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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Evaluating a Ballet Program: Measuring Success

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Guest samba38

What suggestions do the veteran parent readers have for evaluating a year-round residential school? Many of our kiddos are dancing this summer at places far from home that offer invites to stay yearround. I can't imagine how one redoes schooling,housing, etc. all in August for September (assuming you can't toss unlimited funds at solving a problem). How do you discreetly find out stuff like -- where their graduates go? how many of the students who start there in high school years graduate there or is it a constant wash of new people as others fade out injured, unhappy, transferred etc? What is the quality of the academic schooling choices? Is the school in the 21st century on health/fitness/adolescent development? The stuff you want to know without prejudicing the dance-based decision of the faculty...

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Ask them outright. A good school will have this info on paper ready to hand out. If they don't, that would raise a red flag. Info on where grads go is paramount to me. I'd want a breakdown of where all grads in the past 5 years have gone, whether dance, colleges or otherwise.


They probably don't have this info written down, but you can still ask: How many of your original high school freshman graduate from your program? This is one area where I do think that you also need to talk to presnet and past students and their parents. But certainly ask the program director yourself.


Ask how they handle weight issues. Do they have a nutritionist available either regularly or for referrals? Do they have a Pilates trainer on staff? If not, is there one nearby they refer students to? What about PT? Do they have a PT room in-house? That would indicate a serious commitment to their students' welfare.


I don't think asking these questions would prejudice a staff person. If it did, then it's not the school you'd want. They should be proud of how they handle these issues.


I have more to add but have to run to an appt. Will add more later.

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OK, back once again.


On the issue of academic schooling choices available: No matter what you ask a ballet school, they'll always tell you their area schools offer a fine education. (Kinda like Lake Woebegone). Research the schools yourself. And to do that, you need to do the usual questions about the breakdown of the school population: lists of colleges they attend, etc. I wouldn't settle for anecdotal talk from either a ballet school official or academic school official. Ask for written breakdowns of these figures.

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Listen to vagansmom. She is very wise. Any school worth its tuition will have someone on staff whose job it is to answer just these kinds of questions. Often it's a student services person or the like. Call them or e-mail them. Get is straight from the horses mouth, so to speak.

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Most of this depends on the dancer. You know your child, and he/she knows what they want. It is your duty as a parent to evaluate, discuss, and support those needs. Talk. talk, talk. It is the only way to make decisions like this.


Are you prepared to accept the fact that a professional dance program is just that: a professional dance program? Not a training ground for college.


A lot of parents make this mistake--although many dancers decide that they will go to college after a period of serious training, anyhow. They decide that they just are not going to get the reward commensurate with the sacrifice/effort they are putting into this aspect of their life and they need to change the focus.


A school which is directly associated with a company will provide serious training, as well as alternatives should injury intrude, desires change, bodies leap out of an expected norm, etc.......


When looking at a year-round program, I completely agree with vagansmom:


The stuff you want to know without prejudicing the dance-based decision of the faculty...


Any school worth the rosin in the box is not going to have any "dance-based decision" reversed because of a parent asking questions!!!! They are used to this, believe me. Training is horrendously expensive--even for those on full scholarship--and parents are the great proselytizers for dance programs...not to mention future sources of funding.


They ought to be able and happy to answer any and all questions. I have never known a good program that was not. The *big* factor here is the dancer--how much do they want to dance and on what level? If they are aiming toward a theatre career with dance as an auxiliary aspect, then probably a college will have the greater number of contacts. If they want to dance Tharp or Taylor or Ailey, then you look for the schools associated with those companies' repertories.


(Hint: you do not have to live in or move to New York City.)


You *do* have to be exceedingly realistic about your child, their emotional and physical maturity, and what is driving them, and you, to think about this step. Kids have a hard enough time growing up these days without doing something that will make them feel less than terrific. ...the competition is fierce, dancers are the most self-critical of artists, anyhow, and while it is sheer passion that is driving them, they need to always be aware that life has other avenues. (Although they won't believe you.... )


College recruiters always go to these schools--anyone who has undertaken dance training knows about focus, time management, discipline, poise in civilized society: all things which hold one in very good stead.


You also have to look at the fact that life away from home is an unbelievably chaotic force insofar as family dynamics are concerned. Kids from 12-21 need parenting just as much as younger ones, although of a far different sort, of course. You will have to retrain yourself considerably--both the dancer and the family. I know many, many dancers whose parents do not have a clue as to the support that these kids need. That needs to be taken into serious consideration--the school can provide a degree of assistance, but it is really up to the family to listen to the dancer and evaluate the entire situation in the context of their family life.


It is not a decision that can be made in August when the offer to attend fulltime is made. Lots of people quit, lots of people delay for a year, lots of people injure themselves and have to take time off----you can't make major changes hastily.


All this said, there are some children whose lives have been saved because their parents realized that they *had* to let them do this. It is such a lonely, lonely path--we need to help as much as we can.

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Guest samba38

This is an excellent point:

"It is not a decision that can be made in August when the offer to attend fulltime is made. Lots of people quit, lots of people delay for a year, lots of people injure themselves and have to take time off----you can't make major changes hastily."

