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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Specializing in ballet as a pre-teen


mamabear

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A family friend of ours coaches an elite level sports team, and when our families get together, the conversation almost inevitably turns the theories behind elite level athletes (yes, I know that ballet is more of an art than a sport, but because of the physical demands, I still think of dancers as athletes). He was saying that the research done on children in sport indicates that children really shouldn't specialize before around 11 or 12. Prior to that age, children should ideally be involved in a number of activities. Apparently, children who specialize early often burnout at a young age. Although some may eventually go on to pursue athletics at an elite level, they don't necessarily have the same level of satisfaction and as children that start specializing at a later age. He also mentioned that statistically, specialization before 11 or 12, doesn't really yield better results as far as producing a high calibre of athlete. He was certain to add that gymnastics was an exception to this because of the young peak age for that sport.

 

I was pretty much just intending to put this out as a general discussion topic because I'm interested in reading some thoughts on this from a ballet perspective. However, I do have a small question as to whether anyone has thoughts on which non ballet related sports might be beneficial? This same friend had mentioned that at around eight or nine, for optimal physical development, children should be involved in sports that involve running, kicking and striking (not striking a person, but sports involving some sort of hand/eye coordination such as baseball, hockey, tennis, golf, etc). Thus far, dd has tried soccer, basket-ball, martial arts, capoeira, gymnastics, and swimming, but doesn't really want to pursue any of them. She has shown some curiosity toward tennis and climbing, so those are on our "to-do" list. I'm drawing a blank as to other things I can expose her to, and really, since ballet is her first love at present, I do want to be mindful of avoiding sports that would decrease her flexibility, or would otherwise develop her body in ways that would adversely impact her ballet training.

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If your dd has tried all of that and has no interest in them, I'm afraid you may have a "dancer" on your hands!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

It was the same with my son- we tried every sport possible (except American football- I draw the line at grown men knocking each other down over a tiny ball), but dance was "it". Now that he is grown, he has also picked up playing guitar and drums (my bright idea- "He's so great with rhythm, I bet he'd be great on drums!" What was I thinking....... :dry: ) which are right in line with dance.

 

My personal opinion? Go on family vacations and try things there as a family- horseback riding, hiking, exploring, snorkling, visiting zoos, etc. And if she shows an interest in something and your family can afford lessons, then let her do it- before ballet becomes all-consuming!

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I'm with Clara 76 on this. If you've given your daughter opportunities to try various sports and she keeps choosing ballet, then that's her passion.

 

That said, I DO think that kids ARE given chances to run, jump, kick, etc. in their regular play as well as in their school gym classes. It doesn't have to be done as part of a regulated sport.

 

The only sport I'd say should be taught, either by parents, another individual, or in a class atmosphere is swimming. Because swimming opportunities will always appear (on vacations, if not locally) and people need to be safe as swimmers, that should, in my opinion, be a non-negotiable deal. That's the only sport I can think of that could be called a necessity.

 

School and play provide plenty of hand-eye coordination. Arts and crafts do too. Crossing the midline activities, where a child moves arm or leg all the way across the body, are critical for kids who don't come to it naturally. Reading issues show up in these kids in kindergarten and early elementary, and they require additional training in midline crossing activities. Many sports promote crossing the midline, but so does almost every single kind of dance! In fact, as a learning specialist, I often recommend dance classes as a way for academic students to build their visual-motor coordination for academic work

 

The real message for most individuals, I think, is to not let our kids be couch potatoes. Depending on their passions and experiences, different adults will firmly believe in one physical activity over another. My personal preference is dance because that's what I know best, but a sports coach will think sports is the best. Let your child choose what she loves.

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I’ve always been fascinated with development in all aspects of life. One of the blogs I subscribe to is a sports science blog. One of the discussions was around a Danish study where the authors concluded that "there is no delay in athletic development that cannot be made up later with late specialization". The study concerned elite and near-elite athletes, but I think you can put dance into the mix quite easily. The blog lays out two theories and leans towards one.

 

It is an excellent discussion I think. The link is below:

 

http://www.sportsscientists.com/search/label/talent%20ID

 

Though reading the whole blog entry is nice, you can get by just as well by reading the first four paragraphs (and the graph) and then jumping to the conclusions at the end.

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That said, I DO think that kids ARE given chances to run, jump, kick, etc. in their regular play as well as in their school gym classes. It doesn't have to be done as part of a regulated sport.

 

I just realized I didn't paint a very complete initial picture. I should have mentioned that our children are homeschooled (not becauseof ballet, but it certainly makes the scheduling demands much easier for us), so dh and I feel the need to make extra effort and do extra research to ensure that the children get sufficient physical activity, and the right kinds of physical activity at the right age. In our case, that usually means regulated sport. If dd were in school, I probably wouldn't worry about her wanting to do ballet, ballet, and more ballet because at least she would be getting exposure to other stuff in school.

