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Encouraging Discipline


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After reading the thread on Jobs and US Trained Dancers in Cross Talk, I felt validated in the role I have taken as a mom in providing a part of the “emotional aspects of training”. Some people on this board seem to disagree with my parenting style. The government of my home is a Benevolent Dictatorship and I control the treasury. If my dd wants “the government” to pay for ballet she needs to have the physical form and health for it and take it seriously. This “government’s” treasury doesn’t have the luxury to do something just because its fun. I want it to be fun but it also needs to be something my kids can be successful at. Part of ensuring that success I think, is ensuring discipline. A large part of my role in encouraging that is insisting on class attendance and proper class appearance (hair ect.).

Here’s what happened this weekend. DD was in a dressing room for Nut with several dancers that were recreational students. Out of that group she had one of the more complicated parts. I noticed she was getting a little puffed up. As things progressed she starting acting less serious.

After the first performance she melodramatically announced “I’m sick of this and we still have seven more performances.” Most parents can tell when their kid’s are saying or doing something just to be cool or fit in. This was one of those times and it sounded just like one of the other girls. I told her that this was a very tiny taste of what she wanted to make her career and if she had second thoughts to let me know before I wrote next month’s check. The next thing was after the second and third performance. Again being dramatic, she said she didn’t do as well because her toes hurt. She could go hours in pointe shoes at the summer program, but not for a 20 min part in each performance. I told her to work through the pain. Lastly before the fourth performance she told me she didn’t have to go to warm up with everyone else. She said her dress was difficult to put on so she’d warm up in her dressing room. No one in her dressing room was intending on going to warm up. She and another dressing room mate made the fortunate mistake of going into the theatre. The instructor told them to promptly get dressed for class and on the stage. I won’t fall for the “dressing room warm up” again.

After that I told the executive director I thought she wasn’t taking things as seriously as usual and if he could find out if the instructors had observed that as well. Well the next day at class the instructor told everyone that during performance time students tended to slack off in class and that she wasn’t going to let that happen. DD had quite a work out. In the next night’s class the other instructor “worked her buns off”. I am glad I spoke up. With other students and being in the middle of a performance it might have taken a little while longer for them to catch her. After those two classes she’s acting more like herself and not Prima Donna ish.

Here’s the question. As parents how do you help encourage the discipline necessary for ballet? As teachers what do you need from parents to encourage this discipline? Once I heard an instructor say the progress of a student had a lot to do with the mother’s efforts.

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  • vicarious


  • fendrock


  • Treefrog


  • CDM


As a parent, I'm all for the cutting funding (to go along with your treasury analogy) if there's a lack of purpose involved in my offspring's extra curricular activities - ballet or other, if I'm paying, but I wouldn't snap the purse closed without first having a real heart to heart discussion.


As for your last line, I beg to differ there. Success ultimately, in anything, has to be up to the motivation found from within the individual ~ in my opinion. I'm not a child psychologist or a teacher, just your average human being who's been around for half a century or so. :D

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My daughter's school has a few no-nonsense rules about hair, attire, and expected behavior, and I think the parent's role is to support these rules and make it clear to their child that studying ballet requires a certain amount of discipline by its nature. If the child doesn't like it, they should be encouraged to find another activity. That being said, Nutcracker time always seems to bring out the worst in everyone--parents, children, volunteers. A combination of lack of sleep, peer pressure, real or imagined dressing room hierarchies, and performance anxiety are probably factors. My daughter was aware I usually could take it up to a certain point, but if that point gets crossed, watch out!

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I prefer the similar but more absolute benevolent despotism form of home rule. And, by the way, that would be my wife.


Vicarious, your points to your DD are all well taken. All those lessons must be learned enroute to a professional career. I cannot speak from personal experience but I suspect the most difficult to follow through on without fail is performing every day/night at your absolute best. One just has to remember that you are performing an art form and even though you may have danced that role many many times, you must assume that the persons watching are watching the only ballet they will ever see. What they will tell the world of ballet is what they saw you perform.



