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The "Impossible Dream" -- should I encourage this pursuit?


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My daughter is 13 and has been dancing since she was 8. Almost from the beginning, she has said she wants to be a professional ballerina, and confidently says, "when I'm a dancer...." as if it were a certainty. Just recently though, it's beginning to dawn on her how difficult the journey would be, and she is beginning to doubt herself and seems discouraged.


I've always known how slim the chances are for anyone, even the most talented of dancers, to make it to the professional ranks, yet I've never talked about this with her. I've never been sure what to say to her on this score. I've recently been asking her some pointed questions to help me assess the seriousness of her aspirations, and she appears to be dead serious. But she's 13! Can she really know at this age? Also, her father and I are unsure about what lengths we are willing and able to go to -- how much time, effort and money we can invest in the effort... Just reading the posts on this board, I can see that it can be an enormous drain on a family.


My daughter has some physical challenges, which may or may not resolve with time and training. She does not have the perfect body for classical ballet. It seems like it would be an extreme uphill battle and the odds are already stacked against her.


On the other hand, she is very artistic, according to her teachers. They say this is more rare than perfect feet or perfect turnout. And she has a passion for ballet that seems to consume her every waking moment. I'm sure she is not the only 13-year old to be obsessed with ballet in this way. But her teacher has said, after having taught many, many dancers over 15 years, she thinks DD is one of the few with the "true love and passion." Wherever she dances, she gets noticed. Some teachers have said she would make a fabulous contemporary or modern dancer. She's not interested in that. Ballet is it for her.


Tonight, for the first time, she said, "Oh Mama, I wonder if I'll ever become a dancer... It seems like it's so hard, and all the professionals have such amazing feet..." I didn't know how to answer this. I sat there with my mouth hanging open. I don't want to give her false hope with cheap platitudes. Yet I don't want to be a wet blanket either. Is it for me to crush her dreams? Who has ever been successful without dreaming and without trying? I really don't know what to say to her.


I'd appreciate any advice on how to handle this.

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It seems that not all 13 year olds who want to be dancers make it, but I would guess that most female professional dancers thought they would be dancers when they were 13.


My advice would be to have her get the best training you can afford for now. The worse that can happen is that she keeps trying and at 16 or so realizes that she may not reach the technique needed and the dream dies then. Or maybe she decides to be involved in the business of dance rather than as a dancer. Or maybe she keeps pursuing ballet until she ends up looking at a college level contemporary program. Alternatively, maybe the drive and passion she has will allow her to overcome her physical challenges.


I think at 13, you could have a frank conversation about dance. Why do you love it? Would you love it if you couldn't dance for a major company? And then tell her that it is a long difficult road esp. with the challenges you mentioned, and she will have to work really, really hard. (that's the dreaded platitude part) Maybe give her some examples of dancers who didn't fit the mold and still "made it". If this excites her, then support it and go for it. Otherwise, maybe toss out to her the option of recreational ballet dancing - where she can still dance but maybe on a different track. I would make sure that you are letting her make all the decisions, but you are guiding the conversation. "This is what you will need to do and I can help you do it, but realistically here is what you are facing."


At 13 some physical things can still be greatly improved - turnout can be used better, ankles made more flexible and strong, but obviously she may have to work harder than girls whose legs already go like that all by themselves. Also- you may want to have her evaluated by a third party- an SI audition or another school who can give you a more frank assessment of how she is doing.

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It is wonderful if she enjoys it so much!


One more thing to remember is that the path is also the goal. If she can enjoy it now, and by that I mean all the "nows", then she has already won something important. Then nothing is felt to have been "lost" or "wasted", no matter what happens many years from today.



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Sometimes, in reading your question, it seemed that you were describing my (now older, late teens) DD! She was 9 or 10, maybe even 8, when she decided that being a professional dancer was her life's career goal. At that age she did have a good body in terms of proportion, although she was on the shorter side. However, her feet, turnout and flexibility were not gifts that she had from birth; those have required lots of hard work and good teaching to improve, but they have improved. In her mid-teens, her body type lost its waif-like look and became more mature, which made lines less pretty, and caused a shift in balance which affected turns and other aspects, so she had different areas to address with the same work ethic. If your DD doesn't have the ideal ballet body type now, don't despair. At 13, this can change.

Despite her difficulties, DD has always managed to be accepted to good programs, and I have consistently been told by those teachers that she is a hard worker. She has never been a superstar or phenom, but she has done well, and now has offers for apprenticeships/ second companies, to good companies. You just have to take more auditions, to find a good fit. In this economy, it is probably harder, but if your DD is 13, that could change before she takes company auditions.

I teach in the arts, although not in dance, and I have seen many hardworking students with passion but less natural ability surpass those who were gifted but did not work as hard. The only ones who did better were the gifted ones who did work hard, and those have been extremely few. So, I believe that hard work and passion can triumph. But, it's imperative to find the best teaching that you can, to show your child how to work smarter with their work ethic. Be willing to change directions when something clearly isn't working. Ask frequently whether their goal remains the same, and whether the hard work is still worth it to them. Financially, it will cost more than it would for the gifted dancer; they'll receive less scholarships and you might have to pay for a variety of instruction and possibly some private instruction. It will mean a sacrifice for the whole family. Seek out nurturing instruction which will not lend discouragement on her difficult journey. I am sure that many members here have faced similar circumstances. We seem to agree that, even if the dance career doesn't happen, the hard work will be valuable in all of life, and that's a good thing! Best wishes!

