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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career: Ballet or Modern


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Since this is primarily a ballet site, I haven't seen much about the conundrum of deciding between focusing on ballet or modern for a career. But I would be very interested in hearing everyone's outlook, because my DD (a junior in HS) is having a really hard time with this question. She has decided to try to become a professional dancer, but seems to like modern and ballet equally. In this day and age when modern choreography has become so prevalent in almost every company, is it necessary to decide between one or the other? If so, when and how? Is it a matter of facility, mostly? (that is, is modern the default position from classical ballet?) And how does a high school student figure out if modern is really what they want, when there are so many different "schools" of modern dance? And, are there any college dance programs that do not require one to focus on ballet rather than modern? From reading the college program discussion threads, I have the impression that these divisions are continued there, as well.



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golgonda, I think it's probably a bit early to decide, at least in terms of modern. If she gets to this point next year and still wants to go with modern dance and not ballet, in terms of a company, then probably the college path is best. There are LOTS of programs that focus primarily on modern, but you don't here about them here because we are focused on ballet :shrug: Many more modern dancers are college educated than ballet dancers. I would guestimate most of them, actually. The best ones are also very well trained in ballet. So, her ballet training will take her into modern during the college years.


She needs to see Modern Companies, and try to determine what kind of modern she likes best. She might also know this from whatever modern training she has already had. Then research the colleges that have programs with the modern training focused on Grahm, Limon, Cummingham, or whatever.

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I think that at 16 your daughter will have to decide if she would like to pursue a performing career in ballet. If she decides on ballet vs modern then you will need to make another decision about whether or not she would like to go to college right after high school. There are many college programs where she could continue taking ballet and modern classes but very few with a really strong and dedicated ballet program. If your daughter chooses the college route and ballet, then she will need to gear up for those auditions right now because it is very competitive. If your daughter is still up in the air by the beginning of senior year, she would probably want to apply for the colleges with strengths in both ballet and modern. Once she takes more modern at the college level, she will probably get a better feeling for whether she likes it and or doesn't. The body type/aesthetic for the modern dancer is obviously different from the classical ballet body. My daughter studies both modern and ballet and enjoys both. Although she likes modern and is quite good at it, she does not aspire to become a modern dancer.

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Thank you to you both, Ms. Leigh and ddm3! Yes, I had been aware that most college programs are more focused on modern. Ddm3, you say that there are some that are strong in both ballet and modern---which ones are they?? (are you allowed to give your opinion???) I have a feeling that my dd will be in that unable to decide camp until senior year (or worse, later)!

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You can check out the higher education and college threads for schools that have a good balance of both ballet and modern or do not require a concentration in either. SMU comes to mind.

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My daughter is in a similar position to yours. She is now at a residential ballet school because she knows how important ballet is to whichever genre she chooses. She has a passion for ballet and modern. In fact, she spent one year dancing with a children's modern company, where she gained wonderful experience in technique and performance.


Just wanted you to know you and your daughter aren't alone in this decision.

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Modern companies tend to prefer older, mature dancers, so that's a big help when it comes to deciding - she has plenty of time. They generally like their dancers to have graduated from college.


My advice is to have your daughter finish out high school training in ballet since that's the basis for all dance. She can apply to colleges with several different emphases since she's not yet sure about her interest. A mix of colleges with different strengths is a good idea. A year from now, your daughter's maturity level will be so much stronger, so her ability to assess herself will also be much improved. She will be able to make a more informed decision about what will work for her. She may have a very strong opinion by then of the route she wants to take, and it might have little to do with her thoughts of the previous year or fall when she was applying. If she doesn't apply to a variety of schools, she may find upon graduation that the one choice she didn't consider is the one she wished she had. At this stage, she should keep all her options open.


A good way for your daughter to think about where to apply would be to ask this question: "If I wanted to be a modern dancer, what school would be the best match for me?" "If I wanted to be a ballet dancer, what school would be the best match for me?" Make sure she applies to each of those types, as well as to schools that include both. It's the rare school that is equally strong in both forms of dance, but of course she should apply to them too.


For modern, a school like Tisch is a great example. Their training is mostly modern, but the audition process includes a ballet class and a modern class, after which, if the dancer isn't cut, they must each do a solo of their own choice.


My daughter was accepted to Tisch despite having had only a handful of modern classes and looking far more like a ballet dancer than a modern dancer. As a junior in high school, she wanted to be a ballet dancer, but she was also interested in a particular contemporary company whose dancers included many well-trained ballet dancers. She saw how some of them were professional ballet dancers in smaller companies while also danced part-time for the contemporary company. It looked like a happy marriage.


In the end, she opted to defer. I've written about her journey elsewhere. The important thing was that she kept all avenues open while she was still in high school.

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Please take a look at the listings for all of the colleges and universities in the Higher Ed thread. Lots of info there. If any of the schools sound good to you, visit their website. There are also college search functions by major on the college entrance exam (SAT and ACT) sites and the various test prep program sites.


