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Ballet Talk for Dancers

A Dose of Brutal Reality

Guest Watermill

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We are thinking of a masterclass in Prague this summer and are trying to arrange an audition this spring in London. It makes me sad to think abour her being in England but I am trying to be tough!


I will be interested to hear about the program in Austria and I hope that New York brings her success. Please keep me posted:)

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It has been a year and a half since you posted this, I was wondering how your daughter is doing now? Is she now a professional? I hope all is well. :yes:

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Oh rubiraven - I also have tears in my eyes after reading your post - such beautiful sentiments expressed by your daughter and yourself!


We parents of passionate dancers, both young and old, seem to have to spend an awful lot of time 'justifying' our children's choices and our willingness to let them aim for a dream. While most people want the arts to exist for their own entertainment, it seems few in the community support our youth striving for careers in the arts and see it all as a bit too hard.


One of the wonderful benefits of having this site is that it's a place to go to where others understand.

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Thank you for the kind words. It is nice to have a place to share my thoughts and I am sad that there are not more people on the "outside" that get it. :grinning:

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Guest Watermill

Thanks for asking, bananafoot90...sorry to take so long getting back to you. One of the perils of being a ballet parent is taking on extra work to pay for those pointe shoes, which doesn't leave much time for BT.

My daughter is still training hard and won't be applying for company apprenticeship for a year or two. She attended SAB SI (level 5) on scholarship last year and is hoping to do the same this year, then hopefully stay at SAB year round. But we have no delusions. One of her friends who was also on scholarship at SAB (also level 5) was not even wait-listed this year. My DD would also be happy at ABT, PNB or SFB year round. If Ms. Farrell gets a stable company together, she would love to try for that, as she has attended the Kennedy Center Program for two years. She finds Ms. Farrell's instruction extremely challenging and equally inspiring.

I have enjoyed the many posts this thread has generated. I guess the phrase "brutal reality" strikes a chord!

Carry on, you crazy people. And remember: Feet on the ground...Head in the clouds.



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My youngest is finishing up the year in a Company II and absolutely loving it. She has had a great year, dancing a lot with the main company and also enjoying all of the performance opportunities of a company 2. She is across the country from me and on her own for the first time. (Not including all those SIs of course). Funny thing is, she didn't end up alone. Her sister was hired as an extra dancer by the company for many of the productions this year. So, they shared her little one-bedroom apartment for months. Made me feel more at ease knowing they were together. It was a great treat to be able to see them dance together again. They won't be together much longer as the older of the 2 just got a contract to perform in the new production of Casablanca and will be leaving for China shortly.


My oldest daughter (3DDs) performed in seven shows of the Nutcracker for her old company even though in "retirement" and 5 months pregnant at the time. I'm sure they would have her performing with them now but the baby belly doesn't fit in the tutu anymore. Quite a year!

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Thanks Watermill for filling us in. We've missed you around here. Come back as often as you can and keep us posted.



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This is a really great discussion and it raises some excellent issues. I agree with the premise that is being so well presented by so many. SIs are indeed major money makers for some companies. Some do indeed accept students who have little chance of a pro career. I do take exception to one point, however. It simply is NOT true that only the 'one or two phenoms' at an SI are the only ones who are likely to have ballet careers.


My daughter has been going to SIs now for seven years, I've spent two summers as a dorm director myself, getting a bird's eye view of the hierarchy that develops at an SI amongst the dancers and enough years have past that those girls I met in the first few summers are now out of highschool.


There are always those 'wow em' dancers at every SI, whose facility, technique, artistry, etc. simply blow everyone away. As would be expected, they do earn the faculty's favor, receive preferred casting and seem destined for greatness. But, I can name numerous dancers who have never fallen into this category. They have attended the infamous three letter acronym SI in the Big Apple or other big-company affiliated programs (all of which are considered to be highly competitive). Some have received scholarships, many more have not. They have received good placements, but have not been the stars. They have often spent their SI performance time in the back row of the corp. They have come home wondering if their teachers even knew who they were. I know others who have attended far less competitive programs, where the level of dancer at the program was not particularly high and even at these programs, they were not considered the 'it girl.' I've known girls at the most competitive residency schools, who were placed in the lowest level for their age group, passed over for major roles and generally had less than remarkable experiences at these programs.


And yet, in every one of these cases, these dancers continued on with their training and worked hard for their dream. Today, all of the girls I am thinking of are dancing professionally. One is a principal at a regional company, the others are all in the corps of mid-sized companies. Still others did receive contract offers, but chose to continue their training or moved on to other career choices.


Besides the fact that there are many dancers who attend SIs who really do not have the facility, drive, body type, technique, etc. to make it in classical ballet, there are also a large number of dancers who attend SIs who may indeed have all the right stuff, or have enough of the right stuff, to dance professionally. But, they will not all dance at the 5-6 major US companies.


And, therein lies the rub! :rolleyes: For most young dancers, the big name companies are the ones they aspire to. They hear about their principal dancers, see them plastered on magazine covers, watch them dance on PBS when they happen to offer a ballet, now they even get to see them in fashion magazines. So, of course, this is who they want to emulate, these are the companies they dream of dancing with and these are the SIs that they flock to in large numbers. Those who will make it into this very elite group of companies, are indeed few and far between. There are only a few such companies, with only a very few openings each year. So, of course, those who will be chosen are going to be the best and the brightest stars of the SI world.


