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Vaganova woes


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I was wondering if any of you have had any experience with your dancers going into Vaganova training later in their dance studies only to find it squash their joy of dance. My 17 year old moved two years ago from a tough, well respected program that only hinted at the Vaganova technique to a very strict Vaganova training from teachers trained at the Vaganova Academy. Now, her passion for dance is waning as she describes feeling smothered. Her joy is gone. She dances more like a robot and less like the beautiful dancer we once had. She can't see herself clearly because all she gets is negative feedback about how she was trained all wrong from the beginning. This is a dancer who has been accepted into the highest levels of all summer intensives she has auditioned for. She has been working extra hard to do everything her teachers require, but recently she just shows no love of it anymore. What would be the best thing for me as her parent to do?

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A negative environment is not condusive to artistic excellence, in my opinion. If this has been going on for a while, and is not something new and possibly transitional, then I would say it's time for her leave the program. Did the teachers change this year, or have they been telling her this for two years? Is she a senior this year? If so, senioritis may be setting in already. (Senioritis, in this situation, is panic about what happens in terms of a job when you graduate.)

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You have to remember that it is not about what you want to do for your daughter, but what she wants to do for herself. I have just started my 7th year of teaching and attended the Kirov in DC. I know and understand the trials and self esteem issues she is going through. While I grew up around that atmosphere and had plenty of nights on the phone with my parents, they always left it to me in the end. If SHE isn't happy, then SHE needs to make the decision to leave the school rather than just going along for the ride.


The Vaganova method is not for everyone. Just as the Cecchetti method, RAD, Balanchine style, French school, etc. SHE needs to find one that is right for her.


In my years of teaching, it took me about 6 of them to realize that teaching to have the kids fear you is not the best way to teach. I thought back to my primary teacher during my time at Kirov, Vladimir Djouloukadze, and how he taught from a fatherly perspective. Sure he would drill us, but it was all in the name of love. Make sure she isn't interpreting her teachers critism in a negative light unless of course the comments are all realy that negative.


I have yet to meet a teacher that didn't want their students to succeed, even though we know some may not, we all want the best each one of them. Just because our ways are not there ways does not mean it is wrong. While some teachers from the Cold War era still act like the Cold War is going on is something also to keep in mind. And of course they will say the way she was taught is wrong because it goes against everything they were taught.


Like I said from the beginning, in the end, let her make the decision on where she wants to go.

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Ian, this forum is for parents of dancers 13+. Your post is very good, but, the parents are sometimes very concerned about who posts here.


Nightowl, would you like this thread moved to a different forum, like Cross Talk, where anyone could answer?

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I don't feel the thread needs to be moved. While I appreciate all of the above replies, I don't believe I want dancer perspectives.


As far as the past two years are concerned, there have been good times. But usually they occur after she has been so severely discouraged that they know they have to back off or they would lose a student.


With regards to letting her decide, I have told her that only she can decide and we will support her decision. But sometimes as parents, we need to make the fallen rider get back up on the horse, even if it is a different horse so to speak. I just fear that someday she will look back and wonder why we didn't make her keep going.

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nightowl, I remember very distinctly a sentence I read in a teen church pamphlet when I was about 15 (when I was supppose to be listening to my actual pastor preach). I remember very distinctly sitting in the balcony section of our church with other kids approximately my age. I recite all that only because I want to emphasize how much of an impression one line in that made on me. That one sentence read: "If your religion doesn't change you, change religions." Coming from a publication put out by my particular denomination, that seemed almost blasphemous, but it has really helped me over the years.


Secondly, I also remember very clearly a discussion I had with a psychologist during a study group about Jung.

His comment was, "in the end, the point to life is to be happy." Now, he did not mean that we should all be giddy with pleasure at all times, but one's life, as a whole, should be a happy one and our goals and decisions should keep that in mind.


So, in terms of your daughter's dilemma, I would say that (1) if she has been getting into top levels of top SIs, then she has certainly been well-trained----whatever these particular Vaganova-trained teachers say. She just might not be a well-trained Vaganova dancer. Such is life! Not all successful dancers are well-trained Vaganova dancers. There are many roads to Rome. I would say that (2) if her current training situation makes her unhappy, as a whole--and not just on any given day here or there, then it is time to change her training situation to something that does instill more happiness in her life.


