you stay in level 1 your first year, don't go to level 3 until your third year, etc. This is very different from gymnastics where talented kids move up very quickly (for example, my daughter went from level 1 to Level 5/6 in less than 2 years).

He currently takes three one hour dance classes-- ballet, tap, and jazz. Ballet is his favorite and he's asking if he can add another ballet class so he'd be dancing 2 hours twice a week (he is used to 2 hour workouts from being in gymnastics; he has quit the gymnastics team to spend more time dancing, but he does still does a one hour tumbling class once a week). Five hours a week of floor workouts doesn't seem excessive to me-- that's what he was doing on the gymnastics team and my 9 year old gymnast daughter works out 15-18 hours a week (with 7 year olds on her team working out that many hours with her). But, reading the posts on this message board, I'm just not reading about 7 year old kids doing 4 hours of dance a week and I don't want to do this ballet thing "wrong." And, by the way, we homeschool so he has lots of relaxed "kid-time" during the day.

On a related note, he doesn't seem to be getting much of a "workout" with ballet and he has lost strength and flexibility since quitting the gymnastics team. Yes, his dance teacher has them do stretching in the center of the room, but not very much. On the gym team he spent a good 20-30 minutes working all his splits and such, and with the limited stretching they do in dance class he's losing a lot of the flexibility he had gained. He's also commented that he isn't as strong as he used to be as he is no longer doing push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, lap-running etc. I'm tempted to encourage him to do his strength training at home, but I resist that temptation as I'm pretty sure that crosses the line into pushy-mom territory (and despite what you may think of me after reading this post, I do try to let my kids do their own thing and not push them).

I keep telling myself that if high levels of strength and flexibility were required for 7/8 year old dancers, the teacher would be having them train more; since she isn't then it must not be necessary. Still, it seems a shame for him to lose the strength/flexibility he had gained.

If you've stuck with me after this way-too-long post, I'd appreciate any thoughts/suggestions you might have. Thanks!

#2 dancindaughters

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 09:43 AM

The first thing you have to do is stop comparing ballet training to gymnastics training. It is not the same thing at all. In gymnastics, the goal is to learn and perfect skills at the youngest age possible; in ballet the goal is to carefully train an artist so that they will arrive in their late teens healthy and with a contribution to make to the art form.

My dd took about the same # of classes at age 7. The next year, she took more, almost too much. I think it is OK to stretch at home, if not overdone, but a 7-year-old boy would not be expected to be able to do splits, etc. I encourage my kids to stay in shape by running around and playing in the park. Monkey bars are great for upper-body strength! They also swim, skate and ride bikes.

I also wanted to see dd pulled out of rec classes and put in with more advanced kids, but the only option was to go into classes with older kids. This creates it's own problems. As the kids progress, the ones with less interest and aptitude start to fall away. Some school do have different tracks for more serious kids, but age 7 is a bit early for that. I found my dd's "talent" only began to show up at 6.5. Kids develop at different rates. By the way, don't think that your SON being front and centre means he is the best :devil: Good Luck and have fun.

#3 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 10:05 AM

I totally agree with dancingdaughters post. Just want to add that, because of his gymnastic background, plus an evidently good facility for movement, he may be ready for a bit more than most 7 year olds. I don't believe in pushing them, and definitely do not believe in too much too soon. However, if they are held back, they will lose interest.

That said, ballet is a long, slow process. It is an art form which requires a lot of knowledge as well as ability. It's a whole new language of movement, and the requirements are very different from gymnastics. The rotation involved, the placement and alignment, the use of the feet, line, and the port de bras and Úpaulement all take a long time to both understand and accomplish, even for a talented child. They can't just jump or just turn or get their legs up in the air. It has to be done within a certain placement, with rotation, with correct shape of the legs and feet, and with the use of the whole upper body. There is no way that a child will progress in ballet as fast as they could in gymnastics, even given the factor of exceptional facility.

One more thing....be VERY sure that he is in the very best ballet school that you can find. The early training is critical, because if they do not learn correctly, it will eventually need to be relearned, which is much harder to do.

Editing to add that I just noticed you are in Houston. Take him to the Ben Stevenson Academy at the Houston Ballet. If you can't get there, call them and ask for their recommendation of the best in your area.

