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Ballet Talk for Dancers

To leave or not to leave "big name" school.


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To the last 3 posters, I'm not going to say whether you were right or wrong in guessing the school that my dd attends, BUT I will say that you all seem to have a very good understanding of the inner workings of the school.


Yes, the majority of the dancers who get asked to apprentice have been trained elsewhere and have come to the school in their late teens. In their defense, the children that they select to begin the school at let's say 8 or 9 are chosen for certain body proportions, flexibility, and turnout. We all know that it takes much more than these ingredients to make a company ready dancer. Therefore, as the kids progess, the school is more able to tell whether these kids have what it takes to move on. So to a certain degree I can understand why many of the children never make it to the advanced division.


What I can't figure out is why it wouldn't serve the school well to have a more intense and thorough curriculum for the childrens levels. What purpose does it serve to not teach them what they need to know? And yes, the majority of the students do go "down the street" for additional training, and of course the "down the street" faculty are chomping at the bit to get their hands on these students. So there is this kind of weird co-dependent relationship going on. But it seems to work for all those who can pull it off. My husband suggested that I ask the school for a record of how many of the advanced dancers started in the childrens division. I'm sure they keep those records, just don't know if they would be willing to share that with me.


And regarding the age they start on pointe, most of the girls in my daughter's class are 10 and 11 years old, and there are a few 12 year olds and then my daughter who is 13. So, they will actually be starting those 10 and 11 year olds on pointe this year, however, the pointe is very limited to the very end of their classwork. It won't be until the following year that they get a full class of pointe and even with that, it is still only one class a week. My daughter will be 14 at that time and one class a week for pointe certainly does not sound like enough. My dd's teachers did tell me that they can re-evaluate her when she returns from her summer work and would consider moving her up a level if they felt she was ready. Even though that sounds enticing, it makes me worry that she will have skipped the training she needs to compete on the next level. Can I trust the faculty would only move her if they had a pretty good idea that she could handle the skip? I would love to hear from anyone who was in that situation and whether or not it panned out.


The differences in the last two responses (pattypirouette and mellisa) kind of paint the picture of both sides of the coin and illustrate the debate that I am having internally in making this decision. Thanks to all who seem to understand my dilemma.

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Does your daughter feel challenged in the group that she is in? Or does she feel bored at times? (I apologize if you have already answered this.)

I don't have experience with the D being the oldest in the group, but my DD was skipped a level this past year. She did OK, but it was very hard for her and at least for the first several months was very down on herself for being the worst in the class ... By the end of the year this had evened out some but she remains closer to the bottom, than the top. So in her case the instructors seemed to know to make the move, and she was able to catch up. It forced her to focus more and work harder, which I guess the underlying message from that is she wasn't very focused or wasn't worming very hard before. However, I am not sure that it was worth all the angst and I fear we face it again next year.

But I would trust that they would not move her if they didn't think she would be successful enough in a higher level.


I would also say, I am pretty sure I can guess what the program is, but even if I am wrong, it is not the only place that successful turns kids into professional dancers. It may be the most convienent and have benefits of its own company and a reputation but if you chose to leave and your daughter was not taken back, there are still other schools available. So it is unlikely that this decision would be the one that makes or breaks her career. IMO.

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Sounds to me like if you stay you had better get her into some of those classes "down the street" so that she can keep up with the students who already do so.

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Calamitous, To answer your question, she doesn't feel challenged. She hasn't complained about being bored and most of the time the class goes by quickly for her. But I ask her after every class if she has learned something new and more often than not, her answer is no. Yes, you are correct in that this is not the only school that produces wonderful dancers, and believe me I try very hard not to get caught up in the "prestige" of it all. It's just that it seems to be the school that many young dancers strive to get in to, and not the other way around. So, I guess my fear is that I don't want to shoot myself in the foot by throwing away her spot there.

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My daughter will be 14 at that time and one class a week for pointe certainly does not sound like enough.


My dd is the same age, that would concern me alot.


Correct me if I'm wrong. It sounds like you have two concerns. What should you do for your dd? And can you bring about a change in the system where she's at?


