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Career: Jobs and US Trained Dancers


dufay

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That there are a proportionate amount of American "10"s available is, I think, borne out by the dancers working outside of the traditional American metro centers. I alluded to this situation - I don't know that I would exactly call it a problem - in an earlier thread on The Other Board about the ballet diaspora into the country. It weakens the big major companies but spreads the talent out so more people can see good dancers in more places. I can recall when Barbara Weisberger and Virginia Williams were viewed as courageous pioneers (which in a sense, they were) for opening companies in cities that were Not New York.

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BW, please excuse me for not getting back to you sooner. It is Nutcracker time so life is rather filled with sugar plums.

 

IMO, our society does not encourage young people to be confronted by the difficulties that many foreign ballet students find just part of every day life.

 

I have lived in two foreign countries, traveled to most of the major European ballet schools (spending about 2 months in each school), made observations and done quite a bit of thinking on this topic. I do not proclaim to have the answers, just thoughts. Maybe my thoughts relate to my life only.

 

In the professional schools of ballet throughout the world, it has been observed that the students are treated in a very adult manner. They are taught the ways of the world simply by being treated as if they were working a job. For example, they must produce or they are not invited back to study. They must maintain the body in a healthy, appropriate manner or they will not remain in the course of study. They must attend classes/rehearsals or be expelled from ballets or school. They must dress correctly or be punished on the spot, taken out of class or literally made to stand in a corner and observe, not dance the whole day. Standing is not a comfortable way of getting out of doing what may be momentary discomfortable, like wearing one's hair as required. If students do not produce a correction from the day before, they are reprimanded (sometimes not so politely), not corrected in a manner that tries to encourage them as if the correction were a suggestion. The list to enter these academies is long. There are only so many spots open every year. Competition is tough. It is from the first instance, like the job market. Produce or be replaced.

 

There are bill paying parents in our country who do feel they are able to dictate to the ballet schools how to teach our trade. I compare it to my not trusting an attorney or a doctor, when I need one. I do not know the ways of those worlds. I have the freedom to choose which one to go to, but at some point I must trust that they know their business better than I do. Without a regulatory commission or something like that, families are stuck. (Please, I do not mean to start a political discussion). They do not know which school is teaching the real stuff, be it technique or discipline.

 

It can be quite scary now as a teacher. I know how much I have changed in my approach to discipline just in the past ten years. I know many teachers who have. Did we need to change? I cannot answer that. I do know that my generation of teacher (50's and above) and the ones just a bit older are all saying the same thing. Kids today could never have survived what we had to in order to survive in the world of ballet that we grew up in. Well, the Europeans still are living in that world and they do seem to be coming in large numbers and getting jobs.

 

In short, ballet in the major schools throughout the world is paid for by the government. Money is well understood by the families of the students. It cost a lot of money to train a ballet dancer and when the government or a scholarship is paying for the training, the standard is very strict. The bill payers, the government, lead the way. Imagine students who receive scholarships to some of our illustrious prep schools. What is the standard? The grades and maintaining a character that portrays the school well, may be on the top of the list. Students are given chances, but the bottomline is money, as in the adult world. The standard of production is high, not only because of the training, but also because of the enforced discipline of this way of life.

 

As for the visa/green card situation in the US for foreigners...yes, it is very tough. I have not written a visa application since the early 1990's, but the qualifications have always been tough. Partially, competitions are becoming more important because of these requirements. Without a win, it is close to impossible to get a visa. Competitions are here to stay. They work for the companies, the judges, and the sponsors.

 

In order to compete with the market economy of ballet, American families need to get educated not so much on ballet technique, but the process of training that requires more than just technique.

 

Some companies (such as PNB) make it very clear on their website that most company dancers are a) graduates (I assume this means have spent some time in advanced level training) of the school and  US citizens.

 

Many schools do take students into their upper/advanced level prior to placing students in their company. It makes good sense to say that your dancers have been trained in your school. For the most part, dancers at that level should be able to study anywhere and anything and still be decent dancers. A training ground for students is one that can take students from a beginner or intermediate level and advance them through graduation to the hiring level. As for citizenship, I am not familiar with this aspect of any company. Certainly, using PNB as an example, there are quite a few foreigners amongst the ranks.

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dance scholar london wrote:

Are you refering to smaller dancer schools or is this equally true for "famous" US schools?