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#4 dancemomCA

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 10:16 AM

:) Knock, Knock, parent of over 13 DS here - slhogan, try not to compare the two activities - ballet is a "slow-boil" process - your son is still very young - if he is losing flexibility, have him carefully stretch at home. Ballet technique takes years to develop, many classes at a young age will lead to over-use injuries and/or burn-out. The "natural ability" will need time to fully present itself - so many changes occur to a young body and mind over the years, but I can understand your/his wish to have more classes, given the previous number of hours spent on gymnastics. Would he be able to take 2 ballet classes next year? You don't normally find accelerated ballet programs, especially at that young age. There is a natural progression in ballet, thus the levels or grades of classes. IMO, I think your son is on track for a 7 year old dancer. Others may chime in with differing views. :D

#5 fendrock

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 10:47 AM

I just wanted to add the concept of -- what is it? -- muscle memory? - as I think that gives an insight into what occurs with the slow, steady process of ballet classes.

The ballet student learns slowly and with repitition so that the precise and exact steps and positions are completely ingrained in their bodies; eventually they execute steps and movement precisely as they have to do without consciously thinking about it.

This is also why it becomes hard to unlearn things learned improperly.

#6 BelaNina

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 12:26 PM

I agree with everything that's been said so far. As far as the schedule goes, I've observed that once a child is 8 years old, taking ballet two or three hours per week - on separate days - makes a huge difference. For jazz and tap, once a week seems to be fine, but for ballet, having the class twice per week is important to cement the technique into their bodies. They need to be quality hours, with a quality teacher too, of course. Before the age of 8, the schedule you've described for your son seems just right.

As far as the strength issue goes, I'm with dancindaughters in that we make sure the kids get lots of bikeriding, skating, running at the park, swimming, etc in. My kids are homestudy students, and so we have lots of extra time to fit these kinds of activities in. :)

#7 Clara 76

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 01:12 PM

I'd just like to add that the peak for a gymnast's career is about 13, whereas the peak for a ballet dancer can be as late as 30!

I understand what he is saying about losing his flexibility and strength, and agree with Victoria's recommendation to get him to the Ben Stevenson Academy asap.

If he is worried about his strength and flexibility, he may decide on his own to work on those things at home.

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#8 balletnast

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 02:26 PM

I want to chime in here as I am familiar with both "worlds" of which you write. Gymnastics is a totally different journey, and I think you summed it up nicely. I will agree that it is about learning skills quickly while they are still small enough to make them easy, but there is also the emphasis on technique, albeit a different one. Whereas girls gymnasts peak earlier, around 11-13, boys really don't reach their peak until much later - 18-21. So, both disciplines are focused on the same age range, they just have different routes of getting there. I also have asked the same questions regarding pulling out the better kids and creating a "talented" group. One response I received was that when the groups get divided, the less-talented kids tend to leave ballet faster because they feel they are not that good. Interestingly, the studio did end up dividing the groups, and some did leave because they didn't like being "lower class" and went to other studios. I guess in some ways it is a double-edged sword for a small, reputable studio. I will agree that you have to keep your 2 hats separate because the dominant philosophy of how to train is so contradictory with both gymn and ballet.

#9 mom1

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 02:39 PM

slhogan,

I have a background in gymnastics and I have noticed the way in which strength and flexibility are approached is very different in gymnastics than ballet.

In gymnastics, the two do not have to be developed in relationship with each other. For instance, stretching is done primarily during warm up and isolated strengthing is done at the end. For a boy, strength conditioning in gymnastics has a lot to do with upper body for p-bars, high bar and pommel horse and abs of course for everything.

When they talk of strength in ballet, they are speaking of pretty obsure muscle groups. Inner and outer thighs. The muscles that allow a dancer to hold their turn out while dancing, the ability to hold their legs up front, side and back. It's so much more control oriented than gymnastics so flexibility and strength are always developed simulateously. Everything is much more isometric.

A good ballet school will place him according to ability rather than age, but there is so much more to develop than what is obvious to the untrained eye of us novice parents. Placement, rotation, vocabulary... In gymnastics they have milestones that are easier to meaure. (i.e. girls must have round off backhandspring on the floor, cartwheel on the beam, glide kip on bars and front handspring on vault to be level ... whatever.)Ballet is not like that at all.

