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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Patience with Slow Growing Boys


ajg

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On the summer intensive topic Werljk brought up what I thought was a good topic for parents of boys - that is their relative late physical development as compared to girls. This certainly does not apply to all boys but mine they entered a sort of no-man's land around 12 and only at 16 did my older son get out of it. During that time he started to grow - sometimes at an amazing rate but was just a string bean - he had no strength and at one point even lost some of his turn-out. I believe that girls do this too but this happened to my son at 14 when most of the girls were done growing and were really digging into their ballet studies.

 

It was not until he was 16 that he started gaining strength in his upper body and legs and could really begin the next important phase of his training. He is still growing a little and still adding muscle - something one of his teachers said he will do for a few more years. This seems to be particularly true of taller boys who shoot up and then have to get the muscles to control all that length.

 

During this time he and we had to be PATIENT since he was no longer a cute little boy and was not yet really a young man. Somewhere around 15, after a big growth spurt one of his teachers referred to him as a boy-man - a very accurate description. He used the time to work on his technique but could not do much partnering or big guys stuff meanwhile the young ladies were just blossoming. I had to keep remembering one of his early teachers telling me that at some point boys get the strength they need and it all comes together. And sure enough that happened last year at 16. He still has a ways to go but it wonderful to see him be able to really use his technique in a way he could not earlier. So ... for parents of younger boys ... be patient , don't push, have confidence, it will happen!

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I'm not impatient, except when a teacher calls him a weakling because he can't do a lift (which happened at one SI he attended last year-- not Ballet Idaho), or when a scheduled class is cancelled because the boys aren't big or strong enough to do much. Then I'm impatient, but with the teachers.

 

I don't know if it's a particular facet of their curriculum, but at the academy in Perm, boys are not allowed to do lifts until they're 15. In addition, my son's male teacher (from Romania with Vaganova certifications) has said, "No lifts until later...much later".

 

My son isn't impatient either, but he doesn't particularly like being told he's a weakling, straining a shoulder, or missing class either. That's why we spent so much time this year agonizing about finding an intensive where there was little chance of that happening.

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Like werlkj we too experienced the word 'weakling' by a sub teacher and it really cut deeply into his psych. Like ajg's son mine was a very late bloomer but also on the bottom of the growth chart for many years. It was a most difficult time as the girls were towering over him and his muscle developement was minimal.

 

At 16 things started to change dramatically and it did work itself out in the next few years but a truely difficult time for a male ballet dancer! Even his flexibility was non-existant but the skinny arms and legs were probably the worst as he often heard comments about them not meant to hurt but I knew they did. It's so true that the male body changes on it's own in some astonishing ways when those hormones start churning!

 

I remember countless times encouraging him that he looked fine and that he would start growing when his body was ready. Luckily he believed me and was more or less comfortable with that awkward stage. Unfortunately along with it came Osgood Slaughter and lots of knee pain for about 2 years which didn't help at all in his pursuit to improve his dancing. At 19 he probably has a little way to go in the form of muscular development and he is still not very tall but his flexibility seemed to blossom all of a sudden... a really nice surprise as it did seem for awhile that he would have none at all!

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ajg, very good subject! This issue takes on a slightly different twist for us at the moment but I'm sure will lead into the same issue of expected strength much sooner than it should if things continue on the same trend for my son. It has always been a problem even since he was a toddler and I'm sure will continue until he becomes a young man.

 

The problem is that physically (appearance) he is much more advanced for his age. Naturally, people associate specific capabilities with a child of a certain size assuming that means they are also a certain age. I used to get very strange looks at the playground when holding his hand while climbing the ladder up the slide at two years old because people thought he was at least four years old. Each year older seemed to add another year to the gap. Now that he is 7.5yo, most people mistake him for 12yo and are so sure of this that they will even argue with him figuring he's stupid and doesn't even know his own age. Of course, there is a big difference in the expectations between a 7yo and 12yo and their physical capabilities.

 

He does have incredible strength in his legs and feet but the upper body is definately in line with his true age. I have no doubt that when he gets into situations with people that don't know him, they might be apt to have him do things before his young body is ready and he is just bold enough to try it. It's something we will always have to keep a close check on when he goes into a workshop or SI as he gets older.

 

He's endured more than his share of criticism being measured against kids several years older but the most devastating was at a local SI this past summer with a guest male teacher from a prominent ballet company. In the first fifteen minutes of the very first class, he announced to my son (the only boy in a class of about 25 girls) in front of the entire class that he had the worst tendues he had ever seen in his life! I could not hear but through the one-way observation window knew that something awful had happened as I saw the expression change in my son. He had all he could do to hold it together because after all, he is still a 7yo emotionally. The class included kids from 7-12yo with an average of 8-9yo's. My son was taller than all of them (he is just a tad under 5 feet) and I'm sure being evaluated against the expected capabilities of at least a 12yo. His tendues do lack form for a 12yo but I wouldn't say are the worst in the world, especially when measured against the physical capabilities of a 7yo.

 

Well, at break I learned what had happened and had to do some major damage control with my son. The bad part is that I'm sure this is not going to be an isolated incident. It won't be long before he will also be getting the criticism for lack of strength. It will be an ongoing struggle for many years to come and an exercise in developing "thick skin" as was mentioned in another thread.