 

Your question seems to be part of another tangent that died with us, but I'll feel rude if I don't answer it, dsl! :lol:

 

It's been my observation that good dance-acting training seems to be a function of individual teachers, no matter the size of the school. I've yet to encounter a formalized dance-acting course in either our personal experiences or in learning about what friends' children have experienced at SIs or year-rounds. What seems to happen is you get a teacher who works it into how they teach technique. It's a gold mine when it happens, but there does seem to be a big element of chance to its occuring. For our DD, we've always taken advantage of coaching by professional actors in our circle of family and friends, plus she has had the good fortune to encounter a few dance teachers who really make her think about what her dancing should be expressing, rather than just how perfectly she's executing the steps. And I do think a lot of teachers in this country (the US) are much more focused on the "how," rather than the "what." Perhaps it's a cultural bias favoring form over substance? I don't know. :shrug:

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vrsfanatic…wonderful observations. What you articulated reflects very closely what our daughter experienced over the recent past. She spent four years in a U.S. residency program and then went to Europe for two years of training. I have often read the postings of parents picking apart the details of different residency programs and thought to myself that I could never in a million years question Madam V or anyone else with her credentials as to the application of artistic training. How presumptuous one would have to be to take that step. One could decide that road is not for them but one cannot re-engineer and rebuild the road to their particular liking.

 

We had been warned of all the potential pitfalls of training at that level and at that particular school but felt that if she had the gifts that we had been told she had, we would be derelict to not let her attempt the harder right instead of the easier wrong. If she had decided to leave dancing, she could have easily resumed a “normal” life in a matter of days or weeks.

 

We did let our daughter know the first day of residency that she could leave the program anytime she wanted and we would never question her decision…we gave her a quarter and told her she could call us anytime day or night and we would have her back home in a matter of hours. She encountered some very very tough instructors and very difficult situations along the way just such as you alluded to. That was four years of U.S. residency, two years of German residency, one year of apprenticeship, and two years in the corps of the Stuttgart Ballet ago…and she still has that quarter we gave her all those years and miles ago.

 

She very quickly matured both in the obvious ways and also in very deep aspects that we learn to appreciate more and more every time we communicate with her. The wisdom and insight she has as to her profession and her place in it are astounding for such a young woman. Whatever the downsides of the road she has traveled, the upsides far outweigh.

 

Thank you for articulating the fact that training to achieve the highest levels of ballet or, for that matter, any field of endeavor, is never easy and there are no shortcuts to success.

 

Regards...CDM.

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CDM, I thank you very much for making clearer the points I was suggesting. It is refreshing to hear the accolades of professional training. Your daugther did go the route that is less often chosen and has successfully achieved the results. Congratulations to your daugther, her schooling and to you, her parents. :lol:

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I agree; I think vrsfanatic makes terrific points. Two of them, I think, are probably major determinants in whether or not a ballet student in this country can achieve a successful outcome. When she said:

In the professional schools of ballet throughout the world, it has been observed that the students are treated in a very adult manner."

 

I’m guessing that she also believes that if you treat children, teenagers, etc. as adults, it establishes an expectation they will behave as adults, which prompts them to learn adult behavior very quickly. If so, this has always been my attitude in dealing with kids, and in my experience, it works amazing well. (Vrsfanatic, forgive me if I misconstrued your meaning.)

 

However, it’s not very usual anymore. I think families and institutions in this country have trended strongly towards taking the position that "kids will be kids" and therefore they should be tolerated as children. My impression is that parents, in general, have pressured institutions to accommodate that belief, not the other way around. The result, I think, is it has created huge difficulties in teachers’ ability to teach, as well as in students’ ability to learn.

 

Vrsfanatic gave several examples of how treating students in an adult manner is practiced in some schools she’s seen, and it appears to be through the practice teaching self-discipline and respect. I agree. I think developing a mature/adult attitude is inextricably tied to learning to respect others for who they are and what they have learned. Together, these attributes not only enable a student to get the most possible out of any learning situation, they are also are required for a student to eventually reach the top in any field. The two things are linked. I’m guessing that Vrsfanatic touched on this one ramification of this, I think, when she said:

There are bill paying parents in our country who do feel they are able to dictate to the ballet schools how to teach our trade. ...Kids today could never have survived what we had to in order to survive in the world of ballet that we grew up in. 

