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University of North Carolina School of the Arts/UNCSA

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When I am referring to dancing in Stevens productions, I'm not talking about dancing Sugar Plum or Snow Queen. It is well understood that only a very few dancers will have this opportunity at a highly competitive residency program such as NCSA. What I was cautioning about is the fact that many dancers are not cast in any production at all in the STevens. Forget about the principal roles, they are not even cast in corp roles.


In the Lower school, if you are not in B5 (highest level) then you do not get to audition for the 'dancing roles' in Nuts. All other Lower School kids are lined up and the shortest 16 are cast as the soldiers and cookies. For everyone else, they are cast in Workshop. So, as a 9th grader, I can understand how dutmhg's daughter would not feel out of place in workshop, as that is where most of her peers will be dancing. If they are in B5 and in a few cases B6 (as I assume the 10th graders that were mentioned are in these levels), then they are considered for snow, flower, Mirliton and sometimes the doll. The kids in B7/8 are not given a dancing audition for Nuts at all.


In the Upper School, dancers audition by level for Nuts. Everyone in B1 (highest) will be cast. Almost everyone in B2 will be cast. Only a handful of dancers who are in B3 and B4 will be cast. After the intial audition class, dancers are called to audition for certain roles. Sometimes they will rehearse for several weeks before their name will no longer appear on the call list.


For other Stevens productions, dancers in B1 and B2 and B5 are most traditionally used for all pieces. Some dancers from B3 might be cast in corp work, but rarely will dancers in B4 be cast at all. In some rare cases, dancers in B6/7 will be used. There have been a few exceptions when the prep program has had a piece in a Stevens production, as well.


The point is well taken that dancers in workshop are often able to tackle more 'meaty' roles and learn more difficult choreo than those cast in corp work at Stevens. I also appreciate the good attitude indicated by pictures and duhmtg in viewing this casting as a great opportunity to hone skills and prepare for company work. This is all valuable training and should not be discounted. However, it does seem that in addition to workshop training, all dancers at the school should have the opportunity to dance in front of a paying audience, in full costume, lighting and sets, in a lovely venue. This too is an important part of ballet training.


It is also important to note, as dutmhg alluded to, that a dancer's attitude about being cast in workshop is vastly different in 9th and 10th grade, when most of their peers are similarly cast, than it is likely to be in 11th and 12th, when they near graduation and hope to be 'seen' in a major production by visiting ADs and company representatives in order to land a contract, have the opportunity to tour with a piece or some other opportunity that does not arise for pieces performed in the workshop venue.


All of this is excellent food for thought as one is considering the school and talking about what life there will be like for your dancer. There is indeed a 'class structure' that emerges as dancers get to the Upper School between those in the highest levels and the other dancers at the school for a variety of reasons that are deeply ingrained in the school's culture. Depending upon where a dancer ends up in the hierarchy, their experience will be altered accordingly. My daughter found that making friends across all levels/casting was never a problem, but being on the same schedule to do things together most definitely was!


As to the question posed above about college students' casting in Nuts, it is all over the board. They are not considered for the soldier and cookie roles. Depending upon their level (B1-B4) they will be called for various roles to audition with a smaller group. I have known of college students who were cast as Sugar Plum and I've known of college students who were not cast at all - and everything in between. They are not treated differently than any other student in the Upper School.


It is important to note that the college students rarely stay long enough to finish a degree. This is due to the fact that, by and large, they do all end up with pro contracts before reaching graduation. The gals we know who have gone into the college program usually only stay one or two years and then leave to accept a pro contract.


(Just to reiterate, my dancer was in an upper level, she did dance often at the Stevens, she had lots of fun while attending NCSA and she left the school to take a pro contract prior to graduation. The observations in this post and others are made simply to provide factual information that could be helpful to those considering the school, based upon what she saw and experienced as a student at the school.)

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Hi 5-6-7-8,


Intensive Arts isn't a "program" really--it's actually a time period. The time between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break is called Intensive Arts. The entire school (all arts areas) participates. Academic teachers pour on the work fairly thick during the fall term, and the students have their academic finals right before Thanksgiving. Then, during Intensive Arts, the students have two weeks dedicated only to their arts, without academic classes.


