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Jennsnoopy

Slow and steady wins the race?

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Jennsnoopy

DD, 13, just got her evals for this year and she will be remaining in her level while her friends are all moving up. I completely trust her AD but as many of you parents know, disappointment is difficult for kids. Background: DD moved from a studio with poor technique and shaming attitudes toward the kids last summer. So she's only been at her new studio for roughly 9 months. She's worked very hard and the AD mentioned she has made incredible progress but still not to a place where she can move up quite yet. Part of this is technique and part of this is body type/strength. DD barely looks like she's started puberty, is 5'2 and all leg (like her legs are almost disproportionately longer to her torso than typical people). 

We met with the AD and she seems very pleased with DD progress. AD says she has so much ahead of her and not to worry. DD thinks she is being left behind and will always be behind her peers.  I have been searching and reading threads on here about the slow boil method of ballet. How those with strong work ethic that were not put up quickly can rise up later. But has anyone's kiddo ever gone this path? It's easy to say if it's not your kid being held back. Regardless if it's right, dancers do look at their peers in relation to themselves and compare. And there were snickers from some of the other dancers that got moved up. DD worked very hard to "catch up" to her class this year.(she started in August at the bottom of the class) and definitely rose up the ranks throughout the year which might have upset a few girls. My job as her mom is to try to help her focus only on herself and to trust the AD. 

Its difficult, as I've mentioned in other threads because DD does not want to be a professional dancer, she has medical field aspirations. So sometimes I wonder why she pushes herself so hard in ballet. After Evals she thought about quitting but I won't let her right now. My heart is telling me she must learn to deal with disappointment and with delayed gratification or she will struggling in adult life. I feel her AD is incredibly caring and really sees lovely things for my DD and that she just needs more time.

Anyway, I would love to hear any stories about your kids or students that succeeded with the "slow boil" approach when their peers were passing them by at first. It would really help me know that I'm not only doing the right thing from an emotional maturity standpoint for my DD, but that there actually may be a pot of gold at the end of her rainbow if she stays the course. Can the turtle actually win the race when they are surrounded by hares?

Thanks.

 

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Eligus

Jennsnoopy,

Yes, the turtle can and does win the "race."  But I felt like I could not in good conscience share my DD's story publically.... that struggle with self esteem and being "good enough" is ongoing, and wounds to the psyche and worries about your "place" and your abilities persist over time as you mature, well into adulthood, in my opinion.  In fact, I know some adults who still struggle with this issue.  I applaud you for trying to help and address it now with your DD.  It's a very tough subject, but it helps children mature into better humans when parents see the struggle, validate it, and assist in whatever way they can.  I think at least part of the job of a parent is to try very hard to give perspective to your children, who really only see PART of the race, not the whole long marathon... the "for now we see in a mirror darkly..." idea. 

One thing that I believe helped my DD when she was struggling with this issue is to give perspective by saying things like... "okay, if you received this part next year, or you are moved up a level in October of next Fall, would this time delay REALLY matter to you?"  In other words, if you know this is a temporary condition, it can help ease the fear of "not being good enough." 

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Blanche

This is but a bump in the road.

Is your DD more worried about behind left behind socially? Or is she concerned about her progress in ballet? At 13, it may be difficult to discern which it is. But it may be helpful for you to help her navigate.

I could probably have written this post 5 or 6 years ago, though I think I was likely more distressed than DD was at the time (not that she wasn't). Older DD had the long lean, flamingo-legged body until she was almost 16, so she certainly lagged behind her peers on that account. Like your DD, she switched studios at age 12, and though she, too, had made great progress that first year there, she was partially held back in order to allow her strength and technique to catch up in a physically appropriate way. She was already a year older than many in that class, and it was a tough fall while she got to see her former peers head off to different classes. But she worked hard (we also added a PT at that point, who helped her with some specific technique-related issues), and halfway through that year, she was promoted. Since then, she has accepted that she is physically a late bloomer, but that has made the social aspects of her ballet peer group more challenging as she has often been emotionally more mature than her classmates. When she moved to a company-affiliated program, she was the oldest student in the class, and while she needed more time to physically develop, her artistry developed much more quickly. She has also seen her younger sister progress much more quickly than she did, but younger DD is more physically mature than her sister was at the same age. So even in the same family, we have one that is a slower boiler than the other!

You say your daughter pushes herself hard but has aspirations to the medical field rather than ballet. I would bet that one day she will pursue her medical career with the same intensity, and it will benefit her no matter what she does.

Older DD has always joked that she is the dancer who shows up at the bottom to claw her way to the middle!