 

I strongly believe it is both the student’s responsibility to get everything they possibly can from a class experience, and the parents’ responsibility to teach them to go in with a respectful and open attitude. Those two things are the bare minimum requirements a teacher needs to work effectively. And as far as ballet goes, I feel strongly that this country has a inordinate number of excellent teachers. So, vrsfanatic, are you suggesting that we parents and students should look to ourselves for part of the reason why there are so many foreign-trained dancers in this country? If so, you make a very good point.

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Thank you vrsfanatic for expanding your point of view for me. It's interesting to note, as are the posts made by others.

 

I just have to go on the record here to say that I don't think that the top flight programs in the USA are so completely different in what they expect from their students in re their behavior, etc., that you've outlined to be across the board in European schools. Although though the teachers here may not force their students to stand in the corner, they will certainly be told to sit out, observe or even leave the studio - and even the program for a variety of reasons that could have nothing to do with their lack of ability but be based upon their inapporpriate behavior - it happens all the time.

 

Perhaps the issue is not so much the differences between the atmosphere in America's truly top schools and their European counterparts in their expectations of their students, but, as you pointed out, the fact that American schools are, for the vast majority, tuition driven? And, I have to add that I believe in this country we have a plethora of unprofessionaly run "schools" and "studios" that may very well manage to train up a number of dancers who then by the good fortune of proper training and the right physical facility then make it into some of the top American programs only to be met with a very sobering set of circumstances when they make this move. Whereas, I'm assuming, from what I've read in this thread and in a number of other similar ones over the years, that in Europe there is not a similar vast number of ballet programs, but rather a much smaller number of large, well run, government sponsored schools such as you've described above. This big difference between the USA and European model has to account for a lot, I'd think. Of course, we can debate the specifics all we want, but all the discipline and in loco parentis modeling of the highest order - without good teachers - will come to nought for even the hardest working student with the best physical facilities in the world.

 

Just some food for thought before the holidays. :lol:

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BW...my observations tend to support vrsfanatic's points. I have observed at the Cranko School and certainly at the KAB (UBA). The artistic director of the latter told me in no uncertain terms that the school's instructors have had to tone down from how they would conduct themselves in the halls and studios of the Vaganova.

 

Regards...CDM

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So I'm confused. I'm reading that teachers aren't able to do their jobs in this country, at least in the way they would like. Is that right? If so, is this solely a comment about training in the U.S., or does it also address the question raised in the original topic, which is why there are so many foreign dancers working in this country? If so, I'm not real comfortable with it. I'm unhappy with explaining the status quo with the rationale that teachers can't do their jobs because schools in this country are tuition-based, legal fears, parental interference, etc. I'm sure it doesn't help, but I guess I tend to always place most of the responsibility for an individual's success or failure on the individual, in this case, the student.

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In the professional schools of ballet throughout the world, it has been observed that the students are treated in a very adult manner. They are taught the ways of the world simply by being treated as if they were working a job. For example, they must produce or they are not invited back to study. They must maintain the body in a healthy, appropriate manner or they will not remain in the course of study. They must attend classes/rehearsals or be expelled from ballets or school. They must dress correctly or be punished on the spot, taken out of class or literally made to stand in a corner and observe, not dance the whole day. Standing is not a comfortable way of getting out of doing what may be momentary discomfortable, like wearing one's hair as required. If students do not produce a correction from the day before, they are reprimanded (sometimes not so politely), not corrected in a manner that tries to encourage them as if the correction were a suggestion. The list to enter these academies is long. There are only so many spots open every year. Competition is tough. It is from the first instance, like the job market. Produce or be replaced.

 

I can only speak for my daughter's US residency school, but in her school's case, the policies you mentioned for European schools are all practiced at her US school: students are asked back on a yearly basis, there is alot of attention paid and education given to maintaining a proper body for ballet, to include progress reports, grading, health screenings and meetings with the nutrionist when needed. There are no unexcused absencess allowed for any class, for any reason. For medical reasons, the students must visit the health center before class and the medical personnel decide if they can attend class and publish a list of those excused. Even then, the student must report to the class, unless quarantined, to observe. For non-medical absences, the students must get permission one week in advance from their teacher and get it approved in writing from the Dean. Failure to do so results in a failing grade in the class, which is part of their academic gradepoint. They take this sort of thing VERY seriously!

 

In my daughter's class, they made contracts with their teacher, listing specific corrections they had received and what they were going to do to correct them. Throughout the term, they revisit the contract and see if they have resolved those corrections to the teacher's satisfaction. Failure to remember daily corrections are met with very frank reminders and students receive a letter grade on how well they accept and use corrections. Jury classes are held with all teachers in attendance and students are graded by each teacher on how well they adhere to the classical stanards in a very detailed analysis.