However, when these schools make an offer in late July for Sept., August is exactly all the time you have. So here's another question:

Are schools miffed if they make an offer and the parents say no, not yet, not this year? Does it hurt her chances for the next year? I feel like I'm in a lose/lose situation. Kiddo is crushed is she doesn't get an offer to stay and crushed if she does and we refuse it. I think she should view it like multiple SI auditions: You can't attend all gazillion programs but you can have a little ego blast racking up acceptance offers.

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This is just anecdotal, not based on any inside knowledge of ballet schools, but my daughter's had several friends who've been offered year-round residency at SAB. Two of them refused because their parents felt they were still too young. The following summer they both returned to SAB, were once again offered and accepted. One of them, by the way, just danced a solo at the SAB Spring Workshop performance and was the recipient of an award based on promise. Amazing dancer, lovely person. Talent wins out.


In the case of other ballet pre-pros, the one my daughter attends definitely does NOT view unkindly a parent's decision to have child wait another year. It frequently happens with dancers who are just entering high school; ballet schools know this and they wisely keep the door open, all other things being equal. I've seen first-hand many students be invited to stay, demur for a year and then attend.

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I agree, that waiting may be the route to take. This way you have the school year to think about things, not to mention another year of maturing at home.


Lots of the older kids who go to the "company" schools just study there for a couple of years....if you have very good ballet training nearby, I'd say stick with it.


If your child is immensely talented and on a professional track, then take that route, but never go into it hastily, or without asking all the queations you want of the school and of other parents or students who have attended. Most people are very happy to share insights and experiences, as we all know what a lot of money and emotional energy are invested.

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Guest Ann2

If you are trying to find out about the academics at a school request a copy of the "School Profile." If the school sends anyone at all to college they will have one made up each year to accompany applications. School Profiles range in size from 1/2 - 5 pages and include at a minimum a brief description of the school, the size of the graduating class, the number of AP courses offfered, whether students are ranked or unranked, and the percentage of students going to college. Many schools include a list of all the college acceptances for the past 5 years (names of colleges and numbers of spots offered), and the median SAT, SAT II, ACT, and AP scores, and percentages and numbers of students taking the exams. Usually this information is compiled by the school's guidance office; some schools have a position for institutional analysis and advancement. The North Carolina School for the Arts has an institutional analysis component to its web page but I think it is more geared to its college division. (This information is courtesy the Admissions Office of the university where I work).

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Of course that only works for academic school. Professional ballet schools without an academic program are not requires to generate a School Profile. You should call the school you are interested in for detailed information about such things.

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Guest fille'smom

When choosing a studio, how much attention should be placed on who is well known vs what they know? When looking for a new studio we were much more impressed with the smaller, less known one than the large company affiliated one or the one connected with the University. Technique seemed better-dancers sharper and classes smaller. Dancers from the aforementioned company teach at the smaller studio and not at their own. Will studying with an "unknown" limit chances of being invited to better summer intensives and cause companies to pass on by without much of a look even if the technique is there?

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I shouldn't think so. Many dancers from "unknown" teachers have appeared and made the name of that teacher a "known"! Just ask Martha Mahr in the Miami area.

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My daughter dances at a small unknown studio. The classes are very small and she gets tons of attention. Her teacher pays particular attention to technique. My daughter has only been dancing 2 years and with her teachers help (her daughter is on staff at Joffrey) hopes to attend Joffrey SI next year. Some people complain that the classes are too small. (whatever that means). My daughter gets private lessons and performs quite a bit. People who look for larger studios/schools better be prepared for larger classes and better be prepared not get that special attention they can get at a smaller studio. As long as the teacher is good and has produced some good dancers, my advice would be to stay at the smaller school. My daughters teacher has sent several girls to the top SI's in the country on full scholarships. (not to mention both her children are professional dancers) She gives 100% of herself to her students. I get frustrated when I hear parents complain about how this studio is not like a "big" studio and cannot offer the same amount of classes. But to tell you the truth...my daughter gets MORE out of fewer classes with this studio because of the limited amount of students, then she would at any other "bigger" studio. There will come a time when she will need a professional school, but until I am told by her teacher that she is ready to go...we are staying put.

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I am curious Redstorm, when you say small, what do you mean exactly? How old is your daughter and how many classes is she taking weekly? How many students in a class at a time? Any other teachers? And what kind of classes. I have always had a "bee in my bonnet" about the number of classes a student takes at different stages in their training. I am apt to agree with your thinking.

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Hi Just Do It!

Let's see..my daughter is 11. She takes approximately 4 ballet (technique and pointe) classes a week (not including 3 weekly rehearsals, which include an hour technique class before) 2 Modern Jazz and a tap class. She also has a private in there when her teacher has time. Her studio performs pretty regularly for small festivals and such and for at least one big performance at the end of the year. The classes consist of no more than 10 but usually are around 6 students of different levels. There are other teachers there, but they focus more on tap and jazz. My daughter stays with her one teacher. I have been asked more than once why I stay and not take her to a professional school. I tell them my daughter would never get the training there, at her age, that she is getting now. Not only that, but her teacher and I have talked at great length about my daughters future, and I was told to be patient. She may be ready technically for the "big" schools, but to remember that emotionally she is still a little girl and those schools can be cut throat. Better to prepare a completely well rounded dancer than thrust her out into the big bad world too early. She has plenty of time for the "big" schools. I know a good thing when I see it and my daughters teacher and school are the best! :D

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