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How to help dd wanting to study dance in US

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This is my first post on this forum, which I found just today. I am hoping that someone can help with some advice.


Our 16-y-o dd wants to become a performer, after visiting Disneyland with her Australian dance school in September.


We are thinking of accompanying her to the US for a year or so, for us to have some overseas work experience, and for her to study dance. We know very little about how this might work out, and would really appreciate some advice from parents or dancers who've been down a similar path. Not necessarily moving from another country, but pursuing a dream of bright lights with little idea of how to make that dream a reality.


The dd has been doing dance, drama, singing, acrobatics, etc. for several years, and is now getting really serious about it, including doing some student teaching herself.


So, some questions I'd love responses to, in no particular order:


1. Do we HAVE to go to LA or NY? Neither city appeals to us at all. We have seen LA, and are not impressed (sorry if you love the place). We'd like to see somewhere more picturesque, cooler, greener, things like that.

2. How important is the choice of city or dance school?

3. How long should we expect the dance study to be?

4. I assume the school year starts in September - is that correct?

5. How many dancers/performers are successful having committed to a year or more of full-time study? Is this a pretty sure way of getting into professional performing, or it is a remote possibility that only a very small number actually achieve?


Thanks in advance.

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Welcome hiflyer! I think before anyone can answer your questions they will need to know a little more about your daughter. You said your DD was 16 but how much dance experience does she already have? How much performing experience?


There seems to be a wealth of dance training in Australia so could she wait until she finishes school and then just come here at that time? What kind of performing is she desiring to do? If Disney, then she can just audition once she's 18 at many of the worldwide Disney auditions.


I think we need to understand a little more before we give answers about moving to the US to study dance and whether that is the best road to take.

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I agree with momof3 that more information about your DD's background and type of performance she is interested in would be helpful, but since our family has a little experience with more the disney/theatre type of performance I will offer what little I know that might relate to your questions.

1. Location- if training is what you DD is interested in, then there is no reason to go to NYC or LA. If mixing with folks/dancers who could offer work in the future, then you might consider a coast. This is where the majority of work is, although there are many opportunities elsewhere. however, at 16 there is very little work. Disney, Rockettes, and Cruise ships require workers to be 18. Theatre dance - broadway, film, and music video types do not have specific age requirements, but being younger than 18 is not a benefit.

2. I am not sure that the city you move to matters too much as long as you can get the type of training that you want in the city. I would think the type of quality of dance school is the most imperrative if this is where she wants to train, but then she must know the kind of dance she is interested in. DD is in a classical ballet program eventhough her goals are/were more towards Broadway or Rockettes, for which Disney parks and cruise ships provide experience and wages. She then takes classes in other styles and voice, and keeps up a hefty performance schedule in theatre.

3. I don't really understand this question. Most 16 year olds here are in school so are mixing dance hours with finishing school. DD is at a performing arts school with academics from 9-1 and dance from 1:15-5 or 6, 5 days a week, weekends she picks up jazz, tap and voice. Evenings are typically theatre rehearsal.

4. Yes schools start in late August or September depending on location and most dance schools follow the academic year.

5. this is very hard to answer since, very few of the thousands of children training in performance areas will make it professionally. I am not sure how much differenece 1 year of intense training would make as the multiple variables that surround making it make it very hard to track. DD worked (in professional theatre) quite a lot in the years between 10 and 12, and has had more luck again at 16+, but she feels it is very unlikely she can make a career as a performer and is looking elsewhere.

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Perhaps the first question you need to answer is where YOU might find work. There are several cities with good dance training. Some cities are more worker friendly than others. Some are more expensive than others - significantly. Given the economy, it might also make sense to identify possible work locations and then see if any of those locations provide the type of training your daughter might want/need!

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Thank you very much for your quick responses. It's great to find another friendly forum. :)


Some clarification is obviously needed; thanks for asking probing questions.


