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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Training decisions at 15/16 years old


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Victoria Leigh

No, dancingjet, I was not implying that a dancer should only live, eat and breathe dance and have no other interests! But I was responding to the idea of sacrifice, and to what may seem like sacrifice to some but not really be important enough to be considered sacrifice by someone choosing to do something else. A dancer with no other interests would not be a very interesting person or dancer! It's sometimes hard to make oneself clear in writing, but what I was trying to say, but I guess did not really do it very well, is that there is plenty of time in life for lots of things, but when one passes on things that others think are very important, perhaps one is prioritizing what is important for her, and possibly not considering it sacrifice.


I think dancers should be interested in lots of things and spend as much time as they want to, but sometimes they have to decide what they want most. There was nothing mentioned in the post to which I was responding about leaving home, or I might have responded a bit differently. I have never been a big promoter of children leaving home before they have to. If they are getting the quality and quantity of training where they are, then I see no reason to go away to train. However, if they are in a situation where the training is not adequate, then that does constitute a tough choice to make. Leaving home younger than 18 or so can certainly be considered as a sacrifice. Missing a school trip or a dance or a party, even a family gathering sometimes, has to happen sometimes when one is a teen and in serious training. I have a bit harder time considering that type of thing sacrificial.

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Thank you for clarifying that. I think I understand what you're trying to say.

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Victoria Leigh

I hope so! Let me try using myself as an example that may help a bit more. Up until 13, when dance became every day and a very serious focus and priority, I roller skated, ice skated, twirled a baton (including fire baton on ice at one point, played lots of sports year round, rode bikes a LOT, and was a cheerleader through 8th grade. Basically, anything in motion, and growing up in FL that was not difficult! :) When I went to a new school, with a Russian teacher, at 13, he shortly found out I was ice skating and made it clear that was a no no. Okay, so, I was like, well pooh, and stopped ice skating. And stopped cheerleading after that first year there, and just about everything else extra curricular. In high school I missed a lot of things because I was too busy dancing, but those things were also just not that important at that time. In other words, I never considered any of these things sacrifices. I was doing what I loved and wanted to do more than anything else.

Once I was in my senior year I left home to attend another school where I was also trained to teach, which I loved! I was only about 65 miles from home, and had a car, so I could still see my parents relatively frequently. That is where I was really trained to the professional level, and trained to think, to learn, to study all sorts of things relative to becoming a performing artist. And to teach! When I joined ABT, which was then still very much a touring company, we traveled all over this country and to at least a dozen other countries. That was another form of education in itself. Whenever we had a break I was teaching somewhere, or performing in summer stock musicals. Later on my first full time teaching, immediately following retiring from the stage, I was an Assistant Professor in a University with major dance, drama, and music deparments. I choreographed ballets, musicals, operas, studied music and kinesiology, and took up tennis, which became almost as big a passion as ballet!!! I am still a huge tennis fan, although can no longer play, and basically a sports fan in general. I am also very interested in politics and history and music and of course theatre. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that while yes, I was totally focused on ballet, I don't think I turned out one dimensional! :D (Although running this board all these years has certainly taken up a huge amount of time! :o ) Yeah, my life revolves around ballet, as I am still teaching, but it's not the only thing in my life. :innocent:


Okay, I have talked waaaaay too much today! I'm leaving this computer and going out and doing something else!!! :D

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On the topic of "sacrifice", a top violinist was once asked by an interviewer if he regretted that he had had to sacrifice his childhood for all those hours of practice. The musician answered that all those hours of practice had allowed him to experience -- as early as childhood -- a world that he found stimulating, exhilarating and enchanting; a world from which the "general population" is effectively barred. From a different perspective, "ordinary" childhood is a sacrifice as well. I always tell my kids that they have more free time now than they ever will as adults, so now's the time to explore whatever interests them in-depth. The opportunity to do so dries up with age. As an adult, they'll never regret not having spent more time playing video games or killing time at the mall, for instance. Looking back, I suppose I can blame my own lack of free adult time on the fact that one daughter is exploring dance in-depth, and the other music. Should have thought that one through a bit more ;)


... But as my 12 year old dancer puts more and more pressure on to audition for year-rounders, the more I'm feeling a precocious empty nest syndrome. I've started to realize that the lists I make of stuff that she/we/I will miss out on is at some level, an expression of my own "separation anxiety" and a partial justification for the answer that I've been giving her.