My DD had a similar situation occur a year or so ago. In fact, the 'new' situation at that time was so detrimental to her and had managed to squish all joy from dance for her such that she could not conceive ever again experiencing that joy that she had had with dance for so many years, beginning at age 3. We did change her training situation, as one last attempt to give her an opportunity to determine whether the joy was still there at all. We did not want to leave it that she was driven out of her 'joy' by someone else's decree. If she walked away, we wanted her to do so on her own terms and by her own decision.


In the new environment, she very quickly regained her confidence and the joy returned. She is a wiser dancer now, but also a much stronger (emotionally) one.


Thus, I would encourage your daughter to find another training environment before she closes the door on the path she felt was so right prior to this most recent training environment. There are nurturing environments out there that do provide the level training needed to make a professional level dancer.

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Is it possible that the issue is not the specific method of training, but other factors in the school, or your dd's relationship/interaction with staff, peers, etc?


I say this with every possible sincerity - I too have a 17 year old dd, and I know that it can be an up and down ride....but my dd has never voiced to me the feelings of unhappiness that yours has, nightowl. If she did we would have to take a very serious - and immediate - look at plans for the remainder of this school year. Ours is still in high school, so that would be an issue of course - but in the end, most courses can be done online or via correspondence whereas ballet cannot and feelings can take a while to mend.


I wish you all the best - please keep us posted on how things go.



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Thanks for all of your precious replies. They are so very helpful to me. That being said, I want to be sure to give credit where credit is due. These Russian teachers are by far the best around our area. They have amazing qualifications. They have helped to clean up my daughter's technique and have definitely made her stronger...physically. However, I see her as being weaker mentally and emotionally. She attended a very Vaganova based SI where her good training and foundation was both noticed and complimented. She was invited to stay for year round training. For a variety of reasons, she chose to return to her home studio. It seems that her going away for this SI tipped them into a more negative view of her. But, the feeling of being stifled and losing her joy has been going on for at least a year. Probably longer. So I agree that taking her to a different style may be what's necessary to help her discern if it is just the style or if she is just burnt out or suffering from senioritis. Unfortunately there are few strong programs around.


I can honestly say that I am enjoying the slowing down of our home life while she searches her soul. About the time I learn to love this lifestyle, she'll probably return us to the treadmill.

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My DD was not formally trained in any one method or style, but was exposed to many all along the way. This past summer she attended the Kirov SI. It was her first exposure to strictly Vaganova instruction. Perhaps it was because she was not used to it, or perhaps it was because she was behind in terms of the little details (every little head angle and pinky height), but she seemed a little overwhelmed with the drilling of corrections. She appreciated very much the attention to detail and cleanness of technique. The summer was a slow-down and regaining of attention to detail, in that way. But, for the first time ever, she experienced a crisis of heart and questioning of passion while there for 6 weeks. Her light dimmed. I don't know if it was her age during this particular summer, the intensity of the program, or the "smothering" of the students in the strict Vaganova methodology. She came home questioning her desire to continue. Is it a coincidence that this happened while at Kirov? I don't know... But, though she is glad she attended, she would not go back and knows that the strictness of this method is not for her. She took a month off after this SI. The longest she's ever gone without dancing is three days. It's like she was spooked. It could be that this all has to do with the fact that she's a senior this year, as Ms. Leigh suggested. I just find it interesting that she was not the same energized, excited, motivated kid she usually is after returning home from an SI.

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Your experience sounds like the very opposite of my own dd's experience. She attended the same Vaganova-based school for 6 years before going away to a residency program with Vaganova-certified and French school teachers. The old teacher was not Russian or Vaganova trained, but the corrections in the form of insults and general negativity sounds similar to your situation. We did not experience this with this teacher until the last year or so of her time there, but boy, when it happened it was like a cold bucket of water in the face. I am not sure if this is the teacher's motivational methodology or if this person had just reached the ceiling in terms of teaching ability - either way we felt it was time to move on.


This year, DD talks about dance class in a deliriously happy way. She told me this weekend that she did not even realize how the joy was missing from dance until it returned to her in her new environment.


All this to say, I don't think it is the style - it is the teacher(s). Find a school with the qualified teachers that "click" with your DD. I think the type of training whether RAD, Cechetti, Vaganova, or whatever is somewhat secondary.

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I agree with Mickeyfan. I'm not so sure it is about the method as much as the enviroment and attitude of the teachers. Working in an unhealthy environment will rob a dancer of their joy and passion.