First, I'm the Dad in this picture. The daughter in question is 16 now, and has one more year of school to complete (they finish at 17 in Queensland). That takes us to November 2009. She turns 18 in 2010, and her dance school which just went to Disneyland plans to return to the US and perform at Disneyworld in Sept 2010, by when she will be 18. The thought my wife and I had was that we could take a year off our own work as teacher/professor in Australia to do some teaching in the US, accompanying our dd for the first year of dance and performance training in the US. There are lots of dance schools here, but opportunities for performing appear to be much greater in the US.


I'm much encouraged to hear that training in LA or NYC is not essential, though I understand the benefit of making connections with people "in the industry".


In my job in a small Aust university I met an ex-pat Aussie who had moved to Denver CO with her family, and completed high school there. She did lots of dance and performance classes, and has a most impressive resume. This encounter got me thinking about the possibility of the year away, as explained. We know other Aussies in Denver, so maybe that's a place to start looking. What do you think of the location, as far as dance training quality goes?


I guess my question about the likelihood of success after a year of US training relates to our parental concern that dd could go to all this trouble and expense, and us too, only to find that there are thousands of hopeful performers queuing up for the few jobs around, and no new openings for someone wanting to make it their career. I'm not naive enough to think that a career in performing is going to be easy. But dd has stars in her eyes and we want to have some idea of whether the investment of lots more time, energy and money is worth it if it merely sets her up for a big fall in a couple of years' time. I know this is really "crystal ball" stuff, but I'd be happy to hear thoughts from anyone who has been down this path before and can offer advice or at least a perspective.


Thanks in advance,


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Peter, we would really need to know about her talent and facility for dance, what her training has been and how intensive, and some kind of feedback from professionals who have seen her work. Even with all that, there is no way we can tell you that she can be successful over here, or anywhere else. We might be able to assess the possibilities, but there is never, ever any guarantee. Making it in any of the performing arts is totally unpredictable.


In terms of theatre dance, like Disney, Broadway, TV, the best places to be would be where there is a really good musical theatre dance program. This will take some research, but you might start with looking at the program at Oklahoma City University. I know there are many others, but I am only familiar with that one.


Another thing that concerns me, Hiflyer, is that you said your daughter is 16 and just very recently became interested in a career in dance. This is pretty late to be making this decision, as most career-minded dancers have been studying and performing intensively for many years by age 16. They train 6 days a week, and days several hours a day, in addition to their academic schooling. Has your daughter had this kind of training? If not, one year is not likely to do it for her unless she is quite amazingly talented. I'm sorry not to be more positive, but from what I have heard about most of the training in Australia, it is just not nearly as intense as what we have here. Perhaps her schools is different though, and that would be really good. :)

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To gain work in the US, of course, your DD would need a green card. Lots of red-tape, etc. attaches to that. Some companies will help non-US citizens with that aspect, some don't have the financial abilities or inclination to do so. To study in the US, she would need a particular type of Visa, which based upon conversations with a couple of my DD's Aussie friend that came to this country for training, does have some planning ahead to go along with it--and does have some restrictions. (But it sounds as if your friends might be able to help you wade through some of that).


In the last couple of years, my DD has had the wonderful opportunity to train with three different Aussie dancers (age 17-18) that came to the US to train after they completed their initial high school education. (Forgive me, but no matter how many times and how patiently the girls explained your system to me, I just can't keep it straight. :) ). Each of them returned to Australia (and University) after their year (September to May, roughly) here. Each of them originally came here with the intention of pursuing dance careers here.


As I gather from conversations with them, the perception in Australia is that there is a plethora of dance contract opportunities , pretty much for the taking, here in America. As much as we would like that to be so, in truth, there are relatively few contracts---and even fewer that actually provide a living wage at entry levels---compared to the number of well-trained dancers auditioning for those contracts. Even though there are so many more actual companies in the US than in Australia, there are also an exponentially greater number of dancers training here and immigrating from Europe, Japan, etc.


