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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Adjustments: Path curveballs and re-grouping


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Studioj, I spoke with my daughter regarding your request for role models and she suggested looking into the bios of the dancers in Alonzo King Lines Ballet and also, although not incredibly tall but, formerly a freelance dancer, Sayaka Ohtaki, was hired by Ballet West and is now a soloist.

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Patricia Barker, formerly of PNB, is another tall dancer. While she is no longer dancing, there are some videos of her online you can see.

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Hope you saw Sayaka in Breaking Pointe this evening. She was one of 5 dancers being considered for the role of Cinderella. Not bad for a dancer who freelanced.

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Studioj - I'm very happy to see your story here. I've never checked out this forum and I'm so glad I did. My dd is just 13 and we're preparing for serious training (she's had 10 years but that included a lot of tap and jazz as well). she's 5'9" - when I told the owner she'd only be taking tap next year and doing ballet at another studio, his response was " okay, as long as she knows she'll never be a ballerina" ;(


maybe she won't, but We would seriously regret not doing everything possible to try! Love your dd's story!

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  • 4 years later...

Bumping up since this is a transition time for many of our dancers/parents in regards to the journey.  Please add any wisdom from those currently or recently past this stage in the journey.


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  • 3 years later...
On 5/25/2011 at 11:35 AM, dancemaven said:

the younger DKs need to know where they are going, and figure a path for how to get from here to there, BUT they don't need to do it all in one fell swoop or all at the same time. Dancers still need to be 'slow boiled' and that includes those last steps. Can't just turn up the heat from 15-19 and voila! Dancers in high school are still high school age kids/students/people. Just like 'normal' teenagers, they still have a lot of growing up, maturing, personal exploration, and self-awareness to go through. Yes, many of the DKs seem much more mature than their peers; but there are still areas where they are no more mature, less mature, and less experienced. Give them the need time to grow in all areas. They won't know any better, but we as parents/adults/former kids do. We know there is still more to learn, even at that age.

Just taking a moment to appreciate gratitude. This summer’s plans are set and DD is staying at her home studio for the next year. I’m doing research on companies to look at for next summer and next year, when we hope she moves up to a trainee position. The wisdom here is golden and I am so grateful for it!

I’m doing this research sitting in the car outside a restaurant while DD and a friend have lunch. I was reading the above quote when DD texted me to ask how to leave a tip when paying with a card. Timing 😆😆

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On 5/25/2011 at 1:03 PM, cheetah said:

The one thing that always sticks in my mind, though, is something a teacher once told DS - you can never go back to being a student again. The period of training is very, very different than training a professional receives. At least that's what we've seen. And it's hard to maintain that knowledge base once you are in an environment where you aren't exactly dancing your dream choreography.

This thread is very relevant for those with dancers' embarking on the trainee-and-beyond phases of their early careers.  This quotation is from 2011 and I'm wondering if people describing more recent experiences would agree with it.  With trainee or post-grad levels so common now before second / studio companies at many places, is there a general consensus that dancers need to be "done" with their training before joining trainee / post-grad levels?  Or have these become levels in which dancers can continue to improve their technique and training in addition to gaining performance experience?

I know every program is different, but I'm wondering if trainee and post-grad levels might be more training focused than studio companies (which seem to be largely about gaining performance experience and providing free or low-cost labor?).  How does one tease out this kind of information without knowing someone who recently went through the program?  This site is incredibly helpful but still often has only a couple of contributors who have been able to provide additional information about the post-high school programs.

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14 hours ago, InTheWings said:

I'm wondering if trainee and post-grad levels might be more training focused than studio companies

I do not think there is a specific difference in the terms that you mention.  They aren't separate things ("trainee", "post-grad" and "studio companies" are all somewhat meaningless terms because they are individual to each entity, just like "second company" "apprentice" and "trainee").  It all depends on the situation.

The post grad experience is a "wild west" kind of limbo where there is a incomprehensible mash-up of nomenclature and training opportunities.  It is a completely different animal than in school training.

14 hours ago, InTheWings said:

How does one tease out this kind of information without knowing someone who recently went through the program?

Your dancer does the research.  Your dancer asks other dancers they've met in SIs, in master classes, in their studio, via friends of friends.  They ask their teachers or mentors.  They research on this Board, they read industry articles on the web.  They immerse themselves in the culture of the industry.  Your dancer must start asking and listening.  As the parent, you will be able to do a limited amount of research on their behalf, but not much.  As a moderator on this Board once advised, your dancer will need a "network" of other dancers.  