 

I think it is important to note that her school is a state-subsidized school and half of all ballet students must be from the state and therefore attend 100% free, including room and board. Many of the remaining students are also attending on some sort of financial aid or merit scholarships. The waiting list is long and many are turned away each year. Competition is high and students do understand that they must produce results or they will not be asked to return to the ballet program.

 

While I understand that many European schools operate in a very strict, sometimes cold manner and demand very exacting standards from their students (my daughter has attended the summer program of one of the finest European schools), I do not find that the expectations are particularly different at her residency program. I have been surprised about their no-nonsense attitude about following the rules, adhering to dress code, maintaining their bodies, demanding 100% attendance, casting decisions, etc. Students are expected to take responsibility and handle the majority of all communications with their teachers and the Dean themselves. Perhaps because the school also operates a college program and these students are integrated with the upper division high school students, the expectation is that the students are young adults and can and should handle the rigors of ballet training with professionalism and maturity. It seems that the atmosphere at her school is a very good preparation for a career in the professional ballet world. Again, I can't speak for US programs in general, but for her own school, the expectations are quite high.

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Great posts. Great observations. Great questions. Please do not misunderstand my post. There are professional schools in our country. There are professional teachers. However if one looks at the number to students pursuing careers and the number of schools teaching ballet, I am afraid the unprofessional programs out weigh the professional programs.

 

As for stictness of schools, I dare say that I have never observed a school in the US that is allowed to maintain the standard of the European schools through all of the years of training. This does not mean they do not exist. I am just saying I have never observed one.

 

I need to run to rehearsal, but I will try to get back this evening to this very interesting discourse!

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I think that often whoever is paying the money for the training is calling the shots - within limits, of course.

 

Where parents are paying the majority of the costs of their dancers' training, they can wield far more power. Where the school is paying for the majority of the training, the school holds lots more cards. I'm not sure that location in the world has near as much to do with it as the money issue.

 

Culture does play a role and certainly Europeans have a much longer history of sending their children off to schools (both academic and otherwise) at a very young age and so they may be more willingly to forfeit more of their control than American parents do, but I think that by and large, Cash is King. When you hold the purse strings, you can pull those strings when you need to. :lol:

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Guest balletandsynchro

I'm not going to repeat what balletbooster has written above; I can state that my DD's residency school is also very strict, very competitive, has the juried ballet exams, and has very talented students! Rules are rules, and not only are in place for the student's safety/health, but also to permit the students to improve as dancers. Clearly, if a student is skiving off class, he or she shouldn't be at such a school. My daughter is very happy at her residency school, - but she knows that if her progression is not up to where the instructors think it should be...well we know the result. Expectations for all students is extremely high.

 

I wouldn't consider telling my DD's ballet teacher what to do or how to teach; however (as discussed on other threads) it is incumbent upon the parent to step in if the teacher is crossing the line from expecting a lot in a firm manner, and instead screaming, name-calling or some other type of abuse. Perhaps you all remember the allegations involving the Paris Opera Ballet School just a couple of years ago. :lol:

 

Personallly, I think that ballet residency school is a good "trial" to see if the student wants that type of lifestyle as a professional dancer. Regardless of what happens, what a great life experience to be in such a school. :shrug:

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balletandsynchro...I agree that one cannot just throw their DD to the wolves but if an untenable situation arises, I would just remove the student and be done with it. It is very difficult to try to change the leopards spots and even if you succeed, you will have left your DD there as an eternal target of more subtle retribution.

 

But all these issues aside, there remains the original question of this thread as to why there are so many foreign dancers accepted into American companies.

 

Your final comment is well taken and right on the money!!

 

Regards...CDM

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Again, this was the original question originally posed: "...why aren't the ranks of female dancers being filled from within?"

 

(I removed a section here because I've since decided it is not going to serve a useful or constructive purpose. Sorry!)

 

However, here's another questions: If many foreign-trained dancers do most if not all of their training at one school, what impact does sending a student to various schools and SIs have? I'm not sure I've ever met one student in this country who has consistently trained at one school their whole life. In fact, an awful lot of serious students I've met have studied at two or more schools as well as attended a wide variety of SIs. What do you all think about this? There are some pretty strong arguments for having consistent teachers, despite the obvious benefits of being exposed to other teachers, training methods, etc.

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