So, if your thought is to provide your DD with a wonderful opportunity to train overseas, experience a small part of America, provide some very lucky American dancers with the absolutely delightful opportunity to experience Australians (we have thoroughly fallen in love with all our Australian friends!), and experience a different approach to dance training, I would definitely encourage this adventure for your family.


If, however, you feel the experience would be 'successful' only if your DD were to obtain a paying dance contract within a year of her arrival, well . . . . that might be asking/expecting too much. As we so often say here on BT4D, if one must be happy with the journey itself for the ultimate destination might not be where you originally expected to end up.


If your DD is more broadly interested in dance, such as cruise ships, Disney, other theme-parks, etc., then the opportunities are certainly more numerous---at least in terms of possibilities. However, she will still have to deal with that little 'green card' issue . . . . .

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I don't know if this will help but I can give you some idea of our experiences with professional, non-company auditions. But since you don't know my DD's skill level and I don't know your's all this will provide is some idea of numbers.


DD went to "open call" (did not require union membership) for Disney's high school musical last summer. this was a dance call. She was number 197. They closed the audition sign up time early (after about 1 and 45 minutes rather than the 2 hours listed. They took 240 (12 groups of 20) and by doing that ran over their alloted studio time but were turning people away. ( We arrived to sign up, at 9:10 when sign ups started at 9). Just so you know this was an audition in NYC. DD did not get asked to stay and sing but the casting person asked her how old she was before letting her go.


Dd has done other theatre dance auditions were she was requred to sign first. (there take less time since you only get about 15 seconds) where there have been people assigned numbers in the 100s. Then if you make this cut you are asked to stay and dance.


We live in a big midwestern city and DD has auditioned for the local theme park for summer shows. (similar to disney but non-union and less pay and no housing). These were dance auditions only and there were over 60 kids auditioning.


Now in all the cases above probably half the people were not at a level that would be considered. DD had call backs from to but was deemed to young for disney's stuff. We don't really know anyone who has done the disney park auditions, but does know some people who have worked at them strainght from high school. All were strong enough singers to go with the dance. DD is typically considered a 'strong enough singer' and this has been her strengths because from what we have seen in the non straight dance company world, you need some ability to sing.


The Rockettes have a one week summer intensive that gave DD a pretty good sense of where she stood in that world. You might look into that, although I know you times don't line up particularly well. THe kids who attended this came from a wide variety of dance backgrounds and many wanted to dance in a non straight ballet world.

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I agree with everything everyone else, Victoria Leigh in particular, has said about it being hard to give advice without knowing whether or not your daughter, at age 16, has the talent, facility, and intensive training background to pursue a dance career.


If you are not sure, get an independent assessment by a dance teacher, preferably someone who has danced professionally. Seek an "outside" person to do this, not your daughter's current teachers who might not be objective enough or will tell you things that might not be completely honest out of a desire to keep your child in their school.


After all that, if your daughter does appear to have qualities - in ability, training AND charisma - then a year here in the States, assuming you can work it out financially, could well be a very good thing.


Connections are important. I can't emphasize that enough :) At 16 or 17, your daughter would still have a little time to build them. Many dancers get their "foot in the door" (their start) by knowing an artistic director or ballet master/mistress or dance teacher or someone else who recommends them or whom they can say they know. Not every dancer gets their first job this way, but so many do that it's important to cultivate connections.


As far as location, no, you certainly don't have to live in NYC or LA, but proximity would help. As an example, here in northern CT, we are 2 - 2 1/2 hours drive from NYC. As a dance student, my daughter attended a pre-professional ballet school here, Nutmeg Ballet, and drove into NYC for auditions. It's a beautiful area to live in. We are definitely "more picturesque, cooler, greener" :D . We are also home to many well-known people in the performing arts world because of our proximity to NY; they keep their apt. in NYC and their "country home" here in CT. It's nice because we get the benefit of their performing frequently in local theaters.


