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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Training decisions at 15/16 years old


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  • Victoria Leigh


  • learningdance


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I have found this thread to be very interesting.....our son decided not to go away at the age of 14 (despite being advised to by a few well respected male instructors) so that he could experience a "typical" high school year in a local Arts School. It seems that dancers are being advised to go away younger and younger. Has anyone else seen that trend? (I'm relatively new to the ballet world).


We will see what happens next year - but what I learned is that a dancer will know when they are ready despite the best advice from outsiders. Our son came back from his SI a stronger dancer and much more critical of his home studio. I think that's all part of separating and it's a gradual process. He wasn't ready to leave his friends or his siblings (which surprised me because until now all they did was fight :-) He will have more performance opportunities at home (where he the only serious male ballet dancer) and time to figure out the right next step. And I'm beginning to question the advice of going away "now or never" that we were given in the Spring (that drove me to distraction).


So - there are two very important components to training decisions at this age and whether or not to go away - and training opportunities are only a piece of it.

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It's interesting. . . My DD is in 8th grade this year, did her first "away" SI this summer and really enjoyed being in that environment. Although it was just a "taste" I think that it really confirmed her interest in seeking a residential placement in grades 9-12. For us, there is an impending sense of helplessness and frustration despite the many, many people who support DD and what we believe are some answers to prayers in terms of training. This year, her Middle School is allowing her to leave early 3 days per week to take classes, a rather unprecedented situation. That said, what we are fighting mostly is the # of hours and consistency. She has to kind of cherry pick her program and it's not at all at the level of hours as her peers nationally. I am starting to see her plateau and other dancers to really pull ahead. She simply can't improve at the rate as others without exposure to focused instruction at a requisite # of hours. You can't learn what you are not exposed to even if you work very, very hard. . . it's just not working smart. I also might add that it has been my observation that the trajectory for boys vs. girls tends to be 1-2 years later. In other words, many boys don't even get serious until 14 and then really take off but very few girls can make it by really getting serious at 14, due mostly to the demands of pointe work.


I also saw her really kind of thrive socially in the SI, which I thought was interesting. Surrounded by other ballet students, most of whom were nice (but not all), she had a wonderful time. The instruction was focused and she worked very hard (her teachers remarked to me about this directly).


I agree that it is unwise to be pushed into a "now or never" decision because ultimately the child has to be supported in dance training BUT ALSO, educationally, socially, and emotionally. And desperately throwing yourself into a situation due to a forced choice could be calamitous. That said, I am just watching my DD kind of stagnate training wise and grow more frustrated and desperate along the way.


I guess I would also observe that, while the amount of intense training may vary some from person to person, the dancers who are employed have all had a certain level of time in intense training. You can do it from 16-20 (i.e, residency, then trainee, then corps) or you can do it 14-18 (e.g. residency, then trainee, then corps) or even with a college program, perhaps (ie., college, trainee, corps) but one way or another you are going to have to put in the time. For us, if there is a fit, that we can afford and the supports are DD in HS we will take it because I think she wants it.


But who knows where I will be next summer. I am learning to be more flexible and observant and to embrace the strange, but often wonderful circumstances that life presents.


I think that what we have learned is the type of program that our DD needs and what is simply not acceptable for US right now. . . We need a place that offers a well supervised residential facility, on site food, a record of placing students professionally, requisite time to do academics (4 hours min.), affordability, and geographic proximity---we do not want to be anywhere that is farther than a drive if we don't have to be.


And I care a lot about who the people are that work with the kids on a daily basis. How do they treat the kids? How do they interact with the kids? Do they like their jobs? What are their values? Do I want my kid forming a relationship with these people? . .. I know that these things might actually seem quite silly but in a residential situation this is very, very important. We are turning our DD over to these people and they must nurture, discipline, and educate her. They don't have to be perfect but certain things must be in place.

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Learningdance, these are great questions/concerns and all ones that we asked as well not even a year ago. My Dd just began 9th grade in a residential program. While the jury is still out, early signs point to this being the right place for dd. Right now.

