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Career Planning: Maximizing student chances

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I hesititate to post this question because it seems many parents have younger dancers here, but any ideas are welcome.

When a dedicated dancer, 16, dancing in a well-known pre-pro school for around 30 hours per week asks whether she should stay at the school for the technique or go to a company-affiliated school (should she be asked to stay after the summer program) in order that they may choose her to apprentice, what would you say?

Many of the students in the school go on to companies after their training at her present school, and there are even some 20 to 25 year olds in the school. But I think the question is not the training at her present school. It is excellent. It is the management of a career in a field that is highly competitive. So the question at some point for every dancer has to become, "How do I do this for a living? What can I do to increase my chances?" My daughter is doing well, getting first cast parts, and being highly motivated after a summer of reconsidering dance as a career. Now that she is blazing her trail, where does the trail need to go? I know that some of you have said that college will definitely come first. I say, she should apply to college then defer if she gets accepted to a company. Her academics are good. But afer spending this much blood sweat and tears over something so dear to her heart, how does a parent advise? The school doesn't get involved in that decision, as far as I know.

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  • Mel Johnson


  • Victoria Leigh


  • mylildancer


  • marigold


This of course is THE question.


There are pros and cons to both.


There is more visibility at a company affiliated school (many other companies will come to look at students, too)and you can usually count on first rate training, but there are also many more students and less individual attention. Sometimes students can get lost in the shuffle. Some students do not do well living away from the support of their families. It is a big financial commitment as well.


As always, it depends on the dancer.

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Well, Busymom, I hope some others weigh in here with some more advice. I know there are quite a few in your position that post here, and I am sure they will when they get a chance to log on - so don't despair!


I'm still a mother of a young dancer so any advice I have to give would all be based on hearsay...which of course we all know is inadmissable. biggrin.gif


You did ask "The" question that all eventually have to try to answer. This should generate some cyber conversation. Good luck!

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Good question. My daughter's 16 and at a well-known pre-pro school without a company attached too. Are you certain your daughter's school doesn't help the older dancers find jobs?


My daughter's school actively works to place dancers when they're ready. They have connections to a number of major and regional companies, including ABT, Boston, Joffrey etc. They've arranged for some of their dancers to audition by taking company class rather than doing a standard audition. These connections have paid off because they have graduates in a variety of companies.


In the past my husband and I wondered about how the school handled such things. We didn't want to be presumptuous and we didn't know if it was up t to us to make an overture to the director. We had decided that we'd ask when our daughter reached junior year in high school. But we didn't have to because the AD brought it up herself last spring, letting us know the general plan. And more recently, the teacher who's really active in helping dancers get placed has let us know he's thinking about our daughter now.


Actually, after years of listening to the teachers during conference time talk about the future in vague general terms, we're suddenly shocked to find that it's here, now, in the present. The teachers are looking seriously at our daughter and making their plans to guide her.


So, in answer to your question, if your daughter's present school doesn't have a system in place to help their dancers find jobs, or if their system doesn't include your daughter (which, unfortunately, is also part of the bigger picture sometimes), then I'd say, yes, by all means she should attend that other school if you're certain THEY'LL guide her. It would be important to know what they do if she doesn't fit into their plans for THEIR company.


LMCTech spoke about other companies coming to see the pool of dancers. Does that already happen at your daughter's school? If not, that would be another reason to look at a different place.


These are the years we've been both dreading and longing for, aren't they? My daughter's also decided to apply to colleges but defer. I think it's the only wise decision. The latest wrinkle is that there are ballet companies teetering right now, esp. after Sept. 11 and there may very well be a much larger pool of dancers looking for jobs come the next couple of years.

