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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What to do with potential and passion at almost 13?


marigold

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As a parent, I am finding my daughter's deemed potential and passion for dance to be as huge a responsibility handed to me as is all the happiness that comes from her dancing. The decisions that have to be made are profound ones. I knew that already. But I have just been talking to other parents since a first run at YAGP and have been told that most seriously pusuing a career in dance are already forgoing their education in middle school and attending pre-professional dance boarding schools similar to the high school ones. They are students who have already been in competitions since age 9 and spend most of their school day hours preparing for them, as opposed to hours after school preparing for them or taking classes. My d. now takes classes 5 days a week. I was told she is physically in the tiny percentile with the right body type for classical ballet. She wants to pursue a professional career but also wants to go to college. I have read that this is possible in different ways. But is it really? There are so many naysayers among parents. When a teacher who knows the business well tells you that the potential for your d. to go all the way with her dream is there, what do you do? Are there examples of professional ballet dancers who have arrived where they are and havel stayed in school?

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marigold: Whether your Dd can stay in school while participating in serious pre-professional training largely depends on where you live and the quality of after-school training available. (My almost-16 year old just started boarding ballet school in Europe. However, it really wasn't necessary until now. She certainly didn't forego "middle school" . . . just the last 5 credits of US high school, which she is finishing online while also attending a European public school in the mornings). We know several other dancers who stayed local, graduated high school and still received offers from second companies. There are SO many paths to a dance career. Don't let anyone tell you "it can't be done" the way it works best for your family. However, even with a top-notch home studio, I would recommend that aspiring dancers venture away to summer intensives if possible. It broadens their exposure to different teachers and styles; and gives them a better understanding of the world they're pursuing.

 

Also, IMHO, while competitions can be fun because of the preparation and performance experience, they are NOT necessary to succeed. Certainly it is not important to do them for many years in a row starting at 9 years old! Once or twice between the ages of 13 and 17 is plenty. For similar reasons as going to the SIs; exposure to the broader ballet world.

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Thanks. So we're okay so far! What do you and your daughter think about in terms of college? By the way, though I'm sure you'll miss her so much, what she's doing sounds wonderful.

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As an update to the panic we all feel as our kids enter high school and the giant clock in our heads and our dancer's heads start ticking ominously - for the first time in the past 3 years I am seeing a LOT of companies who just last year were taking high schoolers or recent high school grads into traineeships, second companies, etc., looking at people in their early 20's for those positions and cutting all the high schoolers and recent grads as being "too young". So, maybe, the tide is beginning to turn and the old "no contract by 18? Well, you're out of luck" is becoming outdated? Maybe we all have just a LITTLE more time than we expected? Hope so anyway!

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As an update to the panic we all feel as our kids enter high school and the giant clock in our heads and our dancer's heads start ticking ominously"

 

To contnue the metaphor, when did you set the dials of the clock or start looking at it? Is 12/13 the age? Next question:

Do your dancers have a second aspiration that they feel is something to learn for their futures after dance?

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marigold, it is your job as a parent to raise a responsible, educated, well-behaved citizen. It is NOT your responsibility to raise a dancer per se.

 

Therefore, first and foremost, take care of your daughter's educational needs. Her dance training, at this point, is secondary--that is, it is extra-curricular. If she wants an opportunity to dance professionally, it is true that her dance training MUST be addressed seriously now. But that only means that you do the best you can to provide her with the best training available within an acceptable balance of academics and dance. In other words, do NOT neglect her academics to concentrate solely on dance. It is neither necessary nor advisable. Sure, some trade-offs may come at some point as she gets closer to becoming 'company-ready', but that is not something that occurs in middle school! :D

 

I mean no offense, but we all know that there are some 'hysterical' parents at our kids' sporting events, ballet 'competitions', and even at the local ballet school. Try very hard to keep your (and your DD's) feet on the ground and not get caught up in the hysterical 'bigger, better, more, more, more' rat race.

 

In all honesty, there are relatively few dancers that are accepted into the professional world. The facts are that there are not nearly as many jobs available as there are talented and company-ready dancers. Ballet is a global job market, so there are that many more dancers auditioning for those coveted spots. Therefore, all dancers need to be prepared to live in the world with or without a dance contract. The educational foundation your DD obtains now and throughout her formative years will be the key to supporting herself eventually.

 

Thus, it is waaaaayyyyy too early for a child in middle school to throw all her eggs into the basket of 'professional dancer or bust'. If she hasn't gone through puberty, her 'ballet body' is still not a given. As she matures mentally and emotionally, she may find other interests. And that's okay. But, if she has been locked into the 'ballet is everything' focus too early, she may feel trapped and unable to follow her change of heart for fear of disappointing you.

 

Dancers that have followed traditional middle school and high school academic routes do make it into professional companies. It is dependent on the strength of the ballet training they receive. It is not always necessary for a dancer to leave home to train in high school---and if you spend time on this Board, you'll find that our teacher-moderators really encourage students to train at home as long as possible. Most dancers don't leave home until after high school. At that point they may go to a post-grad program to train for a year or two of 'finishing'. Others go to a college program. Dancers do get into professional companies from all of these routes. But it is dicey for every one of them. Very, very, very few have a straight shot path.

 

So, do look for the best ballet training for your DD that fits within the framework of your family, but keep it in perspective and don't make it the focus of all your decisions. Her academics should not be short-changed. Remember you are charged with raising a responsible citizen, not a dancer.

