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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet - a viable Career?


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My son - a jr @ a pre-pro school - has pretty much decided there is "no point" in applying for college programs as he plans a career in dance. (Although, yes, he will take a class or two every semester at whatever local college in the town/city he happens to land a "job".)


So here's the mom thing - is this a realistic plan? Can he expect to support himself (mostly?) What do apprentices/trainees "make"? Should I - um - strongly suggest - that he go to college as a dance major - instead?


What with the overall climate in the arts - lack of funding (the Phil Orchestra is declaring bankruptcy!!), the serious competition out there (is he good enough?), and the ever present threat of career-ending injuries, etc - I'm not sure what to advise.


He thinks paying to learn to dance (college) is silly when he can get paid (albeit not very much probably) to learn the same thing. And that he'd be "wasting four years in school" when he could be building his career since dancer's don't have that long anyway. I can "always get a degree later, mom!" Is he correct in his thinking? (He is pretty bright, btw.)


How does one realistically judge what his prospects are? I've been told by more than one parent that schools will use "adequately talented" boys just to have them as partners for the (paying) girls they need to entice, so one can't always rely on what those schools are telling you about the boy's "talent & potential". I'm no judge. I never danced and my opinion is biased, of course. I try to judge critically, and - I can honestly say - I really just don't know how "good" he is, or what his potential is.


If I *could* talk him into applying for schools, are the good scholarships available for boys?


I know it's a hard life, full of challenges and little monetary reward except for a select few, and that there are no guarantees. I want to support him in his pursuit of what he loves and wants to do, yet at the same time I want to provide a balanced guidance with "sensible" advice on his future.

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I think the first thing is for you to know whether this dancer is talented and has excellent potential for working in the field of ballet. He himself should really know by now, since he is at least 16, right? If he has been training a long time, is in the most advanced level in a pre-pro school, and has received SI scholarships in the past and now, then that should tell you something. I would hope also that the director and the teachers in a pre-pro school would be honest with you in terms of his potential. I would find it very sad you asked for a conference and they lied to you. I really don't think that will happen in a recognized school that has turned out professional dancers. But also get the opinions of his SI teachers at the end of that program.


If he is indeed very talented, and showing excellent work and potential, then we tend to think that college can wait and ballet cannot. Many dancers get their degrees later, and not all get dance degrees. Many go into other fields altogether. If he has a realistic chance, and that is where his heart is, I believe he deserves a chance to go for it.

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Guest coupe66
My son - a jr @ a pre-pro school - has pretty much decided there is "no point" in applying for college programs as he plans a career in dance.


My question is, does it have to be either/or? My ds, who is a senior in high school and at the top level of the pre-professional school where he attends, is also serious about pursuing ballet as a career. However, he will also be taking college classes online in addition to looking for apprenticeships, etc. He began on this path last year as a junior, so he will graduate from high school this spring already having completed 18 college credits online through our local community college. I would encourage your ds to check into this possibility as well. The career of an average ballet dancer is relatively short, and can be shortened very suddenly in the case of something like an injury, etc. Also worth checking into would be majoring in dance in college. There have been several colleges who have been trying to recruit my ds as a dance major, so yes, they are out there and they will offer scholarship money as well to boys/young men. And by all means keep reading BT4D! You and your ds will learn a lot here :(

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He came to ballet "late" - 3.5 years now . He's 17, went on full scholarship three years ago to a SI, skipped the next year due to injury recovery (in fact he missed almost 3-4 months dancing), went last year on full to an SI where they invited him to stay year round on scholarship.


He's attending two SI's this summer - both on tuition only scholarships. One well-known and pretty prestigious, the other new - but still pretty prestigious, I think. (Was also accepted at two other pretty good SI's but no scholarship offer.)


I was told by the director of the "new SI" that they see "enormous potential", but that he has a lot of the faults a "boy dancer coming to dance late and pushed too fast have".


