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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Physical Preparation of Boys


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Knock, knock -- slhogan, I just want to say that I'm glad you had a chance to get that vent off your chest. Please don't beat yourself up. Each of us does the best we can for our kids at any particular moment. None of us set out to hurt them, or make what in hindsight seem like bad decisions.

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Boys that age are too young for weight training, but it helps them get used to using their arms/torsos for something other than port de bras. Other prestigious schools accomplish this by having the students begin pas de deux at a younger age. No lifts, of course--it's more about learning coordination and support.


This makes sense. They are too young to lift, but they can start holding up their own body weight with handstands and ring/bar routines. It is a very active sport, and a nice release for active boys after being so calm and focused during ballet class.

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I always thought it was kind of cool that the younger boys at SFB (at least according to their SI schedule) got to do fencing. Not sure of their rationale for including it, but it is another way to build upper body strength.

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In retrospect, he actually regrets ever having done anything but ballet and feels that, over the years, he has developed certain muscles in such a way that they impede his ability to be the best dancer. Something about how the muscles were developed to do other things and now he's having to retrain them to do what he needs them to do in ballet. Interesting perspective, but not sure if it's true!

I suppose this is what I was getting at. I've seen boys at dk's school that are physically well prepared for ballet but come to it later and I've seen some that have been training elsewhere for a while but are quite weak. Older boys are probably getting physical conditioning at residence schools but what about preparing younger boys? Many of you have mentioned basically cross-training. Cheetah's son summed up my concerns about that though I certainly wouldn't discourage my boys from persueing any wholesome activity they'd like to persue and was logistically feasable. Also the discussion of sports activities for fitness versus exercise programs is a long standing one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Systems. So if the goal is to prepare a male dancer what activities are most appropriate or are inappropriate to help them develope strength and stamina? Or what exercise regimine? What did the Soviets do to prepare the under 14 or under 10 group? Or did they? Would doing this in the US be of benefit to students once they are older? Should ballet schools incorporate a physical conditioning class for younger students particularly for boys? Are our public schools providing enough physical conditioning for boy dancers under age 14?

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Vicarious... I know only what you've said about your situation. But I believe there is probably nothing wrong with your son's physical development. So in my opinion, the best thing you can do for him is to just let him be a kid and continue to develop in a holistic way as a well-rounded, well-adjusted human being. And you need to let him make his own choices about what he likes and what he wants to do.


These days, if your kid exercises regularly and doesn't spend all day plugged into the Internet/IPod/TV and he eats healthy foods, then you are ahead of the game of raising children who will not have elevated risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes later in life. Whether or not he dances professionally is entirely up to him.


The best system of exercise and fitness is one that you stick with consistently. This will be different for different people, of course. But it is not at all trivial; most people find it hard to stick to ANY form of regular exercise.

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I only have my son's reflection on his current situation. He had over four years of karate, a couple of years of gymnastics, and lots of baseball and skating and skateboarding and tennis. Our schools are a waste when it comes to phys ed. I think he just feels inadequate because he thinks guys who have done nothing but dance have specifically trained muscles that can perform better, such as jump higher. I think he wouldn't be the person he is today had he not had the experiences that he had. And if dance doesn't work before high school is over, he could transition fairly smoothly back to the local high school and play varsity baseball or tennis with only a little bit of prep time. I think that flexibility makes for a much better and emotionally healthy child.

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I always thought it was kind of cool that the younger boys at SFB (at least according to their SI schedule) got to do fencing. Not sure of their rationale for including it


Plenty of ballets involve swordplay, starting with the Nutcracker. The most amazing swordplay I've ever seen was the Royal Flanders Ballet, I believe. I forget which ballet it was, but there was this scene with about 10 guys all running around at full speed fencing and jumping with swords. It looked kind of dangerous. In general I was really impressed with their men, like no other company I've seen (including the Bolshoi).

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I believe the ballet may have been the Three Musketeers. Flemming Flint?

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knock, knock . . . .


What did the Soviets do to prepare the under 14 or under 10 group?


One must keep things in perspective. Although it may not be exactly how the Russians handled the training of a ballet dancer under the old Communist regimes, they certainly handled the elite athletes along these lines --and the Chinese still do--: Children with bodies born to accommodate a particular sport or activity are identified and 'culled' very early--as early as 3 years old. They are taken from their families (who are paid a month or yearly subsidy) and sent to train at an elite training facility specific for their sport. The child's whole life is dedicated to mastering that sport. They are allowed visits home to visit their families a few days a year.