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Victoria Leigh

Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, Scameron! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and especially the profound words from the violinist. When a child finds that one thing that really interests them I think it is very important to allow them to explore it in depth. I think that sometimes kids have so many different activities all the time that they never really get into one thing deeply enough to know they have found something that they really care about more than anything else. When they do, it's a great thing!

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My friends have always had to remind me that my dd is experiencing life in a way that I never have and never will. I think of all of the things she will miss by not going to college at age 18 (football games, sororities, etc.) What I forget is that she will travel the world, have international friends and do something that she is so passionate about. I think sometimes, we as parents, think the kids are missing out, when in reality, they are just going down a different path. Their path will lead to their own experiences...

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Thank you Miss Leigh for sharing a little bit more about yourself. It's always fun to get a glimpse into a life like yours.


For years I heard from everyone, friends, teachers, family about is it worth it? It's such a big commitment, but Miss Leigh, nailed it. My dd was lucky enough to discover something she was passionate enough about; that was recognized by esteemed people in ballet and supported by me; and thus has done some very extraordinary things by the age of14. She has a great group of friends outside of ballet that tear her to pieces (just wanting to spend time with her) when she can make the b-day party or movie night. So not sure it's a sacrifice, it's just different.


That being said she will be 15 in a couple of weeks, and the title of this thread is now blinking at me in bright red Helvetica 72 Font... I'm comfortable I think, but worried about what it is I don't know. Dd, is really not the networking type at 14-15, so is that something we work on together?


Any ideas, exercises, books? I'm a pretty extroverted person, dd is a bit reserved,/and embarrasses easily but not sure if that's a teenage girl thing or is this something that she should attempt to fix now? If, consensus is that it is something to fix...

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Just to add, I am comfortable at this point, because the school where she is going the training is strong and she is to be there this year as a sophomore =15, but at junior=16, and senior=17, jus trying to figure what the plan should be at that point. She has aspirations to dance professionally, but also wants to go to an extremely competitive Ivy League school.


Is it even possible to have those aspirations? Professional dance with an Ivy League education?

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From what I've observed as a parent, residence school type training hours for the last two years of high school is becoming more of the norm for a professional dance career due to a diminishing, highly competitive job market.

While I am not that concerned about the experiences trade-off, I am more uncertain about the impact of academic quality. However, this could be due to my lack of knowledge/understanding how non-traditional schooling deals with AP classes and such.

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Dd, is really not the networking type at 14-15, so is that something we work on together?


I think a good part of networking comes organically. I am not sure how you can work on it together other than making her aware of the concept and allowing it to happen. I've been watching this develop as dd moves along in this journey. The friends she met along the way at various SIs are now moving in different directions. Those that have stayed on a similar path are now landing as trainees and second company members at various companies. Even when dd was considering which SI program to attend this past summer, some networking as involved as she was put in touch with a trainee from the previous year, a connection that was made from within dd's network. When dd announced on social media that she had accepted a trainee position, a dancer from the studio where dd trained for many years connected her with a company member. They meet more teachers, choreographers and artistic staff as they attend different SIs and perhaps even their home program over the years. There are so few degrees of separation in ballet, that this really seems to occur naturally. I think social media allows for somewhat easier networking today as it is easier for them all to stay in touch and keep up on what's happening on a personal and professional level.


As far as an Ivy education and ballet, I actually assumed Pavlova's link was about another dancer! There are many examples at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, etc. And other alternatives that can be done remotely on a part-time basis.


Going back to the original post, I think at 15-16, it is still important to keep all doors open as much as possible. This includes quality training in ballet and continuation of the highest quality academics possible for the individual dancer.

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Firedragon0800, my daughter danced professionally for 8 years and then became a student at Columbia, an Ivy league school, from which she graduated with what is commonly called a pre-med degree, but Columbia calls a biology degree. Columbia doesn't actually have a pre-med program per se, but students take all their pre-med courses there. Columbia's pre-med requirements are arguably the most rigorous of all schools in the USA. MANY former professional ballet students opt for this program, as did my daughter. As a group, they are considered the finest students there. Dancers, more than any other group, I think, know how to focus and study, and are extremely self-disciplined.


