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Ballet Talk for Dancers

When they want to quit


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My 12 yo dancing son is at his first SI, 5 weeks away from home. He has struggled with homesickness, but seems to have periods of enjoying himself.


My concern is that he is occasionally broaching idea of wanting to quit ballet. Every time it comes up, I try to be open minded (as my heart breaks), but I put my foot down and I am sure I sound mad.


He has been dancing since he was three, with periodic classes in gymnastics and swimming, as his ballet schedule allows. He attends a performing arts middle school and is on track to attend the performing arts high school in 2 years.


I have told him that when he can present me with an activity that takes the time and discipline and effort that ballet does, then I will discuss it. In the fall, he will be a Level V student, but still a good year or more before he hits puberty (when hopefully he will gain weight and grow). He has yet to come up with an idea other than gymnastics.


Unfortunately, the only gym in the city does not have a boys team. Classes are at a recreational level only, which means at most, 2 classes a week. The other gyms are in the suburbs and near impossible to get to during rush hour traffic (never mind gas prices!)


My question is, does anybody have experience with boys wanting to quit? Is it normal for this age? He says he wants to do something he "loves", which is not ballet. He says its gymnastics. I think its more "anything that I don't have to work so hard at".


At 12, and still prepubescent, will it hurt him to take a year off? He will still have to dance at school in order to stay in the school (which I will NOT) bend on. What about a year off of ballet school? At level 5 (5 nights :unsure: a week)? He is the only boy at this professional ballet company from level 5 down to the children's division. No boy's class, all female teachers.


Any insight or help for my hurting heart would help. :)

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Guest JustMigrating

Oh I know exactly what you are going through. My DS wanted to quit dance a couple of times. Age 12 was a difficult year for him. He didn't want to dance anymore. He was playing in advanced middle school band and really wanted to explore music more and he was swimming. We let him cut back on the dance but not quit it completely. And that year he did stop going to ballet class at the ballet school (but continued with jazz, lyrical and tap classes at a local studio).


My husband became frustrated and told our son that he was designed by God to dance, and that to not dance would be to deny the world of his gift. I'm not sure this had any effect. Nevertheless, the feelings of quitting passed for good after my son attended SAB summer program and my son realized that ballet is not just what he is good at, but something he enjoys.

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I hope it is okay to post here...I am a ballet teacher, not the parent of a dancing son. I am, however, the parent of a former gymnast. At age 12, my son (who was competing ...9th in vault for State Championship for his age) decided that gym was just not his thing. I was, of course, very sad that he wished to do something else (after all those gym practices and meets for years!) He studied martial arts for a while, and now he is into working out on his own terms and has become a massage therapist to help support himself through college. Who knows where this will all lead? But, he has such a great foundation and appreciation of his body (and now, for others through massage therapy) because of gym and martial arts...It would be the same if he had studied ballet! Ultimately, it is your son's choice. We can guide and support our children, but we cannot ultimately make their choices for them. The teenage years are difficult ones...I say this having passed through some fire, so to speak. If I tried to push, my son would resist. If I said "UP", he would say "Down". I learned a lot about listening and communicating the past three years! Good luck and best wishes for your dear dream, but be open to his...

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Gina, that was a lovely post! Since you are a parent of a son, I will allow the post to stand. :)


I think all teens, not just boys, go through those periods of self-evaluation and broach the subject of quitting their long-term things. 12 seems to be a pivotal age and it doesn't surprise me that your son is feeling that way.


Now on to what to do...

First off, I would tell him that he absolutely can quit, but that you would like to hear his reasons for wanting to, since this is an activity that he obviously has put alot of time and effort into, and he has in the past loved it. Then I would be very quiet, and let him talk- ramble, if you will. Somewhere in there you'll figure out what is actually going on.


It could be anything from him just being tired and homesick, or suddenly developing a passion for cooking, to something very serious that might need dealt with like teasing or abuse.


Oh, and by all means, wait to have this conversation until after the SI is over. Tell him you'll be glad to talk about how he's going to phase ballet out of his life when he gets back from SI. :unsure:


Let us know. We've all been there in one way or another!

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My son is a little younger than your son (he's almost 10), but like your son he goes through periods where he wants to quit ballet and do competitive gymnastics (he was on the Level 4 gymnastics team when he was 6, before he quit to do ballet; now he just does gymnastics recreationally). Honestly, I think gymnastics is more exciting-- lots of adrenaline rushes and more opportunities to master fun "tricks". Ballet is much more slower paced and requires more focus on the future-- something my ADD son isn't that great at.


It always kills my husband and I whenever my son goes through his "I'm tired of ballet... I want to quit and be a gymnast" stages. He was decent at gymnastics, but he's gifted in ballet. That long-legged, lean body of his doesn't stand a chance against all the short, muscular bodies on the boys gymnastics team.


