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Ballet Talk for Dancers

A Dose of Brutal Reality

Guest Watermill

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Guest Watermill

As a ballet dad with a soon to be 15 year old DD on a professional training track,I am "haunted" by a figure I read here on BT: When Boson Ballet AD Miko Nissenen looked to reshape his company, he held three auditions, saw over one thousand dancers and hired approx twenty.


My math skills are dreadful but I can still figure that to be around two percent. With the downturn in government & private grants to arts orgs in general resulting in company/season cutbacks which results in more experienced company dancers on the market, the competition may be even fiercer than before. I am of course sure that some of those dancers not hired by BB still found jobs elsewhere, but whether the percentage is 2% or 4% it still points to an apallingly low number of employment opportunities.


As our family begins to nudge the $10,000 mark per year of training expenses, (this includes all costs: shoes, travel, lost work days etc), I must admit that I'm watching both my daughter's progress and the general employment situation like a hawk.


How do other parents wrap their minds around this brutal reality?

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Hide my head in the sand? :blink::rolleyes: Not really, only sometimes. Watermill, I really don't know how to answer you. Since my daughter is not quite yet 14 I don't feel the rope tighening at quite the same rate of pressure...but I do look ahead often or I try to.


One thing that does come to mind constantly is to try to be vigilant - to trends, markets both financial and ballet... and to try to be as realistic as possible along each step of the way. Easier to say than to do, I'll grant you.


I try to take things one semester at a time.


And yet, I'm very glad my own child has chosen this path thus far.


So there you go. :sweating::thumbsup:

Edited by BW
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My daughter is only 14 also, but she has "Plan A" and "Plan B." "Plan A" is all her dreams come true and she is hired by a major company at the age of 18 and her career progresses as if in a dream. "Plan B" is more realistic. She auditions for major and minor companies and gets a handle on what they are looking for, but attends a 4 year university and gets a degree before she starts her career. She will seek employment not only in the U.S. but also in Europe. If she finds no work that interests her, then she gets a "normal" job or goes back to school to get an advanced degree. She is blessed not only with a "dancers body" (not perfect-but good) but also with a brilliant mind, and the motivation to work hard in the studio and in school. She also has connections at a major university that is a player in the ballet world, and connections in Europe. She would really like to go with "Plan A," but is realistic to know that "Plan B" is also a good plan. My job is to just sit back and enjoy the ride!

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How do I wrap my mind around this brutal reality??? First of all, I don't. My daughter is barely 17...she has spent her high school years doing something she loves, with people she loves. She is not hanging on the street, drinking, doing drugs, pregnant. Will she ever get a job...who knows?? Do high school soccer players play soccer because they expect to get a job someday or do they do it because it fullfills them? My child is happy, applying to ballet colleges, still hoping for that elusive contract that may never come. Should I have dashed those hopes at 13 because the classes might never pay for themselves? As long as I can work enough hours to pay for her and her siblings' dreams, I will.

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I think the degree to which this figure feels brutal or threatening depends directly on how imminently it affects you.


Some of us on this board have children who have a legitimate shot at "the show". For them, I imagine it's terribly frightening. Reallistically, I think the best plan is to follow tutumaker's daughter's lead, and have a Plan B in the back pocket (vagansmom has often made this point as well).


Other parents here understand that their children are far more likely to occupy the "bottom 98%". I suspect they have an easier time dealing with the brutal figures, because at some level they already know it doesn't really affect them.

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I think NEB has a great point here. Ballet is such an "in the present" thing. It always takes great sacrifice for EVERY dancer, and that sacrifies continues right through until one retires. For the dance student, the sacrifice involves parents' money. For the professional dancer, it involves bigger things --- education, standard of living, family, other interests. Not even a steady job at a place like Boston Ballet is enough to quell the constant evaluation of sacrifice that goes through every dancer's mind (I know, I've had that conversation with former Boston Ballet dancers).


It therefore makes no sense to dance now because you think it might pay off in the future --- because it won't (other than the dancer improving and dancing better every year). You should dance because you're getting something out of it now --- and stop when the costs become greater than the benefits.


As for the "bottom 98%" --- for every dance job at a place like Boston Ballet, there are many dance jobs elsewhere with high artistic integrity, although not as much money. Moreover, the nature of auditions, even at a place like Boston Ballet, is such that just about anyone who likes to dance can enter the audition, even if that person is nowhere near qualified for the job. So for the dancer who actually is qualified, the chances aren't quite so bad (although it is admittedly still very competetive).

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I had actually heard that 2% figure several years ago (can't remember where I read it) so I have had a while to digest this. It is scary, but I have to agree with what others have said; go for it, and if things don't work out, don't have any regrets for all the time and money spent. Having a backup plan is a must - even for dancers with perfect technique, perfect bodies, artistry, etc., there is always the possibility of injury.


My son used to play trombone and at one time had professional aspirations; from what we were told, the odds of making it in music are actually worse than in dance. So I had "brutal reality" to deal with with both of my kids.