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That is a great link, Garyecht thanks for sharing! I'll definitely be checking back to see what the author writes about the 10,000 hours theory. I first read about it in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. It was an interesting read. I'd be curious to know what a comparable trend pattern would be for ballet. It would be interesting to see the impact (if any) of the extra 1000 - 2000 hours that a child who has started dancing seriously at 8 or 9 would have, over the long term. Do these children have any advantages over children that started at 11, or 12, or even 13? Of course there are other advantages to dancing at this age, that can't even necessarily be quantified, but I'd be interested in reading the evidence, regarding dance (if it exists).

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Hmmmm. So we don't want our kids to engage in a single activity because they might wake up one morning and decide they've had enough and want to do something else? So we should have them engage in a variety of activites to prevent this burnout because it is a bad thing? Or because they might miss out on finding their passion? Or we should have them do a physical activity they might hate because without that physical activity they might miss an important milestone or it might adversly affect their growth and development in some way that we can't define but some studies show might happen?

 

I guess I'm old fashioned. I believe that if I take my kid to a baseball game and he decided he wants to do that, I should then enroll him in Little League. By the same token if I take him to a basketball game and he just says, "that was pretty good, Mom," I shouldn't sign him up the next day for baseball camp. Kids find their passions by watching something, deciding it would be fun to try it and then trying it to see if it meets their expectations (it is fun for them or not fun for them). Some kids will want to try lots of things and some won't.

 

The real question is what do you really hope to achieve by having your child participate in an organized activity? That they become physically fit? That they have fun and learn cooperation, good sportsmanship and such? That they develop an appreciation for the activity even if they decide not to engage in it as teens or adults?

 

Whatever your kids is involved in, isn't the journey that matters? Should we worry about the possible outcomes?

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Yes, absolutely, the journey matters - in the end, the journey is all that really matters. However, as parents of children this young, are we not supposed to guide (not push) them on their journey, and help them make wise choices? Do we not have a privilege of introducing them to activities, and ideas that they might not have stumbled across on their own? If so, then possible outcomes do matter - they matter a lot. I still get the final say if my children want something that I consider unreasonable, unhealthy or down right dangerous, but generally, when it comes to these sorts of things, I am a a provider of information, and devil's advocate. For the most part, my children make their own decisions about the direction of their activities.

 

I am a big proponent of informed choice, for myself as a parent (guide), and for my children too. A lot of the wisdom and ideas that I read here on this board has become food for conversation with my daughter. That is the real value that I see in discussions such as these. Informed choice is only as good as the information a person has. This board, and discussions such as these, theoretical though they may be, help me as a parent assist my daughter in making conscious decisions with some awareness and thought to possible outcomes.

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Lest we get going in the wrong direction-

 

Gary, I cannot open the website for some reason. Can you summarize?

 

Kandi, was your post in answer to the study outlined in Gary's link, or was it a reply to someone else?

 

Mamabear, let's see what the responses are, ok?

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"A family friend of ours coaches an elite level sports team, and when our families get together, the conversation almost inevitably turns the theories behind elite level athletes (yes, I know that ballet is more of an art than a sport, but because of the physical demands, I still think of dancers as athletes). He was saying that the research done on children in sport indicates that children really shouldn't specialize before around 11 or 12. Prior to that age, children should ideally be involved in a number of activities. Apparently, children who specialize early often burnout at a young age. Although some may eventually go on to pursue athletics at an elite level, they don't necessarily have the same level of satisfaction and as children that start specializing at a later age. He also mentioned that statistically, specialization before 11 or 12, doesn't really yield better results as far as producing a high calibre of athlete. He was certain to add that gymnastics was an exception to this because of the young peak age for that sport. "

 

So just my input BUT

 

How much background does this person have in the development of dancers?

 

And frankly dancers DO peak earlier than many other sports, not gymnastics but dancers seem to peak around 18-24 (Mods weigh in here). That's why so many dancers join companies at 18 and forgo college until later.

 

Does he know that there are ENTIRE teaching methods the world over that are geared to purposeful, focused, development of dancers from early ages on? I really don't believe that coaching in many sports has evolved to the level that dance training has.

 

What do these methods tell us (e.g Vaganova? Ceccetti (sp?) about how to train dancers?

 

 

 

Upon what research related to DANCERS does this person base his statements?

 

IMO I avoid people like this.

 

I do agree that I don't want DD's life to be narrowed down to one thing very early but ballet instruction is really very sensitive to development and the notion "slow boil" is so clear. I just think that he's preaching to the choir and probably doesn't know a lot about dance.

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If I may-

Setting the article Gary described aside (since I seem to be having issues with ie opening it), I think it might be helpful to try to answer Mamabear's original questions from the ballet p.o.v. I'll set aside what the coach say as well, because the coach has no concept of what is needed to develop a classical ballet dancer, so what I will address is the parental responsibilities and how to assist with helping children find their 'thing'.

 

We've kind of already covered helping children find their passion; it's exactly as described- exposure, following the child's interest, and supporting them. It is NOT to push, 'assistant coach' at home, and otherwise interfere, though I do not think any of you here have ever done those things.

 

It is also not to follow the carrot at the end of the stick so much that the child believes it may no longer be their dream, but yours instead.