I can't tell you too much about what the other art areas do except for the limited information my daughter has mentioned about friends who are not in the School of Dance: drama students are preparing monologues for upcoming auditions, visual arts students have projects going on, a music friend actually reports a light schedule, production students are working Nutcracker, etc.


Contemporary Dance students just completed Fall Dance about two weeks ago, which is their big performance of the term. During Intensive Arts, the Contemporary students have "special" classes and some students perform in the Workshop performances (which are coming up tomorrow afternoon). Last year (and I hear again this year) at least one of the pieces being performed in the Workshop is a piece that was performed at Fall Dance, but with dancers who were not cast in Fall Dance. So it is a chance for them to perform the same choreography.


Some ballet students are cast in Nutcracker, as has been discussed. During Intensive Arts, those students spend time rehearsing and performing only. There are 14 performances, 1 for the Campus, some public and some for public school children who are bussed to the Stevens Center during school days. Ballet students not cast in Nutcracker participate in "special" classes and rehearse for the Workshop. For these dancers, sometimes they are cast in a piece (loosely by their technique level or two levels combined) that displays well-known choreography (I believe one of the group pieces this year is from Don Q) and sometimes a small group of dancers is taught variations to perform either individually or in small groups.


Either way, everyone dances in either Nutcracker, Fall Dance or the Workshop at the end of the Fall term. :yes:

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I've appreciated the recent posts regarding Nutcracker vs intensive arts and the differing levels of performance opportunities offered to students at NCSA. I think anyone involved in dance has to develop a very strong sense of self because correction is eternal and disappointments are a regular occurrence. My dd is in intensive arts and has really enjoyed it, but there is definitely a part of her that wishes she was a member of the Nutcracker cast. My dd loves to perform and I think it will be very difficult as she gets older if she doesn't have the opportunity to perform in the "big" productions. One of the interesting things I've read is that many of the girls who've never been cast at Stevens are currently dancing for companies - so hard as it might be not to be one of the 'chosen' at NCSA, it's probably good to remember that you may be exactly what they're looking for elsewhere.

The training and faculty have been wonderful and after only one term dd can see a real difference in her dancing. Right now, that's the most important thing for her and she can't imagine being anywhere else. . . . I have noticed, however, that she is leaning towards summer programs that have performance opportunities!

Has anyone ever approached the NCSA faculty to see if there was a way to give all the dancers an opportunity to participate in a Stevens production?

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NCSA is run like a ballet company.....parts are given and everyone does not dance.....


My DD is happy to be a grad from NCSA and would return if given the choice again...she is not sorry that she went....She was NOT a chosen one, however is doing well post grad...


Or motto was "Don't let NCSA define you!"


It is a hard life lesson...one that is harder for parents as we see the difficult journey our kids are given.

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Karen is correct, NCSA is run like a ballet company. The flaw is that many of the kids involved are in 8th and 9th grade when they first arrive and the method of teaching and lack of nurturing are not correct for that age group. Saying ''Don't let NCSA define you" is a good motto but didn't work for us because dd had not yet figured out exactly who she was, a common situation for young students. The faculty, while teaching a good solid technique, are not prepared to nurture the younger students. At all.


NCSA is a school. It is not a company. High school kids, for the most part, who are at the school, are not ready to be in a company. Could be that at points they are 'dance ready' but their maturity level is far from ready to deal with the stuff that is thrown at them by the faculty or even life in general and there is no one there to help them other than their fellow students. I personally, only found the faculty accessible once or twice and I am still waiting for a call from one teacher several years later. Perhaps things have changed.


When an 8th or 9th grader is treated as an adult (or even 10th, 11th or 12th) it's a dangerous proposition. They are given responsibility they are not ready to handle, allegedly to prepare them for their future dance life. And, they are spoken to in ways and corrected in ways that are inappropriate for teachers to address their students. A young student can be hurt deeply by the careless comments and criticisms.


Performing, not performing, it's all going to be the AD's selection in the end. NCSA productions reflect that. But they often forget they are a school. All students should be involved in the big performances. Those not suited for performances probably shouldn't be there. Afterall, it is a by audition only school.