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All of these posts are so true in my daughter's situation. It is literally of combination of all of the above mentioned. I have cemented in my mind what I know about my daughter. She is capable of putting up with a whole lot of stuff teachers dish out. But the moment she feels they are being dishonest or disrespectful with students, herself or others, she immediately puts up a wall of protection and it is very hard for anyone to remove that wall. These teachers have behaved in ways from the beginning that have placed that wall there early on in the relationship. She is also quick to see through the teachers who are not genuine. She recognizes that she must always take the good and leave the bad. However, she has definitely been pushed to her limits on that and would like someone else to do the work for a change. And finally, she is definitely not in favor of the Vaganova technique when it comes to the incredible amount of control over the artistic choices of the dancer. She believes she is not allowed to be herself. She must do things exactly how they have been done for over 300 years. So what is so funny to her is to watch the professionals who have come through that program begin to add little pieces of their own selves here and there. Just enough to push the issue. She has learned a great deal through this whole process. Things that would make her a great teacher someday if she has enough in her to return to dance at all. These dancers are all amazing people. When they look back, how many of them will realize that the trials and tribulations a dancer faces are really not about dance at all, but about life.

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Hi nightowl, please bear with me as I might be asking some hard questions. First, how does your daughter see herself as a dancer as measured against the other dancers in her class? In other words, where does she fit in with the pack? One of the top dancers? In the middle? Struggling to keep up with the group? Streaky talents? In other words, does she have certain strengths, like, say, ability to move, but some major technical flaws? Or something else?


I realize that you said

This is a dancer who has been accepted into the highest levels of all summer intensives she has auditioned for.
but what does that mean in objective terms? The top levels of some SI's might be considered the bottom levels of others.


I'm asking these questions because sometimes what our dancing children are really doing from the age of 15 or 16 and upwards is objectively realizing their prospects for a professional career are not viable. They go through a period of mourning as they come to terms with what they consider this reality. Unconsciously, they might be trying to find a way to not accept this. One of these ways - and I don't know your daughter, so this could very easily not be true of her - is to find fault with the teachers. And believe me, I know that there are teachers out there who really do kill the spirit in some dancers.


More often than not, though, it's a combination of a dancer coming to terms with the end of her/his dream, and a teacher who negatively hastens or confuses that process. It IS a mourning process for many dancers though.


My daughter came up through a Vaganova school, but an Americanized version of Vaganova rather than the ultra-strict. Although their training is exclusively in classical ballet, they also celebrated their dancers who, while they might not ever have gotten ballet contracts, were heading towards other dance careers. Not all classical ballet schools do.


Do you have any sense of whether your daughter is going through this objective (as much as possible for a teen!) self-assessment? Is there another school your daughter can attend where she gets back that love for dance? Classical ballet training - be it Vaganova or another syllabus - is the best training for all dance. So many teens think that they wouldn't want a dance career if it weren't in ballet. But when they get just a tad older, they widen their horizons. I know, because my daughter was one of them. For the last five years, she has led a happy life dancing professionally, but not in ballet. She spent five years with a contemporary company, and now is touring as the featured dancer in a musical. She thinks that she's led a much more fulfilling dance life than if she had stayed in ballet.


Might your daughter be willing to widen her horizons? Please know that I feel for the two of you. It is very, very hard to go through that kind of mourning. I get that icky feeling in the pit of my stomach just reading your posts.

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My DS loves Vaganova. But it did turn him into a robot. He's just now getting out of that stage. The mental focus on making sure every nuance was just right was very restrictive. It's finally coming together for him, but it's been over two years. He doesn't regret pursuing this methodology, but admits that it can be very frustrating and disheartening. Because no matter how far you turn your head, it's never totally aligned, or your finger isn't just right or something somewhere is wrong. Or so it seems. It can be very mentally taxing. He also noted that he really missed movements across the floor. They would do barre, center, barre, and then center. Large movements (I know there's a term for this) were never done. In other words, they never got to actually "dance" in class. And it seems that the real joy in dancing is moving through space and the air.


I'm not sure if this might be what your daughter is experiencing. But let her know that she's not alone.

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My DD was in the same boat last year. She knew it was not a great fit several months before the contract was up and was discouraged. It only took a couple of weeks into a wonderful summer program to rediscover her joy and passion (not to mention it was nice to be appreciated). I do think the exposure to Vaganova has improved her technique overall; however I think if your daughter has already had a couple of years and there are other good programs available (wny did she leave the first program?) then it's time to give another studio a try.

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