Ultimately, though, we know he has to own the decision to dance ballet. We've always told him it's his choice, and we've let him "quit" a few times. He's always missed it and come back to it with renewed commitment. He is currently considering dancing at a different ballet school this year (a classical ballet school with a RAD program) that will send him to some carefully selected dance competitions. I've read all about these competitions here on BT4D, and I know they are unneccessary and a real mixed bag. However, he really misses the thrill of competition gymnastics and craves being in competitions again. Having the opportunity to compete with dance has really gotten him excited.

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Two things to add here:


One, boys often want to quit ballet for reasons other than ballet itself. Social condemnation for boys in ballet, Peer Pressure and Sexual Pressure to mention a few. I have seen it and so have others. These are very real and often happen at "SIs" and in school. Older kids pressure younger kids and create GREAT confusion.


Two, boys and girls go through this--wanting to quit or change. I found when unpressured they really find out who they are by making their own decision. Dance is not an easy path. They must really want it or it can end BAD> (see the movie "Turning Point" or "center stage") Switching studios can be the absolutely best thing--at this age, all they want sometimes is a change--sometimes they want to get away from someone who is pressuring them...My dd switched at 12 and it was the best best best thing we ever did for her. She is now pre-pro and well on her way. :):unsure::wub:

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Thank you all....your responses brought tears to my eyes. I have had, in the past, discussions about his "God-given" gift. He is talented and he knows it. But he says this is my dream not his. I can appreciate that.


And I SO agree that he is exhausted. SI has been a little too much for him(he's in Boston). There are only 9 resident boys. He is by far the smallest, though not the youngest. The boys have taken to picking on him, and he often eats alone(gosh how do mommies deal with this?). I told him to "stick with the winners"...find some girls that are supportive and help him feel good about himself. He has done that.....


...and you are so right about having this discussion in a few weeks.....even though the ballet school is already wanting their "non-refundable" deposit and financial aid forms. I am ok with him taking a year off and then letting him decide. What I don't want to do is have him sit around doing nothing and wasting his time, talent and energy.


again, thank you all and I will keep you "posted"


:) He THRIVES on being onstage so I am not sure he can live without it

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Therese, he needs to find out, or not, that the dream is his, not yours. You have to let go of it. He needs to think that it is totally okay with you if he is not a dancer. He has to feel that this is his decision. It may take stopping for a while, which he can afford to do at this age. The talent is not going to go away. You need to let him know you are fine with that.


I totally understand about his having something else to do, however, once he does not have dance, he may need some time to explore other things before he just jumps full blast into something.

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I am not a doctor nor do I play one on tv, but as a bystander--I think an enforced "time out" for both of you may be good. Read your last few posts--your last one especially. You know what's right and what you are hearing--I am just not sure YOU are ready for what you know you need to do...Just challenging you to look at the situation... not in your shoes...only the three of you can make the best decision. Good luck :yes::yes::cool2:

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You mentioned that he is the only boy in his art school doing ballet at this level. When boys go off to SIs and observe other boys, they can become very critical of their own dancing. They have been big fish in a little pond, and now look at a large lake and wonder if they can measure up. Twleve is a difficult age for boys as social pressures kick in. I think that middle school is so hard on male dancers, but once in high school, it does get better. Perhaps five weeks was too long for him at his age, and when he gets home and rests he will put it all in perspective.


Is it possible to find another ballet school in your area where he can dance with other boys? Even a class or two a week can be beneficial.


I know it can be very difficult for you to give up an activity in which you have invested so much time and effort. I agree with you about insisting that he find something else to fill his time. My older non-dancing son was on the swim team for eight years and one day announced he was quitting. I told him he had to pick something else. He decided on mountain biking and became very dedicated. It was something he was good at and he felt good about himself. Fifteen years later, as an adult, he is still racing.

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Hi Millie,


Thank you and others for all your great input. Unfortunately, there isn't much choice as far as ballet schools go, at least ones connected with a professional company where he can perform. We live in a "football" town. NOT big on dance for boys, unless you count Lynn Swann. It's been an ongoing issue.


At our ballet school, the older boys are VERY supportive of him. They would never tease any boy, as its the pot calling the kettle black, so to speak. It has taken a tremendous amount of courage on his part to stick with it.


And you are right, he is not used to "criticism" or corrections. In the girls' classes, he is often overlooked and it makes him angry. But during spring performance, he was the only boy at his level and the audience went nuts when he did his turns. He is used to being coddled like that.


I have no doubt that his whole thing has been a huge learning experience for both of us. Sheesh, in the first week in Boston, he spent an entire $150 Visa gift card and $45 in cash I had given him for the whole 5 weeks! He bought toys and candy...and shared it all with the others. Ok then, he is not good with money yet.


