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My daughter is understudying a part and has become frustrated. It seems the girls cast in the part aren't willing share. :( The girls also practice at times other than scheduled rehearsals. It's only an understudy but my daughter would like to learn the part so she is watching old videos and carefully observing during the scheduled rehearsals. In the big bad world of ballet or even other studios how is the understudy situation handled? :wink:

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Are these non understudy dancers rehearsing without anyone like the choreographer or a designated teacher overseeing? That sounds kind of strange to me in itself, unless it's just a short little time now and then to get down something...


In a ballet school setting, I don't think I've ever really heard of rehearsals not being overseen. Always have I seen understudies watching and/or marking...and, I believe, they even usually do get to rehearse the part now and again, too.

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At my DD's school/company, both the student and pro understudies "shadow" the steps being rehearsed while remaining upstage (back of the room). I'd say about 25 percent of the time, the director has the understudy actually step in to do the part.


In this cough/cold/flu/pink-eye season, the understudies ended up doing a lot of performing in the production last weekend. I think it's a wise director who lets understudies learn their parts well!

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Not a parent so delete if necessary...


At our studio, "official" understudies are required to dance full out at rehearsals- not marking, not sitting and watching. And anyone can understudy anything- doesn't matter if you are designated or not, if you are three levels lower or whatever. It's a good way to learn different roles and get that experience.


I guess I don't quite understand what you mean by the other girls not wanting to share... although I can see their point of view- perhaps they are worried that if your daughter is doing a better job at the role than they are, the director/teacher might change the casting.


I rehearse by myself a lot, during non-scheduled times. I don't know if it depends on the age and experience of the dancer, but for example, we only rehearse the Snow scene for maybe 30 minutes on Saturdays. I know that the role of the Snow Queen is tiring and requires stamina so I practice it by myself at least one other time during the week.


Or like if we run through the Snow scene once during the official rehearsal, I might go to another studio and practice it a couple more times so I can build up stamina. There's only so much time during the official rehearsals- if I didn't work on my dances on my own time, I wouldn't be prepared enough come performance time.


If your daughter is having difficulty practicing the role because of the other dancers, maybe she could talk to the teacher. After all, what's the point of having an understudy if she isn't prepared? Maybe the teacher will be okay with your daughter practicing the role on her own.

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Or like if we run through the Snow scene once during the official rehearsal, I might go to another studio and practice it a couple more times so I can build up stamina. There's only so much time during the official rehearsals- if I didn't work on my dances on my own time, I wouldn't be prepared enough come performance time.

If your daughter is having difficulty practicing the role because of the other dancers, maybe she could talk to the teacher. After all, what's the point of having an understudy if she isn't prepared?

Good points, Gretchenstar.


It's too bad if it is a fear/jealousy thing that's going on B) because chauffeur has sure just made timely post. :ermm:

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  • 11 years later...

Rather than start a new knew thread, I found this one to resurrect. I am curious, because dd while she has gotten her share of roles, she is I would say selected as an understudy, approximately 60% of the time.


This has occurrence seems to have t have followed her to the new environs. Not sure what to make of it, I was just curious if anyone has any insight. I know she is valued and gets her share of accolades, but it seems as if, that if she doesn't have a role she is always selected as an understudy.

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Thank you for finding an older thread where the topic is already here firedragon! That so much helps us from having 5 threads saying the same thing. New information is always desired to add to current opinion/wisdom. But this does help by adding to one topic. Thanks again.


In terms of your dancer, it depends on the trend in the school and also what kind of performances they do. Every school will be different. If you're talking Nutcracker and your dancer never gets a part but always understudies, then that would be cause for concern to me. If however, we're talking performance pieces where a higher level of student is picked and she is allowed to understudy, then I would consider that your teachers are exposing her to that which she may not be ready for, but they are using the experience to help get her ready for a year or two from now.


DDs home school was packed with talent. A piece with 5 dancers might have a few real understudies and a few younger ones with two different purposes. But all was for the good of the students involved. Consider it an honor that when she is not cast, they see her worthy of still coming to learn.

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Thanks Momof3darlings, at her old school these were performances with a professional ballet company, while she has done 90 performances, the majority were Nutcrackers. The other ballet's she would often be asked to understudy. At least one ballet, Midsummer, she understudied twice, but two different roles two different years. We do consider it an honor and treat it as seriously as the primary, never have we been called, but she is always ready.


At her new ballet school there are not as many performances,less than 15 per year but the performances feature just the students from the school, no professionals, but the tickets are sold to the public and it is at a venerable dance theater. She was cast as an understudy in a new work, and in all the understudy work she has done they have worked right along with the primaries, except at the dress rehearsals, so she learns the choreography.


