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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Upset/disappointed parents


ncdance

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What do you say to other parents who are telling you how unhappy they are with a part or class placement decision?

 

I try to be sympathetic (since they really are upset) without being critical. I can usually see their side and the studio's side, too, but I know they have already heard that. I really don't want to get involved in a big gripe fest, though. I think when you listen to someone else complain (more than once, anyway) you tend to start being unhappy about things, too.

 

So do you avoid them or tell the truth (she's just better than your daughter) or be soothing (kids develop at different rates, give her time) or just nod and agree with them?

 

It seems to me that that often the child seems very happy until the parent gets so upset.

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I think there are times when a parent needs to vent, and like you I try to be sympathetic, but I know there are just some situations in which a little understanding does not help. This is usually how I handle a disappointed, complaining parent, in order:

 

1) Soothing (everyone needs reassurance from time to time).

 

If parent continues to complain,

2) Nod and make non-commital types of sounds ("oh?", "hmmm") so they know I'm listening.

 

If venting still continues, and especially if parent tries to draw me into the negativity,

3) Make a graceful exit.

 

I don't use the "truth" method because I don't think it's helpful, and I am certainly not qualified to make judgements about any child's talent in comparison to another's. Although there have been times when I really wanted to say what I was thinking!!! B) Not at all helpful for anyone though :)

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"Focus on what you can control." Our Olympic gymnasts set a great example during the summer games by following this credo.

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I think it is best not to get involved in conversations that involve negativity, especially in the studio. I would make a polite exit. If she is a good friend of yours, and the conversation continues outside the studio, you may want to gently tell her that it is usually not expected for parents to comment on parts and placement. If she trusts the trainng of the director (after all, she is paying $$$ for her DD to train there!), it goes hand in hand.

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It also helps to say "I feel your frustration, but personally, I have a hard time reconciling when to be upset about casting/placement for my own child and recognizing that to do so means I"m negating another child, equally as deserving. So I"ve decided to leave those decisions for the teachers and try not to pass judgement. But I do understand your frustration."

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Mom of 3, that really says it all.

 

Time helps a little too. I was one of those frustrated parents last year. I think sometimes we look to the casting as some sort of confirmation that the sacrifices we are making for our kids are worth it. And sometimes these annual shows like Nutcracker make that harder by having a seemingly natural progression of roles. It leads us to compare where our child was last year with where she is today, and with other kids in the class. Last year my kid wanted a part, she didn't get it. She wasn't the only one who was dissappointed. But she handled it well and she got the part this year. I have tried very hard to remember that while I am thrilled for my daughter, there are probably other parents out there who are sad for their own kids. Someone on this board told me at the time that ballet (and dance) is more often about the dissappointment of NOT getting a role you wanted. Even my daughter's old babysitter, who is now a Jr in college and is winning prestegious national scholarships, said she was jealous because she always wanted this part.

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Usually, it's a friend of mine, and I just share my experiences. One year my dd was held back from pointe while some of her friends were promoted. She was crushed, but it turned out to be the best thing for her. That year, the trust and respect we held for that teacher and the school in general grew, and so did my dd's ability. I like to share that story with struggling parents when their kids get held back.

 

Another time, my dd was not cast for a company production while her two close friends were. Last year, my dd got a Nut part she wanted and some good friends didn't. It's a subjective field, and sometimes the AD is looking for a certain quality.

 

I read on this board about appreciating beautiful paintings. We may be in a museum looking at a series of beautiful paintings and seeing different aspects of each. Each painting is different, but none is less beautiful than the other. I'm sure I slaughtered that lovely post, but the idea really lifted me and my dd.

 

This year I was frustrated with my dd's placement. She's at the top of her class because no one was promoted in the school. Please, I'm not boasting about ability, it's just that some Level 2 students were moved up to Level 3, but no Level 3, 4, 5, 6 students were moved up. So, she's in a two tier class and not feeling challenged. I had my moments of negativity, complaining, wondering why I spent so much money on her SI, etc. Finally, I just resigned myself that this was a cleaning up the details kind of year. I reminded dd to keep her attitude positive, decided to keep my attitude positive, and spent less time with people at the studio who could feed my feelings of negativity.

 

It's tough out there...I'm emotional, my dd is emotional, too. I'm usually the Pollyanna, objective one in the party. When I feel myself getting sucked into negative talk, I really need to distance myself or it becomes really consuming. After a time, things settle down and I can hang out in the studio during class again. I like the atmosphere while I work on my graduate teaching degree...kids, music, dancing in the background.

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Guest MasterPuppeteer
What do you say to other parents who are telling you how unhappy they are with a part or class...

 

I just listen and nod and make sympathetic noises. It's when they get too loud that I sort of have to shush them. But I'm always interested in hearing what they have to say because even if they're griping, there's almost always a grain of truth to whatever it is they're complaining about.