 

We have to be there for them to help pick up the pieces.

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My ds is > 6' 3" (although his CV says 6' 2" and I am willing to bet he is closer to 6' 4", but at that height..whose counting?)

 

Now ds is almost 22 and has just about completed his growth and is finally getting really strong (4th professional year + gym 5-6 times per week!)

 

I guess I have questions about the appropriateness of having kids 7-12 in one technique class! Just on the basis of coordination and strength alone I think it is probably not such a good idea (although 1 or 2 12 year-old beginners in a class of 7, 8, 9's seems like it might work, basically there are just too many differences in strength, coordination, attention span, cognitive development, etc., for this to be good. How many kids were in there anyway?

 

Also, it is important to remember that the average height for men in the US is 5' 9" and therefore most male teachers are around this height. Also, being tall used to be bigger problem for dancers than it is today...Today, there are a lot of taller dancers and some companies that are positively enormously tall. (There was a time when no woman at the Royal could be taller than Fonteyn as she was their rather diminuitive prima, which of course led to most of the men being of a size appropriate to partnering these girls).

 

 

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Regarding pushups - my son used to have a lot more upper body strength at the tender age of 6yo without even a smidgen of muscle mass. He had been in martial arts for 3 years and doing pushups at each class (3-4 times a week) was a regular part of the program. He has been away from martial arts for a year and didn't realize how much of that strength he had lost without his weekly dose of pushups - until recently when he went to call upon it and much to his surprise it was no longer there! He loved martial arts but if there was just one thing he absolutely hated about it, it was the pushups. That's what lead us to the Pilates as a possible alternative to rebuilding that strength.

 

I guess I have questions about the appropriateness of having kids 7-12 in one technique class! Just on the basis of coordination and strength alone I think it is probably not such a good idea (although 1 or 2 12 year-old beginners in a class of 7, 8, 9's seems like it might work, basically there are just too many differences in strength, coordination, attention span, cognitive development, etc., for this to be good. How many kids were in there anyway?

 

You hit it right on - the couple of twelve year olds were beginners with a year of ballet. My son had barely turned 7yo but had two years of level ballet plus two years of ballet exposure in creative movement. Additionally, it was a small local two-week SI with just enough attendance to justify only one beginners, one intermediate, and one advanced ballet class ( and I think only one pointe class ). If memory serves me correctly, the intermediate class had several 11-12yo's but who I believe are in studio level III classes and have a few more years of experience than the 12yo's that were in the beginner's class. The beginner's class had between 20-25 students so individual attention to technique and a good amount of corrections was not a problem

 

Also, it is important to remember that the average height for men in the US is 5' 9" and therefore most male teachers are around this height. Also, being tall used to be bigger problem for dancers than it is today...Today, there are a lot of taller dancers 

 

Thank you for answering that question! I was going to ask as soon as I had time after someone in another thread said "yes, a dancer CAN be too tall!" According to the growth charts, my son will be 6'2"-6'3".

 

Plus, taller dancers have higher centers of gravity and usually do not turn as well as do some others (of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions ).

What you say makes perfect sense to me but this is where my son really shines. I can't figure it and neither can his teacher. As long as I can remember, he would go into the studio to warm up and stretch and instead, he would spin around the outside perimeter of the studio. I couldn't remember the proper name but just found it in ABT's ballet dictionary (A great resource I think Mel listed here a couple weeks ago!). It is "Chaines en demi-pointes" (sorry don't have the special characters handy). He would do this endlessly, keeping in perfect balance. His teacher would walk in and be awe struck watching him and has commented on her amazement on several occasions. Then last year at a DEA workshop, an older male teacher showed how to execute a pirouette fast and clean using the hips to carry them through the turn. He had never done a pirouette before. He discovered how easy they were for him - solid, balanced landing with just a couple of slight problems - form of his feet while in the air and was going all the way through to a 1.5 turn instead of stopping at one! :wink: Most of the boys (older but size in synche with age) were landing and having to catch themselves from falling forward. So I do find this very odd considering his extra height and the fact that when it comes to balance in a stationary position or movement with no turn, he has terrible balance and can trip over a speck of dust on the floor while standing still. :D

 

Post edited to avoid confusion: a previous post was also edited -this one refers to the deleted parts

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:angry: werlkj - the Romanian teacher was right - lifts can wait until later, especially until the boys' upper body is developed and a proper degree of muscular growth and strengthening has been achieved. This is standard practice at most pre-pro schools, or at least should be to avoid shoulder and back injury. Learning to lift is scary and hard to coordinate with the girl - Mel would probably back me up here. Patience and years of conditioning are required - my ds son's physiotherapist told him that he would be in his early twenties when his upper body strength would be fully developed. I think "lifting" is the bane to male dancers that "pointe" is to female dancers - so many dancers/teachers rush into both of these activities thinking that they will somehow fall behind their peers. But I simply don't believe this is true. A dancer will have a greater measure of sucess when he/she are physically and technically ready to address these challenges.

 

That's my two cents worth for tonight!!!

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