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Ballet Talk for Dancers

When to switch schools / seek male teachers?


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My son is 7 and attends an RAD school (grade 1) two days a week. He loves his teacher, and there are currently two other boys in the class (of about 15 students). However, there are only two or three older boys in the entire school and no male teachers. And when I look at the females, it appears to me that the students who are really serious about ballet start thinning out of the school by age 12-14 and going elsewhere.


There is a much larger school in our city attached to a fairly large professional company. They begin boys-only technique classes with male teachers at age 7. But it's a greater commitment in terms of time, money, driving... I haven't yet gone to observe classes, but my assumption based on reputation and the association with the professional company is that the instruction would be very good. (On the other hand, it's not associated with some sort of outside oversight like his little RAD school is.)


So, *if* this is something he wants to pursue... I don't know that he has any particular talent (but I'm not really equipped to evaluate young boys, lol), but he's eager and focused and works hard in class. At what point do I need to consider the switch? He'll be 8 when fall classes begin. At his current school, I believe he would continue taking 1 hour classes 2-3 times a week.


I also have a younger daughter who would continue taking "pre"ballet classes at either school...


Also, I've noticed my son has begun to develop a bit of a snobbery about "classical" dance. I certainly don't think this is anything his teacher intentionally projects to the kids, but I'm wondering if there's a particular age at which he should begin learning the basics of other techniques -- certainly with girls, I've noticed that if they don't have some exposure before puberty, they're less flexible in adapting to other styles...


I love his current teacher and I hate to "abandon" this little school. It also makes my stomach turn to think of the money I'd spend on the other school. But at some point, I think the switch is inevitable -- I'm just not sure when. (Oh, and as for performance opportunities, I think he'll continue to have larger roles in the small school, but have the chance to be part of bigger productions and see professionals at work at the larger school...)


Thanks for helping me think through this...

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Hi Abbey,


Welcome to BT4D! My son is just turning 12, and is the only boy at his school over the age of 5 and also has all female teachers. We are happy with his teachers now, but I have wondered about this same question. From what I have been told, they need to move to a school with other boys their age and with boy's classes around age 13 or 14.


You are lucky to live somewhere with a bigger school! Our family will either move or DS will have to go away to school if he continues to dance.


As for other styles of dance, I only know what they do at our school, which is around the age of ten or eleven, they start taking jazz. Tap is something that is always available to kids if they want to take it. My son had that same "snobbiness" that you speak of regarding ballet, but because our school requires them to take jazz at a certain level, he took jazz. Now a year has passed and he loves his jazz class! It hasn't made him love ballet any less, but rather his horizons have broadened. :blink:

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I would consider moving on to more serious training around the age of 12-14. It is a good idea to study modern at an early age, if possible, but I don't like ballet students to start jazz until they are pretty advanced in ballet, as they develop bad habits from it--many jazz steps are very similar to ballet but without turnout, and they learn these much earlier in jazz class than in ballet, so by the time they get to the step in ballet class, they have been practicing it for years turned in, with what would be considered "sloppy" port de bras in ballet, and it is extremely difficult to correct them. Ballroom is also a good idea as it gets the kids used to moving with a partner, which helps when pas de deux class comes along.

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My DS started dance classes at 8. He was the only boy in his class, although there were a few (maybe 3?) other boys at the school. He had a female teacher, but her style was not particularly "girly" which suited him well - lots of leaps and jumps. He was reasonably happy, but was starting to feel "the odd one out" - not because of anything that was said or implied, but simply because he was a boy and could not join in on the social aspect of ballet with 8 year old girls who were not interested in talking to boys :blink:


We moved him to an all boys class at a very good school this past September, and it has made a very big difference for him. He LOVES being with 11 other boys. Also, with a more professional school, the boys are more serious about dance than many of the students at his previous school. He is also thoroughly enjoying being able to discuss dance with friends, which was not something he could do before. And it is nice to have a boy's changing room :offtopic: He does still have female teachers, but being with all boys, that is simply not an issue - at this young age, the sex of the teacher is far less important than the sex of their fellow students.


I do not regret for an instant that we now have a longer drive. My son also does not pay tuition - you could ask about scholarships - they are usually easier for boys to get.

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We moved our son (then 7, now 8) to a large company school almost an hour's drive away, and I've never regretted it. He probably wasn't to a point where he *needed* the larger school (that is, he was probably getting the instruction he needed for level 1 at the local school), but we are really glad we made the change.


I love that he is exposed to boys of all ages, and I know his eyes always follow those teenage boys as they hang out between classes. Also, since I knew he would end up at this school anyway if he stuck with ballet, why not start out there? The school we are currently in has high standards and a certain company style. By starting out with them at level 1 he will grow up learning exactly what he needs for this school. I feel really bad for the kids who audition for pre-professional schools at an older age and either aren't accepted or are put back a few levels because their previous training at a local school wasn't sufficient. It's not as competitive to get accepted into these schools at younger ages (like 7 or 8), as the teachers are simply looking for potential rather than skills at this young age.