 

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dancerdancer

I think some of the issue is the artificial construct of who her “peers” are, and her judging herself according to her ranking with them. That’s a very very natural reaction, of course. But all dancers are not going to be in the same place at the same ages. And especially at her age, they are in all different phases of biological development.  So you can’t really measure accurately if you just compare your dancer to the other people who happen to be in the same class.  The students, however, usually can’t help viewing things in those terms, and it is hard on the ones who are not moving up. (And it sometimes gives the ones who do move up an unrealistic view of themselves and their abilities, as well.) I think your AD seems to be saying that moving up or not is not really a commentary on your daughter’s potential for future development.  I would not expect a student to completely “catch up” in 9 months to dancers who have been working on their good technique for much longer. I think it is good that you are focusing on how much progress she has made already. If she’s made that much progress so far, there’s no reason to think she’ll stop making progress at this point.

Disappointments in dance are painful. But when we have the opportunity to overcome disappointment, to learn that the world won’t end, that we are strong enough to keep going despite setbacks, and most importantly, that it won’t always feel so painful, that it will get better - That’s valuable life experience. 

As far as winning the race, or getting the pot of gold, maybe it would be helpful to think about what that would involve for you and your daughter. At the end of the day, there isn’t really a race, nor is there a pot of gold. There is just dance. So what are your goals for dancing? Why does your daughter enjoy it? What does she hope to accomplish? One of my daughters’ teachers said once that ballet is about perfection, but nobody is perfect, so everyone has something to work on, from the youngest students to the most accomplished professionals. I really like that statement, because it reinforces that being a less accomplished dancer is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather there is virtue and honor in working on the things you need to be working on, at whatever level you find yourself at any given time. I do think that is an ongoing psychological struggle for most dancers.

I will also mention that it may be a nice psychological boost in some ways to have a year where your daughter is not in the bottom of the class. Class dynamics are fascinating to me, and I’ve always noticed that my daughters have a different experience when they are in a class with dancers below their level of accomplishment, versus being in a class with dancers who are much more accomplished than they. My daughters are the same dancers, with the same abilities, in both situations, but it is funny how it feels different to them. They have found both situations to be helpful, for different reasons. Having a leadership role in class, and having the opportunity to dial in and perfect those foundational skills can be such a great opportunity. 

It is a special challenge to be starting serious ballet study at a slightly later age. My DD’s also made that move into serious ballet when they were 12-13. They have been some of the oldest students in quite a few classes, since then. And they’ve also been the youngest. Ballet is weird. They’ve learned that they will survive despite their placement disappointments and successes. Like you, I’m hopeful that this experience translates into grit for overcoming other bumps in the road ahead.

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forglitter

What does it mean to “win the race”? In your daughter’s case, “winning the race” isn’t becoming a professional dancer, so what does that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow represent for her? Is it achieving a particular level? a particular role? getting to dance a solo or featured role? wearing a tutu? earning a pe credit? getting into a particular SI? Is that goal tied to a realistic timetable? If the goal isn’t met at that particular time, how does the goal change? Is a specific goal really necessary? Would she be happier without a specific goal?

My older DD, who doesn’t want to become a professional dancer, doesn’t have a specific ballet goal, and I think she is happier that way.

On the other hand, issues related to leveling cause anxiety regardless of long-term goals. I think you are wise to say she many not quit right now when emotions are running high. 

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Pinkytoes

My daughter is also on the "slow" path. Steady? Well, sort of. We have had some disruptions due to family needs that needed to be prioritized, even after a late start. My daughter was doing ballet during this time, but with less intensity - hence less progress on the slow boil. I would say my daughter is also a late bloomer in pretty much all regards (ie. physically, academically, emotionally, etc). It remains to be seen whether she will "win the race." I think that is a product of many other factors beyond the speed of her training progress relative to her peers. One thing we have noticed, though, is that some peers, who appear greatly ahead and whom she would measure herself against to find herself "less," wind up falling of the pathway at some point for various reasons - injury, less interest in ballet, preference for college pathway, etc. I think it is important lesson for our DDs to internalize that you work your own path, even if others raise eyebrows, question, minimize, etc. Because you just never know who will "win" in the end.

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Jennsnoopy

Thank you for the responses! All are so thoughtful. I like the idea of getting her to understand the word "temporary" as in this is just one point in time. She isn't worried about social, it's more ability at the age. She feels the "good dancing" 13 year olds went up.  As far as goals, she has a few roles she wants as well as some personal things like getting a triple pirouette cleanly in all the different directions, clean chaines (spelling) on pointe, faster and cleaner footwork in petite allegro. 

Part of this is she is looking at this from the perspective of what if she was able to dance instead of being in bed during her 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy she underwent. She's comparing herself to a dream of who she could have been had it not been for cancer. This is something she struggles with in other areas although she's managed to achieve her goals in just about every other area of her life. She is currently going to counseling for survivor issues. I guess the "race" she sees is the one between herself and who she would have been had she not gotten sick. (And yes I know the erroneous thinking there as we don't know what she would have been without cancer). 

