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Ballet Talk for Dancers

My 11-year-old is struggling with gaining weight and strength...


LittleSugarPlum97

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My 11-year-old is small and thin, but very healthy. She is growing fast right now. All year in ballet class (she takes 5 hours/week) she has had tremendous trouble with fatigue. Her attitude is good -- she wants to keep trying and do well. Her ultimate goal is to make her school's company, but that's looking more unrealistic each day.

 

The teachers make little digs at her constantly. When she told her teacher that she was about to have a birthday, her teacher expressed the wish that she'd get new feet (I'd always thought she HAD ballet feet!). My daughter went to class with a virus the other day (I gave her the option of staying home, but she was determined to go), and she was criticized over and over for not being able to keep up. Many other girls are treated this way as well -- it's not just my daughter.

 

I hope I'm not deluding myself, but I think there's some potential in my child. She has beautiful long limbs, and when her strength comes in she'll be gorgeous. But she feels completely discouraged right now. Is this the way teachers "weed out" students -- they give out so many criticisms and bad vibes that the students don't want to come back?

 

This school doesn't give out progress reports or schedule conferences. If you're not going to be promoted, you know from reading the recommendation letter (you get put into the same classes you were in before). So I don't feel that I can talk to the teachers. I'm tempted to schedule an audition at another highly recommended ballet school -- I don't know if my daughter will get in, but possibly I can get some feedback about her potential (or lack of potential).

 

As as aside, what can I do to get my daughter's strength up? When she swims, she swims so hard and so long that she gets sick afterward. She's doing sit-ups and leg lifts at home right now. She's feeling absolutely desperate.

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LittleSugar--are you meaning the school doesn't schedule conferences or if you called for one they wouldn't give you one? If the latter, then that to me is a big red flag. Teachers should not belittle in an effort to teach there are better ways to communicate the same message. I think as a parent you need to hear both your child's side of what is happening and be able to express that to her teachers and hear their side as well. Just in case, your dancer is hearing one thing and they are really saying another which does happen often when they are younger. If the school/teachers are not willing to listen because conferences are off limits, then I think it is time for you to look for a more nurturing environment for your dancer.

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I totally agree with Momof3, LittleSugarPlum97, and I would like to add that I am very concerned that an 11 year old is so obsessive about getting stronger that she makes herself sick. Many children are thin and have a body type that is long and flexible, but not yet strong. It takes them a lot longer to gain that strength, but it will come and I just don't think it should be pushed or forced at that age. Ballet develops strength over time, a long time. Some dancers who are of a more compact build will strengthen quicker, but that does not mean they will be better in the end. Generally they have to work harder for the length and the line. Please relax and let this child relax and just grow into her body. It will change in a couple of years, and will gain strength naturally. Nothing wrong with adding Pilates at some point, as that is good for everyone, but trying to make her strong at this point in time is putting way too much pressure on her too soon.

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I hope I'm not deluding myself, but I think there's some potential in my child. She has beautiful long limbs, and when her strength comes in she'll be gorgeous. But she feels completely discouraged right now...

I'm tempted to schedule an audition at another highly recommended ballet school...what can I do to get my daughter's strength up?

 

Oh, I so know what you're feeling. My DD was one of those kids that we very thin and weak but with long limbs (9-13). I call it Gumby/Bambi. I too always knew she had potential but she seemed to be discouraged by her teachers. They fussed over the short muscled early bloomers and kind of ignored her. At age 11 she auditioned for a summer program and was told she could study there anytime. She's been there year round ever since. They appreciated her body type from the beginning and knew she would strengthen in time. She is beautiful now (15) and has been accepted to some prominent SI's.

 

Two things made that happen. First she switched schools to one that believed she had potential. The second was puberty. Once she started puberty she started developing more muscle and strength.

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Guest full of grace and truth

Welcome, LittleSugarPlum! So happy to have you here with us!

 

My DD is also 11 and a few months ago I voiced those same concerns to her ballet teachers. There is just not much to her, including muscle! Her teachers assured me - actually, I'd call it a 100% gaurantee - that she WILL get stronger. As a matter of fact, in their many years of combined teaching, they've never had a dancer who didn't get stronger as they matured. If you have a dancer who works hard in every class, it most certainly will happen.

 

So, in the meantime DD has added an hour of Pilates a week, is working very hard in class, and is enjoying the ride very much! Don't worry, your DD will get there...

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1) The teachers make little digs at her constantly.

2) When she told her teacher that she was about to have a birthday, her teacher expressed the wish that she'd get new feet.

3) My daughter...was criticized over and over....

4) Many other girls are treated this way as well -- it's not just my daughter.

5) ...they give out so many criticisms and bad vibes that the students don't want to come back

6) This school doesn't give out progress reports or schedule conferences.

7) I don't feel that I can talk to the teachers.

8) She's feeling absolutely desperate.

 

LSP97, welcome. I'm sorry you and your daughter feel so desperate.

 

I agree with Momof3 and Ms. Leigh, and very much agree that sometimes what is really being said is heard another way. Strength question aside (and perhaps I'm a bit cynical today), but the above excerpts from your post tell me to run, don't walk....