I agree with getting him to the best ballet school available, then if their schedule does not meet his desire to be moving, why not let him stay in gymnastics once or twice a week too. I know those boys love to be moving!

Oh, and p.s. Gymnast don't try to peak at 13. I believe women cannot compete in the Olympics until age 16 and most men are around 20. (edit to add: I believe you and I posted at the same time balletnast.)
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Posted 05 April 2006 - 04:39 PM

Hi slhogan

He's only seven! In ballet the really serious training would be expected to start at 10 or 11. The movement required by ballet is quite unnatural, and to attempt to put a younger dancer on the kind of schedule required for gymnastics would probably lead to injury. So I agree you should find the best teacher you can, to get the basics trained correctly, but don't look at doing heaps more hours for now. The hours will build gradually over the years, and sooner than you can turn around you'll be spending half your life at the studio. Slow and steady has long been proven as the best way to train dancers.

#11 Gremlin

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 06:03 PM

Please reread some of the posts on the "Parents of boys" board. There you will find helpful input about the subject of holding boys mentally hostage. Your comment of "Front and center" :blink: Nuff said :wacko: Bad for both the boy's ego as well as the way the girls will view him. "Why is HE always in front?"

I took a quote from you that you made some time back. I think it nicely describes how a bad ballet school with quick advancement and sloppy technique can compare with your gymnastics experience. ..........

"My daughter had a similar experience with gymnastics. When we realized she was very serious about the sport and moved her from her recreational gym to a gym that trains through the elite levels she had to move back a couple of levels because her technique was so sloppy. Even though she was doing some neat tricks, she wasn't nearly as advanced as we thought she was!"

#12 vicarious

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 07:54 PM

In the DVD "Born to Be Wild" it tells that Ethan Stiefel started in gymnastics. His parents talk about that transition to ballet training.

#13 Clara 76

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 01:14 AM

Oh, and p.s. Gymnast don't try to peak at 13. I believe women cannot compete in the Olympics until age 16 and most men are around 20. (edit to add: I believe you and I posted at the same time balletnast.)


I understand what you are saying and I didn't mean to offend... I was relating the fact that most gymnast's careers are over by 18, at that same level, for the most part.

They must have changed the rules regarding age because Nadia Comenici competed in the Olympics at 15. Mary Lou Retton also competed in the Olympics at 15.
Dominique Moceanu was 14 at the time she competed in the 1996 Olympics.

Granted, because gymnastics is considered a sport, the financial opportunities for those with the talent is huge compared to ballet dancers, even after they officially retire. They have sports endorsements and PR publicity showings, etc.

I think there are some excellent ways that gymnastics trains children, like with the jumps and the attack, that we ballet teachers could perhaps, take a look at and learn from.

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#14 balletnast

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 06:39 AM

I think there are some excellent ways that gymnastics trains children, like with the jumps and the attack, that we ballet teachers could perhaps, take a look at and learn from.

As a coach for gymn, I enjoy my gymnasts who do ballet because it makes my job easier. However, by and large, the ones that are really good at ballet are not by best gymnasts by far. They are typically the weakest at tumbling. My dd did both for a long time and finally quit the gymn. I noticed that as she upped her hours in dance, the weaker her tumbling got. My take is that the way the muscles are trained in both makes it harder for a ballerina to tumble for exactly what you mentioned. In gymn, we teach to "pop" explosively off the floor. It is done with a straighter leg, also. Ballet, to me seems more methodical and definitely teaches more use of the knees to get airborne.

On the other hand, I think my dd's participation in gymn in her early ballet years was definitely beneficial as far as jumping and leaps go as well as flexibility. SHe had a lot more experience doing those skill earlier than her ballet peer, for obvious reasons.

ANother thing, we have other girls in dd's program, and the teacher lambasts them for doing gymn, claiming all their problems stem from the fact they do gymn. Bad arms, bad shoulders, etc. Pretty funny - she didn't know my dd did gymn until she was basically done. Then, when she found out, she blamed all her problems on it! :cool2:

One last thing...the existance of a livelihood after a gymn career is relatively new. The governing body worked vey hard over the past 15 years to make that happen, adding the pro meets that are basically made for tv, etc.

#15 mom1

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 06:47 AM

No offense taken at all Clara. :cool2:
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