One minute he's making plans for his "career". The next he's lamenting how he's "in second cast" and an "embarrassment to the world of ballet", and about how much better everyone else at his school is than he.


He also is just now really physically maturing - (filling out his tall frame). It seems to me that almost all of the other boys there have "man bodies" - even the ones younger! - and he doesn't yet have a lot of muscle mass!


He is a perfectionist, of course (aren't all ballet dancers?!?) and anything less than perfection is failure in his book. Though he "knows" it will never be perfect (the thing I believe really attracts him to the art.) He does have some "bad habits" (dance wise) that he is struggling to correct. We're hoping these SI's (especially the 2nd one) will help.


I believe he deserves a chance, too! Just, as a mom, you know - I worry.

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He may be one of those who needs an extra year or two of post-high school training before auditioning for companies. This is not unusual for dancers who mature a little later or who started late, but it can be difficult to accept at an age when others are starting a new phase in their lives--going off to college, etc. However, that extra year or so of really good training can make a big difference if allowing for that is a possibility (taking into consideration financial situation, the needs of other children you may have, and generally what would work best for your family as a whole).

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It sounds like he has a good chance, dancermom2cp. Males can often start later and still do it, but getting the right training is critical. There is a huge tendency in so many schools to advance boys too fast and get them doing things that they do not have the technical basis to do well. Even for males, it should still go slowly! Ballet is a slow boil art form. :cool2:


Edit: Hans posted while I was writing. I agree with him totally! Also keep in mind that the physical development is often slower in tall thin males without a lot of muscle mass. That's okay. Tall is good! :D

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That's good to know. At least it won't come as a complete shock if that's what we hear this time next year!



Does that mean that maybe I should encourage him, then, to try and get into a college program for a year? Or should he stay with a ballet school (as in full-time).

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Having a dancing child who's on the other side of the fence now after nearly 8 years of dancing professionally, I want to pipe in. As parents, we insisted that our daughter apply to colleges. The biggest factor in that insistence was our concern about injury possibilities. My husband and I fully supported her desire to audition for companies right away, but we wanted that safety net. We wanted to know she'd been accepted to at least one college, and we were supportive of her deferring if she wanted to try the audition circuit.


As you've stated, your son is a perfectionist. Ballet dancers are hard, very dedicated workers. Take that personality and add an injury to it. Your son's already had an injury requiring long-term recuperation. What would he do if he had another 3 - 4 month recuperation or worse (perhaps even a career-ending injury)? He could get at least one semester of college under his belt if he needed to be out of dancing for a time. My advice is to require him to have a backup plan. I've seen dancers who didn't, then got injured in their senior year of high school (one was a career ender), and went through a tough emotional time because they weren't involved in anything as intense as ballet. Most took community college classes, but have stated that they wished they'd applied to colleges they were more interested in.


As a high school senior, our daughter applied, was accepted to some colleges, chose one (we paid a registration fee), then deferred. She has taken some online college courses and some summer college courses when her dance company was on hiatus. She recently decided that she wanted to go to school full-time, applied and was accepted to the college she was hoping to attend. Next year, at the age of 26, she'll be a full-time college student in a college program that has quite a few former dancers.

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The university has a dance company, so she may audition for that. She's going to continue dancing on a per-performance basis with 2 small dance companies that she's been involved with for the last year and a half. They each call her from time to time as performance opportunities come up.


I don't think she could ever permanently leave dance. Frankly, I can't even imagine her sitting still long enough to be a full-time student!

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dancermom2cp -


I definitely agree with vagansmom, especially that your ds came to his training late and has to mature physically, a Plan B is never a bad thing.