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Edited to add: My impression in reading your post is that you have had first hand experience with hearing the teachers say and do discouraging things to the students. If this is not true, and all the information is coming from your dd, then I do agree that setting up a conference with the teachers to get their opinions is important. If they refuse to set up conferences with parents, then that is telling enough in itself, and I would not hesitate to take my dd and leave.

 

 

LSP97 - Do take your dd to the other school for an audition class. At least then, you will have a point of comparison. If she doesn't get into that school, keep looking. There are parents here who drive an hour or even more each way to get good training for their children. In our case, I knew that our local pre-pro was the kind of school you've descibed when I visited. Further conversations with dozens of people over the years who have had experience there have only confirmed my decision to not send my dd there. Instead, I found a local school for her that does not yet have the "name," but has an excellent teaching staff. Two of the teachers there actually used to work for the pre-pro school but left when it was taken over by the kind of teachers you've described at your dd's school. The important thing is the quality of the teaching, and that your dd feels good about herself and enjoys ballet. I can't imagine any other reason to pursue something so difficult as ballet than the joy in doing it.

 

I encourage you to look around and see what your options are for your dd. You may have more than you think!

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I am going through a similar situation with a 12 year old right now. We try to focus on her assets such as her long lean body, great flexibility, and lovely feet. Luckily we have found a well respected ballet school with a knowledgable director who understands that there can be talent within a body that on the outside appears all arms and legs.

 

I spoke to the director recently regarding the strength issue. She recommended Pilates to develop a strong core and doing barre work in a pool using the water for resistance. She strongly advised against weight training to avoid overuse injuries.

 

The Pilates helped my daughter immensely, and rather quickly too. She has much greater control now, especially on pointe, and it has given her a much needed boost to her confidence.

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*I would like to add that a full physical should be in order as well. Children getting sick and having fatigue should be seen by a doctor with a full blood work-up to be certain that they are physically ok.

 

Beyond that, I completely agree with the others about getting her out of that school.

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Thanks so much for your replies, everyone! I've given her all the encouragement I can (told her that her strength would come in, offered to get her whatever help she needs and wants, told her that if she wants to do summer ballet we could look at enrolling in a different school for a temporary change). The look of relief on her face when I told her about the possibility of a different school was priceless! She has probably been keeping a lot of misery inside.

 

I'm trying not to pressure her. I've told her over and over that she doesn't have to sign up for any activities she doesn't want to do. She really loves ballet. It should be a good fit for her, but she is constantly being overlooked because the teachers are focused on the girls who are already strong. Her classes at the school are very large (20 or more students), and I think the teachers are stressed.

 

To the Pilates moms: Are you recommending the mat classes or the machine workouts? I can't seem to find any Pilates providers who offer the machine workouts. There are several mat classes available, but they're for older girls and women.

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LittleSugarPlum - Reformer work is typically recommended for teens and adults who have achieved a certain level of comprehension and progression in their Pilates mat work as well as for those within a height range specified by the manufacturer of Reformer equipment. Safety issues come into play when working with this equipment.

 

My daughter has received guided instruction in mat work by a certified teacher who is additionally trained to work with dancers (though she does not solely work with dancers). She has progressed appropriately over the course of a year and has grown to a height suitable for an occasional Reformer session - again, it is a process just as with mat work.

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Her classes at the school are very large (20 or more students)

 

I could be wrong here (mom) but I'd say for that age that class is way too big. How can they really focus on the basic important elements. Big tricks are easy to see but fine detail in technique seems like it needs more attention. I can't stress enough how important good training in the early years is. I think every student at DD's school who has had an injury can trace the cause to a bad habit in technique that they learned early on. In the heat of the moment they revert and ouch.

 

As for pilates the 11 yos and up at DD's school just do mat classes. The school doesn't have the machines but I know from talking to the teachers about weight training for my DS1 they don't what anything too intense for the growing young bodies.

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My daughter does only mat work as well. She works with a certified instructor who also dances ballet.

 

If you have trouble finding a mat class suitable for your daughter's age group, I would recommend private instruction. If cost is an issue for you, you might find another dancer at your daughter's level who is interested along with an instructor who is willing to do semi-privates. We did this for a while and it worked out well for us.

Edited by allegra9
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I will echo allegra - private instruction for a younger student may be in order as we found that many teachers hadn't had the experience in working with younger students and there were virtually no pilates mat classes offered to students my daughter's age. I forgot to mention something which allegra also mentioned in siting that her daughter's teacher is a ballet dancer - my daughter's teacher was a professional modern dancer (so also fully trained in classical ballet). Understanding the needs of a dancer is important and the added piece to this is that the teacher frames the language of the pilates instruction to also include that which applies to ballet.

 

This year my daughter's school has added a pilates mat class for the students so she is no longer receiving private instruction.

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Sorry my daughter has exited this age group, but I hope you don't mind me sharing this snippet. My daughter did some mat classes as part of her technique lessons last year when her teacher had to be away and some of the girls messed around a bit. The pilates teacher was concerned that they might hurt themselves if they weren't doing the exercise properly, because they were not paying attention. I think therefore that a small group might be the way to go if you want to try this for your daughter and she hasn't done it before. Needless to say those certain girls got a roasting from the ballet teacher when she got back, as they were certainly old enough to know better than to play up.

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