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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Company-affiliated ballet school vs. non-affiliated school


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Can anyone tell me the advantages and disadvantages of both a ballet school that is affiliated with a major ballet company and a ballet school that is not affiliated with any professional company. My DD and DS currently attend and have always attended a very well known ballet school affiliated with a major professional company. However, lately I am contemplating a move to an unaffiliated school as there seem to be more performance opportunities there. DD is 13 and in the pre-pro program. She is quite accomplished and capable and yet has virtually no performance opportunities. The school itself is very focused on the older students (18-22 years old) - most of whom did not train at this school but came from out of state when they graduated from high school. The company uses very few dancers from the school in their productions generally, except these 18-22 year old post-grad students who fill in corps roles. Her friends in stand-alone schools seem to be performing more and more demanding and challenging roles/ballets.

 

What are some things to consider when choosing between a company school and a stand alone school?

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That is a tough call, carpoolleader, however the first and foremost thing is the quality of the training. There are some very fine non-affiliated schools, but you have to really search for them. Most are more competition oriented. They perform a lot, but they do not get good ballet training. The best thing is to go to other schools and have her take a class. Investigate the background of the faculty, what her schedule will be, and what the performance opportunities are. But, at 13, the training is the top priority. Some performing is certainly a plus, but just make sure of the training before making a change.

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Thanks Ms. Leigh - that does help. I think she is getting very good training where she is and has a good schedule right now (she goes 6 days a week for a total of about 15 hours a week). We do have two other schools in our area that are known for their training and turning out professional dancers - both run by former professional ballet dancers and they don't do any competitions or offer tap, tumbling and all those other things that could be red flags. I like your suggestion of having her visit to take class first to compare though. I think we could learn a lot from that. That leads to me another question - at what age do you think performing becomes more important or should one really just focus on the training?

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While the priority is certainly training, performing is also important. They need some experience, at least one school show a year, at the younger years, and then more as they become older and more advanced. I can't really put an age on it, as it is more about level. I think performing in Nutcracker with a professional company, or even with your own school, is important. Usually there are several performances and they get very good experience with this. The advantage of doing it with a professional company is that they are able to watch the dancers and meet them and really get a good taste of what a performing career is all about.

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The school itself is very focused on the older students (18-22 years old) - most of whom did not train at this school but came from out of state when they graduated from high school. The company uses very few dancers from the school in their productions

There have been other good threads on this subject, I am sure one of the mods may do a search and direct you. I think more important than performing opportunities, is whether your company affiliated school is taking any dancers from the school into the post-grad program or not. And if they are taking them into the post grad program, are any of these students getting past the rank of trainee. If the company takes in mostly outside students for the upper levels and post-grad training, then they may not look so favorably at the training aval at their own school. If the school dancers are never dancing for their own company upon graduation, and if they are not dancing for other companies, that may be a (small) red flag that the training is not as good as it gets.

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Something to think about is whether your DK's are likely to have a dancing life beyond high school. Opportunities for performing will be limited after high school unless they are still preparing for (or have entered) a professional career. Some kids really thrive on classes, and want nothing more than to keep working on improving their technique. Others crave the opportunity to perform. Good teaching should always come first, but for many ballet students this will be their last best chance to do much performing.

 

It may well be true that most independent schools are competition oriented or just plain bad. But excellent ones certainly exist and, depending on one's area, are not necessarily hard to find. In our own city, the professional ballet (the Joffrey) does not have a school. Nevertheless, there are several excellent options for ballet training.

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Ms. Leigh, Stork and Treefrog you all raise excellent points for us to think about. DD definately wants a professional career - whether she will get one or not is yet to be seen (DS is just 10 and is not at all sure what he wants to do). While DD loves just going to class, she would definately like to perform more and if it turns out that the pro career is not in the offing then this is "it". I believe she is at a level of ability where she should be performing more. She has been in the company Nutcracker for many years but there is not much dancing in that though the experience of being in a professional production has been wonderful. They also do a Spring Performance but they are on for something like 3 minutes.

 

I have been thinking a lot lately about what Treefrog alluded to - the school is taking only some of the school trained dancers into the post-grad program and the company is using only some of the post-grads in their productions (often not the ones trained at the school). Also, each year the company asks 2-4 of the post-grads to join the company, but I have noticed lately that they are usually not the ones that went through their training at our school (at least not all the way up through the school - perhaps they were there the last 2-3 years of their training). This does make me wonder about the quality of the training.

 

In any event, I scheduled a conference for next week with the school director to discuss her progress and these related matters so perhaps I will get a clearer direction after that.

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We struggled with this same question two years ago when my dd was a hs senior - company school vs. non-company school. After much research, my dd decided to attend CPYB. It has excellent training and is very cost-effective for the number of classes she has available to her per day. She also has performing opportunities during the year. We know students who have left CPYB to accept company offers, attend prestigious company-affiliated schools, or pursue academics in college on scholarship. This includes dancers who have trained there since early childhood and those who have come late in their teen years to train. It is not connected to a company which will eventually provide my dd with a paycheck, but it has a well-respected performing company (they attended RDA). No school is everything to everyone, but CPYB has turned out to be a good choice for us.

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Just a comment on Treefrog's point concerning dancers not trained from the source school being placed in the company. I believe this is fairly common at almost all company schools because the pool of older students is fairly thin due to attrition, only a tiny fraction of dancers who start as youngsters are still training at 17 or 18. This condition is remedied by schools taking in more older students trained at other locations to fill the classes, which has the tendency to raise the bar and increase competition for those few company placements.

 

If a school completely ignores all students trained for many years in the company school, I agree that this would be an issue.