But, there are literally hundreds of smaller companies in the US. Some have far better balance sheets than the 'Big Six', offer equal or in some cases better benefits, perform similar repetories, provide union wages and benefits and are widely supported by their local communities. Still others are smaller, but still very solid companies, often run by former principals at one of those 'Big Six' companies. And then there are the tiniest of companies, who operate on a shoe-string budget, but still manage to present exciting and challenging performances in their chosen venues. Many aspiring dancers find their first jobs at one of these sorts of companies.


For those who have their eyes on the 'Big Six', most of these other companies are not even on their radar. Many (along with their parents) do not consider some of these to even be an option. I've heard countless dancers over the years say, "If I'm not good enough to dance at XYZ, then I will quit." But, for those who simply want to dance as a profession, who are blest with enough of the tools needed in this trade, there are jobs to be had. Certainly it is still a highly competitive market. Every dancer who goes on the audition circuit will not find a job. But, more can and do find jobs than just the 2-3 top girls each year at a summer program.


I think it is important that we are realistic about the odds for success in ballet. It is critical that we help our children prepare a Plan B, should the odds not work in their favor. But, I also think that it is important to not be too fatalistic and paint a picture of doom and gloom. I've watched many dancers who many thought had no chance of making it, find their way to a very satisfying career with a small or sometimes even mid-size company. I'm not trying to be Pollyanna, nor am I looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. :) I'm just stating the facts about dancers we have known over the years. Their numbers are great enough and their stories varied enough to be far more than just anecdotal.


In our highly competitive society, I think that it is easy to fall into the mindset that only the best is good enough and anything we consider below the top tier, is often considered a failure. This pertains to many aspects of life in the USA, but it seems particularly relevant in the world of ballet. There is an elitist idea that if our dancers cannot make it to the top tier of companies, then they really would be better served to pursue other careers. While certainly the monetary aspect of life in a small company is something to be considered, for dancers whose dream it is to dance professionally, this really shouldn't be the overriding concern. Parents strongly influence their children's perceptions, ideals and goals and our own ideas about what it means to be 'successful' in ballet can very much color our children's dreams as well.


Rather than harping endlessly about how difficult it is to make it in ballet, perhaps one of the best services we can provide to our children is to encourage them to look past the 'Big Six' and start to learn about and appreciate the many other ballet companies that exist here in our country. In addition to exposing our children to these other companies through performances, SIs and so on, we can also talk about the benefits of dancing in a smaller company, the challenges that will be different in this setting and the joys that are universal for those who achieve that elusive dream of dancing professionally. :P

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Thank you, balletbooster! You said many of the things that I would have said, only you said it better. :)


The thing about the "phenoms" is that they are a given, but definitely NOT the only ones who will work professionally as a dancer. They may become the "stars", or make it in the "big name" companies, but there are hundreds of dancers out there making a living as a dancer, and if that is the dream, to dance for a living, then they deserve the chance to go for it. If they have to be "the best", or only work in the top companies, then they are not dancing for the right reasons and probably won't make it.


A dancer dances. A dancer with a passion to dance will do it any where, and will be happy that she/he is dancing and not sitting at a desk or waiting tables or whatever else. If that passion is not there, then yes, they should be discouraged. But the human element cannot be denied, and we have all seen those with less talent but more passion and a far better work ethic eventually surpass those with more talent.

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Thank you so much balletbooster for your very well thought out post. You obviously have thought quite a bit about this and are truly a fine example for ballet parents. From this ballet teacher you receive many kudos for your insight and ability to see beyond the glitter. Reading your post is like sitting with many of my esteemed ballet teaching friends and talking shop! It is nice to read it coming from a parent. :)

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Wow, Balletbooster, you are soooo right on. If the goal is to dance with a name company, it's true, very few will make it. If the goal is to dance professionally, many more can achieve it. There are many very small, but still professional, companies with full seasons around the country. The obvious benefits of one of these would be the chance to rise in the ranks faster and have more opportunities to dance. For one entering as an apprentice, I would think there would be more chances of getting corrections in a company class of about 10 than in a company class of 30 or more. What I'm trying to say is, if you can't get into a big company or even a mid-sized regional company, I am agreeing with Balletbooster that it is still possible for many to dance professionally if that is your dream.

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I have one question that keeps popping up in discussions with friends.


Say your dancer is consistently accepted to the "Big-Name SI's", and leveled high...


When is it time to avoid being "One Of The Pack", and choose a smaller SI, with more potential for a traineeship, or apprenticeship? Or should the dancer continue training with the "Big Names" as long as they can, and the audition for smaller Companies when the season auditions occur?

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Ms. Leigh, that is EXACTLY what my dds' teacher says! Don't count out the ones with drive and passion, even if they aren't the most talented! I still think it is valuable for dks to attend SIs to see where they stand. I don't think they should "give up" if they aren't "the best" - just to get a clearer picture of where they fit in, and what they need to improve (but my dd has attended exactly ONE SI, so I'm not an expert :) )


Just wanted to note: in Canada there are NOT a number of smaller professional or even amateur BALLET companies. Some dancers from our city have found jobs in Europe or Asia, or with modern companies, however.

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