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Bluebird, the above posts have offered very good advice. Well stated, parents! I just want to add that most very young dancers who have the 'ballet dream' are not interested in modern/contemporary dance until they get older. They may not think it is at all what they want right now, but wait a few years! All of this training will just make them that much better at other dance forms, and when they start to excel in a slightly different area, things can change all by themselves. If she really wants it and loves it, then keep encouraging her to work hard and make those feet and that turnout better. It will not be wasted, no matter what her decision later on. :)

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I totally agree with Miss Leigh. Younger dancers nearly always dream of a classical career. Contemporary and modern dance are more suited to the older student, both technically and in the emotional resonance of much of the work. But there is not the absolute divide that there used to be. In Europe most contemporary companies still have ballet class every day and most classical companies expect dancers to be able to dance contemporary technique too.

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I would be clear about what you can offer financially to support her goal and assess the degree to which you believe what you can offer can help her but let her make the decision--having a say is really important, I think.

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Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses. This is extremely helpful to me and has given me clarity.


After reading what you all wrote, I'm realizing that my daughter really needs to see the big picture of what it takes to become a dancer. She needs to see the whole truth and then assess if this is still what she really wants. She has reached an age where she can think beyond the immediate. She's mature enough to handle it. Thank you for helping me to see that.


lemlemish, I like your idea of giving her examples of dancers who didn't fit the mold but have still been successful. Could you name a few for me? Are there any online articles I might forward her about any of these dancers. Thank you in advance to anyone who can help me out on this.


Also, is feedback/assessment something one should ask for at an SI audition, or is it provided as part of the process? She has only ever done one audition, and they did not provide any feedback. I sort of asked for feedback indirectly and got some general comments, but I didn't know if it was appropriate for me to really ask. And what would you ask? Would you point blank ask, "Does my daughter have the potentional to dance professionally?" Or would it be more along the lines of "where does she need to improve?"


pointeprovider, thank you for sharing your daughter's story. I find that very encouraging.


Thanks again to everyone who responded. Blessings!

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There is a great book, Bluebird, called Meet the Dancer - its a collection of short essays or articles for lack of a better term, that tell the story and paths of about 15 or so professional dancers. Everything from big name ballerinas like Gillian Murphy, to dancers with Mark Morris or Paul Taylor, as well as some who dance on broadway, etc. These stories almost all turn out to be a little different than what the dancer originally had in mind when he or she started out. I got it on Amazon - it is possible its out of print but I bet you could find a used copy on line? I'd highly recommend it. My DDD and I both enjoy reading it over again often.

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Bluebird- For inspiration - I know there are some famous dancers who started late and had to work harder, but I can't name them. I'm sure somebody can throw those out there for you.


Even Gelsey Kirkland was considered a lesser dancer than her older sister when she was young - although her autobiography is not age appropriate. Also - Tina LaBlanc is really short, and I think you can google interviews with her where she talks about how she had to compensate for that. She is like 5'2" and was told she could never be a pro dancer.

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Sorry, Ginnia, parents only on the Parent forums.

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One more thing to remember is that the path is also the goal.


This quote is probably the best way to say how I feel about my dd's "decision" at 8 years old to become a professional dancer. As an adult and a realist, I knew what a lofty goal she was setting for herself, but there is no way I would dream of suggesting that she couldn't fulfill it. She is now 13 and still set on her path. Having attended summer intensives for the last 3 years at some of the most prestigious companies in the country, she has a better idea of the obstacles she faces and the difficulty in getting there, but she's still on the path. Between careful conversations with her, and her own observations, she knows there are a lot of extremely good dancers who all want the same thing she does and only a limited number of spots to fill. She understands that to stay on this path may mean adjusting her goal somewhat: maybe she won't be a principal dancer and will have to settle for the corps, or she won't be dancing for {big name company} she will have to dance at a smaller regional company instead, or she becomes a teacher or choreographer. She has not (yet) allowed being realistic to become discouragement. Her eternal optimism and confidence are comforting to me, because I know that wherever the path takes her, I'm sure it will have something to do with dance, and she will be all right.

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I'm adding my voice to the parents who've said that serious 13 year old ballet students are still dreaming of becoming a classical ballet dancer and they won't entertain the thought of contemporary/modern whatsoever. They're still too immature to understand that one often needs to compromise on certain dreams to discover other equally fulfilling ones. That usually takes place around junior year of high school; it's the age when kids begin to sort themselves out. I don't think it's any different in sports; a young athlete dreams of joining the major leagues in their sport, and that dream lasts until somewhere in the middle of the high school years.


My daughter had the same classical ballet dreams at 13. At that age, she also wouldn't entertain the notion of dancing for a regional or smaller ballet company. However, during junior year, she developed an interest in contemporary dance as there are a couple great companies whose studios are in our neck of the woods. She graduated high school and has danced for a contemporary company or as "the dancer" in a nationally touring musical for the last 7 1/2 out of 8 years post high school. She has earned her own living all these years. She laughs at her much earlier dreams and says she prefers her life now; it suits her body and her skills. She understands how they were a valid child's dreams. But she's found much more security in the dance life she's leading now and feels very lucky to have done so.


Lastly, never underestimate the possibilities of an artistic dancer! That has always been my daughter's strength too, and it's gotten her noticed at every single audition she's ever done: SI, ballet, contemporary, college dance program and Broadway (but her weak singing voice has placed her runner-up very often). It is rare to have the whole package of best technique with most artistry. But a dancer with true artistry often trumps a dancer with better technique. From what you say, this will be equally true of your daughter. She could very probably have a happy life in the performing arts world. As others have said, provide the best ballet training your pocketbook will allow, and then as she matures, the rest will sort itself out.

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Thanks, Vagansmom! I so appreciate your perspective and hearing your daughter's experience.


I realize no one has a crystal ball and I can't protect her from disappointment. Besides, disappointment can build character, so we all need to experience that at some point.


The answers here have given me a lot of perspective. Thanks all!

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