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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How to include ballet experience on non-ballet college apps


catdancer

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I was wondering if anyone can offer some advice. My dd has spent many years in pre-professional ballet training thinking that was the direction in which she was headed This past spring/summer, however, she had a change of heart and has decided to attend college for graphic design instead. She has been in art classes all through high school and is a very creative thinker. She is a senior in High School and the college application process is here.

 

Given the many years of dedication and time she has devoted to ballet, often missing out on many extracurricular school activities, I feel it is important to convey that to the admission office. However, in looking at the applications I find there is very little opportunity to elaborate on ballet. Should she incorporate the discussion into an essay, or would that seem strange given the fact that she is applying to a non-ballet major? Would admissions look down on a ballet topic essay, or be impressed given that ballet has taught her many valuable skills over the years that can be directly applied to the creative field of graphic design? Should she include a video? However, if not applying for ballet, I'm not sure if the video would even be viewed.

 

She is applying to two art schools and one university so far. Although much of her application will be judged on portfolio pieces, I have been told that the years of ballet training will help her. She has studied in well-respected programs in NY and NJ, with well known people (at least in the ballet world), and spent the past 4 summers at selective ballet intensives. I am very unsure how to include this on a college application that may be read by an admissions officer who has never even seen a ballet. Any advice would appreciated, especially if you have been in a similar situation.

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Catdancer,

 

Have you read the thread Ballet as THE extracurricular in the Parent/Teacher Conference Room forum? (If you cannot see this forum, ask to join it. It looks as though you have enough posts.) There is a lot in there which might be helpful to your daughter's situation.

 

Good Luck to your daughter in her college search! :)

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My sons are older than I am now :) - but I'm going to presume many of the priorities regarding college applications are still the same. One major concern on college apps was longevity and commitment to a sport, community service, or extra curricular activity. So, I'm figuring if you can emphasize how many years, how many classes, etc., your daughter studied ballet, that would definitely be in her favor. You could also point out the connection between ballet and the art classes, but I'm thinking the commitment to ballet (even though she's now moving on) is definitely in her favor. Best of luck to your and your daughter!

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My oldest DD also decided to pursue a career in fine arts. Her strategy when applying was to show that she was a person with boundless creativity and individuality which she expressed in a variety of ways. She was accepted with a large scholarship to a top university (among others). Schools with a strong focus on the arts try to nurture creativity in their students. She excels because of her creativity, now as a junior, in her chosen field. She also continues to dance and now directs a popular student led dance project on campus. The dean, during a speech to incoming freshmen this year, mentioned her and her diverse talents, remarking how much the university seeks to encourage and nurture all outlets for artistic expression.

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Thanks for the advice and words of wisdom. I was not aware of the parent/teacher conference room so thanks for that tip as well.

 

Even though my dd fights me about including any more than a simple statement regarding ballet on her applications, I still feel it is important and can only help. The trick is to find the line between stating the obvious benefits of her training, versus what those benefits did for her as a person and how she can apply that to college experience. Should an entire essay be devoted to this one intense extracurricular activity, or should it be simply stated in a short answer question or appear only on an artistic resume?

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I feel that it should be strongly included. People in the arts are involved with the arts, not just one art. Ballet incorporates many of the arts. The years of intensive training in a highly focused art form should certainly not be ignored.

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What I wouldn't do is have major fights over it. The truth is, it is very hard to know what sells a kid to a college. Our college couselor gives parents some great advice: "If it involves a credit card, it's yours. Otherwise let your child deal with it.". What is the worst thing that will happen if she fills out the applications the way she wants to?

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I'm eagerly reading the responses to catdancer's original post. DD is just a freshman in high school, however having sent our eldest off to college a few years ago, we're very familiar with the high school resume and the college application process.

 

I'm very concerned that DD doesn't have much in the way of extra-curricular activities. Dance IS her extra-curricular all time consuming activity. She dances daily except for Fridays. This doesn't allow time for getting involved at school.

 

Right now, she still isn't sure whether she wants to go on to a career in dance, or the arts, or whatever!

 

How may I join the Parent/Teacher conference room?

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I agree with Ms. Leigh that it should be strongly included and that it represents the totality of an "artsy" person. And I also agree with Graicey's Mom in that it IS her only extracurriclar activity. If I let her leave it off of the application, I feel a large part of what she devoted her life to will be missing. I don't think that an admissions person would get an accurate portrayal of who she is without that piece. In that respect, I have no doubt that it should be included in the application, I am just questioning where it should go and to what extent it should be presented.

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I hope that I might be able to offer some suggestions.