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Just to give credit where it's due: Stork is the one who raised the issue of whether the company takes students from it's own school.

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carpoolleader,

 

I am certainly no expert but we have gone through the process of making decisions for our 14 year old as she enters into this critical stage of training. A few questions that we asked (and applied equally to each training program that we considered):

 

What are the track records for the schools that you are considering? Does your current school have dancers matriculate into other ballet companies? There are some companies that hire almost exclusively from their own schools but many others hire from other schools as well. If 'some' go to the school company every year, and others go to other ballet companies every year then perhaps hiring issues (lack of new positions at the local company or politics) play into the pattern. Have any gone to major companies? If so, were any long time students at your school?

 

Maybe someone could weigh in on how 'long term' is necessary to apply judgement to the quality of the teaching. In other words, how long is it necessary for someone to train at a school to have learned enough to be a product of that school? I asked the school's director and it seems that it is common practice for schools to claim a dancer as 'theirs' if the dancer has spent at least 6 months with the school. It seems to me that the ages of 13 and upward are very critical to the aspiring dancer, if a child enters the school at 13 or 14 (around 9th grade) and stays until they are 18 or 19, it seems to me that they are a true product of that school's training. I would ask both schools how many dks who start training at 13/14 remain at the school until they are 17/18/19 and of those dks how many have matriculated directly to company life and which companies. If college may be of interest to your dk, then ask the same question about matriculation to colleges with dance majors.

 

Somewhere on some thread, I remember a guideline to ask where students have gone for the past 5 years. That would probably be a good question for both schools.

 

Another thought about changing schools,

My understanding is that 3-4 hours a day 6 days a week are necessary training guidelines. I asked how much training is necessary when we talked to the directors and then I called different training programs in this country. While the answers varied, these guidlelines were the ones that seemed to stick. (This does not include rehearsal or performances). I have read this board extensively and those guidelines do seem to be ok here too. Do either of the training programs that you are considering offer enough training time? After asking about the training, then compare the performing opportunities but the training comes first!

 

At 13 your dd may be in 7th or 8th or going into 9th grade, what are your academic options? Does either training program provide guidance and flexible scheduling to help accomodate academics and training? Do either have relationships with local schools that will work with the training program? Does either training program provide academics?

 

If your dd is in 7th grade, make certain that you consider what your dd's life will look like in high school. High school comes more quickly than you can imagine! If you plan on sending your dd to a particular high school, will that school's schedule work with her training? Will the training program's schedule work with your plans for academics? Will you need to homeschool at either and are you comfortable with homeschoooling? Many of us on this board have shared our angst regarding education and training and how to balance the two. It's not easy and there is more than one way to do this. It all depends on your own dk's and your own family's expectations.

 

I see you are from PA and this state seems to have a good selection of training programs as well as good support for homeschooling so you are lucky. 2 Marzipans mentioned CPYB but there also good options in other parts of the state as well. Many families find it necessary to send their dk far away for good training; you may not have to face that necessity.

 

I would make sure that you write your questions down and bring them to your meetings so you don't miss any information that you want. Then compare the answers from both training programs.

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Just to give credit where it's due: Stork is the one who raised the issue of whether the company takes students from it's own school.

 

Oops! You are right - sorry about that Stork!

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Thanks to all of you for your very helpful insight. 2marzipans - CPYB is one of the schools we are very interested in. DD went there last summer for the 5 week intensive and really liked it. We have heard this is not exactly like the year round program, but given their reputation for placement we plan to investigate it further.

 

support system - I am glad you mentioned the attrition factor of older students. I hadn't really thought of this before, but I think you are right. I believe this is why we have many students come in post-grad from other locations - not enough of the "home grown" ones stick around to the bitter end so to speak. I am going to try to get some statistics on this from the current school as well as where all of the age 17 and up students have gone in the last 5 years as swanchat suggested.

 

swanchat - thank you for your very thorough remarks. You have given me lots of good questions to take into my meetings. I am a little concerned about the number of hours of training she is currently taking (just over 15 per week). It is under the 3-4 hours/day, 6 days a week guideline you gave me. I knew that the hours at CPYB are a lot more, but I wasn't sure at what point she should be spending more time in the studio.

 

One thing I am hearing from all of you on this topic, is that the quality of training is primary and we should relax a little about the lack of performing at this stage of the game.

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carpoolleader,

 

My dd is in 8th grade, and recently turned 14. She will not be at the 3-4 hour x6 days until next year (of course, SI will be more). We have known this year that she would need to "bump it up" next year but our directors have been comfortable with her hours this year (13.5 hours). I think they would have been pleased if she had been able to work in another class every day (at lest these last 6 months) but our academic schedule in middle school is much less flexible than her schedule for high school so we have waited.

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I'll chime in here with the vote to go with the school that has the highest technical training available. I'd be worried if the company affiliated with the school did not hire those students. Do a Nutcracker or two and then don't waste anymore time at a company affiliated school if the company doesn't hire those students, and I mean the ones who've studied there at least 3-5 years, not the 'transfers-in.' Six months would not be enough in my book to 'claim' a student but I can think of at least 1 company that seems to use this as their criteria.

 

I strongly feel that the practice of advertising that a company member was trained at the affiliated school when in fact they only attended the affiliated school for a short period of time (i.e. a summer intensive, or 1 year of professional division training etc.) and got their actual nitty-gritty training elsewhere is dishonest, disceptive and does students AND their tuition paying parents are great disservice. Caveat emptor. Use Google to uncover where company members really got their training. Don't believe everything you read in the playbill. Good luck. You're asking the right questions.

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