You or your dd should feel free to directly contact the programs that appeal to her. Junior year is not too early to start making the list, although it will likely change a thousand times before any decisions are made. DD got answers from every program she contacted.


Good luck on the college journey! :(

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Golconda, my daughter has loved all styles of dance and felt that nobody was ever going to make her choose between them if she could help it. If the styles didn't choose her, well then that was a different matter. But she knew early on that she wanted to train at the highest levels possible in ballet, modern and jazz and for as long as possible. And since she was not able to get the very best ballet training at the pre-professional level (except for summer intensives), she knew that she'd have to go to college to get more training.


We found several schools that offer an equal emphasis in the three styles of dance and I know that there are several more that offer the equal emphasis in ballet and modern. Of these programs, some require that students settle on one concentration by their junior year. In your daughter's case, this means that she'd get another two years to decide which style she prefers.


My daughter selected the University of Arizona because it does not require a concentration beyond finishing with two top-level classes in at least one style. However, it's also possible to get 400-level classes in all three styles, as she is doing. Despite the diverse curriculum, the ballet program at UA is extremely strong; so strong that my daughter is starting to think that ballet is not choosing her. Nevertheless, she has yet to give up any of her upper technique classes even though she no longer needs them for credit and she only has one more year left to fit in a bunch of required academic classes.


UA is one of the more competitive programs, and it's also the only program that I know of that offers "pre-auditions" for high school juniors. From my daughter's experience, auditioning twice (for the pre-audition and the actual audition) appears to have worked in her favor. We used her high school spring break to arrange an "individual" audition (taking classes with the college students). Otherwise, juniors are welcome to attend the regular auditions, but those are all done for this year.


Even if you don't wish to consider UA, I'm of the opinion that spring break of the junior year is a vital time to visit college dance programs, as the fall semester of senior year can be very busy with Nutcracker rehearsals. You really need to visit dance programs while school is in session, and you need to visit them before deciding where to apply. Otherwise, you could wind up spending money to go audition for programs that should have been crossed off your list. Since we are also in the Midwest, my daughter and I started visiting colleges when she was in 9th grade, which was none too soon.


As you might imagine, you can either find an equal emphasis program with top-level ballet, or you can sort through modern-based programs for a particular style of modern instruction, but you won't get to do both. You pretty much take whatever modern style the modern teachers are doing at the programs that have strong ballet. And for many dancers with strong ballet backgrounds, the modern match is not always a perfect fit. My daughter has not let this aspect bother her, as her goal is simply to be diversely trained in order to be able to pick up any style of choreography.


I don't have as much knowledge of the primarily ballet-focused programs, but am I wrong to conclude that it's basically Butler and Utah that are the only, true, ballet-focused programs? Wouldn't the others on our top umteen list be the equal emphasis programs that are strong in both ballet and modern?

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I recommend the highest quality ballet training possible to help answer your question (deciding on ballet or modern future route). Modern seems much further explored in college dance but ballet is the foundation for all. Often after high school a dancer discovers what type of dance feels best or fits their body best. Thinking off the top of my head of some Companies such as Paul Taylor, Complexions, Ailey, Momix-the dancers often have strong ballet backrounds. I think a dancer these days has to be a dancer-able to be flexible (good pun). There are also plenty of college grads with all kinds of degrees entering Companies. Another idea might be to explore some modern Intensives such as Bates Dance Festival, Jacobs Pillow for modern, Steps Contemporary Workshops.

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I would have to call a school with and excellent ballet program a "ballet focused" program. Not only Utah and Butler. Just because a college has a modern and a ballet program doesn't mean the program isn't top notch. Top SI's and residency programs offer more than only ballet. These are certainly ballet focused. :whistling:

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Just because a college has a modern and a ballet program doesn't mean the program isn't top notch.


Never said that.

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Golconda- There is a vast amount of information here on the college dance thread. But, I will say that SUNY Purchase was one program my dd considered for several reasons. From what I have heard they seem to have a strong ballet and modern program. I was impressed with the faculty for both. I also like the fact that it is in pretty close proximity to NYC. So, this is one school that my dd was planning to audition for. She never did audition because received her acceptance to Juilliard a few weeks prior to her scheduled audition. Of course, I do recommend Juilliard for those who are very interested in a school that provides excellent training in both modern and ballet. I am sure there are many good colleges out there. I would go through the recent Dance Magazine and use it as a reference point. Then go to the various school websites for further information. You could also try Peterson.com for some basic information.

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Thanks, all, for your wise advice---it is particularly helpful to hear different perspectives and what everyone has experienced. While I have looked at the college threads, I still have been a bit confused as to what constitutes a 'strong' ballet and modern program, so your comments about specific programs to think about are also very useful. I understand that there might not be a consensus about these, but at least this information is a good starting point! I do feel better after reading these posts and hopefully will be able to support my dd in a more productive and sane manner!

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