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Here is my take:


We send our kids to school to learn responsibilty and to become mature. Academics, especially at the high school level, is really a joke for many students, especially the bright ones. The important thing they hopefully learn is how to succeed in the real world; by hard work, perseverance and a little luck


Why do we send our kids to dance? I do it for the same reason. My son learns more there than he ever did in regular school. We ended up letting him away to to a pre pro school in another city 5 hours away because he took the initiative to audition during his summer SI, and he got a scholarship. he EARNED it through hard work, years of it. I am proud of him, not just for his success, but because of how he did it. He has my encouragement, and a heck of a lot of my money, but I did not do it for him. I don't ever think he will be living in my basement at age 24, even if he is waiting tables and looking for a break


As far as I am concerned, he has already learned most of what he needs to know to succeed in life in general . Now he needs to learn enough to succeed in Ballet. That will be harder. If he makes it, great, if not, well, he still got his chance, and it certainly did not hurt him. If anything, he may be getting a better education by virtue of being in a system that encourages him not just to succeed, but to EARN success through hard work and discipline. Beats the heck out of the army!

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:wink: How do I wrap my head around this reality??? I don't really think about the end product right now - most of my time and energy is spent supporting my son in his full-time studies. We don't discuss his plans after graduation very much at this point - he seems to be totally and happily immersed in the "present moment of dance" as Citibob and NEBS have pointed out. He does see the company members on a regular basis and has company apprentices as residence counsellors, so is not so naive anymore about his dream. (His rose-coloured glasses are off!) Plan B - off to university if dance doesn't work out right after pre-pro school.


But as Watermill pointed out, many families are pushing $10K in dance costs - that does give one pause for some type of justification. Especially if there are other siblings in the family. I just feel that I would rather live with the sacrifice right now than the big regrets and "what-ifs", if we had chosen not to send my son away to study. Yes, the stats are brutal, but they are comparable to any other high performance sport or artistic endeavour. However, I really do feel that if the person loves what they are doing, they will find a way to keep their passion alive at whatever level they end up in.

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There are so many great answers here already :thumbsup: I've posted a bit about this before but the one comment my daughter made several years that's stuck with me the longest (a real accomplishment for my memory these days :wink: ) was a retort she gave to her best friend, a non-dancer.


Friend said something to the effect of, "So, if you don't dance professionally, then you've basically wasted most of your life up to now," - to which daughter replied, "How many people get to spend 10 years of their life doing what they love best? I've been really lucky."


That wonderfully wise response coming from my young-to-mid-teen daughter steadied me through the next few years. I realized, "Yes, this IS a great gift we've been able to give her."

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Got to hand it to you all - and say thank you. This whole subject reminds me a bit of a MINI ad with a slight spin on it: "Life is short - so do what you love!" :wink::thumbsup:

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When I was the age my daughter is now. 13, I had a "dream" about a career that no one in my family had ever accomplished. I can't say anyone tried. It just seemed out of grasp to someone of our means. It seemed like something that could take forever to get through. College 4 years and postgrad 4 years and internship/residency for 4 years. This was the 60's, and there were also not many women in the field yet either. My parents were "supportive" but had their doubts. Could I sustain interest for that long? Could I make the necessary grades and scores? Could I really work my way through or acquire enough scholarship money to pay my way? Sure, they were there for me, but I am not really certain they thought this was possible or even in my best interest. I can't say I ever had plan B. I was determined and I didn't need a plan B. Besides, if you have a plan B to fall back on you might take the easy way out and go with plan B.


So I would prove them all, and would never need plan B. Sound like a teenager? Well, I never did come to my senses!! And I never needed plan B. And while I didn't finish my "training" until age 30, and could not exactly start a family until well after that, things all worked out. Perhaps the odds when I started were better than 2%. Given certain circumstances, I suspect not. Given that my parents did not have anywhere near $10,000, and it ultimately took much more than that, I would say the odds were against me.


So I have to be supportive of my daughter. And I am in a position that I can be financial supportive. Upward mobility and one generation doing better that the one before and all. So supportive I am. I secretly want the college and postgrad stuff to happen. In the usual way. Right after high school. And not a degree in the arts. You know--I want my girls to have a "real job." But the more I see the same passion for ballet in my daughter that I had for what I wanted to do, I think-OK, maybe it can happen. And I am in a position that I can offer a kind of support for now that my folks could not. And because my daughter "has to dance" and because she has to dance for now and for what she gets out of it, I will put in the back of my mind the 2%. And when she does not have to dance, there will be something else she has to do or wants to do. And there will be a time where I cannot provide the financial support, because I cannot or because I cannot continue to support something that is not longer realistic.


And we speak of plan B. And she states adamantly that she needs no plan B. But we talk of it anyway. Because I am a parent and she is a teen. Because I know best--but maybe she knows better! And I read this "sticky" I have now in my computer, along with others:


As you journey through life, choose your destinations well, but do not hurry there. You will arrive soon enough. Wander the back roads and forgotten paths, keeping your destination in your heart like the fixed point of a compass. Seek out new voices, strange sights and ideas foreign to your own. Such things are riches for the soul. And if, upon arrival, you find your destination is not exactly as you dreamed, do not be disappointed. Think of all you would have missed but for the journey there, and know that the true worth of your travels lies not in where you came to be at journey's end, but in whom you came to be along the way. UNKNOWN .



And I pray. I saw a bumper sticker this week that said "Life's short, pray hard." !!

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NEB, you hit the nail on the head. I couldn't agree more with your words.


I've got 2 in ballet! I'm going more broke with each passing day. Last summer, I had 2 in summer programs!! Yikes!!


I couldn't have said it better than NEB!! It's worth every penny and every hour in so many ways.

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