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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Casting fair and unfair

BA2's Mom

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Cristina, I think you've articulated your point quite nicely. :shrug: Thank you.


It is so easy to get caught up in the studio gossip. Expecially when it comes to casting.


Driver of a dancer, that story is incredible. Wow! The poor kid.

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In regards to casting being fair and equitable, my sense is that part of the issue is that there are different standards of fairness and, because some of them might be in effect simultaneously, it can leave some observers feeling that casting was slightly less than fair if they don't understand all the different factors that must be weighed.


I've been putting off filling out an SI survey, partly because I was still mulling over the question about final performance casting being equitable. My daughter's previous two SIs approached the final performance differently, so that's how I've been adjusting to the idea that there are different kinds of fairness.


The other two places offered the same number of group dances for each level. In the first place, the group pieces had no featured solo or principal parts, so everyone within a level was treated almost identically. The only differences might have been placement on the stage or getting to be part of the group that stayed longer on stage or got to do the more impressive steps. The next place featured multiple-movement pieces in the final performance with many solo and principal parts. All students in each level were guaranteed corps roles for the modern and ballet pieces for their levels, but the best students in the upper levels were assigned the solo and pas-de-deux parts. (Meaning a top C student could get better parts than the average D student.)


Last year, my daughter's SI focused more on showcasing the guest choreographers than on reflecting the work of the students during the program. This approach, I've since learned, is what's typical of a college program, where students aren't guaranteed parts in the showcase performance, though this one ensured that everyone had at least one part.


So auditions were held for every piece and casting was a give and take effort between the choreographers. That means that there had to be trade-offs on what each one wanted. The program is known for it's top-notch jazz training, so most of the students preferred jazz or modern and those skills tended to be better than their ballet skills. But the number and size of the ballet pieces meant that the ballet choreographers had priority on anyone that had decent ballet skills. This could put an excellent jazz dancer in a small ballet role. Height requirements also played a big role, such that the shortest or tallest might not be the best, but their size landed them with one of the better parts.


In the end, some of the college students wound up with three pieces while some high-school aged students got one role that consisted of walking the width of the stage once or twice (and were so lost in the crowd that their friends and family couldn't pick them out).


So fairness seems to depend on the priorities of the program.


In the Nutcracker that my daughter is doing, the director likes to have the parts go to different students each year, so that creates another balancing requirement. Height is also a big factor. So even though my daughter is the Snow Queen in Act I, she is just a Flower in Act II because the Dew Drop Faeries are a tall, matched set. She got her own bow as Chocolate last year, but now she's worried that the Flowers are in a back row.


Oh well.

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My (rather limited) experience to date has been that the best (ie, most technically and otherwise able) dancers get the best parts, which is as it should be.


And, since the most talented dancers generally continue to have talent, the other dancers will have to settle with the lesser parts now and into the future.


What then comes into play is what type of choreography is available, as described by Pierrette.


I think that, at the school level, it is very important to include dancing parts for everyone. All of the dancers, less talented and more talented, work hard, and they should all be given the opportunity to perform.


Some students only get a chance to dance in one or two brief pieces a year, and I think it is really too bad when they are given only "walk on "parts.


I've heard tell of situations like one performance where most of the girls never even got off their knees (and these were not at a beginning level).

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Guest ivy'smama

My daughter has been struggling through her first "real" Nutcracker recently. (Her previous roles were not really dancing roles). Since she is the tallest, thinnest girl at her studio (5'8 1/4", 105 lbs), she really can't be matched up size-wise. She was cast as a Snowflake, but was disappointed not to get any other roles. We both realize that it is probably due in big part to her height. She would definitely stand out in a group of four or six when she is 2 to 3 inches taller than the other girls. I understand that the AD wants the girls as close in height and size as possible for aesthetic reasons, but it is still frustrating. My daughter just keeps reminding herself that this is only small-town, Georgia and there are surely other tall dancers out there.

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Casting. Eek. :shrug: I've been on both ends of the casting world. As a music teacher, I have cast school-aged students for big productions. As an Irish dance studio co-owner (with husband) and teacher, I've also been in the position to cast dance students, including my own kids.


As a music student myself, during childhood, in a city-wide public music program, I was the recipient of many casting decisions over the years.


And, of course I'm mom to a student who attended one ballet school for 14 years and was the recipient of countless casting decisions.


I think I've seen and experienced it from all the various perspectives. This is the rule: :shrug: There is no rule.


It varies too much depending on circumstances. Did I anger some parents when I made casting decisions? Yes. Did they think me unfair? Some did. Did I cast the very best person for the part? Not always.


