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Partnering - Begin at What Age?

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Several recent threads have brought up the issue of partnering at the SI programs. I must admit that I have only viewed this issue from the prospective of a mother of a DD who year round, attends a small studio with just a handful of male students. One of the reasons she wants to attend SIs and one of the reasons I pay for her to attend SIs is to afford her the opportunity to partner. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never looked at this issue from the male student’s viewpoint. Please correct me if I’m wrong but I get the feeling that male students at many SIs feel they are being over used having to partner many different levels of female dancers (especially the younger inexperienced dancers). One mother of a DS mentioned that he and the other males were on full scholarship and therefore felt compelled to keep the rigorous partnering-class schedule set by the SI.


I can see where this situation creates a dilemma for SIs. Without the opportunity to partner, many female dancers might decide to remain at their home studios for the summer and forgo the expense of a SI. I could be entirely off base here but I think the younger female dancers pay disproportionately more (larger class sizes, fewer # of classes, fewer scholarship and financial-aid $) of the SI cost.


My question is when should DKs (females and males) start partnering (SI &/or year-round studio)? If inexperienced males should not be partnering inexperienced females how do the females become experienced? And lastly would it be possible for SIs to hire male apprentices and company members for partnering classes?


I am posting these questions in the cross talk forum versus the SI forum because I would like input across the spectrum (moderators, dancers, teachers, young dancers, parents...). Thanks

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Girls can start pas de deux class when they are secure on pointe. Boys should be at least thirteen or fourteen. Part of this requirement is the likeliness of height, and of upper body strength sufficient to control a partner. The first things you learn in partnering is how to find balance and hold it. Then on to promenades and supported pirouettes. Not lifts, right off. I really never minded having to partner a lot of different girls, in fact, I liked it.

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O.k. Major Mel, what if your studio does not have boys who are old enough to partner? Is lack of training in this area critical? Does one have to consider finding a studio that can provide it?

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No, it is not particularly critical, but it's nice to have the familiarity. Quite a few girls still start their professional careers without ever having been partnered. Not as many as in the past, but still quite a few.

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One of the girls from our studio went to Joffrey Midwest. She says that they used the company dancers to come in and partner the girls at the SI. I thought that was an interesting and good idea. The guys have experience and the girls can gain the experience, hopefully without anyone getting hurt.

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My son has been going to SIs for the last 4 years and is called upon to partner across all different levels. He likes it. He enjoys working with the different girls at different stages of ability. Partnering is one of his favorite classes, he doesn't feel overused at all. He likes being calm and strong and helping the neebies get over their fear of being touched and lifted. I know there are a lot more Moms of DD's then DSs reading this so I'll offer up some of the things that he's said about partnering girls and just hope he never gets wind of it!


Things he likes regardless of experience:


If the girl smiles it him and seems to enjoy it, he says it makes them much lighter.

If they aren't ticklish and don't jump away from him so he has to chase them in the air.

If the girl hold her own weight and uses her own muscles to keep the position. He said some of the skinniest girls weight a million tons because they just let go and expect him to do all the work. This is even true in walks and promenades

If the girl is musical and knows the combination so they aren't fighting 2 battles at once.

If they make mistakes they make them together and work on them together, i.e. partnering.


His favorite, he had a partner that when leaving stage before the coda started would turn and smile at him and acknowledge him publicly before she walked off, kinda like giving him the spotlight. He always danced the best with her.


Things that bother him:


If the girl walks up and informs him I'm too tall/heavy for you. Those 5'8" guys have figured out a lot of ways to partner tall girls. For a skinny guy he’s pretty strong and in most partnering classes the teachers will position the heaver girls with stronger men. They don’t want anyone hurt.

Girls that treat him like a pack mule and any mistake during the combination must be his fault.

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Guest 2-opposites

One of the reasons my DS wanted to attend a SI was for the partnering classes. He has been partnering at his current studio for a couple of years. He is presently fourteen, fairly tall but very thin. He has a lot of upper body strength do to seven years as a competitve gymnast. He felt he needed additional training in this area and wanted some male perspective on partnering. He has a female teacher at his studio.

I'm not sure the experience at the SI has been beneficial for the young ladies or the boys. I observed one of the classes and it was obvious some of the boys had never had any experience partnering and the strain on thier faces almost made me want to cry. The girls were divided amongst four boys leaving each five or six girls of various sizes. Some of the ladies did not trust their partners and made comments to that effect. My DS complained that the class was very repetitive and exhausting, difficult to find each girls center of balance one right after another and by the time he left the class his whole body was shaking. I am not an expert but it looked as if atleast two of these boys did not have enough experience or strength to be place at this level but where there because they needed boys. I feel its so hard getting boys into ballet that the last thing we need to do its set them up for failure. I could tell some of the boys were very discouraged after class and it broke my heart. It was a case of too much too soon.

Learning partnering is an essential part of ballet both for the men and women and they have to start somewhere but one or two ladies at a time would have been more productive. Some of the young ladies never got farther than three inches off the gound for more that a couple of seconds, I 'm not sure this really taught them anything but a feeling of insecurity. I would have loved to see the older more experienced males in this class. I believe at the beginning levels this would

have been benificial to all.

