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Ballet Talk for Dancers

On a Learning Curve - Questions


backstagemom

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I'm glad I found these forums. I feel like I'm out of the loop on things I need to know in order to support my daughter in achieving her dream. I have some questions, but first, let me give you a bit of her background:

 

Age: 14 She started dancing at age 2. She began with a school that goes into daycare and preschool centers. When she turned 5, I moved her to a dance school that is well known in my local community. When she was 7 1/2, she decided she didn't like tap for some reason and didn't want to dance anymore. The dance school refused to let her take ballet w/o tap, so we dropped out for about 1/2 a year and supplemented with cheer and gymnastics. We found another dance school that took the time to evaluate her based on ability (rather than place her based on age) and placed her in appropriate classes. She loved it there and stayed until a year ago (and even excelled at tap). She started on pointe at age 8. She has strong, muscular legs and is a natural, but she hit her peak when she turned 12 and no longer felt challenged. At this point she began to express her desire to dance professionally. This past year I took her over to pre-pro school connected with a semi-pro ballet. Her experience in this new program: (1) She had gaps in her technique and was placed in both a pre pointe and pre graded pointe class for enrichment. (2) She no longer feels unchallenged. (3) She seems to be catching up quickly. (4) Her self-esteem took a hit, but she is beginning to feel more confident.

 

She wants to dance ballet professionally. I feel that I put her at a disadvantage by not bringing her to the pre-pro school from the beginning. I've been researching things to try and determine what we can do to help her catch up and go the distance. There are girls her age at the studio who are much further along. This deeply concerns me. She is continuing classes this summer, auditioning today for the jr dance group (a pre cursor to the semi-pro ballet company), and taking a week long summer intensive. I suspect that she may be moved up in the fall to the lower end of the graded division, but we won't know for sure until August.

 

Summer schedule:

 

2 hours of ballet (1 hour on two different days)

1 hour of tap

1 hour of jazz

1 hour of hip hop

1 week intensive

 

Questions:

 

1. I was thinking about enrolling her in a pilates class. Will this help her with stretching and flexibility?

2. I was reading through the forum here a bit last night. I noticed that people said their daughters were taking up to 20 hours of ballet. Wow. I've read in the studio handbook that graded division students take anywhere from 3-6 hours a week of ballet (+tap, character, and some other things I can't spell -jazz & hip hop are elective). Should I request that she takes more hours? Perhaps a second section on the same level? What is a reasonable number of hours for someone who wants to dance professionally, but might be a bit behind the curve?

3. I've been trying to learn about summer intensives. Her studio conducts a one week intensive each year (they are bringing in some big names from what I can tell), and auditions to take 8 dancers to NYC for a four week intensive. What do we need to do ahead of time to prepare her for auditions? I was looking at Houston, Joffrey San Antonio, Chautauqua, ABT, NYCB, Kirov and Julliard's summer programs online. How difficult is it to get into these summer programs? I realize they are expensive (painfully so), so which one is worth the time and money?

 

The big elephant:

 

I live in the Houston area, so yes, I get that taking her to Ben Stevenson is probably the wiser route, but Houston is a HUGE city. I'm not sure I can logistically get her there during the school year. I am fortunate to be close to a pre-pro school connected with a semi-pro ballet that has a strong reputation and desire to train dancers for a pro career. Homeschooling is not an option. I'm lucky she was granted a PE waiver. If she could get into Houston's SI next summer -that I can do. I looked to see if they had regular summer classes in the daytime (as a supplement), but I don't see that they do. I'm just not sure if we should stick it out where she is at and look at Houston later, or not even bother with Houston, or whatever... Aarrgg... If only I was an at home mom with plenty of time and money...

 

I would appreciate any advice or thoughts. I'm trying to learn all of this stuff. She went to this studio last year on the day of auditions. We jumped w/both feet in the fire. She came out and said, "I su*ked." The students there knew the French terms and combinations while she was trying to figure out what they were talking about! She feels much better about the auditions this year. I just had no idea. I didn't know that I didn't know, and now I feel like I've done her a disservice by not knowing! When we left her old dance school, her ballet teacher told her the studio (the one we are at now) was hardcore, and she better be ready to have her rear end kicked. She has managed and done well, but now what?