I would be happy to chat via pm about specifics if you would like.

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  • 1 year later...

I would love to revive this thread as our hope is that DD can go away to train at age 16 for her Jr year. 

I am already thinking about SI auditions for next year and who should be included on the list. I don't want to make myself crazy because she has great training at her home studio she really doesn't HAVE to go away, but at this point it is her desire to transition to a residential program and I would like to help her in the research and strategy of it all.

I always learn so much from those who have gone before, so if anyone has any updates or stories to share, it will be useful to those of us nearing this time frame of making these tough choices. 

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Noodles - has she articulated why she wants to go away?  I'd start with that.


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Boydancermom, that is a good question. Yes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she wants to go away. She really craves being around more serious dancers than she has been in the past. She gets very frustrated with the recreational mind set of most of the dancers at her studio.

In addition, she aspires to dancing professionally and we have known for a while that her studio simply can not bring her to that level. She will be training at a new studio which will offer much better training and just recently became an option. So she is very excited about that and she may just decide to stay until her senior year.

We will have to wait and see, but that would certainly make me feel better and alleviate a lot of stress (at least for this upcoming year!).

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Noodles - I hope that the new studio scratches her itch - if not, good you are researching options just in case.  Good luck!


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First I would ask why it is important to go away, not just why but why is it important and necessary.   My DD went away at 15 only because there was absolutely no suitable training near us.  If we had good or great training anywhere in driving distance I would never have moved my child away.  There is so much as a parent you miss out on.  And there is a lifetime for them to live away from home, from parents and siblings.  I would definitely say there are reason dancing children sometimes need to move, mostly due to not living near suitable training.  First I would highly encourage her to focus on her training and not worry about the mindset of the other dancers.  Those types of dancers are eveywhere and she can not let them get in the way of what she is trying to accomplish.  I would also say residential training is not necessary for a professional career at all!  I would weigh the pros and the cons and take into consideration the cost and necessity.  And if you find it necessary do your research, know everything you can about the place you are sending your child.  This is something we did extensively and I am glad we did.  Our DD thrived in the atmosphere away from home.  She has always been a very independent child.  I also think that it helped that she is extremely outgoing and a great self advocator.  It also helps if your child is self confident since they will be dealing with many more grown up situations.  One last thing to consider is education.  Do not trade in a good education for good dance.  I could probably go on forever.  Instead I wish your famiky best of luck with your decision! ?

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Thank you Monet, that was great info. 

The bottom line for us is really training. We are not in an area where there is a lot of good quality training. I am really hoping the the new studio is the fix for now! Exceptional training should hold her over for another year! I would be more comfortable with her going away her senior year.

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I guess it does seem like the quality of the training is not the issue.

Given her age it might be a good idea to explore company affiliated schools that match her aesthetic, body type, etc.  That way she begins a journey of training that could  lead to a job.  Even if she trains and a co school and does not get into their second company or apprentice program, she has at least spent her time training where that opportunity exists. It sounds as though she needs "finishing" school?

She might find a place that is not a co school but has a really good record of placing dancers.

Very few programs in the US have a comprehensive boarding, school, ballet training, facility.  Just really hard to find.  Most schools are: live at an apartment off site, come to the school to train, do online schooling, make your own food.  Many schools really just don't interest themselves with anything beyond the actual ballet training.



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I agree with learningdance that your dd should really think about where she might receive training that will help launch her career.  My experience has been that there are at least two roads to a year round school.  Go to the summer intensive and apply to be a year round student (San Francisco Ballet School) or some schools have a separate year round audition (Boston Ballet School).   My dd attends Colburn Dance Academy and while it is small and fairly new (getting ready to start their 4th year) they have done a pretty good job of balancing boarding, ballet, and school.  All of the students do online/home school but they do provide a tutor several evenings a week to help guide the students and are very keen to make sure the dancers are taking care of themselves.  

It is a very big decision and my dd only left her home studio when she felt there was not much else left for her there.  Good luck to your dd and you as you figure all of this out.

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