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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Timing of college vs. trainee year

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We are suddenly facing a college vs. trainee decision, and after being a BT lurker for years, I would love some advice. My DD is a high school senior who will turn 19 in September and wants to be a professional ballet dancer. She has trained at a small studio that gave her a lot of individual attention but had teachers of varying quality - some excellent, some not so good. She's done enough summer intensives to know the difference. DD is realistic about her chances, is not aiming for a top tier company, but but does want the best training possible.


DD spent most of her 11th grade year injured and was just barely ready to start a 4-week dance intensive last summer. We moved right after that, at the start of her senior year, and the level of training at her new studio is better. She feels that her technique has really continued to improve over the year.


Getting a Bachelors degree first has been the plan we were working on. DD applied to 6 university BFA in ballet programs, including some of the best programs in the country, and was admitted to 2 of them (she is still waiting to hear from one but we are not optimistic). One of the two programs that accepted her shows up on BT in lists of the "better" programs, seems to be a good match for where she is, and impressed her with the level of dance she saw in the class she took. This college works hard to place their dancers in companies, and DD considered this program a good option for her.


DD applied by video to a number of intensives for this coming summer, but after being accepted, she realized that two of the programs would not work with her schedule this summer. She contacted one of them - a well-respected and apparently stable regional company - and asked what she needed to do to be considered for a trainee position. They reviewed her video and offered her a traineeship - the kind we pay for - for Fall 2010. This program is far from where we live, so we'll also need to pay for room and board, scads of pairs of pointe shoes, etc. DD thinks highly of this dance company but is fully aware that they have low turnover among their female dancers and realizes it is unlikely she would get hired. However, she has been told that these types of opportunities are rare and she should jump when she gets a good one. We've read on ballet talk that only a small percentage of dancers get a paying job without first doing at least one trainee year or apprenticeship .She is also thrilled by the offer and feels that the timing is good for her because it will hopefully give her dancing a real boost.


We've read all the relevant threads about trainees and apprenticeships on BT, and although this seems to be a good program, there is little information on the forum about it specifically. One of the few comments indicated that a lot of trainees had been injured. On top of all this, DD fell and sprained her ankle last week so is in a brace for at least 3 weeks.


My question to the more knowledgeable folks on this forum is if it makes sense for DD to do a traineeship this next fall? Money is naturally an issue. What specific questions should we be asking?


Thanks for your help.

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Fortunately, it seems your daughter has choices. Unfortunately, that means you have choices to make and while we can offer things to think about, each person's decision is based on so many personal things that it is difficult for us to truly help you decide.


From my perspective, you should be asking is how the Trainee program falls in terms of company status. If you've read the Trainee forum then you'll know that there are Trainee programs which are 2nd company positions and a bridge between the school and the company and there are Trainee programs where the position is school and has no company affiliation at all. I would have one consideration for a school position and another for a company Bridge position. There are some you pay for and some that pay you, even if only by performance.


You should also be asking what you expect from this Trainee program. Is it Training only? Will they offer a higher level of it than she's used to? Are you expecting that this will be the place she can work her way up or just one opportunity before the next?


In terms of Trainee injuries, they are common. Remember, your dancer will possibly go from dancing 4-9 each evening to dancing 9-5 likely in pointe shoes all day long, 5-6 days a week. So the liklihood of injuries at least doubles if not triples just on that fact alone. Injuries can be a red flag, but they also can just plainly be a fact of life.


While it may seem silly to re-read the forum, reading it before you get the offer and then reading it after the offer comes presents two different pictures. The words that meant one thing going in, mean something totally different with offer in hand. I wish you luck in your decision, the key is what your daughter's true goal is and what she wants to do coupled with if the Trainee offer you have is one that will get her from Point A to B. Given that most dancers will do more than one Trainee or Apprentice program prior to getting their first contract, key is if you believe the offer you will leave your daughter improved enough so that the 2nd offer she gets is a company one.


I will say that for us, paying for a Trainee position was a deal breaker unless it was with one of about 3 companies in the US where we felt that was worth it. (in terms of elevation of technique, company fit, etc.) So DD looked only at those positions that would not require her to pay and were also Bridge programs. It limited her, but financially was the correct choice for us.

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While it may seem silly to re-read the forum, reading it before you get the offer and then reading it after the offer comes presents two different pictures. The words that meant one thing going in, mean something totally different with offer in hand.

This is very good advice, and so true....


You should also find out whether your DD's college acceptances AND any scholarships may be deferred for a year. Some schools will do this, others will make her re-apply and scholarships are lost.

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Congratulations on your daughter's offer! Since your daughter received this offer from sending a DVD, my suggestion is that she should try to visit the company and take class there to see if it will be a good fit. Since she didn't do a live audition class, it might help her with the decision. You would also be able to check out the city and where she might be living.