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vicarious, I think your strategy is brilliant! This is parenting at its best: set an expectation, and announce a clear and appropriate consequence for not meeting the expectation. Withdrawing funding is, in my mind, perfectly appropriate in this case.


The trap that parents --i.e., me -- fall into most often is failing to follow up. They let the kid wheedle and plead. They feel sorry for the kid. They think maybe they made a mistake, or were too harsh. They WANT things to go otherwise. So they give in, or say, "Okay, the NEXT time ...!"


Let us know how things turn out. Oh -- it's also a good thing to make the expectation crystal clear, as in "If I hear you complain about going to ballet more than once in a week (or three times in a month, or whatever your personal standard is), I'll know that you really want to spend your time -- and my money -- some other way." That way, you and she both know when the limit is being approached, or has been crossed. By the way, this needn't be said in a punitive way; it's just a statement of fact.


Good luck! Keep us posted.

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A young dancer may not have the physical form and health for serious ballet yet. It takes years, it's ok if 11 and 12 year olds think ballet is fun.


My philosophy is that as ballet parents, we foster our child's interest in ballet. We do that with encouragement and support, not punitive means. The art itself has expectations and discipline aspects. Self-discipline will come with age and experience and increasing interest in ballet. At age 11 or 12, I don't expect perfection nor would I encourage it. They're children, not robots, ballet students, not professionals. Perfection of the art comes with time...and patience.

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Vicarious, I too believe, in a way, in a form of benevolent dictatorship although I wouldn't describe it that way. I call it "kind and firm" at the same time, always. I may KINDLY issue a directive but the firmness lies in my commitment to following it through.


Parents often are either kind or firm but not both at the same time. Too much kindness is permissiveness; too much firmness is dictatorship (but not benevolently!).


In your circumstance, if you tell her that you'll withhold funds if she doesn't do whatever her part of the bargain may be, then you MUST withhold those funds! No nagging, no forgiving "just this one time", no ignoring a violation because you don't want to have to follow through. (Vicarious, I'm saying "you" but really meaning anyone in your sort of situation.) That's the only way to be taken seriously by our kids. The follow-through is the toughest but most important part. So I never make a statement I'm not willing to follow through all the way.


My concern, though - and it's a big one, I'll confess - is that you have posted more than once in the past where you mentioned that your daughter did not want to go to ballet class. From everything you have described, your daughter does indeed sound like a talented girl. But she's shown some resistance often enough that it gives me pause about whether she's trying to tell you, without words, that she needs more time doing ordinary kid stuff.


Having a child with an exceptional talent is certainly a weighty responsibility for the parent. A huge part of the responsibility is getting the balance right: just the right mix of non-ballet fun and serious ballet study. If that balance is off, a dedicated child often turns into a rebellious teen because that's the only way s/he has of showing that s/he needs more space. So I want to add this note of caution. Once kids turn 12, your daughter's age, that kind of resistance begins to grow and flower if certain needs in terms of independence and fun haven't been met in proper doses. So make sure she gets this! You may already be doing so, but from your posts I just thought I should add this caution. It's so hard to really tell without knowing someone in person.


In answer to your question to us parents about how we ensure such discipline, the truth is my daughter never needed any help with it when it came to ballet. She loved it so much that she always wanted to go to class. She was involved in lots of other activities, some of which were simply play dates with friends, so I think that fulfilled her other needs as a child and adolescent.

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I, too, have read with great interest the "Jobs and US Trained Dancers" thread.


Many experienced voices in that thread suggest that ballet training which has adult expectations of children yields the best results.


In my mind, this raises the question -- does the end justify the means?


My own view is that much of what it takes to succeed as a dancer is something that is outside of an individual's control -- physical gifts such as flexibility, extension, turnout, feet, even a small head.