My dd outgrew her pre-pro school at the age of 14. She was in the top level at the school and the youngest in that level with no boys to partner with. She was not getting parts she deserved as they tended to cast dancers by age. At age 15, an incoming junior in high school went to a residency program for ballet and academics, where she stayed for 2 years and graduated. She was placed in the top level of the program in the residency program. She was quite mature and physically very strong (has always been that way), and her technique was extremely clean and consistent. Her work ethic was unrelenting. The passion was there and she has a perfectionist personality but with a realistic edge to it. She suffered a stress fracture within 6 weeks of training at the residency program and missed Nutcracker that year. Her SI auditions that winter were not up to speed because she was still trying to ease back in. She managed to get into a top tier SI for the summer with no scholarship. She was coached and trained for YAGP that spring and only did a classical variation to not push things following the injury. She had a beautiful performance but no awards were won, but decided competitons were not for her but did it for the experience. Her senior year at her residency program with 20 dancers in her level she was in the top quarter of the talent pool, no phenom like many dancers there. I asked one of her teachers if she was "company ready" and she said yes. I however, didn't believe her. That year we made her apply to 4 college for performance ballet and she got into all, some with scholarships, we insisted on plan B, she got into 4 top tier summer programs some with partial scholarship and was pulled aside after the audition and asked if she would be interested in training programs. She had 3 offers for training programs, most required the payment of tuition, as they are still part of the school, some offered a small stipend for performances only and shoes for performance only. She ended up in an amazing training program that did pay their dancers a small weekly stipend, and full shoe allowance....no tuition, this is not the usual, in our experience. A full shoe allowance for a female dancer is huge. After one year as a trainee she was promoted to apprentice and asked back as an apprentice for next year, she is now 19. She is taking one class a semester at a local state university and will do some online college classes. She had 12 college credits from high school. The apprenticeship is only a 2 year deal by the AGMA contract. So looking ahead if she is not offered a spot in the company at the end of next season, it will be the audition circuit for her. Should that happen, in this ecomony, she will be grateful to have college credits under her belt, if she is unable to land a spot in another company. We consider sending her to the residency program and making the monetary investment the single best decision we made in this progess.


Going through all the auditons for college and SI her senior year was like having an evaluation. She was getting noticed and offers were made. This was how we knew where she stood as far as readiness. Dancers are so vulnerable physically that a career ending injury is always possible, so plan B should always be in the background. She never waivered in her desire to be a dancer, never a negative comment, rather I will make this happen. It takes the positive attitude, passion and a never give up work ethic. We consider her trainee and apprentice spots as one continuous audition for a company spot!!


Best of luck to your ds.

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As an academic with many years in college and university both as a student and a faculty member, I just want to add the education perspective that starting college or university after a couple of years of dance (or work or travel or pursuing another talent) is not that uncommon and is often an asset. Not every young person is ready to devote themselves to a degree program right after high school, and frankly sometimes waiting a year or two or three means that when the student *does* enter their program, they are more mature, more motivated, and have a better idea of why they are at college and what they want to get from their education vs someone who is there because "that's what you do after high school". I have taught and advised returning students and nontraditional students, including a couple of dancers and athletes, and they have all been successful, very able to capitalize on their work ethic and discipline from previous experience. Professors very much enjoy older students and as a group, they tend to perform better as they are used to being independent, managing their time and priorities, and are less distracted by partying and social life.


The reality is that in both dance and athletics, the window is limited for training and top opportunities; while the brain improves with age (and new research shows that adolescent brains are still developing even into the early 20s), the body is at its performance best earlier in life. It is true that your son *can* go back and get a degree after giving dance a try, though financing that education and forgoing some of the social experiences of the typical 18-21 year-old college student are some things he will have to weigh...for everything you choose to do, you are choosing to give up some other things. I know that's it is worrisome that if the dance career doesn't work out, then your son will have to find some way of supporting himself, but even people who got degrees right out of high school get laid off from jobs and have to retrain or change careers due to outside circumstances, so there are no guarantees even if one takes the "safe" traditional route. People DO go back to academic study at all stages of life and can learn no matter what age or number of years away from the classroom. Yes, you may have to dust off the study habits and get back into the groove of taking classes and doing homework and taking exams, but it is like riding a bicycle, you don't forget entirely.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that not going to college right away is not that big a deal. If he has a chance to pursue a passion and has the talent, giving it a go and just deferring college for a short bit is a very reasonable option. :) I hope you can get the dance input that will help with the decision...not an easy one for sure!

