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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Performing Arts High School vs. Regular High School


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DD will begin 8th grade this year. She is a strong dancer and very intelligent. We live in a relatively small city, but with great ballet instruction. She attended the Rock at age 12 and will now be attending Joffrey NY at 13. I am constantly hearing from her that she wants "more". The truth is that during the year she probably dances, rehearses and assists teaching a total of 6 days a week with a Sunday now and then. Is a performing arts high school the way to go to get the "more" she is craving or perhaps moving to a bigger city for a studio that can provide "more"? We are willing to relocate either way, I am just not sure which the best direction to take would be. I understand that if we are thinking about performing arts schools, she would need to audition this coming year. What are your thoughts and opinions on the differences between the two options above? Also, what are the benefits/differences between a performing arts school and a residency program?

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Performing Arts High Schools generally do not have a strong enough ballet program. They work only in addition to regular Ballet School classes. At 13, with as much as she is doing in her own school, I'm not sure that adding more would be valid, and, it could be too much. Also, be sure and check the floor they work on wherever you go! Some high schools do not have properly sprung floors. Ultimately, if the training where you are is not professional, I would think that looking for a residency might be better, or, moving to a city with a top professional school. The key is quality. Quantity is not the first priority. Just my opinion.

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I agree, performing arts schools do not usually have a strong enough ballet program. My daughter attended one in ninth grade and was disappointed in the level of teaching. The teachers were good but the level of the students weren't so they taught to a lower level. She then had to take class at night at her regular studio. It was a long year and then she went back to regular high school. This performing arts school would be good for an all around dancer that hasn't had the opportunity to have a lot of instruction.

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Thank you for your responses. Do residency programs in general prefer to have students come in at the 9th grade level or does it matter what year of high school they come in? At our home studio, there are less than 5 students that attend classes the way DD does. The AD says she just can't get the advanced students to come, so she only offers twice a week. DD takes two levels of dance to be able to get the technique and pointe classes we feel she needs to be competitive down the road. This strategy has paid off, thank goodness. I just feel that in the very near future, this will not be enough anymore and wanted input for my options.

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Is your dd wanting more as in quantity, or more as in more challenging classes? As you know, Jewels 08, my dd is also going into the 8th grade, and we needed to make a similar decision recently. As lovely a place as it is for a child to grow up, it was apparent that her small town school was not going to be sufficient to take her all the way through high school if she wanted to achieve an advanced level of ballet skill. Over the past school year, we investigated our options, and it became clear that we would need to either move (not possible right now), send her to a residency for high school (O.K., but we would prefer she lives at home until she graduates from high school), or we would make the long commute daily to the big city to get her better training - bingo! We learned a lot about her local training, and about what dd would really need by taking her out on auditions in that big city. We chose a school that we believe can meet her needs through high school. The drive is long, but we make it fun, and so far, it's been worth it. We may be able to relocate when she's 15 or 16, which of course would make things much easier. If you can take your dd to audition/placement classes for schools you are considering, she will be able to experience a direct comparison with her own ballet school, and she will know what she needs to do.


Edited: Jewels 08, we were typing at the same time! We chose to take dd to a school that had a true program for advanced dancers at a pre-professional level. Though dd has a long way to go until she gets accepted into that level (or not :)), we felt that moving her earlier rather than later would give her the best chance to develop the skills necessary to ultimately get accepted into that level.


As far as the residency decision goes, would your dd feel comfortable living away from you and living out her high school years in a dorm situation?


For now, we have learned exactly what Ms. Leigh has stated: Quality is far more important than quantity. :)

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Some performing arts high schools permit outside training and can be more flexible about schedule issues than regular high schools. In New York several SAB students have over the years chosen to attend LaGuardia because of its academic offerings and the school has allowed them to take their dance classes across the street.

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If you are thinking about schools such as Nutmeg or Walnut Hill, where the ballet is excellent, a performance arts school maybe the right decision. Sometimes working more isn't what is needed to improve and excel or feel fulfilled. Sometimes it's an internal mechanism that needs to be engaged. Could it be that she just needs to step it up and start dancing against herself. I see dancers who move around trying to find better training in order to improve whereas the kids who stay put and turn up the heat under themselves are the ones who succeed. It's wonderful you are so totally behind your daughter and her desires but there are a number of ways to do this. Are you happy with her current training, the level she dances at, the classes offered and the caliber of her teachers. Do you consider her school a true pre-pro rather than a recreational school?


BelaNina asked the question regarding quantity of classes v. being challenged? It's a very important question to answer. There are so many different ways for a dancer to work in class. I believe strongly that the size of the school does not matter, what does matter is the quality offered and how hard the dancers work. Some girls won't break a sweat in class while others are dripping after plies. If a dancer doesn't know how to work, the class is for exercise only and that is not fulfilling.

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Do residency programs in general prefer to have students come in at the 9th grade level or does it matter what year of high school they come in?