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Hi Backstagemom, and welcome! You are in the right place for information about vocational ballet training. It sounds as if your daughter's former school was the one doing the disservice, not you--pointe work at age 8 is much too early, so I'm not surprised the new school has found gaps in her training. At age 14, ballet students who are on track for a professional career are typically taking a 90-minute ballet technique class 5-6 days per week. Technique classes would be followed by 1-hour pointe classes, as well as other classes such as pas de deux, variations or rehearsals, a supplementary form of dance such as modern or jazz, and possibly conditioning classes such as Pilates. Does her current school offer a schedule of that intensity for its more advanced students? If so, you may want to talk to them (or have your daughter talk to them) about her goals and about whether they can help her adjust to a vocational schedule (as it does take some time to safely build up to that). At 14, summer intensives will want to start seeing both potential and solid technique, so if your daughter wants to be a professional ballet dancer, it is time to begin working very hard and intensively to achieve that.

 

There are a few things that concern me about her current summer schedule:

 

1. Her ballet classes are not long enough--they should be at least 90 minutes long.

 

2. She does not have enough ballet classes--she would need to be doing at least 4, and preferably more, in order to be on track for a professional career.

 

In order to fit in enough ballet, she may need to drop hip-hop and/or tap. You asked about Pilates classes, and those are definitely a good idea for general body conditioning. They will help with strength and flexibility. The most important thing right now, though, is for her to be able to have enough ballet classes. 14 is pretty late to begin serious training, but provided your daughter has the right physique, a strong work ethic, and the ability to persevere and overcome difficulties, a professional ballet career may be possible for her.

 

If you have any other questions, I or any of the other moderators would be happy to help, and we have a lovely parent community here who I'm sure can also give you excellent advice.

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Welcome, backstagemom. :wink:

 

Okay, the first thing is more classes. WAY more classes! The good news is that she is only 14, but, the bad news is that she is 14 and well behind. Two hours a week is totally insufficient. Daily classes, even if at a lower level will be essential. Starting NOW. Summer is the best possible time, with no academic school going on. Find somewhere she can study for as much of the summer as possible.

 

To audition for the SI programs for next summer, Houston, etc., she will need to be at a solid Int. level of technique. Whether she can reach that by auditions, usually starting in January, is questionable, and only her teachers can speculate on that.

 

Houston Ballet has one of the best schools in the country, therefore, it would be highly optimal for her to attend that school.

 

The tap and hip hop can be dropped. Jazz is okay, but since she has so far to go to catch up, the more ballet the better.

 

All of the SI programs you mentioned are excellent programs, and there are many, many more. But we have a whole forum for that information, so I'm not going into that here.

 

[Editing to say that I was typing when Hans posted, so please excuse all the duplication! But, since we are basically saying the same thing, maybe it's good, as it reinforces the advice. :blushing: ]

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Ok, a few deep breaths......

 

Let's find out what exactly she is picturing in her mind when she is thinking, "I want to dance professionally". Ask her to be detailed in her explanation of what she sees herself doing daily as a professional. Once you have a clear picture of what she means, it may help you to guide her better. Depending upon her answers, we can help guide you towards what needs to happen from a training aspect, in order to provide the support she will need if a professional dance career ends up being a viability for her.

 

My next thought is that it is time to expose her to all of the different ways a dancer can dance professionally. Tutus and tiaras are lovely but truthfully, there are scads of dancers who have not only the proper training from the time they could walk, but also the right body type and personality and innate talent for this competing for very, very few jobs.

 

I don't mean to discourage- far from it. What I mean to do is to be sure that a professional ballet career is presented in a truthful manner to both you and her. If after all of your reading and her learning about this, she is still driven to dance classical ballet, then she will have to prepare herself to take what may feel like some steps backwards in order to move forwards.