My daughter has been dancing professionally for almost 6 years. She spent the first five with a contemporary dance company known for its emphasis on theater, and this year she is a dancer/singer/actor on a nationally touring musical. Her company held auditions in NYC a couple weeks ago to replace some performers. Daughter was there to help audition the male performers because they were seeking someone to be her dance partner.


It was the first time she was ever on the other side of the audition experience. She was surprised that the ability level overall wasn't as good as she'd expected. There were some standouts, but most of the performers were lacking in one area or another that kept them from being considered. Especially as dancers. Because the audition was for singers who could also dance, there were many capable singers. However, in terms of charisma, of having a quality that makes you want to watch them, there were only a handful. So if your daughter fits into that category, then she might be one of the lucky ones.


Now to address the last half of your last question: "Is it a remote possibility that only a very small number actually achieve?" Sadly, yes. But if your daughter has the "triple threat" of facility (it helps a lot to be very pretty), training, and charisma, then she stands a very good chance of getting hired.

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  • 1 month later...

I must post my appreciation to all those who responded to my original post: Momof3darlings, calamitous, cheetah, Victoria Leigh, dancemaven and vagansmom. I am sorry that I did not reply sooner. I have discovered that I can't access any PM facility, or I was going to reply to each one personally.


Thank you for your wise advice. My wife and I would still like to spend a year in the US with our DD, but it will depend on working out if we can afford it. This in turn depends on gaining employment, and finding a suitable dance school. We are both educators, my wife at elementary level, and me at university. If anyone has any useful advice on this point, we'd love to hear from you.


DD tells me that whereas she does lessons in a variety of styles including ballet, she prefers contemporary dance to ballet. So she wouldn't be happy studying at a school that taught only ballet. Thus, I wonder if this is the best forum/blog site for us. Can anyone recommend a dancing site that covers other styles? I trust I don't offend anyone by asking.


Once again, thank you for your feedback. It's great to talk to such generous people as yourselves, willing to help a complete stranger. Bless you all,


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Peter, we appreciate your thoughts of wanting to thank us personally, but it really, really is just fine to do it here on the thread. Personally, I appreciate NOT getting PM's! :o But seriously, I'm sure there must be a dance site that is more in tune with modern or contemporary dance, as opposed to ballet, but I do not have a name for you. I'm sure someone here will be able to help you, though. :P

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My experience may be limited, but what many pre-professional dancers do in my area, is enroll in a full time ballet school, and supplement the various other types of dance during the school day, when class time is available. Many theater kids do a lot of private instruction, as they are appearing in shows in the evening and at matinees. They are either home-schooled, attend performing arts schools, and spend many hours also doing a regular ballet schedule with supplemental private ballet instruction as well. Maybe it would be a good idea to contact someone on the faculty at Steps on Broadway, as the instructors there come from a variety of locations and dance backgrounds, and they could probably give you some information as to how to "make it work".

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Quite honestly, your dd needs to apply to Universities here that offer degrees in Musical Theatre. She needs to be able to be a triple threat, and she's going to need the connections that such a program would offer her.


She could opt for a Conservatory setting, which would shorten the degree program by about 2 years, and offer her time to establish contacts. Some conservatories and Universities that offer Musical Theatre degrees are:




Carnegie Mellon

Boston Conservatory

Cincinatti Conservatory



This website: LORT may be helpful too.


The reason I am suggesting this route is because it will set her up with the necessary training and connections, provided she already has an innate talent and body suited for theatre, as well as the drive and passion necessary to carry her through the rejections.


Even if she wishes to only pursue 'contemporary' dance, she will still need a strong ballet background, and at 16, it's a bit late for that, unless she is unusually talented. Even contemporary dance companies require strong classical ballet backgrounds.


Now, if it's Musical theatre like Disney, then she will still need ballet, but also what is important in that genre is jazz and general stage movement and ability to pick up choreography quickly, as well as a very strong vocal platform and acting ability.

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