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“As an academic with many years in college and university both as a student and a faculty member, I just want to add the education perspective that starting college or university after a couple of years of dance (or work or travel or pursuing another talent) is not that uncommon and is often an asset.”


I couldn’t agree more with kylara7’s statement and excellent post. Call me an old fuddy-dud who thinks the younger generation is going to pot (which I don’t believe) but I think formal education is wasted by the majority of kids, at least the beginning year or two. In my mind, childhood is being extended beyond what it historically has been, which is one reason for the academic waste. I think we need to let kids pursue their own development, at least for a while. We need to allow them to fail. Not that they will fail, but rather let them pursue a course where failure is a distinct possibility. I will argue that though that is not an academic education, it is a true educational experience.

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When my dd was dancing at her pre-pro school, a guest artist was brought in to dance the part of the Cavalier in our annual Nutcracker. He was in his late 20s and had danced a few years with a local small ballet company. He left ballet to attend our state university and came out a finance major and was working as a financial planner. His wife had a short career with the same local company. She left ballet to pursue a degree in psychology and is now a school counselor. She also left so they could start a family. The couple decided to stay local to be near family and not relocate for careers in ballet. While they both still loved ballet they were not driven to continue.


My husband who was in the Nutcracker that year as a party parent in the prologue asked the guest artist for advice about college vs career. He said definitely career first, as you are only young once and your body is in its best form early on. He went on to say that his wife's female ballet friends that had gone to college first wished they had gone the trainee route. I was glad my husband heard this so he was onboard and we as parents were on the same page.


Similiarly when my dd was auditioning for residency programs and the word got out at our current studio she might be leaving. A mom of a very young dancer at the studio came up to me and said she gave my husband and I a lot of credit for allowing our dd to take this next step to pursue her dream. She was 40 years old now and took adult ballet class at our studio and still has resentment towards her dad for not allowing her to go away and study at a conservatory for dance when she was 16.


I agree with kylara7, follow your dream. You don't want to make a choice you might regret later.

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I strongly agree with all the posts that have followed mine. I went the non-traditional learner route myself, having not gone to college straight out of high school. At the time (1970's), I agreed with Joan Baez, who considered college at 18 nothing more than a "babysitting institution."


Instead, I spent a couple years as a volunteer - one year up in the "hollers" of Kentucky and another year in NYC, working in a soup kitchen in the Bowery. I think of those 2 years as the best education I ever had, certainly in opening my eyes to the world, but I also had to learn to manage living on my own. I received stipends every now and then for some of my work, and I waitressed a lot.


When I was ready to go to college, I went back to school super-focused. By then, I had children, so it took many years. However, I have the career I was cut out for, I think, and it is one I'd never have chosen to study if I'd gone to school at 18. So I was quite amenable to my daughter's choices. Luckily, my husband is a dance teacher, so he had no problem with that either!


In writing her application to college last year, my daughter's essay was about her non-traditional route. She said that her non-dance friends always tell her she's missed a lot by not living in a dorm and going to school straight out of high school, but she wrote that company life (and hers is a touring company) was her equivalent of learning to live and work with a group of people. And that being a member of a company taught her cooperation, team work, and acceptance of varying working and living styles. She believes it's more valuable than the college dorm life experience. Apparently, the person reading her essay liked what she said; she was told it was a strong essay and she received a substantial scholarship. Although a good writer, she's not a gifted one, but her essay was heartfelt and that came across well.


So, dancermom2cp, by all means let your son pursue his dreams, but also teach him to be practical: get one or more college acceptances just in case. :)

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