 

I've seen kids who have thrived with focusing on their art once they found it. It became such a large part of who they are that there was no looking back. I've seen others who have wilted when focusing on their dream, so the bottom line here as a parent is to know our child well, and to recognize when the child may need a break, and encourage them to act. It is to recognize when the dream changes and evolves, and being accepting of that; it is keeping their feet on the ground as much you can at all times without crushing their hopes.

 

My dancer-son was also homeschooled, and I let him take time off dance to go to proms and other school dances because he wanted to. Some might say I should have made him go to his dance classes, but ultimately, my responsibility is to raise a man, and he happens to be a man who can touch hearts with his dancing.

 

I firmly believe that we as parents are behind our kids every step of the way, but we are following, not leading, and a good follower is always there for their partner, making him look good, and catching him when he falls. Helping him to take the necessary steps when possible, and knowing when to sit down and smell the roses.

 

This sticky might apply:

 

Recipe for ballet

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I agree with the premise that it can be unwise to focus too hard, at too young of an age on one "sport", but I don't think that ballet counts (not just because it is not a sport!). First off, I see it as a problem when a kid is getting overworked in one physical activity, to much use of the same muscle groups. If you are approaching this responsibly, then this should never be an issue whether with a sport or a dance. Secondly, while I think it is great to be well rounded, and exposed to many things as possible, the fact is you have to take a childs interests into account. I have 2 athlete sons 12yo twins. One is a hockey freak. He is very good for his level, and he likes other sports, but no longer plays football because he wants to be in hockey condition when the season starts, but is still doing baseball in the summer. The other twin also quit playing football because he decided he wants to do cross country. He started wrestling this year, and says he plans on continuing that, plus he plays baseball. Both twins also played soccer in the past. My youngest, ds aged 9, is never going to be an athlete. We put him in T-ball, he had no interest so we pulled him out. Put him in soccer to try that, he was completely lost. I was real worried about him having good physical development, but I didn't want him to get hurt being forced to do something he couldn't pay attention to what was going on. All he really did was play piano, which obviously, not so physical. Well, he took to dancing, and as long as he wants to continue, I have accepted that this is a physical activity that will reap health benefits. He wants to be a pro, but he is only 9, so that can easily change.

 

I see the problem the coach refering to usually being caused by parents with crazy notions of stardom and scholarships, which lead them to trying to "build" the mega star. I think that what contributed to this: Tiger Woods, being raised playing golf, and the footage of him on talk shows when he was five put the idea that anybody can build a superstar, which discounts that Tiger still had to have great natural abilities, and a love of golf in order to continue working hard enough to develop his talent. And I could see this happening with the parents of a young dancer also. But, if your child is happy and content, and has no interest in pursuing anything else, personally I don't see the need, as long as she has been exposed to other possibilities.

 

I don't see exposing a child, like I did with ds, or Clara with hers as a bad thing, but why push it if no interest is there? If your daughter liked soccer, and had no intersest in dance, would you force her to continue or participate in ballet? Sorry for the long post.

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Guest coupe66

I believe it is possible to overthink some things where our kids are concerned, no matter how good our intentions. Parenting and growing up are not a science, even though at times it would be very helpful if they were :blushing: . If child just wants to focus just on dance, I don't see a problem. If they want to add in other activities as well and it is cost-effective for the family budget, that would be fine, too. I cannot imagine any long-term risk to a child's growth and development based upon the child focusing on one specific activity that they have chosen to focus on over having the child focus on multiple activities at once. A lot just depends on the child's personality and whether or not they feel passionate enough about something to focus on it exclusively. In my family's situation, I have two kids who love ballet and focus on it exclusively. One of them, my dd now aged 11, has danced since she began creative movement at age 3, and that has pretty much been her sole activity (with the exception of seasonal swimming lessons). The other dancer began ballet later, in his teens, and practically lives at the studio along with his sister now. However, one of my other kids (dd age 8.5) does not like any one thing exclusively, and in fact just told me a couple of weeks ago that while she likes dance, she really would like to give it a break and try something else for awhile. That's also fine.

 

I guess what I am saying here is there is no one right or wrong approach, and I cannot imagine that either one would have a detrimental effect on any child in the long run. While it is important to some extent to make conscious choices with any eye to the future, it is also possible to drive yourself absolutely crazy trying to predict the possible outcome of each and every action or inaction on the part of you as a parent or of your child. That would certainly be counterproductive, both short and long-term. What is important is that you are involved in your dd's interests and taking your cues from her as to whether or not she wants to focus on ballet or try something else instead of or in addition to it. After that, while it can at times be a bumpy ride, it is important to allow yourself to sit back and watch the journey as it unfolds, knowing that you will not be able to control many aspects of it. Hope this helps!

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Well stated Coupe66. I think it comes down to not being personally invested in the sense that the parent isn't using child to fufill parents dreams, and also that the parent is on top of whether the child is working at an appropriate level. As a sports dad I do see some crazy parents that think they can build their kid into a star, and they often put so much pressure that the kid ends up hurt. This may be what mamabears acquaintance is alluding to.

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Very nice coupe66. Helpful and sensible.

 

I would also add that the cited research study was conducted in cgs sports (those measured in centimeters, grams, seconds).

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