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I'm not affiliated in any way with NCSA, but I think the point Asleep is making is something parents (and dancers) should consider very carefullly when evaluating a program. School is school---it is a training ground. A company is a company---it is a job. The two are NOT the same and shouldn't be.


Perhaps those with students in the younger years feel there is a fairness to the concept that a school is run like a company so that the students learn to deal with company life and its attendant disappointments and hardships. After all, it sounds like a good idea (sortof?) However, I would venture to guess that once students get to that senior year and the harsh reality of what little experience their dancer is allowed to participate in sets in, the 'good idea' is exposed as the whim it often is. At that point, it becomes more clear that often those favorites are not chosen based upon drive, work ethic, or even abilities. There are additional dancers that are just as dedicated, that possess the same abilities, and sometimes better work ethics as the 'favored' ones, yet for whatever unexplained reason, they were always overlooked. It becomes clear that all the experiences the 'unchosen' dancers missed out on (and worked hard to earn an opportunity to experience) may affect their career opportunities because they have less to show for their time spent.


The parents paid the same $$, the kids worked their hearts out, and because of some whim of the faculty, staff, and AD, those seniors are still left out in the cold? Personally, I don't think that is appropriate or responsible on the part of the school. It is easy to justify it by saying, "well, that's how companies work. The dancers need to get used to it." Nope, nope, nope. Companies do not receive money to train their dancers. Companies PAY their dancers.


There are ways that NCSA and other schools can give their students insights into the rough and tumble world of companies without short-changing their students on training and performance opportunities. Work ethic, focused and disciplined training, no nonsense expectations are virtues that the schools can endorse---and enforce with performance opportunities as rewards. But to simply ignore deserving dancers and create only a very small elite few who are given all the 'real' performance opportunities should be considered counter to fulfilling the school's mandate. Performance opportunities should be matched to ability levels and each dancer given the opportunities to stretch his or her comfort zones. Too often, the majority of dancers are just shunted aside as stage dressing.


Personally, I think seniors should all be showcased--with their strengths recognized and shown to full advantage and their weaknesses downplayed--in the performance opportunities available. Some will be stronger than others, but each one will have been trained to the best level they can reach individually. When the same dancers are given all the opportunities to be coached in solos time and time again and the others are left always in the corps or left out altogether, then, of course, those not favored will not progress as far as the favored.


These schools all hold auditions for their students. They accepted the students for a reason. As long as the students are willing to put forth their best efforts, then I believe the schools owe the dancers the opportunities to reach their highest potentials. For some, that will be higher than others. But, under the current system, it seems that many are not even afforded the opportunity to expand and stretch to discover just how high they can go.


And it is not just at NCSA. There are other schools that hide behind that "it is run like a company" mantra---and who they think they are serving by doing so is beyond me. :shrug:

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Asleep, I have re-read your post several times. The thing I keep coming back to is the same thing I have told many people--NCSA is not for everyone. I suspect that is the case for any school, residency or otherwise. Clearly your post dances around (no pun intended) some very specific issues you and your DD encountered during her time there which we are not privy to but certainly respect.


I agree with Karen that young people shouldn't let NCSA or any one program, teacher or opinion define them. I have mixed feelings about schools running themselves like companies (which we have now experienced twice). In this case, "run like a company" is primarily referring to casting. There is no threat of contracts not being renewed and livlihoods affected as with a professional company. For my DD and her particular personality and approach to her training, it is a positive thing. She has had opportunity but is not a chosen one. She has also had drama and disappointment. I'd rather she be prepared for the real world challenges she will face when she graduates. If she is not cut out for professional life (either talent-wise or otherwise), let's learn that now. Unfortunately, dancers become pros so young that high school is the place where that conditioning has to happen. I think finding help from your peer group is an important part of learning responsibility--that's not to say that the faculty should be disinterested or inaccessible. I just had a circular discussion this morning with my younger public school daughter about how her poor test grade is not somehow the teacher's fault! :thumbsup: Inaccessible faculty also has not been our personal experience--I have received prompt email responses from more than one faculty member, and my DD has been able to both schedule appointments and walk into the offices of both faculty and the dean when she has a question/concern. With no disrespect to Asleep's negative personal experience, we didn't really consider how warm and fuzzy the faculty would be to be a determining factor in our selection of NCSA for my DD's training. Maybe we should have, but I guess that isn't where our minds were at the time. So Asleep points out an important consideration for some families making big decisions.