Sometimes I cast someone who I think has potential and needs the boost to realize it and work harder. That's nearly always an unpopular decision. "Why is she getting to dance (or sing) that part when she's [insert any of the following] not as good at it, not as talented, not as hard-working, not as...?"


Several years ago, I ran into the recipient of one of those unpopular casting decisions from way back. He said he was in a musical theater program in college and he credits me for it. I gave him a chance he had never expected as a child. I saw his potential although at the time he didn't see it. In the process, other children's feelings were hurt. But that kid got inspired by that chance and it carried him for many years. I'd warrant that the child (more talent, more motivation) who would've gotten that role instead of him wouldn't have had a life-changing experience because of it.


So teachers do have to factor in motivation but not always by awarding a motivated child. Sometimes it's a gamble in the hopes of motivating an otherwise unmotivated kid.


Do I think my daughter got equitable treatment in the casting decisions at her ballet school over the 14 years? Not always. There were many, many tears. But she certainly got enough. And sometimes, I'm willing to admit, she was given roles that other kids deserved at least as much but didn't get. Why? I don't know. I didn't work for the school most of those years (although for 2 years when she was very young, I DID help sew costumes and was in charge of hair/makeup in exchange for tuition).


Do I think the ballet school was always fair in casting decisions in general? Sometimes. Sometimes not. But overall, despite the occasionally rampant favoritism due to parental influence, the school has been as fair as they could be. And, of course, once the kids are older, technique really demands that the right student be put in the right role, so those kinds of frustrating favoritism issues tend to fade away by then.


So, after a long rambling path, I'll finally answer your real question, Jaynny: I'm not a fan of rewarding kids with roles based on what their parents do above and beyond tuition. Tuition's supposed to pay for it all. If it doesn't, tell us. My personal belief has always been that if working at the ballet school will guarantee my kid better chances, tell me outright. Then I can make a decision. The not knowing is what drives many parents crazy.


I've worked in the private school sector most of my adult life. I'm grateful that tuition affords all the kids the same opportunities. I'm grateful too, because my kids were scholarship students at these same private schools, that ALL kids received the same educational standard. I would've been very unhappy indeed if certain students received extra help, extra chances just because their parents paid more at annual giving time or were the classroom parent. In fact, the idea is a preposterous one.


It should be equally preposterous in the ballet world.

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Watermill I totally agree. Endurance. We have had many rollercoaster rides in our family with dance and sports. And you heart really breaks when you see your children get hurt. It is hard to reassure them and you don't want to make excuses. There have been many times when we knew that the dancer who was cast was really better than our dd and other times when we couldn't understand at all the decisions made. Life my not always seem fair, not matter what we are involved in. There were many times we had to remind ourselves that in the grand scheme of things, did any of this really matter?

In our town, we see way to many parents get over emotional about casting of dancers (or tryouts for sports teams). Some times I think they need a hobby - maybe volunteering their time to a major production (or something similar) should be a requirement of every parent.


The disappointments have some times made my dd want to quit, but looking back I know that they have made her a better person. And when that coveted part does come along some day, how happy they are and seem to forget about all the previous disappointments. One of the greatest joys of motherhood is seeing when your child finally gets it - like the first steps, reading the first book, helping the new dancer because they remember being new at one time, realizing money really doesn't grow on trees. The other day I was reading something my daughter wrote and realized that she does get it. She has really grown from her rollercoaster rides. This is what she had to say when asked to write something on advice to dancers: Set your goals high. There is no limit to what can be achieved. Failure is part of the process. No great achievement comes without disappointment before.

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One of the greatest joys of motherhood is seeing when your child finally gets it


I love this. This is really the issue, isn't it... whether the student, or parent, gets it.. that is, understands that the reasons for casting are so many and complicated and rarely have little to do with being fair. And that the students are not one bit less wonderful just because they are not casted in the role they want. It's pretty pointless to measure fairness based on one's idea of fairness versus what the AD sees as fair. Mom of talented dancer may think best dancer wins is fair, whereas teaching AD may think student needing encouragement is more fair.

... hard to really know what AD is thinking when they make all those complicated decision.


  but I think it does often happen that dedicated dancers come from dedicated families. They've learned their work ethic somewhere, eh?


This is a very interesting thought.

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Bravo to all of the above! :shrug: Thank you for sharing.


One of my daughter's ballet teacher's said this to her about a month ago, "It's not what you dance, it's how you dance it."

This changed alot of things for her mentally. I love that quote.