 

Rather than immediately trying to solve the problem of what type of essay should be submitted, I would choose to explore the problem first. What do I mean by that? Ask your daughter what she believes university studies entail? Ask her about her chosen field, graphic arts? Ask what skills are required? Commitment? Competition for jobs in graphic arts? Ask her about what kind of assignment she expects? Ask her about what excites her about graphic arts? Even more important, what doesn't she like about graphic arts? Ask her as many questions as you possibly can about her chosen field. And ask her to organize her thoughts in a written essay to you.

 

The essay itself is not so important. Rather, it is the thought processes that go into the essay that are important. By having her write an essay, you are asking her to take her intuitive thoughts and structure them.

 

Next, I would schedule a few lunches and coffee meetings with practicing graphic arts people for you and your daughter. Ask them many of the same questions that you asked your daughter. How do their answers compare with her answers? Are there facts regarding graphic arts that surprised either you or your daughter?

 

After examining the essay and reflecting on your meetings, you will have a wealth of information with which to work. And here comes the magic part.

 

Now that your daughter has looked inwardedly to organize and structure her thoughts and has calibrated her thoughts against real world experiences of working professionals, you are both in a better position to judge how effective that essay might be to the university. Through all your work, you will have a better understanding and appreciation of what skills are readily transferable, what personality traits are desirable, what commitment is required, honest expectations of what to expect and much, much more.

 

Now, if you combine all your knowledge and recent experience into an admisions essay, then it should be much stronger and impressive.

 

Today's job market is brutal. If I were an admissions person, I would look favorably upon those who did their homework in understanding why they want what they want and why they are suited to a chosen career.

 

In summary, I would suggest not trying to land on a particular essay approach immediately. That will come very soon. Instead, try to immerse yourselves with as much knowledge and experience as possible. Through that process, you will create a stronger essay, whichever route you decide to ultimately follow.

 

As you consider embarking upon my suggested path, I'd like to leave you with a suggestion to view a YouTube of Steve Jobs, who is known for his passion of artistic design.

 

Steve Jobs Graduation Speech to Stanford University

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Graicey'sMom, you gain admittance to the PTA forum by requesting it. Once you are a full member, which you are, you may be admitted, which you are.

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Actually, as regards the college admission essay, every 'help' tip we received in preparing the college applications stressed that the essay was about giving the college admissions folks an insight into the student as a person, i.e., what makes this student tick. They want to get to know the actual character and personality of the student.

 

The particular surface subject matter of the essay wasn't important. What is important is how the student uses that subject matter as a vehicle to reveal something more about herself. For instance, one essay that was given as an excellent example was written about the student's frizzy, curly hair and how much she fought with during her growing up years. Eventually, however, she began to see it as part of her heritage and began to embrace it rather than struggle against it. It was really insightful, interesting, and revealed much more about the girl than the standard robotic listing of information so much of the application leans toward.

 

Non-dd, a recruited athlete, was advised time and time and time again NOT to write about her sport----something she had spent 9 years and upwards of 25-30 hours a week doing, thus leaving little time for other meaningful extra-curricular activities. Like dance, that sport and her dedication to it went a long way in forming who she is and how she approaches things. In the end, she did write about her sport---tangentially. Her essay topic began with her enormous collection of hand-made diving suits. We bought the majority of her suits from a woman who makes them to order with non-dd selecting design elements, fabrics, colors, etc. Non-dd used those suits--and her changing tastes in colors and design---to reflect her own growth in confidence and maturity through the years via her sport, discipline, etc. So, while it was about her sport, it didn't focus on her sport. It focused on HER.

 

In a nutshell, the best advice she received about the essay writing was that it in the end, it MUST be about HER. Not about someone or something else. The nominal subject is not as important as what it permits her to say about her.

 

So, for the ballet, don't have her write about ballet. Have her write about herself within the structure of ballet. It should be creative and interesting, but not just a rote regurgitation of how ballet requires discipline. More about how she grew and learned about herself.

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Actually, as regards the college admission essay, every 'help' tip we received in preparing the college applications stressed that the essay was about giving the college admissions folks an insight into the student as a person, i.e., what makes this student tick. They want to get to know the actual character and personality of the student.

We appear to be saying much the same thing. I am suggesting to have the student look deep inside herself to find those qualities that will show the university that she is both an interesting person who will enhance the student body and has examined her potential career choice.

 

The particular surface subject matter of the essay wasn't important. What is important is how the student uses that subject matter as a vehicle to reveal something more about herself. For instance, one essay that was given as an excellent example was written about the student's frizzy, curly hair and how much she fought with during her growing up years. Eventually, however, she began to see it as part of her heritage and began to embrace it rather than struggle against it. It was really insightful, interesting, and revealed much more about the girl than the standard robotic listing of information so much of the application leans toward.

I wouldn't go so far as to say subject matter isn't important. Some subjects are clearly irrelevant. In fact, some might even be detrimental. I agree with your larger point, however, that the essay must reveal insightful and interesting--and most importantly--helpful information about the potential student.