 

So do you avoid them or tell the truth...

 

No, if it were me, I would just say, "That sounds like a really difficult situation! I'm so sorry to hear you guys are going through that!"

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Over the years, one of the things that I've come to terms with is the whimsicality of casting. Here are some of the realities that I've confronted over the course of 15 years along the way. When talking with close friends about casting disappointments, these might be useful to throw out for consideration. I would suggest, as momof3 did so well, that it is best to ponder such things on your own, rather than getting into a discussion with others which ultimately sets up direct comparisons among dancers which is never a great idea. :)

  • Casting is subjective. It is based upon one person's view (or sometimes 2 or 3 people's individual views). Depending upon the AD's preferences and agenda, what is wonderful for one dancer, will be a great disappointment for others.
  • AD's are influenced by many factors, only ONE of which is dancer ability. Other factors include:
  • Costume size
  • Dancer's style (a serious, intense dancer is right for one role, but not a good match for another)
  • Dancer's body type (some ADs have a preference for a certain body type in general or for a specific role)
  • Height as it compares to others in surrounding roles or for partnering
  • Dancer's look, as compared to others she/he is supposed to be related to or complement in a given role (for example, if Clara's mom is Asian, some ADs want Clara to be Asian too. This goes for hair color, fair-skin/dark-skin, etc.)
  • Other roles an AD might have in mind for a dancer later in the year and the desire to balance the soloist roles among several top dancers.
  • Dancer's look as it relates to the part. (Perhaps this year, the AD is wanting a more mature looking Clara. Young-looking girls would be out. The reverse also happens. An AD might want to go to a child-like Clara (even if he has been using a maturer version in previous years) and the heir apparent might look too old, have developed teen curves, etc. and miss out on the role.
  • Dancers whom the AD likes personally or who caught his eye for some reason. This might be a dancer who has a personality the AD finds appealing or who reminds him of someone else he has known in his dance journey. It might be based on physical attractiveness or any other of a hundred variables. Not always commensurate with abilities, but a fact of life in this subjective business.
  • Dancers who are children/grandchildren of major donors. Don't like to admit that this occurs sometimes; but it does. The precarious nature of finances for ballet companies makes this more common than anyone would like.
  • Sometimes dancers are simply overlooked. A talented dancer who fits all of the criteria above, is not selected. It happens! But, I've noted that when it does, it usually is eventually corrected in future years' casting.

We say it over and over again here on BT, but it is really true that this is a slow and arduous process and for those who stick with it, work hard, stay focused on a pro career and adequately advance and hone their technical skills, things do level out by the time they reach 17-19. Having had a child at a major residency school I can also tell you stories about numerous dancers who NEVER danced a major role, who were NEVER cast in a major residency school production, who are currently professional dancers, while a number who were stars have left classical ballet. I think that it is important for moms of dancers in their younger years to understand and acknowledge that this is the way that the dance world works. No one promises that it is fair or easy or warm or fuzzy. It is important to look this reality square in the eye and come to terms with it early in the journey. It does help to make the road a bit smoother! :P

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Wow, what a great post, balletbooster. That pretty much says it all, but especially true is the underlying point that the ballet world doesn't always recognize that a dancer has worked hard and done everything "right". There is no checking-off of tasks that automatically entitle a dancer to a prize at the end of the list. I think this is a big source of frustration for parents as we all try to teach our children (in dance and otherwise) that if they do what is asked of them there will be reward. And for so many of our dancers, they diligently do what is asked and then can't understand why the reward doesn't just "come". But as has been mentioned, the ballet world is completely subjective. Sugar Plum and Black Swan are not in my DD's future, but some cool contemporary leads just might be...someday.

 

ncdance, you are also right that often the child is fine until the parent gets upset. As terrible as it sounds I have found that when I realized (or perhaps understood is a better word) that this was my daughter's investment (albeit my money :P ) and not my own, I found it easier to support her. Perhaps this is something you could share with the parents who approach you. Either you (as a parent) trust the training situation in which you have placed her, or you don't. That is hard to stand by through the bad and ugly, but I do think it's true. Either she is committed to her training or she isn't. Another school may or may not be a necessary move, but trying another school can be enlightening in more ways than one. If the student is dissatisfied, then this might be something to try. It might just show the student (and parent) whether the school is right or wrong for her.

 

For us, I think this realization happened in part because of me and in part because of her. I decided that I trusted her teachers to provide her with something I could not. (WHAT?! SOMETHING I COULD NOT???) She was old enough to begin to take charge of her training and what she would choose to make of it. Now that she is a senior in HS, I'm coming to grips with the concept that I can help her make a DVD, I can take photos of her and fly her to auditions, but pretty soon she'll be on her own. :) I'm glad I was able to take that half-step back before that time came. It's been like an emotional weaning. :sweating:

 

 

Edited to add: I thought this was in Cross talk when I started. Feel free to ax it if necessary as my youngest is now 13.