So, it is possible to bend to the extreme discipline of ballet, starting as a small child, and not succeed because of these physical factors.


On the other hand, with physical gifts, much can be excused. We have one parent on this board whose daughter (now a corps member in a major US company at the age of 18) danced "recreationally" until she was 13.


There is also the story of Misty Copeland, who, I believe, did not begin serious ballet study until she was 12 or so.


Vicarious, I appreciate your posts because you describe your daughter as someone who has many of the same concerns as non-dancing children. She is not focused on ballet to the exclusion of social and other factors.


To my mind, the "Jobs and US Trained Dancers" thread suggests that it is not possible to have a normal childhood (with interests and concerns other than ballet), and still succeed as a dancer.


Perhaps accounts such as yours will show in the long run that this is not the case.


Or, I think we should also consider the possiblity of ballet training as something which provides for goals other than a professional career -- in which case I believe the nature of what constitutes the best possible training will change.

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I too have read and not responded to the thread on Jobs. It seems that the bottom line is this: some feel that, in a capitalistic society where a couple may come from nothing and make something of their lives, their success and ability to pay for a child's ballet training will now take away from that training. Money is power and that parents yield too much power by paying for their offspring's training. And that the offspring have it too easy, and will not amount to as much. Whereas. in an environment much like the Eastern European block type of training in gymnastics, taking children away from their (often poor) families early, and exposing them to an adult life of training, paid for by anyone else other than the family, will produce a better dancer. Many may start at the age of say 8, and few will be left by the age of 18. But those still standing will be more likely to succeed. And, that the focus here in the US of education is also getting in the way of training a ballet dancer. Their education by the age of 14-18 must revolve abour ballet; history of ballet, not necessarily American History or World History, etc.


This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but really, the more I read the thread, this is what I see it saying.


PS In our home, I am the Benevolent Dictator :D and husband/dad is the Kind One :firedevil: .

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This thread seems to be fostering some ever so subtle perversions of what is being discussed in the "Jobs and US Trained Dancers".


Their education by the age of 14-18 must revolve abour ballet; history of ballet, not necessarily American History or World History, etc.
Does Harid sending a graduate to the US Air Force Academy or UBA sending a graduate to Georgetown reflect the conclusion stated above?


To my mind, the "Jobs and US Trained Dancers" thread suggests that it is not possible to have a normal childhood (with interests and concerns other than ballet), and still succeed as a dancer.


Does attending a residency program constitute an abnormal childhood? It implies no such thing. Do you realize that many of your nation's leaders were sent off to top boarding schools prior to attending the nation's top colleges and universities? Was it impossible for them to have had normal childhoods? Of course not.


My philosophy is that as ballet parents, we foster our child's interest in ballet. We do that with encouragement and support, not punitive means.


Do you think I shackled my child and threw her out of a moving vehicle over the barbed enclosure that she had to endure for the next six years? We were informed when she was 10 years old that she showed strong signs of being very gifted. She loved ballet. We found the best opportunity we could for her. We made it clear to her that she had a golden opportunity but that if she EVER wanted to come home, we would have her home in a matter of hours. All it would have taken was a simple phone call. She hauled in her sails, pointed her hard up into the wind and never looked back.


Finally, let me say that this road is not for everyone. Many children enjoy dance for its own sake and have no desire to ever dance seriously. Some will achieve the heights through sheer desire and determination without ever seeing the inside of a rigorous residence program. There are many different reasons for children to enjoy ballet and dancing professionally is but one of those reasons.


But the original thread asked the question, why are so many taking so many dancers trained outside the U.S.? That was the point being discussed. One conclusion was that tough, disciplined training produced better dancers. That is certainly true in many other endeavors in life and it is fair to suspect that it might be true in ballet as well.



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"One conclusion was that tough, disciplined training produced better dancers. That is certainly true in many other endeavors in life and it is fair to suspect that it might be true in ballet as well."