You will not find the same sort of "reviews" by dancers of training opportunities on this site like there are for the summer intensive experiences.  There are several reasons for that.  First and foremost, the dance world is actually very small.  It would be quite easy to lose all anonymity if a dancer posted a review of a training situation on this board.  Second, it can be difficult to review a post grad program when you are feeling hurt and devalued and even more difficult to make that review fair and even handed.  Third, dancers are busy.   My DD doesn't research or comment on here.  I do, but since she is now post grad, my involvement in her career is quite limited and I don't know what her experiences are. I could not tell you the experiences she had in her post grad training phase.  She didn't live with me, and although we talked, I could not answer any questions about the environment or where the dancers went, etc.   Further, her experiences as a "trainee" and a "second company" member might be entirely different than any other trainee or 2nd company member in that group.  For instance, in my DD's second company experience, she was hired into the main company.  But the other X number of second company members were not hired into the company that year.  But what does that say, exactly?  It says ONLY that the AD wanted to hire her at that moment.  It says nothing about the other, extremely talented, beautiful dancers that remained.  Nothing.  Not a thing.  You can only (sort of/maybe) glean general trends.  Does the company AD hire from within the second company?  Maybe.  But sometimes, maybe not.  Do they hire from cold auditions?  Maybe, maybe not.  It all depends on what the particular, individual AD is looking for (if ANYTHING) at that particular moment in time. 

Keep this very, very sobering fact in mind.... At the level of post grad training, ALL the dancers have the technique, training and talent to "make it" professionally.  All of them.  And all of them have grit, and all of them love dancing.  All of them have a strong and developed work ethic, all of them have sacrificed time, money and energy to be where they are, and all of them want a professional contract.  And when your DK arrives into this very big ocean of talent, your DK is starting their ballet career all over again.  The previous decade your DK has devoted to their art has enabled them (ONLY) to compete in this new arena.  No more than that.

15 hours ago, InTheWings said:

I'm wondering if people describing more recent experiences would agree with it.

Yes.  100%.  I agree with the 2011 advice to keep your DK in school training for as long as possible.  I believe that to be beneficial for the dancer, particularly for those DK's who have not yet graduated from high school.  

Even if the magnificent ballet wizard from on high comes to anoint your DK with a professional contract at 16/17/18, your DK's training never, ever "stops."  Training continues for the entirety of their career (from what I have been able to gather, anyway).   In fact, it becomes much more difficult to "train" WITH a professional contract.  Therefore, there is NO RUSH to get to the "post grad" training limbo, where the path forward becomes murky and filled with unknowns.  

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Eligus, thank you for your thoughtful reply.  Everything you've said is helpful.  I think I have a specific question that I haven't articulated well yet.  It's hard since every program uses different terms to mean different things.

What I think I am wanting to ask is ... for those companies that have a level that is geared towards post-high school age dancers but is below their studio/second company level, should that level be thought of as a training year for technique development.  Since I already know that the actual answer to my [own] question is that it varies from program to program ..... what metrics could one use to try to figure it out? 🤪

If the post-high school but below studio/second company level is part of the school, is it more of a training environment?  If that level is part of the company, is it less of a training environment?  What if the dancers in that level rarely or never perform with the company?  What if they frequently do?  I guess one could ask with whom they take their classes (other students, studio/second company, just their level)?  Probably also depends in part on who teaches the class and that person's individual approach? 

Maybe what I am wondering is just how "finished" a dancer needs to be with their training to become a "trainee" somewhere.

And since we all know that most trainees leave the company they are with rather than being promoted higher up the ladder ........ isn't training during that year extremely important?

Thank you for any insights or further clarification [of my own thoughts 🤪] in how to think about this.  Maybe I'm wondering how one knows when they are ready to become a "trainee" --- [or fill in the blank name for that level at a specific company].

Can everyone tell that this is how I feel about all of this?  🤪

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I also agree that this thread is still very relevant.

To your question about trainee vs. studio/second company, etc. It is true that there are a number of companies where the progression is trainee, studio/second company, then full company. And there are also many companies that do not have that sequence. A big issue of course is that there are some programs, even with this "standard" progression, where the studio or second company programs are more equivalent to what a trainee program might be elsewhere, and vice versa.  It really is important not to be misled by terminology or having a pre-conceived idea of what a certain term means.