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2-opposites, I second your statements...completely.


Also PAmom also added an opinion, which I thought was right on, yesterday in a thread on the Parents of Boys forum...

One concern is that all levels, ladies and gentlemen, get partnering. I am not certain that the younger (12 -14) less experienced dancers ...are given level appropriate partnering. This is a concern if you have a young son that is not developing early physical strength and control because he will be paired with young ladies who are also not strong enough for partnering and most likely have never had any training at their year round schools on how to properly hold themselves.


Level-appropriate....that's key.


My two cents: My son has been doing some very simple partnering at his home studio for the past two years. It has benefitted him and it has benefitted the girls. But the key word is "simple." When he began this, he was 11 1/2 and probably only about 4' 10". Now, he's one month shy of 14, about 5' 4" and quite fit. However, he's probably only 105 lbs at best, and though he does not a rangy thin type of physique, he does not have the muscle bulk yet that a man has. (I would like to emphasize the importance of this last phrase, but I'd have to put it all in caps and bold.) Lifts at this stage are out of the question, and thankfully, the director and teachers at his SI this year are in complete and absolute agreement. They're even more cautious than his regular teacher.


The strain on young boys in partnering young inexperienced girls is enormous. My husband and a couple other men who take ballet help with partnering classes during the year, and despite outweighing the 13-16 year-olds they're working with by at least 50 pounds, they're generally exhausted by the end of them too.


Moms, I suppose you could see this for yourself, especially if you think your DD is solid and strong on pointe. If she's not...fair warning. (In other words, don't blame Ballet Alert, who are probably going to be irritated with me for even suggesting this. I take ALL BLAME.) Have your DD put on pointe shoes and get her up on pointe. (Oh, get her to sign a release that releases you from any obligation if you mess up. Oh, and get her to sign one that releases you too...just in case.) Now, hold her while she goes into passé or arabesque. Try promenading her around. And then, let her back down off of pointe...under control, no thunks allowed. If you're feeling really energetic, try it for five or ten minutes. That's a lot less than the hour these young boys have to do it, but it'll give you an idea what it's like. Then, the next time your DD works with a young man that only outweighs them by at most 20 or 30 pounds, you'll have a bit better understanding of what they're going through.


Please don't think I'm irritated or upset. I'm just trying to explain it for you from a boys point of view. My DS very much enjoys partnering...when the girl is a good match and takes responsibility for herself and for him, as he is asked to for her. It is as it is named....partnering.

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My DS very much enjoys partnering...when the girl is a good match and takes responsibility for herself and for him, as he is asked to for her.  It is as it is named....partnering.

werlkj, this last comment is right on. Kait's first partnering experience was at an SI where they had, as is often the case, most of the boys involved - all different ages and levels. There was one young man who was smaller than the rest, smaller than Kait, and about a year and a half younger than she was. I don't think that he was very experienced. He was, by far, her favorite partner! They just worked well together. It's very difficult for both dancers when they are ill-matched for whatever reason, but great when they find a partnership that works!

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My dd first started Pas de Deux class when she was 12 at our recreational ballet studio at home. My dd was paired up with a boy who was also only 12. To make a long story short, dd had to learn to carry her own weight, so to speak. She did not trust the boy nor did he do much to help her or gain her trust. As I said, it was a recreational studio so these Pas classes were more "for fun" and not as professional as the classes at the SIs. What came of that experience is that she is pretty good at holding up her end of the partnership and therefore becomes one of the favorites among the guys in the Pas classes at the SIs.

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My daughter's first partnering experience was when she was Clara in the Nutcracker, she had just turned 13. She was so very lucky to have a true gentleman show her the ropes. He was a Disneyland dancer, very experienced in all kinds of dance. She moved on to a studio where there were a couple of older stronger men for partnering. The girls at this studio seem to take it for granted that they will be lifted and don't get the experience of being a true equal partner. I don't know how but this little studio is starting to attract lots of guys and the girls are now working with all levels of experience. The biggest thing I notice at her studio is that the girls who have performed pas de deux aren't making eye contact when they partner. Maybe these girls are too shy :( but it sure looks akward.

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There's a trick involved with eye contact. Actors use it a lot. If looking somebody in the eyes sets off giggles, don't look at the partner's eyes - look at their eyebrows or nose. Nobody will be the wiser. But if you don't look at your partner's eyes, sometimes you lose some valuable cues as to what or when some onstage message is - "I'm going over there now." "I think I hurt myself." "My shank just broke, help!"

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  • 9 years later...

Great tips Mel. I learned these eye contact tips in my high school theater classes. I also agree with your comments about missing certain cues. I think after partnering for a while it would be important to make that eye contact.

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15yo DS read your post cmtaka and laughed about how accurate it all is. He also commented that the young woman who acknowledges their partner on stage is 'a rare bird'!

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Thyme, just the opposite experience here...DD was ecstatic today when her partner finally looked her in the eye. It was their first actual performance instead of rehearsal, so maybe that helped!

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