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I would be worried about a post saying there were a lot of injuries... If it were me, I would make a trip to talk with them personally, see the girls in the program, surrounding area, etc. Things can change rapidly from year to year and previous reputation is not enough to go on. What you want to get a feel for is what the current situation is and how your daughter fits with that. How many traineeships did they give out? Is the company doing well financially? Somehow I don't think a "pay your way" traineeship is such a great deal for the dancer.....unless there is a solid possibility for advancement to the company.


Good luck. At least your DD has some solid college opportunities.


*post edited by moderator, member will be emailed.

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Thanks for the insights and good suggestions. Unfortunately, for reasons I will not go into now, it is just not possible for us to visit this program before the fall, and certainly not before deposits are due. That would obviously be the best thing to do at this point. We have read the relevant BT threads since receiving this offer, but that was actually the first time I read them - this whole option as a serious possibility is new to me.


One of the big questions I have is how limited these types of "pay your way" traineeships" are? If DD passes on this opportunity, is she unlikely to get another one? This particular program is affiliated with a company that my daughter tells me has a national reputation. It is not a second company position, though there is a second company, and they also have an apprenticeship program. Most classes are taken at the school, with approximately weekly company classes. This year, the program has about 15 apprentices and 7 or 8 trainees, and as I mentioned, the company has low turnover so the odds of getting on with the company are very small.


My daughter's goal in this program would be to focus on and really improve her training. Her expectation is that she'd improve more in this trainee program than in the BFA program she has been accepted to. Sure wish I could just name these programs and ask for specific feedback!


Thanks again.

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The limit is mostly in what your thoughts are about them. If your pick of training programs offers strong training and it is thought of as extended, hopefully elevated training and polish for the dancer with a possible side benefit of a job later then there really is no limit in them. If however, you think of them first and foremost as a chance for a job at that particular company while you train then the dancer has already limited themselves. The key to a successful Trainee programs is that you leave it closer to being able to get a full pay job (corp) than you were when you went in because of what they've exposed you to and taught you. That is truly all we can expect from them. Everything else is an extra benefit.


I do not suggest that you totally negate the "pay your way" ones if you financially are able to tack on more paid for Training. I just was not my dancers choice. Some of the "pay your way" ones have amazing training. (with an emphasis on some) However, it's important going in to them to understand what you are paying for. Such as your example, with 15 apprentices, 7-8 Trainees and a 2nd company (with little movement) you are paying for your daughter to train, period! Any side benefit might be adapting to that company's style, getting seen by those ADs and the chance for upward movement in that company but that is not what your expectation should be going in. A job would be icing on the cake.


In terms of Trainee vs. college, that is a question for your dancer. Where do they see themselves in 5 years? What degree do they truly want? What is their ending goal as far as dance? In my opinion as armchair as it may be, neither choice is wrong. College is not truly a 4 year committment, you commit for one semester or year at a time. So the dancer can try out college and still audition to be a Trainee in a year. As well, a Trainee program has a one year committment. Do one year and then at the end of the year decide whether college is the better equation or continuing as a Trainee more appealing. We tend to think in long term committment, but in reality both College and Trainee positions are long term goals but not long term commitments in that manner. They can be changed after a year's time very easily. Post high school, our children are not limited by things they must do long term. Majors are changed, colleges are changed, the world is truly their oyster. Don't tie yourself in knots over a year, just make the right choice for this time and if you find it wasn't the right choice? Regroup and choose differently next time! (and yes, I realize that's easier said than done :) )

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  • 9 months later...

"Post high school, our children are not limited by things they must do long term. Majors are changed, colleges are changed, the world is truly their oyster. Don't tie yourself in knots over a year, just make the right choice for this time and if you find it wasn't the right choice? Regroup and choose differently next time! (and yes, I realize that's easier said than done)"


Momof3Darlings, this was priceless to read. We (I) do tend to tie myself up in knots and your statement just really pulled things into focus. It IS only one year, try it, see where the chips fall and know that the course can always be changed as needed. This, of course, does not mean sit back and wait, one must be proactive, but try not to stress as much.

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We struggled with this very decision last year. In answer to DDsMom's question regarding the likelihood of getting similar trainee offers the following year if one declines them, we can say that we have observed that every year is truly a clean slate. We have seen many dancers get a wonderful trainee offer one year (both types, the kind that is free training and the kind that you pay for), and get rejected by those and other companies a year later. Maybe it's a lack of progress in that year, a change of body type, different auditioners, a bad day, different competitors, changes within the company and what it looks for, etc. There are many variables. Now knowing this, I would say to follow your heart and your gut instinct. If you can possibly afford it and it is really what you want in your heart, take it for a year and see where it leads. Then, you won't have regrets about the "road not taken." Do not assume that offers will be better or even the same 2 years in a row.

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