The interesting thing is she has never been at the top of her class in ballet so this summer will be a completely new experience for her. From the moment she started at 9 1/2 she has been in catch up mode. She is comfortable in class being the worst and then by the end of said time period getting close to the top. Even at her new studio she went from the very bottom to the top quarter in less than a year. The rest of the top quarter went up in level so now she is the top of her class. She doesn't know how to deal with this but I'm guessing AD thinks this could be a valuable experience for her. Her friends that went up are very worried about being at the bottom of their class. My DD is like "that's the best! I'm most comfortable in that position and working my way up!". This new position is daunting for her. And it's not like leadership is unfamiliar to her. Even in the class with the girls who will be moving up, everyone talks about if DD is in the class "you'd better work" because if not,  DD will make you look lazy just because she pushes so hard.

The reality is that while DD loves ballet, she doesn't feel like she is a very good dancer. She has a great body for it, given time to get some strength, but she doubts because of her "if I didn't get cancer where could I be now". The reality is, things happen and you can't change them. And the fact that she did go through cancer, has given her a light that is magical to be around because she is so thankful for life. That light shines on stage so brightly that many people have commented that they end up watching her because she just has so much joy and presence in the moment. Maybe it's good DD stays and is at the top of the class to not only wait for her body to catch up, but to give her some confidence.

I'm thinking of having my DD write her future self a letter identifying her disappointment and worry. Then I'll give it to her to read once she's reached a big personal goal or milestone (level up or role). Perhaps that will give her perspective on how transient all of these worries are. It might give her some grace to accept the next disappointment that will inevitably come.

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Cleo1515

Level placements are the number one thing that I do not like about Ballet. I almost wish that we could go totally private with instruction to avoid the comparisons that happen every year. I had an interesting conversation earlier today about personal motivation. It was eye opening and made me realize that my child needs a specific goal to work towards, whereas right now she isn't being pushed to reach her potential just put in minimum effort over the course of several years. She needs that incredibly hard task to achieve within a certain time limit. This is a new revelation as we have always followed the slow boil, wait and see approach. She makes the decisions about her training, and right now she seems to know what she needs for that next step- a teacher who will push her further. I say take your daughter's lead to see what exactly she wants. Maybe try some new things and privates that will make her feel more confident going into this next year.  It's a long journey. 

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MelissaGA

Very difficult at pretty much any age, but it seems to sting even more at certain ages. 

You asked for a success story. My dd is one. She repeated a level once and at this time of year, when she was just turning 14, found out, once again, that she would not be promoted to the next level with her friends. It was disheartening. You see all these other dancers succeeding with level placements, casting, SI scholarships and your dancer is disappointed and filled with self doubt. 

DD loves to defy expectations and she did so here. She went away for 2 weeks before the SI at home that summer. Different teachers, different words (same corrections) and different eyes. Those different eyes seemed to see the potential that existed, or at least that was her perception. She went to her home SI with a new confidence and a new sense of "attack." At the end of that summer, she received that long awaited and clearly earned promotion. 

DD had had her share of bumps in the road along the way. If you told me at 14 that DD would be a professional dancer just a few years later, I would have laughed. A wise teacher told me around then not to count her out. She said something that we read here often. That those who have to work harder are often those still dancing later on. From that crowd of talented kids that DD fought tooth and nail to keep up with, she is currently the only professional ballet dancer.

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fun en face

Great advice has already been given, but while reading your post about you daughter’s condition I felt compelled to offer my two cents...

DD’s Story is similar to that of MelissaGA’s. She is one of two girls from her peer group (at that age) to have gone on to dance professionally.

As a student, a lot was ‘against’ her. Late starter, lack of natural turnout, injuries, autoimmune diagnosis...DD experienced many setbacks and disappointments throughout student training years, was never the ‘chosen one’ and always behind and slightly older than others in her level.

However, she had something the other girls did not. Tenacity and an extra developed willingness to learn new things, fueled by the motivation to catch up. Sounds to me like your DD is already ahead in this very undervalued attribute.

When DD got bad news she would cry and fret over it. But afterwards she also sought out performances nearby (some 3 hours away, taking in as much dance as the pocket book allowed, absorbing  everything she could about ballets she would see both in person and online. She devoured books, at videos, followed profiles of professional dancers (not competition kids) on social media, etc. Basically, she immersed herself in the world she aspired to be in when she was ready. The hardest part for me was letting her feel the disappointment in the moment! I commend you for asking her to stay the course.