So how can you evaluate where a particular program falls? This is an area where you can look to past reviews for some clues, as well as the company's own website, your dancer's peers, and the admin staff at the school/company. (Many blessings to the few companies out there that actually put detailed info about each program on their site. Sadly, it is the exception rather than the rule.) Some of the clues I've learned to look for are: 

1) Is there a regular schedule of classes with names like "Technique", "Pointe", "Variations", "Character", "Pas", "Modern", etc? Not that a program needs to have all of these specific examples, but if they do have a regular schedule of several classes a day, that indicates that the program is still geared towards technique training.  When a program only has a technique class or company class in the morning, followed by rehearsals the rest of the day, all year long, that is likely a program that is focused more on performance than training in technique. (And that's not necessarily good or bad - it just depends on what your dancer wants/needs at this point.)

2) Does the program charge tuition? Not that there's a guarantee that all programs that charge tuition are intensively training-based. Some are not. But I do think it is rare these days for NON-tuition programs to have intensive classroom training. There are exceptions, but as a rule someone has to pay teachers to teach.  Of course, some students in a tuition-based program could be on scholarship and this point wouldn't apply to that situation. I'm just referring to a program that is not inherently designed to be tuition-based. 

3) Does the program pay the dancer? This is one step further along the spectrum. Very few companies are going to pay your dancer to take classes and be intensively trained by their teachers. 

4) Do the dancers take class with the company? If the dancers take technique class with the company much of the time, that would not be a program that is heavily training-based. The junior level dancers aren't going to be the main focus of company class. 

I'd be interested to hear if others have any other clues like this that they particularly look for.

Now, the idea of being free labor for the company is a little bit of a gray area. You can be in a very training-intensive program and still be free labor for the company shows. Or you can be in a very training-intensive program where the dancers aren't used much at all for company shows (usually large companies that have a large corps already), but are used for community outreach shows. Or neither of those things. Or all of those things. So the amount of performing with the company doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with how much additional classroom training is or isn't involved. Of course, the more the dancers do perform with the company, the more they will likely miss class or have the training schedule adjusted to allow time for company rehearsals. There can be a bit of a trade-off around the time of company productions. 

As far as how to know when your dancer is ready to be a trainee - that's the million dollar question, right? I think there are at least two big pieces to the puzzle: dance training and academics. Both of those things need to be resolved in a way that is satisfactory for your dancer's situation, and that really will vary quite a bit. I agree with Eligus that there isn't a great rush to get a dancer out the door if there is suitable training available locally. The sooner they go away, the sooner the countdown clock of ballooning expenses starts. So if you know you can only afford a very limited time period of tuition-based out of town training, and you have access to good training locally, it might particularly make sense to put off out of town training until you've gotten as far as you can, locally.

At some point, your dancer will eventually start auditioning for some things and see what they are offered. There isn't usually a magic sign that shows up and says, "This is the year you should be a trainee!" It can be tricky to know when is the right time for that move, and I very much remember feeling unsure about whether DDs should be auditioning for summer intensives vs. going to company auditions. There have been several years so far where my dancers have done both of those things, since different companies have different processes for getting entry into their programs. 

I totally agree with Eligus that your dancer will be learning as long as they continue to dance. I think much can be learned from being in company class and rehearsing with artistic staff for shows if the dancer is ready for that step. I think most dancers benefit from getting good focused training until they have the ability to "take charge" of their own progression. Slow and steady really does win the race. Yes, some trainee/post-graduate programs can be good options for continuing your training. Whether that makes sense for your dancer at a particular point depends to a large extent on the specific program and those academic and financial factors.


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7 hours ago, dancerdancer said:

Whether that makes sense for your dancer at a particular point depends to a large extent on the specific program and those academic and financial factors.

And also what your what your particular DK needs, as Dancerdancer indicated above, but I wanted to emphasize.  Dancerdancer has some GREAT points and ways of measuring.

So much depends on what kind of "finishing" your dancer needs, and that is very difficult to tell, Inthewings (at least from a parental perspective).  Similarly to in school training, in the post grad training phase, the dance environment and the training offered has to "fit" with your dancer, and I completely understand your frustration in trying to figure that out. There is some good advise up thread, but I'm not sure there are clear answers before you try something.  

