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Crisis in Confidence for a 15 year old dancer


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I picked my daughter up from ballet tonight, and she was teary all the way home. She says for the past two weeks that she has been looking at herself and that she is "a terrible dancer." It breaks my heart to see her so unhappy. She is in a pre-pro program and has moved up gradually. She is getting lots of corrections from teachers. I've asked her teachers to be candid with me about her prospects since she wants a career in dance. They all say she has a perfect body for ballet and potential and is a hard worker. She got serious about ballet later (amazingly enough after reading about so many getting serious at 10 and under) so she feels she is fighting the clock. She also has grown a good bit taller (5'-7"). How do I help build her confidence? Her pre-pro school is not so great at that. This is the worst time for her crisis in confidence while she is in the midst of auditions! She is beginning to forego them because she thinks she isn't good enough. HELP! I need advice please.

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My daughter's favorite line in the world is "there is no crying in ballet . . . " [Pause] "As if!!!!!" This is very normal and a very normal age, time of year and expression of the terrible realization of the pressure, stress and competitiveness of the dance world. They are such brave children, all around, to bear the physical and mental stressors that they do. Often, early in the audition season, dancers hit a panic spot where they cry, self-denegrate and look frantically for positive affirmation. What I do, each year when this hits (and it does, late Jan/early Feb, like clockwork), is three things. First is a mental health day when we skip everything to shop, eat out or act like a "normal" mother/daughter. Ban ALL ballet discussion for 24 hours and just totally baby the kid. This reminds her that there is more to life than dance and validates her personal special-ness for us as a family. Next, speak privately to a teacher - this is the exact right time for a quiet and well-placed compliment of a specific skill. Teachers have always been pleased to be asked, and have managed to subtly reinforce some specific act - "Your turns are so consistent this year. I am very impressed." etc. Lastly, plan to include an audition for somewhere with a really fast turn-around and high acceptance rate. Sure, most people get into XXX, but nobody ever complained when they got that fat envelope or happy email. The kid needs a boost, ensure she gets one. Also, recognize that some dancers, my own included, NEVER think they are up to par or deserving of their awards, scholarships, casting. Some take being realistic a little too far. With mine, I have to remember to ask her about the good parts of each class, to verbally talk through the skills she has improved on, and to acknowledge very concrete achievements since last year. Good luck, and be very free with the hugs and kisses!

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I think when you want something really badly you have a tendency to be really hard on yourself! Your daughter is really being hard on herself at the moment. You are very lucky that at 15 she communicates with you this well. You have open communication and this is good. I believe and have experienced that with teens, they usually don't want you to come up with a solution. We are not experts, we are mere parents. Listening and being supportive is hard especially when you want to but can't give a magical solution, there just isn't one. Encouragement for me has ended up being actually getting away from ballet. Going to a movie, having a Mom/daughter pedicure, lunch, anything to help her know you are there for her and she's a person of value beyond the ballet studio. Times of doubt and even self loathing are a normal part of the teen years. Your daughters focus is the thing she loves and wants, ballet! She had a bad class. She had a bad day. She could be turning on a dime by tomorrow and be full of self confidence! Just stay close and be proud of yourself for having such good communication.

Edited by Isobel
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Do not rule out that at 15 or 16, they go into the "big girl room" at auditions. This is a time when many a dancer begins to question themselves. Both because the field begins to naturally narrow here and also because scholarships and entrances begin at some places tend to shift from "potential" to "potential for us and potential to dance with others much older". The top few levels at SIs are not always age specific and therefore, a dancer used to pat on the back type acceptances finds that they are now being compared to not just other 16 year olds but 16-20 year olds.


Rightfully, if this is the case, it is frightening and jarring. It is the time that lots of younger dancers begin to question themselves. It may just be a lack of confidence that has jumped in and nothing to do with SIs at all, in that case, both you and she are blessed to know that your lines of communication are open and working.

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In her lovely post, Isobel suggested a mother/daughter pedicure. I am going to suggest you make that a mother daughter manicure.


Pedicures can remove callous that the dancer needs.