Again, we aren't privy to Asleep's experience of young students being treated as adults or hurtful comments being made, so without examples it's difficult for those considering the school to understand what is meant by that. Does each faculty member have his/her own quirks and stylistic differences? Sure. I'll just say that my DD has not experienced any comments she personally found inappropriate or harsh. My DD came from a pretty shall we say 'verbally agressive' school before NCSA though, so maybe she just has thick skin. But, we have commented many times that some of the students from her former school who were considered the stars would not last a week at NCSA. She has seen some students start at NCSA and leave part way through the year. Some didn't like the training, the teachers, the academics, living away from home, being overwhelmed by lots of talent and not being the star...the reasons are different for each student. :shrug: But again, I think that is true anywhere. If anything, I know my DD would prefer more correction/constructive criticism to less.


One thing I don't think I personally agree with is Asleep's comment that those not suited for big productions probably should not be there. Dancers who are appropriate for one production may not be for another. Young dancers who have tons of potential but inadequate previous training may not be suited for a big production today but will be tomorrow. And as has been mentioned a few times by balletbooster, Karen and others, many, many of those who were not Sugar Plums at NCSA have done very well professionally after graduation. :thumbsup:

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dancemaven, we were posting at the same time. :thumbsup:


I'll say again, we can only comment on our personal experience at NCSA and not on what might be going on elsewhere or what another family might have experienced at NCSA. I'd just like to add that my DD has been cast in big productions in some cases, and cast in Workshop in another. Her Workshop experience was by far more fulfilling, exciting, unique and educational than her Nutcracker experience last year. She has not felt that she was shortchanged in either case. Classwork does not change depending on casting or lack thereof. So I do not think the school and company-like experiences are mutually exclusive.


Also, since my post follows dancemaven's I'll just clarify my comment about getting accustomed to the ups and downs of company-like casting. I'm referring to my DD, not to the school's philosophy. I'm not saying I agree with the school's philosophy, I'm just saying for my kiddo, it's what she needs to experience. :shrug:

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Yes, this is a wonderfully balanced discussion. One that any parent who honestly "knows" their own dancer can come here receive thoughts to weigh out and determine what will work for them. Thank you again to those participating in it.


I would like to interject though, what seems to be a slight misconception about how things are "run in a company" not just for NCSA but also for other pre-pro or residencies who use that same model and that phrase to justify those not cast in different productions or the chosen few being used all the time. Those making considerations cannot forget or need to realize that in "real company life" the hierachies are generally spelled out pretty solidly if the ranking system is used. You as a dancer, know at the beginning of the season in which capacity you will most likely be used (principal. soloist, corp). If you get to move out of those ranks, there are generally clear reasons (for instance a contemporary ballet using the more contemporary dancers as leads). And surely, if you are a soloist, you may not get a solo in a performance where there are not enough to go around.


As well, if the company is small enough to not really use the ranking system, all dancers within a company are generally used for all larger productions such as Nutcracker or other full length ballets. When this is not the case, in smaller companies it is because two shows are being rehearsed at the same time and a dancers contract may stipulate maximum rehearsal time that would not allow them to rehearse two shows of that length at the same time. So those not being used in, say Nutz, are rehearsing for something else occuring during a short time frame thereafter. Again though, all dancers are used the question is just used for what, how many nights or for when. If they are not being used during the year consistently in the capacity hired, they will be let go at the end of it or will be looking themselves to move elsewhere.


In addition, in company life although you may not be cast for certain performances, there is at least a small understanding of certain people being cast in more classical roles and others being cast in more contemporary roles. Professional dancers don't have to like casting any more than student dancers do. But I have learned that "it is run like a company" is generally not really the case where pre-pros exist, even residencies. It is just buzz talk for "don't question casting and we may not double cast" and "those we feel are the best dancers will get the lead parts. We do not have to try and make everyone happy". But rarely, especially these days does a company have enough members when story ballets are done, to not cast all.