Just as you mentioned, your daughter has already been through something even more challenging. I’d venture to guess once the emotional sting of her AD’s decision wears off she’ll find a renewed sense of purpose.

Its great that she has aspirations outside of dance, a very healthy thing at her age! She sounds amazing and like someone the other girls will aspire to be like in the future. They just don’t know it yet!

All the best to you both. Keep us posted.

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5uptown

I will try to briefly paraphrase something that I was told at a parent seminar by a wellness coach who works with dancers. She said-- the different between goals and dreams or wishes are that goals are things you have some control over. It is really important for the kids to understand that they ultimately can't control casting, level placement, acceptance and scholarship decisions, etc. And she encourages them to focus on the things that they can do-- to keep it specific, short term, measurable, and actionable. Its also important to have dreams and wishes! But that in the day to day, the kids should focus on what they can do to become better/stronger/etc. I hope that helps, it was good for me to hear (my son is 13) and I think he found the classes with her helpful too. 

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learningdance

What a wonderful mom you are and well, a tough, tough story.  

Please don't interpret this question as insensitive but well, it might help. 

How can you be sure that cancer completely rules out a dance career for her?  (Is that your interpretation of facts? Have you had a doctor who works regularly with ballet dancers tell you this? ) I only say this because there are scads of professional dancers who had scoliosis,  broken their backs, had a horse step on their feet,and many other issues and made it. 

I just wonder if you are not being defeatist and over protective as a parent.  She's 13.  Why not? 

And well, if there is very clear medical evidence that there is no way/no how for her to be a pro ballet dancer, and dancing is her passion, why not channel her into another form? I guess if she's going to be thinking about "what could have been" for her entire dance class career and feel like the door will always be closed, that's kind of tough position to stay in. 

Again,  please, please know that I am only saying this suggest another way of thinking about it. 

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Jennsnoopy

Hi learningdance. There is documented evidence that the chemotherapy used to treat DD's cancer does in fact degrade bone as well as inhibit muscle growth down the road post treatment in the majority of patients. DD was lucky, we've gotten her X-rays and there has been no degradation to her bones over the years, which means chemo did not seem to affect this. We know of at least five other dancers who post treatment have either not been able to go on pointe or not been able to return to pointwork post chemo due to bone disintegration. We are seeing limited muscle growth however and at this point don't know if it's simply due to the pre-pubescent state of her body or due to long term chemo effects. Time will tell.

She does not want to become a professional dancer due to her higher desire to become a medical professional. But she wants to see how far she can go before she starts college some day. 

I appreciate your comments and know you are truly being sincere. Her AD and I both agree it would be good for her to push past this mindset of "what if" and this my goal to help her through this. 

This is discussion has been so great and I thank all of you for contributing. 

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learningdance

Sorry for being insensitive.  I hope that I did not make the situation more upsetting.  

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Eligus

Jennsnoopy -- I too, do not mean to be intrusive.  Clearly, I do not have any clear idea of what you and she and your family have endured.  But you've raised an interesting thought in your posts (and the responses thereto).

I believe that there is a constant (somewhat dangerous) comparison of the "mythological perfect" version of yourself in EVERY dancer, and maybe every person, and that tendency to compare seems particularly strong in the pre-teen/teen years.  I am sure the illness exacerbates the issue for your DD, but this idea of "what I could have done with (or without) XYZ" haunted my DD at that age too, although her thoughts had more to do with more mundane matters like perfect feet, etc., rather than a battle with a deadly disease and the very real effects of treatment. 

I'm not trying to disparage or discredit your daughter's struggle at all...  I'm just trying to point out that maybe SOME of her worries are "normal", everyday pre-teen/teen adjustments to the big, mature ideas of "who I am" and "what can I do" in this world.  I just think these kinds of thoughts are a very universal concern as our kids mature.  I think DancerDancer had an excellent post about those thoughts of comparison of self to others and comparison of self to mythological perfect self as being very common, but not particularly useful in the grand scheme of life.

I also think you're doing a great job trying to help her through these thoughts, but I would only warn you to "help" her, not "assume" those worries as your own.  In other words, there is nothing at all wrong with thinking these things through and helping her to think through them on her own, but be careful not to assign TOO much weight to the concerns.  I'm not saying you are doing that, I'm just saying it's easy to do so.  Remember that there is value (and maybe even hidden joy) in the struggles of life.  So often as parents we want to remove all those struggles FOR our kids, or at least rush them through those thoughts and struggles, because they are uncomfortable for everyone.  But some deep insights and growth come after the struggle, and one of those insights might be that you are where you are supposed to be for RIGHT NOW (not forever).

I think your idea of your DD writing a letter to herself (or journaling) is an excellent idea, and I wish you and her some peace as you learn to manage this big life issue.

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