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From my own experiences with DD at 13-15 years old, late Jan and early Feb where very gloomy times of the year for her. There was school and exams, short days, and where we are lots of cloudy and ick weather - cold but not really cold enough to drag out the heavy coats, so alwasy feeling like you are not quite warm enough. We had tears, fears and complaints and dance was typically terrible. For DD it was also the time the school was making decisions about class levels for the next year. So there may be many reasons she was unhappy but for us it seemed to be time of year related.

DD did not do SIs or auditions those years because she was typically down on herself and said she didn't want to dance. But last year she did several auditions with great success and found anew what SHE wanted to do with dance. She now (at almost 17) seems to have a better sense of how dance will fit into her future. And makes this statement as some one who has determined this role for herself.

The said and gloomy child always surprised me because in general she was a happy and go with the flow, so I understand your feelings of wanting to make it better. Good luck

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  • 1 month later...

I am very thankful to have found this thread - my 14 year old daughter is going through something similar. Last year we were transitioning dance schools. Anyway, she moved full-time to a new one this year. At first, everything went really well. She was getting good corrections in classes, making lots of friends, etc. But then she got placed at a lower level of the ballet company than all of her new friends. Since then there have been placement issues in performances as well. It has hurt her confidence a lot. Some people have told us that a lot of the placement/roles has to do with this being her "first year". But I think that the reality is that the more down on herself she has gotten the less well she has been able to perform in class and it has become a bad cycle. We have decided to get her some private instruction with someone she has good rapport with. Hopefully this will help rebuild her confidence. So, Tinkrbellfaerie, I don't have an answer but I definitely feel what you are going through.


An Update: DD took a private lesson last week with a new teacher recommended by a friend from another studio. She LOVED it. We have gone back twice and she is totally back to herself again. Crisis averted... I am not sure who its harder on to be 14... the dancer or the mom :crying:

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Some people have told us that a lot of the placement/roles has to do with this being her "first year". But I think that the reality is that the more down on herself she has gotten the less well she has been able to perform in class and it has become a bad cycle.


I experienced something similar when i was younger. I was the "newbie" t the studio and that is why I didn't get the "special/good parts." After about 4 years at the studio this was still happening; I was still considered the new student. I ended up switching to a pre-pro school where this problem doesn't happen quite as often. I mean there are the students who get to do more than other students but it seems everybody gets a chance to shine at some point in time. You are absolutely right about her getting more and more down on herself. If this lasts for more than just her first year, something needs to change. She will continue to lose self confidence (which is such an important aspect of being a dancer).


There will always be somebody somewhere who is a "better" dancer but that is no reason to put a young/aspiring dancer down on him/herself. I think it is wonderful that she will be taking privates from a teacher whom she obviously likes and enjoys taking class from. My mom also had me do this and it helps soooo much. But if I were you I would definitely send her to an SI next summer. Being around dancers and teachers who your daughter is not always around helps an extreme amount. Just getting new corrections or a new way of fixing a problem, plus positive encouragement, from an outside source makes a dancer feels very good in themselves and motivates them to keep working hard.


I hoped I was of some help. Also I can say that we will always have moments of self doubt and losses of confidence, but if you work through it and really love to dance it is entirely worth the struggle :blushing: :blushing: I am not a parent but I am a dancer who has experienced this problem. (please remove f I'm not allowed to post here)

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  • 6 months later...
  • 4 months later...

Crisis may be too strong a word for this but here is my soon to be 16 year old daughter's situation. She approached the dance training year and audition season with considerable ambivalence. Last summer, while at an intenive in NY, she developed some shortness of breath, which is still not fully understood or resolved, and which has negatively impacted her stamina while dancing. Since the summer, she has felt less enthusiastic in some of her classes. She has loved some (2-3 per week) and really dreaded others. She continues to enjoy performing and is very excited about rehearsals for her upcoming spring recital.


Because of her state of mind, she opted to audition for only 2 summer programs this year. The choices were based on a variety of considerations and recommendations. She was accecpted to the first and waitlisted for the second. She enjoyed both auditions, though she continues to have reservations about attending any intensive. What she seems most keen on is finding a way to attend 2-3 classes per day in NY. She says she wants to stay in shape and maintain skills; however, something will have to give. Either she maintains and builds upon current skills or reduces the intensity of training to address her apparent burn out and allow her to do other things with her time.