 

There are quite a number of threads on this Board that will be of interest to you. These are dilemmas all of us have faced, worried about, and thought about. Prepare a nice pot of tea or coffee, pull up a comfy chair, and spend (way more time than you think you meant to) some time just clicking around this Board, dropping in on various forums and threads that catch your eye. A good way to do it is to just scroll through the indicis of various Forums. I'd suggest, along with this one, Cross Talk, General Career Discussions, and General Education Discussions.

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Thank you for your helpful and attentive response. I absolutely do not want to be a hysterical or obsessed ballet mom. I just experience some of the environment they move about in recently and for the first time. I feel like I am looking for a natural course to follow along, letting my daughter lead, as she always has. But if she wants to try to dance professionally some day, I want to support it. For me, learning the ropes so that she doesn't think she has to make a decision that short-changes her education is a big responsibility because it requires a lot of learning on my part. That is what I was saying. There will be many messages she gets that tell her you have to do all these competitons and messages from people saying she can't pursue a second interest in college or what that should or shouldn't be - or if she can even plan on a ballet career at all. Lets just say it's a responsibility I feel to get informed myself. And definitely to raise a good citizen first and foremost, I agree. I will enjoy looking at the board often and, hopefully, won't worry that I am being too obsessed. I can see how it would be easy to get that way. I really appreciate your feedback. It's just what I was looking for. Thank you.

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dancemaven, you said it brilliantly. We all benefit from reading and re reading such a post. Ballet these days truly is a 'many are called but few are chosen' senario! Academics are very important as is excellence in ballet training! To be able to get to a university is essential and should not be an afterthought. I'v spoken to many a dancer who regret their lack of dedication to their HS years and the grades achieved. Thank you for your post!

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My dd's school has been very helpful in keeping us parents informed about current trends in the ballet world.

They have advised us that budget restrictions in companies have resulted in companies being smaller - and more demanding for new dancers. The younger dancers, having less physical maturity, tend to have more injuries meeting these demands. So, the trend is emerging that companies are preferring to hire older dancers The school recommends a year or two of post-secondary training, which is increasingly being offered at major company schools world-wide.

 

I agree that academics ought not be slighted for aspirations for a ballet career - not only to prevent putting all of one's eggs in one basket, but to develop well-rounded, educated individuals who are well prepared for success in life in general.

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It is so wonderful to hear such well-written, thoughtful responses from individuals with their feet on the ground! My dd has the ballet body and is serious about dance. She is also a champion Irish dancer. I remind her all the time that school is more important. I fully support her dance efforts, but make it clear I think she should pursue a college degree. Afterall, even for those who make into a company, the pay is often modest and the career short. Only dancers and athletes seem to "retire" before 30! The rest of us are just getting started in our careers. I have planted the seed that a double major or minor in another nondance-related field is the way to go. That way, if things don't work out of her in dance for whatever reason, she can go back for the master's degree and be gainfully employed!

Edited by Anothermomtoo
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Anothermomtoo, I believe most if not all of us feel this way! There are some lucky and talented dancers who do get contracts with companies even before HS is completed. These kids will go on to get GED's or HS graduation through whatever homeschool program they are involved with. I would never suggest to one of these fortunate young dancers to go to college first. I would encourage them to be college ready for when dancing is behind them. We all know that this hapens to all dancers sometimes sooner rather than later. These days I see company members who are college graduates but I also see dancers straight out of HS. I also know dancers who have recieved company contracts at 16 and 17. It's definately different strokes for different folks. No matter when that covented contract come a dancers way, academics have to be taken seriously. College comes later for so many dancers! We all need to be educated and we all know it's impossible to go to college if HS is not respected and academics taken seriously. We know how hard these dancers work and how little sleep they get balancing their academic and ballet lives. It's foolhardy to let these kids slack off their academics but I do see it, even in our home studio. Balance in all things really has to be the motto.

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Hi Anothermomtoo, We have similar daughters. Mine attended a pre-pro ballet school from the ages of 4 - 19. She too was a champion Irish step dancer. :o She dances with a contemporary company with 10 dancers in each cast. Their "bows" are actually 20 seconds each of dancing in whatever is their specialty. My daughter always does Irish dance for her bows. :yes:

 

When she was a junior in high school, we encouraged her to apply to college no matter what. She chose to not major in dance in college, but to have it be a minor. She deferred college for a year, then two. In the end, she never actually got onto a college campus; she's been dancing professionally most of the time she's been out of high school, but her goal has always been to go back to school full-time at some point before she's out of her 20's.

 

My husband and I have always felt good that she was able to attend a really strong high school and take a normal roster of classes with other students. At nearly 23, she's still saying that she's very happy she had both the intensive dance and the intensive academic experience. She feels like she's led a balanced life up to now.

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hi everyone, hearing about your unique experiences and perspectives is really helping me.

my DD is 16 and a newly minted company member of a small regional company. She's only a sophmore and trying to figure out which avenue to go down: dance first, working towards getting into a "bigger name" company, or the college dance program route. Or a third option (which her AD is advocating for): stay local, continue classes and performances as a company member, and take college classes locally, as several other company members have done... granted, its taken some of them more than four years to finish, but these dancers have continued their education w/o missing a beat, so to speak. We are fortunate to have 3 different colleges, public and private, w/i 45 minutes of the company facility.

 

So education is still a priority both to her and for me as her mom. Although she'd rather practice fouettes than study for a French exam, she works hard on both fronts. That focus thing....

 

Ultimately it will be her decision and I have a feeling its going to be a very interesting and emotional two and a half years......

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