Since you have asked a very general question, generally speaking, it is generally better to attend a ballet high school program for the full course of study the program offers. If your child is mature enough to handle being away from home at 14 (freshman year/9th grade), the sooner the better. A residential program generally offers a full course of study, not so clearly defined by academic standing but rather, a balletic vocabulary and syllabus applied through out a 4 year program.

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I think for us it is a combination of a few things. DS just graduated high school and will be attending a university on the east coast. There are so many fabulous ballet options in the area offering residency programs. We would be willing to relocate to be closer to DS as well as to give DD more intense instruction while living at home. Almost all of the girls at DD's studio dance on a recreational level. Although the students have ultimately been promoted to the highest level over time, taking classes only twice a week, does not a great dancer make. Attending festival once a year for a weekend of master classes is not enough to qualify as an "advanced dancer". Less than 5 have auditioned and been accepted to reputable SI's. With the majority of the dancers attending only twice a week, it is difficult to achieve an advanced level of combinations and technique executed at an advanced level. DD loves her teachers and coupled with her natural ability and motivation, their instruction has helped her to achieve the level of dance she has currently achieved. She would benefit from a studio with students aspiring a career in dance and who can offer more than classes twice a week at an advanced level. DD is having to take two levels to get the necessary technique and pointe work needed to remain competitive. I can understand her frustration. At some point, I believe she will be maxed out at this studio. It may be a year from now, but I believe it will happen. We supplement her training with SI's now, but it would be better to have an SI environment year round for her. She truly is the the exception and not the norm at her studio.

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I think it is difficult to cast all performing arts schools as the same, therefore the question is very difficult to answer. My DD has been at a public performing arts school for all her dance life (9-17 now), so I will add what we have learned from her/our experience at this school. Then I would say, look at each school closely and as individually as you would when SELECTING any school.


DD's school is an audition-based ballet program. They have modern (Horton based) once a week but no hip-hop, jazz, tap, ... except for an occasional guest instructor. All her teachers over the years have danced professionally in ballet companies, most at the soloist or higher level. The school day is set up so the kids start dance at 1:30 and typically end at 5:15 (sometimes more, sometimes less, but never less than 2 hours.) This may not be truly be enough class time, BUT the kids are out early enough so that several do dance at the school of the local ballet company. Several graduates (usually more than 1 a year) go on to trainee or apprentice positions in companies, almost all others go on to college in the field of their choice.


What we like - DD is done with dance by 6:30 at the latest nightly (except for final rehearsals for Nutcracker and spring ballet).

School friends and ballet friends are the same and a close but very diverse group. Dance instruction is excellent. DD has

the opportunity to be involved in school musicals and other events.


What we wish was different - Academically and artistically the school does not communicate well, so although you would think that academic conflicts are reduced this has not been the case. Academically it is not a very strong school (second highest public in a weak urban public school district). There is an over closeness between students and students, and teachers and students since they are together all day. Financing issues with public school funding have wreaked havoc with many aspects of the program (academic and artistic). For DD dance is not a "relief" from school and vice-versa, she has a singular personality at school that I am seeing now at 17 has not really allowed to explore anyother parts of herself.


So given this, and other factors. I think for our DD we made the right choice, but I would look very carefully at any PA you want to send your child to. In every decision there will be compromises and knowing which you are willing to make and which are non-negotiable for you in important.

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This is an interesting chat. My daughter is a junior in a private performing High School where the focus is mostly jazz & modern. Luckily we live in a major city with very good ballet choices and we do additional ballet classes at a company affiliated school. This combination has worked for very well for my DD. Scholarships to summer programs and placements

in such programs are telling us that we are on the right track for her. The nurturing side of having a creative child in a small but well known school that is not the best in ballet but pretty good in other dance forms definitely has it's plus side.

Although ballet is her first love, the supportive atmosphere & academic programs at her arts HS program have been

outstanding. I know that this will take her beyond her ballet years. These choices need to be made on an individual basis not on blanket generalizations.

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It sounds to me that her current school is a lovely place to learn but sadly just doesn't appear offer what is truly an advanced syllabus. That isn't to say that a dancer can't work in a lower level class and not be able to work at an advanced level but in truth, two advanced classes a week isn't really serving her well at all. 'Nuts' said it well and simply, each of these decisions have to be made on an individual basis. There is no single solution here.


Sadly, I do not necessarily believe that SI acceptances or rejections are the litmus test as to ability or level. My DD's got the Rock, ABT NY, SAB, and more all by the age of 13. Nice accolades but I truly believe at a young age such placements speak of potential only. If you are considering relocating I would see if you could get your daughter an assessment with a teacher of merit at a reputable school. The north east has a lot to offer in residential schools such as Walnut Hill (they also take day students) and strictly ballet schools such as the Jackie Onasis school of ABT and many, many more. Many a serious dancer has to go away in order to fulfill their dream, it's nice you have the ability to go with her. I'm beginning to realize in this ballet world the Biblical verse 'Many are called but few are chosen' applies all too frequently. With this in mind I believe all young dancers need a well rounded education. None of us can afford to close doors.

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