Also, the school we're at starts men's classes at level 2, and he is really looking forward to that milestone (hopefully next year, but I do know some kids repeat level 1). Men's classes weren't available at all at our local school.


As for other styles, my son took jazz and tap for a while and enjoyed it, although he did drop them to only take ballet (and gymnastics). It was getting a little confusing for him as he would sometimes mistakenly do a "step-ball-change" in ballet class rather than whatever you call the skipping step he was supposed to be doing. And, his jazz teacher sometimes got on his case about pointing his toes too much. At the pre-professional school we're at currently, they require jazz/modern classes as part of their ballet training beginning at level 4. Perhaps by then they're mature enough to keep the different style seperate in their mind.


Regarding the "snobbery"-- I think that's pretty normal for 7 year olds. They see the word as very black-and-white; to them everything is either right or it's wrong. If ballet is "right" then other forms of dance must be wrong. They don't get that more than one way can be right at the same time.


Finally, as for finances-- talk to the company school about your concerns. One nice thing about these larger schools is that often offer financial aid or flexible payment plans. If they want your son at their school, they'll find a way to make it happen for you.


Keep us informed!

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I don't know if this helps or not Abbey but my ds was always the only boy in his level but he always had excellent male teachers. It was one of these male teachers who told him when he was 13 that he had to go to an SI with other male dancers. He did that and came back to being the only boy again. While he didn't mind as the girls were his friends and he had been with them for 2 years, his male teachers started to push him to go elsewhere where he would be able to train with other boys, take male technique classes, pas de deux classes and learn male variations.

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My son started at a smaller school with all girls. He switched when he was about 10 or 11. I'm not sure he would have stuck with the ballet if we had not made the switch. He was starting to feel frustrated that he wasn't as flexible as some of the girls in his class, and the smaller studio where he started didn't seem to know what to do with him. (for example, we would occasionally get a xeroxed letter addressed, "Dear girls..." and then handwritten would be an added "and Brian") While I will always credit the early nurturing and attention he got from his first studio, I do think there comes a time when your son will want other boys around.


I also think much of my son's motivation in the preteen years came from watching his very strong male dance teacher pick up ballet bars with one hand (and other demonstrations he would regale me with on the way home). I know my son now enjoys having both male and female instructors--he feels that he get different advantages from each.


And I would agree with earlier posts. Ask for a scholarship if you can't afford the tuition. Larger studios have scholarships available and (although I agree it's not fair) they often go to boys.

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I think that it depends on your son's teachers and how they handle him. RAD is actually a good syllabus for boys, because there are male versions of exercises, different dances for boys and very often different music to give the same exercise a more masculine, stronger feel to it. Later on, there are the Vocational exams, which have extensive male syllabi and these are excellent for building up male dancers. However, it takes more work to teach the sole boy the extra exercises and dances that the girls don't do and not all teachers can be bothered! I think it is very important to make opportunities for boys to dance with other boys - SI's, perhaps an extra private lesson with a male teacher and of course going to see ballet performances, especially those with strong male parts.


We had no choice but to keep our sole male student with us until he was old enough at 16 to go and live abroad and study at a Vocational boarding school, and it would have been better for him to have been able to start at 14, I think. However, your little chap is only 7 - you don't know what will happen with him. If he has good teachers, who make the effort to work with him on boy's stuff, then I think he is safe for another three or four years at least. By then you'll know if he's "hooked" or not and if he has a particular aptitude for dancing.

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  • 3 years later...

Wow! It's been more than three years since I posted that question. ;o) Thought I'd post a small update.


We stuck with our old RAD school until this past year. I loved the teacher and it was a great start for both of my kids. Unfortunately during our last year there, my son was the only boy who came to class consistently, and when it came time for exams, I felt he had not been as well-prepared as the girls. (He still did fine -- but I felt there could have been more...)


Anyway, we bit the bullet and switched schools for this year (the year he was 10). Ds was starting to fuss about dance and say he didn't want to go -- but I felt this was for all the wrong reasons, and not for any lack of joy in dancing. I asked him to give me one year at the new studio (technique classes twice a week, boys' class once a week, all with a male teacher about whom I'd heard great things)...


It was absolutely the *best* choice for us. His mild reluctance has turned around completely and become joyous enthusiasm. He has loved the additional challenges thrown at him, takes great delight in working on pirouettes (and trying for doubles!) and working on entrechat-six and... We aren't doing any SIs this year, but he's now sorry we didn't plan for the local one and he says he definitely wants to next year. I'm just so thrilled that he's *loving* this again.


It looks like I'll be hanging around and reading the posts here for several more years to come...


Thanks for all of your help!

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Thank you very much for updating us - it sounds like you've found a wonderful programme for your son. That's great news and I'm really glad he's still dancing and enjoying it so much now! :thumbsup: By the way if he's trying for double pirouettes and entrechat six at his age - your local RAD school must have done a really good job with him, so I think your decision to stick with it for a while longer was justified.

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