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Thank you all for answering - these are all wonderful suggestions and very helpful. I will also try and remember them if the situation changes sometimes and we are not the happy ones! Trusting the teacher and not complaining to everyone else and letting my daughter be in charge of the problem sound like the best ways to handle not getting the part or placement you were hoping for.

 

And I think it is good to try and remember how many years of training this takes, also. Hopefully I can say some of this to other parents as well as all of you have.

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Another important reality to note is that EVERY dancer is going to be disappointed with casting/placement at some time - at some point - in their training and/or career. It is a fact of life. Regardless of how talented your dancer might be, they will not ALWAYS get the lead in every production. The most famous dancers in the world are not always cast in the lead of every production their company performs. At some point, at some SI or school, they may not get placed as they think they should or are not moved up as rapidly as they would like. I daresay that there are very few dancers who cannot point to at least one of these scenarios in their own ballet journey.

 

So, at some point along the journey, every dancer (for some this may be to a greater or lesser extent) will have to grapple with this ballet reality. Best to start talking about it with your dancer early and often, particularly when things are going well for them! It is much easier to absorb the nuances and realities of this situation when you are happy and satisfied than it is when you are staring at a newly posted cast list that is less than what you hoped for. :innocent: Pointing out how they were uniquely suited to a given role and that this is likely a large part of why they were selected, starts to plant the idea that they are not going to be uniquely suited to EVERY role and therefore will be passed over at some point. When a friend is hurting because of a disappointment, is a good time to remind your child that even when a dancer works very hard, has seniority, a good facility, good technique, etc. it is still no guarantee that every casting will be a dream come true. Often when things are going well for a dancer, it is easy for them to dismiss the plight of others as due to something specific (she is too tall, has bad feet, etc.). The more we can help them realize that you cannot always pinpoint the reason someone does not get a part in ballet, the easier it will be when it comes their turn to learn this firsthand!

 

lovemydancers is so right about this going against what we teach our children as one of the benefits of a good work ethic - positive results! Sadly, this is not always the case in ballet. (Although certainly a great work ethic is essential to ballet success, it does not always guarantee it.)

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You are very wise balletbooster. There are many reasons a child might not be cast and some of those reasons aren't the reasons we as parents want to hear but that is the way it is in the real world. We have seen all of those things happen.

 

I think what hurts some girls is not the casting but people around them saying, "Oh, I can't believe you didn't get that part. You are such a good dancer." The child then feels that he or she did something wrong when really it had nothing to do with ability.

 

I basically hide in my car for about two weeks after parts have been announced. That allows me time to deal with things if dd is disappointed about her parts and to stay away from the parents who want to complain. And to stay away from the moms who would be disappointed but their daughters got good parts so they feel justified in bashing all the parents and kids who are disappointed.

 

It takes about two weeks for everyone to settle down and then I can vneture forth and discuss something other than ballet.

 

I do think parents get a little too involved in the schools and forget there is a big wide world out there. In the grand scheme of things not getting a part in your pre-pro school's production of Giselle doesn't mean you won't grow up to become Giselle in a professional company someday. Not getting a part is not a reflection on the money spent or the work ethic of the student . The arts are subjective.

 

At our studio everyone knows what body type the AD likes and my daughter does not fit the height or coloring requirements. She knows she is training for something bigger so is able to deal with casting better than others because she knows she doesn't fit the bill. Doesn't mean she won't elsewhere as she proved by landing the role of Clara with a professional ballet company. :innocent:

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Yes Kandi and balletbooster, exactly the points I was going to stress! :innocent:

I myself don't mind listening to other moms 'voice' their opinions about what goes on. I would say that a few of us have become very close friends because we have learned to listen to one another. You sometimes can find that all the other person needed was to talk to someone they thought would understand. I am very blessed to have found my best friends at the studio! We talk about things, voice our frustrations, and get those off our chests so that we can present the correct attitude to our DDs. I find it hard sometimes to keep the right attitude - because sometimes we ourselves don't understand what happens! :wink: After all we all want our DDs to thrive! I totally trust my studio and what happens, and try to always put it in perspective. This is not an easy road to travel, for us or our DDs and it's just constant monitoring that's necessary. Also, that's why this board is a HUGH help!! :thumbsup:

 

Mobadt :shrug:

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I would agree that time and distance are very helpful. I myself was the disappointed parent this week! But I was away and didn't get the news in person. When I had time to think, I realized that the only reason I was disappointed was that in all of DD's parts, she'll be dressed head to toe and I won't really get to see her. Every part involves pants, hats, etc. Had I been right there to hear the news, I might have shown or said something that later I'd have wanted to take back. But with time away from the news, I actually realized what was bothering me, processed it and now see how silly I was being. :innocent:

 

Tangential, but still relevant, and I wanted to "admit" it so that I can learn from my own mistake!

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