At Columbia, the application process for individuals returning to school following a break after high school to pursue excellence in a non-academic environment is a little different from that of the regular pool of 18 year olds. It's a little more rigorous. They enter through the General Studies College. This means that all their group extra-curricular activities are with each other, not the young 'uns. However, they take all their courses with the general population. My daughter always had fellow G.S. students in every class she took, so it wasn't like she was the only older student. G.S. students are graded in the same group as the Columbia College students; there's nothing different about their diplomas. G.S. students are more mature and they're generally a tight-knit bunch. The program is nicknamed "Tutus & Uzis" because the two largest groups are former ballet dancers and veterans. They even have dorm housing for G.S. students, so they can very much have a normal college experience. My daughter, and many other G.S. students, however, due to being older, already have their own NYC apts.


So, clearly it IS possible to do both. Some dancers go to Harvard in between dancing or afterwards. Quite a few ABT dancers and NYCB dancers have attended Harvard afterwards or sometimes in between, taking a little time off before returning to ballet. Some take Harvard courses online (either as a full student or part-time), but they are very expensive. One of my daughter's close friends is "going to Harvard" part-time while dancing professionally overseas. If a student takes Harvard courses through their online program, it's much easier to move into their regular in-school full program at a later date. Otherwise, it's still much harder to enter into Harvard as an older student.


My daughter chose Columbia University because they have far better financial aid than Harvard for the older student. In fact, she received several large scholarships (including the Dean's scholarship) and grants that made it do-able, although still certainly not cheap. She still has student loans to pay off, but it doesn't compare to what she'd end up having to pay if she optioned to do the Harvard online course. I remember being told by a parent of a Columbia College student (regular program straight out of high school) that they don't have much to offer the G.S. students, that they give most of their financial aid to C.C. students, but my daughter didn't find that to be true.


I watched Harvard change their attitude about returning students over the 4 years my daughter attended Columbia. I think more and more Ivies will start setting up programs like Columbia. I'm pretty surprised they haven't already. Columbia has found that their G.S. population makes up their highest achieving group; they are more mature and far more focused than the younger population.


I hope I've given you enough concrete information to help you see that Ivies and a ballet career do not cancel each other out.

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Pavlova, MelissaGA and VagansMom,


Thanks for the insight, very encouraging indeed. Always have the feeling of having to lay the track right in front of the hurtling locomotive, so it's nice to be able to have been there done that info:))

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Any suggestions with our situation:

My DD15 switched studios last year from a large pre pro company attached studio with a history of placing dancers in top SI's and companies to a small studio, which is in its infancy. The studio head is an amazing teacher, who has helped my DD improve dramatically over the past year due to the way he teaches and performance opportunities he offers. My question is in regards to the importance of networking on his part...he doesn't do it, for whatever the reasons, I'm not sure. It seems his main focus is to keep his doors open at this point and the studio is so young that he has only a couple of students in the auditioning-for-SI phase of training. He trained oversees at a residential program and immediately became a part of that company. Once in the states, he danced for only a couple of companies prior to retiring to open his own studio. I can't emphasize enough what a good teacher he is. But, is there more to it than that for where my DD currently is in her training?


DD is very happy at his studio, but after reading the various posts here, when planning for the next summer's SI auditions, it certainly looks as if a well- connected studio might be a strong thing to consider when deciding where to audition. DD has not been to an SI yet, so we are just now figuring out which programs might be a good fit for her. She has lots of "potential" but I wouldn't call her the studio star by any means. At her old studio she had relatively average success, not glowing but not entirely disappointing either. There were a LOT of very strong dancers who were much smaller than she (and perhaps more coordinated) so she was passed over more than once. I'd say she's better than average. She is very tall and lanky and hasn't quite grown strong enough to control her long limbs! She does possess a wonderful physique and great feet and a very strong work ethic. She really wants to go away next summer, but without any guidance from her studio head, it's hard to know exactly what to do.

Edited by Happyfeet15
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Research the SIs that interest her on the SI dedicated Forum. Figure out if there are demographic limits to your audition attendance and summer attendance. Audition for the programs that interest her. Audition for the programs that come near where you are. That alone will give her a feel for which programs she likes and when the responses come in, she can choose accordingly.


It is not necessary for the studio owner to to be 'well-connected'. If he has input to impart regarding the programs, great! If his focus is on getting his studio up and running and isn't focused on outside programs, no worries. Your DD and you can do a lot of research yourselves, starting with BT4D and expanding from there.

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