At the last Olympics, there was a 35+ year old male Russian diver competing with 14-25 year olds. Yes, he was very, very good--he didn't medal as I recall, but he definitely was of Olympic caliber. We asked an elite diving coach (and they all know about all the elite divers around the world) why the Russian was still diving at his age. The coach said it was because the Russian diver really didn't know how to do anything else! No Plan B, if you will.


We know a Chinese diver who was selected to train at age 3 for the elite diving status in her home country. She was taken from her family to the training center and got to see her family three days a year. There were no visits allowed at other times. She is now 22, taking classes as a local US University, and training with an elite American diving coach. She is absolutely giddy with the idea that she has the freedom to study English, take classes, and STILL train to dive. When she visits American families, she is very touched. She hardly knows her family except by telephone calls. She hopes to represent her country at the Olympics. (I don't know how she got from the Chinese training center to the American one, but it had to do with a Chinese coach here Stateside).


My point is: Sure, the Russians probably do train the 14 and under boys rigorously. But (1) each body they select for that training was made by God to be the perfect body for that training, so injuries are less likely; and (2) that training is the entire focus of that child's life.


Is that really what an American boy --or family---would want from such a young, formative age?

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I agree, ballet must always be understood within the perspective of its host culture. While the Soviets certainly trained some fine dancers, the Soviet era was a wasteland as far as choreography goes.


Yes, it was the Three Musketeers.

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Also, certain ballet steps and positions are based on aspects of fencing.


As far as training at the Vaganova Academy goes, children with appropriate bodies for ballet are indeed selected from auditions around the ages of approximately 9-11 and they are given very intensive training, but as I wrote before, this is because they are intended for one of the very best companies in the entire world, and the chance to be in the Kirov does not come every day. Also, ballet dancers in Russia are regarded more highly than they are here, and anyway, the training at the Vaganova Academy is so good that I would imagine one is virtually guaranteed a job (somewhere, if not with the Kirov, which is of course extremely selective) upon graduation.


Early training such as what occurs at the Vaganova Academy gives one innumerable advantages and eliminates a lot of bad habits very early on, but such training is not necessary for those who are not planning to dance at one of the Big Six.

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but such training is not necessary for those who are not planning to dance at one of the Big Six.


:D What do you mean by "the Big Six?"

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"I agree, ballet must always be understood within the perspective of its host culture. While the Soviets certainly trained some fine dancers, the Soviet era was a wasteland as far as choreography goes."


citibob, it is common Russian practice in the teaching of all students, male and female, that the development of technique goes hand in hand with the development of choreography (in Russian training that encompasses the mechical know how and the artistic qualities). Perhaps you have seen some ballets from the Soviet era that you do not prefer, but that does not make "the Soviet era a wasteland as far as choreography goes"


There are the very respected and noted choreographies of Leonid Lavrovsky, Igor Belsky or Leonid Jacobson. Also please remember that Mr. Balanchine was choreographing outside of Russia during the Soviet times. While the Soviets cannot take credit for his work, cannot Russia take some of the credit for his product? Dancers who remain active in the artistic development of companies and schools become choreographers, teachers, ballet masters, directors, etc. Although many dancers no longer remember how they became part of the web, the web is unmistakenably spun. Dancers are forever physically attached to their schools and schooling.


When discussing professional schooling, one cannot compare apples and oranges. The State schools of Europe, RBS, Stuttgart Ballet Hamburg Ballet, POB, Bolshoi, Vaganova and other Russian schools, all have selected bodies, follow a recognized program of study and are producing capable students who find employment. All of these schools do have physical training classes for both boys and girls when they are very young. They all continue with the physical training classes for the older boys and some even with the girls.


Fencing was something girls and boys in the US used to study in high school (in some cases, they still do). Fencing is a great physical activity that requires the development of upper body strength, coordination and rhythum. :D

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I agree, Balanchine and many others (Ballets Russes) are products of the Russian system and did much for ballet worldwide.


From what I've read, the problems with Soviet ballet were not so much skill as a requirement that the art must support the ideological goals of the state.


I have not seen the budgets, but I suspect that underfunding in the wake of the Soviet collapse may be a major problem facing the traditional Russian companies today -- and it can lead to an erosion of quality as the best locally-trained dancers leave for higher pay outside Russia.

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You might be interested to read some of the reviews of the Lavrovsky Romeo and Juliet being performed at the Kennedy Center this week for some interesting commentary on "Soviet choreography". This subject however is a bit :angry: . I apologize for digressing. :wub:

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