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Guest samba38

You've posed a challenging question and the good news, if any, is that there's more than one "right" answer. So much depends on the individual dancer's matrix: personality, maturity, academic needs/goals, quality of home school ballet training, family finances. All play a part in such decisions. One advantage in your playing deck -- you say many students from her home school are taken by companies. So clearly she doesn't have to go away to be seen, to be hired. There are pre-pro schools with big name reputations out there who haven't graduated a dancer with any company but their own regional company in nearly a decade. They may teach impeccable technique but getting seen, getting hired, takes some extra push by a school working with a student. If your home school does good, student-focused senior placement counseling, you are no doubt talking with them as well. Next, some of the year-round schools are affiliated with college programs or good college prep high schools, to ensure a dancer who doesnt' nail a job immediately can keep both dancing and studying. Then there's the enroll-defer-give yourself a year to get a job approach. Lastly, there's the Jenifer Ringer/peter Boal dance-and-take-night-school approach. Both have their BAs earned while dancing although Ringer took a leave for health reasons and finished up. Ringer is instructive in another way. She went into a company before her body had worked its way through all the twists and turns of the delayed puberty many healthy dancers (not to mention the ones who aren't very healthy)go through. She had her growth changes on stage and it was a miserable nerve-wracking time for her when she was merely in her late teens/early 20s. So you have to look at your own dancer, talk with her doc as well, and assess whether her body is as adult as her mind and spirit.

This is enough to make us moms totally crazy and we aren't even the ones putting their tender young lives on the line.

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As others have said, there are several ways to approach this. I tend to feel that a young dancer should remain at home through high school as long as she is getting the kind of training that she needs to prepare her for a career. If that is not available at home, then going away would be necessary. Following graduation, then staying at a company affiliated school would be good, if there is a trainee or apprentice program.


As to schools trying to place students in professional companies, that is very difficult, and they all have to go through an audition process, no matter how the audition is arranged. A teacher does not send a student to a director of a major company unless they are very sure that the student is ready and definite potential for that company.


We have had dancers who are well suited for our own company, and have discussions with the director who has watched them in their last couple of years. Some he takes, some he doesn't. Some have worked out and some have not. A lot depends on the dancer, and not necessarily on their technique. One who was in the school for a year, then an apprentice with the company for a year, is now a principal and first cast in every lead role. Another, who was very strong technically, let things go and just kind of lost it and did not last with this company. In recent years we have graduated dancers who have gone into ABT II and then Joffrey (doing principal roles), PNB (apprentice and now company), Houston Ballet, and The National Ballet of Finland. Every dancer has to be dealt with individually, in terms of what he/she is best suited for, including the educational aspect. Many dancers who go through the program and become very good dancers are just not physically suited to major professional companies. When there is a major talent in the school, then that talent will be evident to all, and it will be a lot easier for that dancer to find a job. The percentage of dancers in any program who are major talents is very limited. Some of them may still work, but if you are thinking that just because they graduate from a good school with good technique that they will get a job handed to them, dream on. Would we like to place every student? Of course! But that is not realistic.


[ December 02, 2001: Message edited by: Victoria Leigh ]

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Hi, this is my first post so hope I am doing it right. I am the mom of 3 dancers. The older 2 are now dancing professionally and the youngest is serious about a professional career. My 2 that are pros chose the course of leaving home at 16 to stay at SAB. They both think that it was the best choice for them . The oldest is taking college courses in preparation of career number 2 during layoffs. They both felt like they "needed" to dance. Our home school is an excellent school for technique but there are so few jobs available that a dancer needs any advantage that she can get in order to land a job. Most companies want to see a dancer for more than a one hour audition in order to sign them. Attending a summer course and being asked to stay shows that there is some interest in your dancer. I think that it would be good to talk to the school she is interested in to see the level of their interest or what , if any, help they would be able to give her in job finding if they did not place her with their company. If she goes to one of the big company schools, like SAB, their students are seen by directors of other companies and other directors would value the opinion of the teachers of the big schools. If your daughter's dream is to dance and she has a good shot at that dream, I would give her the best chance at attaining that dream. In my daughters' cases it was leaving home for a school that would be more help in finding a job. In their cases it worked well. Even if they wouldn't have found jobs, they found the experience valuable and they are very mature young ladies of whom I am very proud. I wish your daughter much luck in this difficult journey.

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Lillianna, thank you so much for your post! You did your "first" wonderfully..