With that said, I am really enjoying this thread and the amount of vocal participants we have on it. I would like to take a minute to encourage the parents here to venture outside of this thread more and open up some general points "out there" on the other threads. You all have so much knowledge to share, I'd like to see some of the names "in here" , "out there".

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Just a thought... I wonder how much if at all, any of this will change at NCSA as next year will be the first year with the new dean? As there have only been two dance deans in the history of NCSA, the dance department and specifaically NCSA's Nutcracker prodution are rich with tradition. While I do not expect that to totally go by the way-side, I do think there will be some changes as the new dean takes over.


I think it is important to keep this "changing of the guard" in mind.

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momof3 raises an important distinction between company life and a pre-pro that is 'run like a company.' In a company, the dancers are being paid and in return, the company is going to use them! That means that everyone is dancing in almost all major productions, in one role or another, in one cast or another. This is NOT the case for NCSA.


Also, to respond to one comment that lovemydancer made:


There is no threat of contracts not being renewed and livlihoods affected as with a professional company.


I'll add one distinction, there is the annual threat at NCSA that a dancer will not be asked to return. Juries are held in Winter term and some dancers receive a Letter of Concern. At the end of the Spring term, some of these dancers will not be asked to return for the next year. Letters of Concern went out to a number of dancers each year my daughter was in attendance and a handful of those were not asked back or were told they must move to the Modern program.


So, just to clarify, there is a threat hanging out there that a dancer might not be asked back at NCSA. It is worrisome to many, particularly those who have not recieved positive reinforcement during the year in the form of Stevens casting or positive conferences with their teachers. There were lots of dancers during my daughter's time there who were holding their breath around spring break, hoping that they did not receive the dreaded 'letter.' She knew more than a few who did and then they were on pins and needles throughout the Spring term and did not find out their fate until the last day of school when they all go to the Dance Office to pick up their contracts for the next year.

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Momof3, thank you for mentioning something I meant to say in an earlier post, as it had been running through my mind:


I would like to interject though, what seems to be a slight misconception about how things are "run in a company"

I readily and wholehartedly qualify all of my prior comments about schools being run like companies with the caveat that they are based on my/my DD's perception of how companies are run! Our family has only limited experience with the regional company with which my DD's former school was associated. So just as different schools vary, students' needs vary, etc., I am quite sure different companies are run in very different ways and we have experienced only one first hand. The rest is secondhand.


I was also thinking about balletbooster's comments about juries and the dreaded letters. I guess I thought of them differently than pro contracts because in our limited observation of friends' situations, dancers at NCSA receiving letters of concern were not completely shocked--they had been counseled beforehand--whereas we have heard of pro contracts not being renewed and the dancers had no warning. But, I bet balletbooster is right that the stress levels are comparable. :devil: And, I bet there have at some time been NCSA students who were also shocked. So here is yet another important point that some families might want to learn more about before making big decisions. :ermm:

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Another thing to keep in mind about NCSA is that if the faculty does not think you are meeting their expectations you will not be invited back the following year. Throughout the year the students meet with their main teacher for a progress report on attaining certain goals and discussing any concerns the faculty may have. Sometimes "letters of concern" are sent in advance to students so that corrections may be applied so they do have a good idea that there is a chance they won't be invited back if changes aren't seen. I don't recall anyone not invited back for their dancing that I know of but it did happen for academic reasons. I don't think this practice is unique only to NCSA. There are many pre-pro schools that follow the same practice.


I also think the performance opportunities are about the same as you would find at any company connected pre-pro school. Some students are cast and some aren't and aren't we all sometimes left scratching our heads over those decisions? The truth is that almost all the dancers that DD was with at NCSA have met with success in their post grad year regardless of what level they were in or if they were in the Nutcracker, etc. I think that is what Karen means when she said "don't let NCSA define you". You are getting great training and will do well down the road.


Oops! I see that "letters of concern" have already been discussed in above posts!

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