What I have decided to do is wait until he gets home and rests. Then I plan to let him know that he can take a break from the ballet school for this year. He must continue dancing at his middle school as that is his major and he can't change schools for multiple reasons.


I will let him know that it is all his decision (or at least "think" it is). But he will be expected to go to another activity, gymnastics, karate with his sister, whatever, and see the year out doing that. Then we will reevaluate.


Its funny how mad he gets when we suggest his 5 y.o. brother go to the ballet school. He says that is his "thing" and he doesn't want his brother there.


So, I will work on letting it go, putting it in the hands of the powers that be and trust he will know his own truth with time and maturity.

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We encountered this problem around age 12, too. The factor that encouraged us to continue to nudge (sounds better than push!) was watching DS in class. Do you have that opportunity? DS would complain about going to classes. But once he got there, it was obvious from his body language that he really enjoyed himself. I know several parents of boys that noticed this same thing about their own dancing boys.


It's hard, but finding the real reason behind wanting to quit is important. Isolating the issue, for us, allows us to try and work with or kids to find solutions that work. While our DS hit this stumbling block in middle school with dance, we have another son that hit this same stumbling block this past summer with football - once again at the magic age of 12. He was told he certainly did not have to pursue the sport, but had to replace it with something else. And we explained that we would like to understand why the sudden desire to quit. Subsequent conversations led us to understand that the driving force was an irrational fear. In his mind he was still a little third grader looking at those huge 7th and 8th graders playing. He didn't realize that he had grown to become that same size. While it seemed obvious to us - it wasn't to him. He alone chose to go to tryouts and was able to make that physical comparison one on one. He was amazed to see that he was the same size as everyone else (except the 3rd graders who now seem so little!)


I use this as an example of how important it is to get at root causes. But that could be a personal parenting choice of ours I guess - we don't mind our kids quitting, but capricious behavior and whims, we feel, lead to poor skills necessary for the future. Extracurricular activites are so important in helping kids develop more than just their physical or artistic skills - they help them develop as responsible adults that will lead our society in the future. Sounds dramatic, but we actually believe in this.


12 is a tough age. I don't recall 13 as being much better! Good luck.

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You are so right about getting to root causes. This is a boy who NEVER stops dancing. When he eats meals, he takes a bite, stands up and spins and spins. When he plays with his friend, guess what they do? Make up dances and perform them for who ever will watch. When his sister had her birthday party last month, the first thing he did when the guests arrived is say "Entertainment is in the back yard at 4:30". Guess what he did? Yep, dance. When he started at his middle school last year, he wrote a paper on how dancing is in his spirit and who would he be if he didn't dance? He brought tears to his MALE dance teachers' eyes. They even called me and had me come in to read his work. His dance teachers at his middle school say its in his blood, and it always will be part of who he is.


Which is why my heart breaks. But I need to remember, take it a day at a time. He doesn't have to decide today, and I don't have to decide at all. I just have to support him. If he dreams of being a zoologist, then maybe he can dance with the elephants!

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I don't know this for a fact (so more experienced people-- feel free to shoot it down) but it seems to me like boys have more flexibility to start and stop with ballet. I have talked to many male pre-professional teen boys who have said things like, "well, I danced for a couple of years as a kid, took a couple of years off to do soccer, danced again for a year then did mainly swimming until I was 14 then got back into ballet, etc, etc, etc" I've talked to many talented male dancers who didn't even start ballet until their teen years. So, I think it's okay for a boy to take a little time off. I don't hear this sort of thing from female dancers, though, so perhaps its just a boy thing?

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It makes it much harder when you see a spark or a glow but the words say "no." Sometimes some redirection works to find the right fit. Maybe ballet isn't for your son, but some other type of dance is.


Our DS did karate for years. He was quite good, ranked nationally by several organizations, had a black belt, etc. All at a very young age. In one eye opening moment, I realized what he liked about karate was simply the katas - or forms. Not the fighting. It never occurred to him that the katas were practiced in order to become more effective at sparring. He liked the movement. Especially the musical katas (they had to perform a musical form before they got their black belt.) He had a great sense of the music and really moved with it. People were amazed, mostly because he was so young and his timing was so good. Obviously martial arts was not for him. Then we started to think about the classes he had in gymnastics. He liked the floor exercises - preferably those that used music - and hated the equipment. We knew he'd be much too tall for the sport, though. So we had some discussions and recommended he try jazz. That's how he began to explore dance. Jazz introduced him to ballet, and that's where he ended up. It wasn't our original intention, but he is very much at home with the dance form. Just took a creative route to get there.


slhogan - We've heard conflicting stories. Some people told us that if boys didn't have the flexibility before puberty, they would never succeed in dance. But DS knows boys who've started at 16 and done well. We've always been curious about this, too.

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