O.K. lets assume the above theory is correct. A dancer has the physical makeup that foreign schools require. The dancer has access to very good training, but is not a residential student. Given this theory, what should a parent do in attempting to simulate the foreign training expirience with out sending DK off to a residential?


My take on the article was that the reason the tough, disciplined training is less prevelant in the US was that Mummsie was wanting to make sure sweetums was treated nicely in class and got the parts Mummzie wanted her to have. And that if sweetums wanted to just mess around with ballet on Daddyos bucks, no problem. I don't mean to offend anyone. I certainly don't have anyone in mind with this comment.


So how can a parent help a school that only sees dk 2-5 hrs a day produce the results of the foreign and residential schools?

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Vicarious-Have you considered letting your dd experience the consequences of not being "disciplined" in class for a while? It isn't easy to do but sometimes lessons are better learned the hard way. Since your dd is so young I don't think the consequences would be long lasting and may produce a better result than you may be able to at this time.

I would still expect her to attend classes. But let her see what happens when she doesn't warm up properly and hangs out with the non-serious students for a while. Let her teachers discipline her if her hair is sloppy. When she stops getting parts and positive feedback in class she may change her ways.


Try not to grind your teeth down while she goes through this learning process! :)

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There's something I just don't get here.


*Jobs with ballet companies are in short supply

*Ballet jobs pay really badly

*Injury rate is high

*Career prospects are short and uncertain

*Performing arts are neither well funded nor well respected in this country



Why are we discussing how to motivate kids to dance more and harder? There aren't enough spaces even for the ones whose parents wish they'd slow down a tad!


I'm all for teaching a kid discipline, if that means following through on their own commitments. However, "commitment" in a 12-year-old world means finishing out the term and/or devoting a reasonable chunk of time to an endeavor. I just don't think it's reasonable to talk about reluctance to follow a 2-5 hour per day schedule as if it's a deficit that needs to be remedied.


I think you've jumped over a question, vicarious. Before you wonder how to help a (non-residential) school produce the results of a foreign or residential school, you need to think about how students get admitted to those schools in the first place. Those schools don't work wonders with random students; they select them for very specific physical talents, and cognitive, emotional, and artistic prospects. It's not just a question of immersing them in the study of dance. The students are there because they want very, very badly to be there. The first question you must ask is whether your DD would survive that rigorous selection process. THEN you can worry about how to recreate the atmosphere.

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Of related interest to this discussion, there is an article by Toby Tobias on the Paris Opera Ballet School over on the links forum for December 13 on the "other" Ballet Talk site or click here.

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vicarious, as a mother of a much older DD (she is 18) and one who has trained at one of the top English schools I would like to make a couple of points.


Firstly, the discipline at these schools comes almost entirely from the staff and the students themselves. Most of the schools are residential and parents are really not encouraged to get at all involved. The attitude of many of the schools is that the students need to be tough enough to put up with the extremely strict treatment in order to succeed in the profession. If they have problems coping with the pressure then they are advised to leave. Many students are assessed out or decide not to continue and if you included these in statistics about success finding employment then they would look much lower.


Secondly, I know from painful experience that even very subtle parental pressure can make it very difficult for a student to admit (maybe even to themselves) that they don't want to dance anymore. My daughter has always been highly motivated and self disciplined and we never had to overtly encourage her, but she has always known that we wanted her to succeed as a dancer. Recently she has become very disillusioned and is now almost certain that she doesn't want to continue, but it took her, literally, months before she could summon up the courage to tell us and it is still something we are finding difficult to accept. In fact the "almost" in the previous sentence is proof of that! I know your DD is much younger and that you have her best interest at heart but do make sure that you leave her space to make her own decisions.


Treefrog, I shall print out your list and keep it handy so that I can look at it at any time when I am attempted to apply oh-so-subtle pressure to keep my DD dancing for one day longer...

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