 

Non-dd, a recruited athlete, was advised time and time and time again NOT to write about her sport----something she had spent 9 years and upwards of 25-30 hours a week doing, thus leaving little time for other meaningful extra-curricular activities. Like dance, that sport and her dedication to it went a long way in forming who she is and how she approaches things. In the end, she did write about her sport---tangentially. Her essay topic began with her enormous collection of hand-made diving suits. We bought the majority of her suits from a woman who makes them to order with non-dd selecting design elements, fabrics, colors, etc. Non-dd used those suits--and her changing tastes in colors and design---to reflect her own growth in confidence and maturity through the years via her sport, discipline, etc. So, while it was about her sport, it didn't focus on her sport. It focused on HER.

We agree completely. A dissertation about a sport, ballet, or any endeavor is wasted--proving that subject matter does matter, if you pardon the pun. The activity--whatever it is--is merely a vehicle to discover things about yourself. It's what you learned pursuing that activity that matters. And if I were to go further, I'd touch on passion and interest. Was the person merely a spectator who gained little, or was the individual passionate about the endeavor and gained a lifetime of insights?

 

In a nutshell, the best advice she received about the essay writing was that it in the end, it MUST be about HER. Not about someone or something else. The nominal subject is not as important as what it permits her to say about her.

It must be about her--truer words have yet to be written. That said, what and how you write about her matters tremendously. That goes back to your points about insightful and interesting.

 

So, for the ballet, don't have her write about ballet. Have her write about herself within the structure of ballet. It should be creative and interesting, but not just a rote regurgitation of how ballet requires discipline. More about how she grew and learned about herself.

I agree.

 

When I have helped others write their essays for university entrance, I have always encouraged the student to relate past experiences to their chosen fields. As you suggest, the actual activities performed are unimportant. What is important are the learnings gained from those experiences. Once the student has discovered what she has learned, I'd ask her to bridge her learnings into how it might help her be successful in her chosen career.

 

In essence, I want to make it easy for the university administrator to make the correct decision to admit the student into her chosen faculty. As a student, show that you are interesting person who has passion about something. While pursuing that passion, what did you learn? How have those learnings made you a better person? And how do you plan to apply those learnings in the future in your career and/or other facets of your life?

 

When helping students, I also encourage them to say how their chosen university will help them accomplish their goals in life. For example, why *that* university?

 

Writing these letters is, surprisingly, a lot of fun. You learn a lot about yourself through the process. One student that I helped was particularly ferocious. She lived in Russia and wanted to attend a prestigious European university for her business degree. Over the course of one week, she wrote seventeen iterations of her letter. She's now an investment banker working in London.

 

While these letters are fun, they are also challenging. Another student I assisted had graduated with a bachelor of science degree and was among the top five students. He wanted a letter to accompany his application for a master's program in cognitive neuroscience--don't ask me what that is, I don't know. His initial letter wasn't that great. Translation, even though he is exceptionally bright, his first attempt was poor. As I look back in my Gmail account, I see he required fifteen iterations before finalizing his letter. He was accepted.

 

Long story short, dancemaven and I have the same message--focus on the student, not on the past activity.

Edited by Stecyk
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Just to stir the pot around a bit, my non DD was a talented musician who was in her first year at a famous European conservatory when she decided to apply to college because she wanted a more well rounded education. Her essay was about her life in music and her growth in music, including the year in Europe and how all of these experiences led to her applying to a university. She was accepted at the top Ivy League College, which was her first choice. A few months into the first term, the Admissions Office approached her and asked whether they could use her essay at a conference to show what a good admissions essay should be. So my daughter's experience was quite different from the advice that dancemaven's daughter received.

 

For recruited athletes, such as dancemaven's daughter, coaches are involved and the whole process is quite different from the ordinary student who is just hoping that the application will catch the eye of someone. A recruited athelete already has the eye of someone and the dedication to their sport is already known. And the essay that dancemaven describes sounds like a fantastic approach wherein she brought in the sport and a personalization of her relationship with it (If I am wrong dancemaven, sorry, but that is how it sounds to me). However, since no one at the school in question knew my daughter, she had to introduce herself so to speak and to let them know that she was not merely a high school musician, but was a conservatory level musician. She enclosed a CD of her music and references from her music teachers, who were not academics but were well known professional musicians, thereby creating a little side line music application to the main application. Of course, all of the academic references, etc were part of the application too.

 

I don't think there is one simple solution for all students. For a student with talents in multiple arts, such as catdancer's daughter, both of the talents should somehow be featured. Perhaps in addition to the art portfolio, a DVD of dancing could be enclosed. The common application has a separate section for those with serious artistic interests. Even if you are not using the common application, taking a look at the questions they ask might be a bit of a help.

 

In any event, I wish catdancer's daughter and all of the other daughters and sons, who will be applying to university this year, the very best.

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