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nynydancer

Small schools that successfully train boys- how?

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nynydancer

As we think about the fall, I have a question.  We just met this amazing older teen boy who went to a small school where he received all of his training.  His technique was outstanding, according to our school artistic staff.  He is the only older boy at his school, so I wondered how it must be for him.  I kick myself for not tracking down his parents and asking!   I also read about some prix de lausanne winners, or varna etc boy winners who came from tiny schools.

So my question is: how do small schools get successful with their boys when they have only 1 or 2 advanced boys?  What are they doing to make it work?  I would love to know.  Privates?  Going to another school some of the time?  Workshops??  Can a boy finish at a small school?  Ie be ready enough to go to an apprentice or trainee somewhere?

Thanks if you can share!

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Thyme

Well I can give you some answers on this but I hesitate to suggest that our DS has been 'successful'.  If being successful means he has moved onto a full time training position on full scholarship with a well known contemporary program, then I guess he fits. He has not gone down the road of Prix etc. 

He has done all of his training at small studios (from age 8 to 19). Each studio had only a handful of serious boys (different ages) and usually only 2 or 3 ever close to his age. I would say that the factors that kept him going and improving were these:

  • right from the beginning his studios were run by women who respected the maleness of the boys and managed to make them feel valued. He was never made to feel that his little boy behaviour was a problem (fidgeting, giggling, pushing the other boy). His little boy learning was acknowledged and supported by these women.
  • As he got older he was fortunate to have a few strong male teachers who kept DS and the other boys feeling worthy of coming to class and choosing dance as a viable career. He was never exposed to the feeling that a male dancer is essentially there to partner the girls. He felt that his training was an integral part of dance, different to the women and important. DS was taught how to behave as a partner and to appreciate that yes, his role is to make her look great en pointe and that matters.
  • DS always had good quality (small) men only classes where boy things were discussed and practiced. They were allowed to be competitive, to sweat and even curse for that hour each week. Seeing who could do the most pushups was the highlight of his week.
  • The next thing would be that he went to SIs with strong male teachers and programs so that he could soak up the mentoring and relationships. Being able to share dorms with boys and figure out that male dancers are masculine, play sport and train hard helped him find an identity in a strange girl dominated world.
  • He never had private lessons unless he was preparing a solo.

hope that helps!

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nynydancer

He sounds pretty successful to me! thank you for sharing!  

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mln

My ds stayed at his home studio through junior year.  He was a bit behind his pre-pro peers by that point, especially in the area of men's training, but not hopelessly behind.  And he has caught up a lot in just one year at a well known residential program.  He was a late bloomer, anyway, because he is a bigger guy with more body to control.

I do believe that, if I had been able to customize his training a bit more locally, he could have finished high school at home and moved on to a traineeship from here.  But, I wasn't able to do that.  Even by attending two studios, he couldn't get the advanced men's training that he needed.

What worked at home?  At one of his two studios,  he had a fantastic men's teacher.  He had excellent partnering and performance opportunities at both studios.   He got into great summer programs and didn't get flack about going.  He had tuition scholarships at both studios.  He got excellent training in contemporary ballet as well as classical.  The teachers at both studios had danced professionally and provided a good technical foundation.

What didn't work?  We did a lot of driving to get the best teachers.  There were not enough training hours at the local studios, and the extra hours tended to be geared toward the girls (pointe, variations, etc.).  Men's classes were infrequent.  He was always needed for rehearsals, and class time was compromised.  Except for summers, he did not have the competition that often motivates guys.

But I can see a situation where the local studio would work for a dancer through high school.   With a few more hours of class per week and a bit more attention to male technique, with a men's teacher nearby, and with some motivation in the form of other boys or YAGP or master teachers, he might have stayed another year.

I think the key is to find a really good small studio.  They are out there. The teaching has to be excellent, the program has to be rigorous, and the dancers and teachers need to have their eye on the national field (and not just the local one). 

By the way, many young male dancers don't leave the home studio until their mid-teens anyway.  

Hope this helped.

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nynydancer

Very helpful, thank you!  Good luck to your son!

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pmom

I was thinking of this as well.  smaller school, more attentive attention.    I think we will skip the big school names for SI auditions next summer and find more smaller SIs, which offer boys generous scholarships and more individual training with experienced professionals.  

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slhogan

pmom, smaller programs can be wonderful, but it has not been my experience that they offer more generous scholarships.  Perhaps your experience has been different than mine? In my experience, the largest programs are the ones most likely to be generous with the scholarship money.  They're company attached and thus have many charitable donations and are better able to absorb the cost of a scholarshipped student. Over the years when my son auditioned, it was the very large SI's that gave him full tuition and even full housing scholarships whereas the small programs often offered very little. But, like I said, your experiences may be different in this regard.      

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5uptown

slhogan, I have the same impression, though I think some of that may depend on the age of the boy. My son is 13 and in the past 3 years of auditioning he has certainly been offered generous scholarships, but so far room and board offers have come from the slightly less "big name" programs. My understanding is that this will likely shift as he gets older. pmom, I would recommend anyone audition a little more widely than you might think really necessary, especially if scholarships are important for you (for example, because of our family's financial resources, they really are for us). In three years we have already found that results can be surprising/inconsistent. 

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pmom

I guess experiences change from year to year and depending on the program and region.  

To clarify I have heard of smaller local  programs with quaility training that offer scholarships and/or affordable.   I was really addressing the attention in a smaller less big name program vs big name.      

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5uptown

pmom, I think particularly when they are younger teens, choosing a smaller school or program can make sense for several reasons, as long as it has good male training. We have gone that route for my son (for summer training), and it has saved us money, as well as allowed him to have what I think has been more focused and personalized training. 

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pmom

Agree.  And there are many small schools that have great male mentoring now.  In fact we are considering moving out the metropolitan Bay Area so that my 13 DS  can train 6x a week with a former male SFB dancer.   

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nynydancer

Thanks so much for this helpful dialog- I am absolutely indebted to our small school for the amazing training and handling my DS as a unique person and late starter.  I think if he was thrown into a big company school at a younger age he would not be where he is now.  The years buckling down and focusing on technique and the teachers accepting his newness and being able to give him a unique program to suit his needs was invaluable.  When they are one of the few boys at a school, they are treated like gold too and this really did help him ease into the ballet world. 

I've told this story before, but the first time my DS saw himself in ballet clothes he almost cried and refused to leave the house.  Then he fell in love with ballet pretty much after lesson 1. He was super impatient with himself and frustrated with himself, and the small school was able to adapt to his needs.  His perfectionism, frustration, all of it.

We recently went to a big 3 letter audition and it struck me how much my particular boy needed other boys at this point in this training.  This is him and maybe unique to him.  But we've concluded as heartbreaking as it would be to leave our little amazing school, at 15 this particular boy needs more male peers.  Crossing my fingers he is accepted!

 

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pmom

Congratulations to your DS!! 

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librarygirl

I think the key is to find good teachers. And a little luck. Our small studio in a mid-sized town where my son started simply had excellent teachers. And they were very welcoming to boys - I think the battle scene in the Nutcracker was a major recruiting tool. Then we moved and ended up at another studio with excellent instruction. In that case, though, a husband and wife team ran the studio and taught the upper level classes, so even though there were usually only one or two boys in my son's classes, they did receive attention and specifically male instruction. Having said that - I'll never forget when he came home from his first day of a summer intensive at a more major studio (but still in our area, so housing wasn't an issue!). He was 16 at the time. "ALMOST EVERY CLASS WAS MEN! Men's stretch, men's technique, men, men, men." He was so happy. He's there now for his third summer session with them.

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