 

She will have to get into a professional level school, and that means she needs to be taking at least a 1.5 hour ballet class daily, at least 5 days per week followed by some sort of pointe class. She needs to be taking classes in all aspects of classical ballet, which will include repertoire and variations, partnering, and some extra-curriculars like music and dance history, etc.

 

She may have to be placed temporarily in a level with children younger so she can learn the things she's been missing. Summer intensives are typically 4-6 weeks long at this age and can be quite costly, but if she's in a good school, she can stay with that school and live at home during intensive which can cut down on costs. There are usually financial aid packages available, and if she catches up quickly, sometimes scholarships are possible.

 

Now, there are other ways to make a living as a dancer that are quite gratifying and perhaps slightly more reachable. She will however, still need a strong ballet background, so the training is something that needs to be addressed, regardless of the end-goal in mind.

 

Having said all of this- she's 14, and she may change her mind at any given moment. I have seen beautiful dancers who had all of the goods and all of the training suddenly hit 18 and turn down ballet jobs to go to school to become a lawyer. Not such a bad trade-off, when you think about it! Your family will have to decide what works best for you.

 

Have a read here: Recipe for ballet

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Wow. That gives me a lot to think about. I'm going to ask questions.

 

One thing though - As far as I can tell HB's academy doesn't offer summer classes -only the intensive. Why wouldn't they have classes year round?

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I believe they have all of their year-round students take their Summer Intensive. :)

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Also, the Intensive at a school like HB takes up all of the studios and all of the teachers all day long, 6 days a week. They have students from all over the country and several other countries! When and where would they hold another program?

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I guess that makes sense. How hard is it to get into HB? HB would be a good place for us to start since it's close to home.

 

One other question -I've been reading some things about height. My DD is 5'2, and I'm afraid she has already hit her peak height. Is this height good, bad, an advantage, disadvantage?

 

She auditioned last night for a jr. company (associated w/our semi-pro ballet). We are waiting for results. Crossing fingers that she makes it...

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Backstagemom, right now a jr. company should not be the primary focus if she is serious about ballet. Training, the best there is, comes first. Also, can you please explain to me a "semi-pro" company?

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Backstagemom,

My DD often takes lower level classes to work on her technique. Sometimes she does those classes in pointe shoes. Also, the lower level classes focus on different technique so it is good to keep it fresh. Ask the studio if they will allow her to take lower level classes. She may fill in the missing pieces to her technique.

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The ballet company has professional company members (the principles -main dancers). Students audition each year for a spot as a jr company member and a chance to be in the jr performing group that is considered the precursor to becoming a jr company member. The jr performing group takes additional classes, and performs in a variety type show around the area. They also get to perform the smaller parts in the ballet with the ballet company. They are considered the training wing and precursor to the ballet company.The jr company members (they just call them company members -not 100% sure how that works) perform with the professionals in all of the ballets. I'm still learning how it all works, but it's all apart of their training.

 

The audition was for both. We just received word that she made it! We don't know yet if she is just in the jr performing group or the company (not impossible, but highly improbable). We will find out tomorrow night. She is very excited!

 

We've talked a lot in the last couple of days. She wants to be a well rounded dancer in order to be able to dance in ballet & modern professionally. Right now the world of possibilities are open to her.

 

To slhogan - CL area

Edited by backstagemom
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In terms of the height issue, proportions are more important than height, as long as one is not extremely short (under 5 feet) or extremely tall (generally over about 5'8 or 5'9, but there are 6 foot tall female dancers).

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I would definitely say she is proportioned for her height. She has a good little figure and is quite muscular. I was worried she might be a little too short.

 

I did a little more investigating about classes. She entered into the program under their apprentice program. From what I understand, she is being evaluated this summer for possible placement in the graded division (this is the pre-pro training ground). Apparently it's very involved -a lot more classes in ballet, point, pas de deux, character, ballet history, etc. The expectations are very high. She will have to go through an interview during the summer as well. As I said earlier, I think she is behind the curve for her age, but seems to be moving quickly now. I think she needed some refinement on technique before they would move her forward. She is looking forward to moving into the graded division. The ballet teacher danced, taught, and was ballet master of ABT for many years. He is also the ballet master for the ballet company here.

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