This whole subject has obviously generated quite a bit of thought. I just want to thank everyone for their valuable insights here.


In my opinion, this site offers a tremendous amount to ballet parents and the thoughtfulness and genuine concern of the moderators, as well as the other posters, is remarkable. smile.gif

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Lillianna, I have nothing to add to BW's post except to wish you an official welcome to the Moms' and Dads' Forum here at Ballet Talk on Ballet Alert! Online! and also my congratulations to you and your dancers for obviously working very hard on discernment of the correct direction of their particular career preparations.

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Guest samba38

Victoria, as always, deals some straight truths: Wonderful dancers, graduating from wonderful schools, still have difficulty finding pro-careers. I've always told my kiddo we live in the Land of 1000 Claras. Every year the premier pre-pro schools graduate hundreds of dancers, all former Claras or Dewdrops or Sugar Plums, all zeroing in on a shrinking handful of jobs. One of my favorite reality checks: the SAB workshop page where you can see that barely half the grads land company spots and if you look back, you see many listed as "formerly with XXX company." Dance is proof of Darwin. But, that doesn't mean talented kiddos should roll over in dispair. As their minds mature , many find ways to be key citizens of the dance world -- in related professions or in the essential contribution we wish everyone would make -- as AUDIENCE! So the best training is never lost on them.

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An anecdotal aside from samba's good post on this subject: Did you know that most theater historians consider that theater as we know it began with dance? It was called the dithyramb, and was danced in honor of the god Dionysos. After a few years of dancing the dithyramb, some of the veteran dancers dropped out of the active line, and sat there and watched. And lo! The AUDIENCE was born! Then, one year, Aristopodes (means "great feet") the Cranky said, "Ho, that's no way to dance the dithyramb! You should have seen how I used to do it in the old days!" And behold! The first DANCE CRITIC! wink.gif


PS. Omigawd! I just broke 4000 posts! smile.gif


[ December 02, 2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

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  • 1 year later...

I have been encountering two schools of thought along this journey that my dd and I have been taking. On one hand, there are those that say in todays ballet world, there are a lot of schools with good training out there. As long as your studio is giving good sound training, there is no need to send your child away to a "big name". On the other hand, there is the steadfast opinion that the only way to be on the pro track is to send your child, board or not, to one of the "big names". An acquaintance of our family back home who danced with Joffrey for 9 years "back in the day" before going to dance and teach in Europe, tells us that if your child doesn't make it into a "big name" by age 14, "then the hand writing may be on the wall". Is there any truth to that? Besides good sound technical training, how important are the other classes like Pas and character?


Again, please forgive if this one has been hashed to death, also. :rolleyes:

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Aw shucks, major school by fourteen is so seventies, or even sixties. Since the ballet boom of that day, there are a lot of good teachers out there who can get advancement out of dancers to sixteen, or even to the end of high school. Dolly Dinkle is still out there, too, unfortunately, and she will, alas, always be with us, and have more money than we will because she has no standards and will do anything to please anybody. Her dancers will just never go anywhere. It's a much better idea to keep your dancer in a home environment as long as the training she's getting is sufficient to provide continuous improvement. That's the beauty part of Summer Intensives. They give you some feedback so that you'll be able to know whether progress is happening or not. If there's a stagnation, then consider an "away school" for your student, but not after making sure that s/he is prepared for living away from home. I hate to disagree with a fellow Joffreyite, but that's the way I see it.

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Hi mylildancer,


I realized that sending your dd to a "pre-prof" school isn't always prudent. As I posted in one of your other topics, my dd was taught improperly.


Just because teachers dance well, such as the case where my dd attended, doesn't make them good/great teachers. For example, ABT would rather give a young dancer a scholarship to take back to her home school for training, rather than pull them away from home. From what I understand, ABT figures that if a child is getting good training at home, why should they leave the facility they're at.

Also understand, many schools which are attached to large companies, use the money to facilitate the company. Ultimately, buyer beware.


I hope I haven't offended anybody. I am not saying all "pre-prof" schools are as undesirable as ours has been, but mistakes in training can happen just about any where.

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