Part of what I think has gone on is that she has been dancing at a recreational, multidisciplinary studio with mixed results. The AD/studio owner is wonderful and has done everything she can to provide the best quality and quantity training under less than ideal circumstances. I think the training this year hasn't been as strong for various reasons and has coincided with dd's decreased interest in supplementing or making any changes and with other school-related interests. Dancing with friends has been a higher priority than getting the best training possible.


As a mom, I want to support her in finding what's right for her. On balance, this year dd has lacked the passion for dance (and ballet in particular) that previously drove most of her descisions. At the same time, when on stage and in some classes, the spark remains. At present, the possibility of continuing to dance in college is still a consideration for her, though not with the goal of achieving professional company status. I am aware that if she dramatically reduces her commitment to dance, dancing in a strong dance program is likely to become less of an option. Perhaps that is what is meant to be. On the other hand, if serious study were to resume as an important goal for her, I would hate for her to limit those options by failing to train adequately.


I wish there were a way for Dd to take daily classes in Ballet technique, pointe/variations, partnering and jazz and still have the rest of the day to pursue other interests and work for several weeks. I'm not sure that can be arranged.


It's been sobering to observe my own responses to all of this. I imagine most of us would prefer not to deserve the moniker of " stage mom"...I would like to believe that I am not inappropriately invested in dd continuing to dance seriously. Both my husband and I have loved watching her dance; historically, she has appeared radiant when dancing. If it's becoming time to let go, I want to rise to the occasion. If what we are witnessing is burn out alone and dd's previous dance joy could return, we'd love to see it.

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AW!!!!! I feel for you, mtm.


These times of re-evaluation are difficult but necessary in the overall scheme of life.


This may sound weird but I think she needs some time off. I know 16 is a really bad time to take time off, but I think she needs it for her health. Then, one of 2 things will happen: She'll miss it so much and become reinvigorated doing whatever is necessary to get the training, or she'll decide that there are other things in life, and dance is just one of them.

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Thanks so much, Clara 76. I think you're right about what she needs. I think the strategy I'll try to adopt is to refrain from discussing dance unless dd brings it up for awhile. She is planning to see the school year through because of prior commitments so we'll have to live with that. Unless she requests otherwise, we'll forfeit the acceptance she has and if she comes off the waiting list for the other program, revisit it IF she indicates interest.

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Such a powerful and thought provoking post.

What you are going through is so difficult and yet the manner in which your family is dealing with it very uplifting.

I am a ultimate believer in things happen for a reason....

Best wishes,






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Tough spot for a parent, MTM. I love the way you are thinking it through, though. You have expressed beautifully all of the ambivalence, your own as well as your daughter's.


It wasn't until my oldest DD went off to college -- and elected not to take a regular ballet class, let alone follow a rigorous program -- that I understood that all dancers step off the track at some point. It just comes sooner for some than for others. My DD is now very happy taking one daily dance class at college, and a weekly ballet class at a local studio, and rehearsing and performing with the modern dance group. She has found the level of commitment and involvement that is right for her.


I totally agree with Clara 76. Give her the space (and support) to feel comfortable with what she wants to do. One of the hardest things at this juncture is to keep your own grieving in check and "follow the child". Hang in there!

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Thanks for the thought provoking post mtm. As a parent of 15 yo DD, I think a lot of us can identify with your feelings/experiences with your DD. I guess I would just say you are not alone, as far as how you would feel if DD stopped , after all the enjoyment she had when dancing and you all had while watching. I know for me, the purse string also factors in, as far as investment in future and then a total switch of gears. As I get ready to pay for another SI and then pre-pro ballet high school in fall, I have been trying to tell myself, as long as she is happy and begging to go and work as hard as she can, I will continue to support. And if at some time, she takes a different path, I will look upon all the investment as wonderful training for life: everything from filling out form for audition and having right info/photos (practice for resume in future), to the ability to be in front of people and put your best foot forward(practice for talking in front of people/presenting yourself). I ,too, worry that I am to invested :yucky:

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