Many of her teachers at both schools are repetiteurs, and I was just speculating as to what makes a good repetiteur? What skills does one need to possess to be able to be the person who stages ballets? Is there some kind of informal training that goes along with ballet to prepare a ballet dancer for that? Not suggesting that dd has this track, it just occurred to me that not everyone is considered for being able to accomplish this and it got me thinking since it is such an important role in ballet, certainly for the preservation of its legacy.

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firedragon, I don't know if I understand your last paragraph? Your initial post is asking about insight into why your DD is selected to be an understudy. Whereas this last post places the blame on the person setting the ballet for your DD being an understudy. But then I am trying to understand if you are suggesting that being a regular understudy means that you have a future as a repetiteur; this last comment being the start of a different topic/thread.

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If we are discussing what having a repititeur participate in casting means. It means they are setting the work as close as possible to the original based on the people in front of them.


Repititeurs are very important to the process of setting ballets. Generally if a piece is set by a repititeur, then that person will also have input into casting because their job is, yes, to preserve the look and presentation of the ballet as closely as possible to it's original and this can include many things. In general, repititeurs have danced the ballet they are setting either with the choreographer or a company based on the choreographers style. Most will be approved by the trust for that choreographer or that choreographer themselves to set the work.


Now if you're asking if being a repititeur is a viable career option, that would be for another thread. :)

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To answer the original question...

"In the big bad world of ballet or even other studios how is the understudy situation handled?"


​At my DD's studio, understudies are expected to learn the part as well as the dancer who is actually cast. They are expected to attend and dance all rehearsals, taking notes as necessary, so that if they are called upon they know the piece inside and out.


Do all understudies rise to the occasion? No, many fall short, many sit and watch, many don't create a space at the back of the studio to dance, even fewer take notes.


If the dancers cast are not including the understudy when they get together to review material, it is up to your DD to review on her own. I will admit that my DD will often run through choreography before a class or between rehearsals with the other cast dancers. I am sure that it does not occur to them to find and include the understudy, especially if that person is not making an effort or is not someone they know well...I just don't think it would occur to a 13 yr old.

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Firedragon0800, dd spent many years also getting understudy roles, in addition to her performing roles. It became something of a private joke as not only did she always receive a part as an understudy, she often had to understudy a role in the same scene! It's hard enough to learn a part when you do not have a chance to dance it full out with the spacing, but to learn, for example, the lead role in a scene when you are dancing the corps part, is a particular challenge when all the rehearsals are at the same time!


Perhaps this is because your dancer projects an air of capability and it is clear that she is responsible and can be counted in a pinch. In all those years of understudy roles, dd once had to step in for a soloist in a student production with only a very quick spacing rehearsal for the final performance. The first time she actually was able to dance the role fully was in the performance!

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  • Administrators

It is very important for an understudy to be ready and able to go into the part very quickly, and yes, with less rehearsal. And that is hard! It requires someone who is focused, able to learn quickly, and be responsible. One never knows when someone will be injured or sick and not able to perform. If the understudy is ready and does well, it can lead to bigger things. (Very definite first hand experience here! When I left for the professional world one of my teachers said to me "Learn everything, be ready!") I did, and it paid off, big time! :) It something I still say to my graduating students.

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My DD (13) learned first hand last year, the importance of being a well prepared understudy.


A guest choreographer chose her as an understudy for a piece. At first DD was a little bit disappointed, but it was clear all of the chosen dancers were a higher level. She applied her self, learned the choreography and came to every rehearsal. At the final rehearsal, understudies were not required to attend. It was 30 minutes away at 8 pm at night on a weeknight. DD decided to attend because she felt it was important to be there as an understudy even if it wasn't required. She was not only the only understudy to come to the rehearsal but one of the cast dancers did not show up. DD jumped right in, knew the part completely and was given the part on the spot and performed it beautifully in the show the next week. It was a challenging piece and she rose to the occasion and got to dance with the older girls.


She now sees the value in being assigned an understudy role and takes it as seriously as every role she is cast in. As Victoria said, it can definitely open doors and show the AD that you are willing to go the extra mile and can be counted on. DD's AD has leaned on her several times because she knows that she can rely on DD.

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Our studio did not even cast understudies for most parts! My daughter really wanted Arabian but that went to an older professional who is also dancing snow queen. So my dd asked if she could just learn Arabian (she danced it last year but the AD is changing it a bit). Since the rehearsals for this part are mostly during school hours, that was not going to work. But what happened is actually even better. My dd is choreographing Arabian! She is very pleased as choreography is really her long term plan.


My main point being - the opportunity to understudy is wonderful. Just to be able to rehearse and learn choreograohy is an honor.

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