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At Nut rehearsal this weekend, another mom commented that she thought it was quite natural that the best roles went to the children of the the volunteers, or the those who donate to the company. (This is for another local co, not the one my dd is dancing with!)


Personally, I think it is immoral to base casting decisions on anything the parents do or do not do. I agree with Vagansmom that any costs should be spelled out in the initial contract. We are are already sacrificing to pay the tuition!


I do agree that the teacher has a right to cast whomever he/she believes is right for the part and/or can benefit from it. I would not question the ad's decision!


Further, I believe it is immoral for parents to "suck up" to casting directors or try to buy favor! :shrug::shrug:

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Last year, my daughter was cast in a traditional, cute ballet role in the Nutcracker for both casts. She was also given an additional part in one cast that she did not expect: The Grandmother! :shrug: She was mortified at the prospect of playing an old lady in a grey wig. Traditionally, this role in our Nuts has been played by either adults or by older students for whom the director had a hard time finding a suitable dancing role. Since my daughter didn't seem to fit the mold of those who were usually cast in this role and since there were many others whom she thought were much more suited to the role, she was just beside herself wondering what she had done 'wrong' and why she had been given such a role. This was further exacerbated by the fact that this odd bit of casting was all the "buzz" around the school. :blushing:


When she talked to her teacher/mentor about it, she told her to "Just be the best grandmother we have ever had in this company!" So, my daughter stuck out her stiff upper lip and decided to try to do just that. Our grandmother is a comedic role that has a little duet with the grandfather, involves several falls, falling asleep and other bits of stage business. Usually, the girls doing the role are so embarrassed about it, that they just go through the motions without much enthusiasm for the part. My daughter decided to go all out and she attacked the part with gusto. Once she got into it, she found it was lots of fun to do all of the comedic bits of acting that the part required. She got lots of applause and praise for her part and once when she looked into the wings during a performance, she saw the AD looking at her and chuckling out loud at her most recent antics. During one show just as my daughter hiked up her long dress to do her little jig duet, someone sitting near me was heard to mutter to the person next to them, "Grandma sure has nice legs!"


This year, my daughter was cast in a coveted ballet solo where she gets to wear a pretty costume and be the center of attention while on stage. While I doubt that she would tell you that she would like to repeat the Grandmother role, she will tell you that she learned a lot about the theater, unexpected casting, the ballet world and herself as a result of that role. This year, a number of other "former Claras" have been cast as both the grandmother and the grandfather in both casts. Apparently, our AD has decided that this is a very smart bit of casting for a variety of reasons. While last year, I was wondering what in the world he was thinking, I have come to realize that he is much wiser than I had ever imagined... :shrug:

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balletbooster, what a great story! :) to your dd!


When Kait was around 12, she was considered (by most of the other 12 year olds anyway) to be a lock for Clara. Well, she wasn't. She was initially most upset because she felt that she'd blown the audition, but was told that although she had auditioned well, she looked too young for the part. She then found out that they were still looking for a Fritz. Although Fritz had always been an actual boy, she asked if they would consider her for the part, and it was decided that that would be the best solution. Most of the dancers at the school were shocked, but she was quite pleased, and had a great time with it. I think that it was sort of a turning point for her - always after that, she looked at parts in a different way, and didn't usually go for the parts that were the most "in demand", but the ones that she felt that she would enjoy the most, for whatever reason.

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K8sMom, being a boy (although not Fritz) in the party scene was one of my daughter's favorite roles. She had always been given roles she loved except for a couple years somewhere around age 12 if memory serves me correctly. Initially, the role of a boy wasn't appealing at all to her. But, like your daughter, mine was too small for the Snow, Waltz, etc., but too big for the little kid roles. Ah, that in-between age!


But she DID get to be a boy and ended up loving it even though a comment by the AD made her indignant. AD told my daughter that she was the prettiest boy she'd ever seen and so could not do that role again. "Didn't I play the part really well?" "Yes, but you're just too pretty for it". Daughter was furious! :)

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"Didn't I play the part really well?" "Yes, but you're just too pretty for it".

Most Original Excuse Award! :)

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driver of a dancer

:) Picture this:

Class is done, there is a rehearsal happening after class.Daughter is getting ready to go home, you know the scene pulling jeans on those sweaty tights and leo.

Assistant director walks thru and sees DD getting dressed. "Where are you going?"

"home" "well don't you have rehearsal?" "No" "I thought you were cast for this part" Goes over to the casting role and looks and then says to her "what do I know"


DD did not knot what to think was cast that role last year and this was one of those roles I did wonder about.


OH well as the sign says:

casting subject to change.

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