I think you definately need to suppliment your dd's training. With their comments on her summer training it almost sounds like they're hinting that you need to do this. From the other posters it doesn't sound wise to pull her out. It also sounds like playing the down the street game is the way to go. She'd probably get just as good (if not better) training elsewhere without having to suppliment, but she'd loose the clout of the big name school. Although once she gets residency age maybe she could go to a different big name.


As for getting the school to fess up and admitt their short comings, I doubt that's going to happen. I don't think you can change a city hall as big as you're discribing. Rocking the boat will just make you feel miserable. It sounds like you need to go with the flow or jump ship.


What a frustrating situation. So many of us have been conflicted about our dks training and finding the right school. One would assume that by being at a big name you could kick back relax and trust them to do their job. I'm sorry you and your dd are in this spot.

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I can't quite put my finger on the method to the madness at this particular school but from experience I can tell you that it's not unheard of for a child to get skipped a level and be just fine. Often kids come back from SI's stronger not only technically but physically (body development, muscle tone, etc) and they watch them for a week or two in Sept. and then move them up. Often times children are skipped a level and then after a year in that new level are asked to repeat. Go figure?!


My sister skipped level 4 which in my opinion is the most important level in the children's division. It lays the foundation for turning as they begin preparation for pirouettes and as you mentioned they begin pointe (even if it's only for 15 minutes at the end of class). But there seems to be many factors that are taken in to account and I guess you have to trust the teachers to make this judgement. This school and their policies, cirriculum, etc. are not for everyone but if your daughter is happy I feel this training is slow and steady and works for those who are serious about becoming a professional dancer whether it's with their company or another.


In terms of company members who began their training in the children's division I can only think of a few off the top of my head (Jennie Somogyi, Peter Boal- now head of PNB) but I'm sure there are more. Someone correct me if I'm mistaken. But it's true that kids are weeded out as they move up the ranks and new talent often comes from the summer intensive kids. A big factor for why kids leave to dance elsewhere at that age is that once you get into the intermediate division classes begin at 2:30 in the afternoon and many high schools won't work their students to let them leave early to attend ballet class. Kids are forced to make the tough decision to remain at their current high school and give up dancing at this institution and either switch to a high school that will accomodate their new schedule or switch ballet schools.


Also note, you will never get a gaurentee/promise/prediction of where they see your child in the longterm future. You just have to go with the flow at this place and deal with the many gray hairs that come along with it ;) I hope some of this was helpful. Best of luck to you and your daughter!

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I know from personal experience (left for academics, returned, left again for academics/music on good terms but without plans to return full-time), it is in some cases possible to return after leaving. (assuming I am talking about the right school here). The reason why few people from the lower levels seem to make it all the way is that at such a young age, it is really hard to assess professional potential. A student who has potential should be brought to success in this school's curriculum (although it is in no way the only way for them to succeed) and as for the girls accepted at a young age who never really quite had what it takes, well, it may be a great school but they still can't do magic. If they are happy to work with your daughter, then rest assured she is in good hands. The extra classes would be quite helpful (they were for me) but perhaps they could be taken closer to your home if travel time is an issue. By her age she is probably pretty well able to remember her corrections so the extra classes probably don't need to be at quite such an exceptional school (but no Dinkles!) so long as she maintains her top quality training as well.

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There have been many valuable posts full of very important information and advice and I thank all who contributed. This is a difficult decision and I go back and forth with my choice on a daily basis. My gut is telling me to leave, but something else that I can't quite put my finger on is telling me to stay. I will have a conversation with my dd when she returns from her SI in 3 weeks as she doesn't even know at this point that I am considering changing schools. Then I guess we'll go to visit and hopefully take a class at some of the schools that have been suggested, and just take it from there. In the meantime, I'll just keep hoping for divine intervention.... :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think I know which school you are talking about, or I've had experience with a school very similar. Are you from north, south, or central Jersey? Perhaps I could make some suggestions, as I am originally from NJ aswell.

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Mel Johnson

You know, I've always wanted to open a studio named the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch School of Ballet, so I could say I own a "big name" school.

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Edited to say I just read another thread that you started and now see your dilemma. Good luck in your hunt and with your decision!

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I would highly recommend the Academy of Dance Arts in Red Bank for excellent training. My daughter studied there from age 5 to 15. They have an affiliated performance company called the Company of Dance Arts.

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