In my DD's case, for example, when she was not offered a job at her dream company (which was more classically based), she had a crisis of the heart and had to examine whether she wanted to continue in ballet and what that meant for her.  During that painful time, she concluded that she needed more contemporary training.  Her home studio was heavily Blanachine based, but quite limited in contemporary experience.  She saw this as a gap in her training and she needed to broaden her appeal to different companies.  (Please note, I'm making this sound really clear in hindsight, but it was NOT this clear and concise at the time).

Consequently, for her second year, she "trained" at a smaller, more regional company which offered more contemporary productions.  She stayed at that smaller company, in an unpaid position (despite another paid "training" opportunity offer at a different company) for another year, mostly because she wanted to continue the contemporary training they offered.  She really liked the instruction she was receiving there, she liked the dance environment she saw in the company, and she liked the company AD.  Her "read" of the situation must have been decent, because it was this company that eventually hired her.

But please note that during this post grad training phase, in both the dream company training position and the small regional more contemporary training, she was in no way "comfortable."  She felt extremely uncomfortable and awkward at BOTH positions, and very much "out of her element" at this smaller, regional company, since she felt so many other dancers were so much better than she was at the contemporary movement, and she wasn't being paid for part of it.  And she worried about losing her classical technique.  She still worries about that, and (if she has time - ha!), she takes a class or two with the attached school, or pays for some private coaching in order to keep her classical dancing as sharp as possible.  

But I do empathize with all those headed into this phase.   The weighing of all these factors in an environment of "not knowing" answers is very stressful.  There is valuable advice in Dancerdancer's post and upthread on ways to try to clarify what the dance environment is in the post grad offerings, but ultimately, the best advice I can give is for your dancer to look HARD at their "flaws" and "problems" and find an environment that will work on THOSE.  I guess that might sound counter-intuitive.  And I'm not sure that will work for everyone, but my advice would be to go somewhere not where you are the BEST at something, but to try to find the places that will address your weaknesses (which is even scarier and more difficult).  And, honestly, maybe that advice is better suited to the second year of your post grad training?  Maybe for the first year, you pick the "best fit" chance, to see if you are offered a job, and then if you aren't, you re-assess and try to address any weaknesses as a dancer you have?  

Clearly, I am no expert.  

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This thread has taken an interesting turn. 

In evaluating any post-grad training, don't just look at whether or not companies hire from their own bridge levels.  Especially during the pandemic years, a lot of companies hired from their own trainee and second company levels because holding auditions was more difficult, and so these companies all look a lot more virtuous than they really are.  I have some hiring stats going back to 2014, and the more common picture of the job market is that it is a game of musical chairs.  The best companies only promote one or two dancers per year from their bridge levels, and the rest go elsewhere.

The "elsewhere" is the key to evaluating the trainee and second company training.  For the dancers who don't get promoted, are they getting jobs elsewhere?  If they are, that's a great sign that the training during the bridge years is beneficial.

There are some trainee programs that really do polish the dancers and help them become company ready!  There are some second companies that offer really valuable performance experience and also continue to push dancers technically.  But not all of the bridge programs are equal.

I recommend using social media, google, and your network to try to find out where recent graduates have gone.  Sometimes you can find a roster from a few years ago that is a starting point.  Because you want to know about all of the dancers and not just the ones the programs brag about, don't just rely on program placement announcements.


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I also wanted to comment on the question about whether or not remaining a "student" is the best way to acquire post-grad polish.  I tend to think remaining a student for an extra year has a lot of advantages.

I don't think dancers need to be company ready to start trainee programs.  If a dancer joins a second company prematurely, however, I see several problems.  The dancer is being evaluated as a professional, the training may involve just a company class, there may not be any formal career mentoring, and in terms of promotion consideration or outside auditioning, the young second company member is probably competing with dancers two or three years older.  I think second companies are fantastic, however, if what a dancer lacks is performance and partnering polish.  Some younger dancers are company ready!

It takes a lot of self-discipline to continue to improve once you are no longer a student.  The roles you get as a young dancer in a company might not challenge you technically.  And company class is not always enough.  If dancers find themselves facing this kind of professional opportunity, it doesn't mean they should run the other way and go back to school.  They should look around and find ways to supplement their training.  They can work with peers, joining choreography projects, taking adult classes, find a mentor or coach, attend rigorous summer programs, consult with A.D. about goals, etc.


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Thank you all for such helpful and informative posts!  I hope this conversation will continue because I know there are other families entering the post-grad phase right now and I think most of us can benefit from these discussions.  Thank you!

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