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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Two Good Schools - Very Different Opinions?


tldx

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Hi. From looking through previous posts, it seems that I have a common dilemma – whether or not to change schools. I tried searching but was not able to find quite our situation, so here I go (and sorry if this has come up and I’ve missed it).

 

My daughter is 7 (will be 8 in 2 months) and currently place in PP level 2 at a highly regarded local school (associated with an even more highly regarded local company). She has completed a total of 3 years of training now and her skill level is about average for her weekly classes. All in all, we have been very pleased with her school. Please know that my knowledge of ballet is very, very limited, being only what I have had to learn since DD has taken up dance. That basically means that I have taken all of this on little more than faith. But now I am growing concerned that this “excellent” school might actually be failing her.

 

DD is taking a week long summer dance workshop at a collegiate school for a bit of fun. The children were assessed and placed according to skill level. The problem is that DD was placed in a pre-ballet group along with children 1-2 years younger than herself. After DD expressed her unhappiness to me on the first day, I contacted the director and asked that she be assessed again. The decision held. The explanation that I received was that she need to refine her technique and improve her vocabulary, as well break a few bad habits, and that they felt she would struggle in the next level. I can accept this as I trust that the school has a greater knowledge than myself and find it highly unlikely that they would intentionally place my daughter in the wrong level.

 

When I picked my daughter up after classes yesterday, I explained the discussion I’d had with the director, which DD wasn’t happy about but accepted possibly because she had genuinely enjoyed her classes yesterday. The concern came when she complained that she only learned one “new thing” during ballet technique, but that she had been corrected multiple times for things she was doing incorrectly. Things she has been doing in her regular weekly classes for a very long time. She expressed that she feels the collegiate school has much higher standards and more thorough instruction, which is a surprising thing for a 7 year old to say.

 

Now I can’t help but wonder if for the past 3 years my daughter has been receiving poor instruction, or at least not as good as we had originally believed and how I should go about really finding out if that is the case. I am fortunate that a co-worker actually received her BFA at the same school DD is attending this week and worked with the same instructor who is teaching DD’s ballet technique class. My co-worker’s opinion is that this teacher is excellent and I can trust what she says. I am preparing to call the program director to ask for her honest opinion on where my daughter actually stands in her training and if she feels that she may not be receiving good training. I’m hoping that her response will be objective and help me to figure out what I should do next.

 

So am I crazy? Am I right to consider this a red flag? I don’t even know what I should be asking these people…

 

I feel a little crazy for thinking so much on this for a 7 year old, but DD truly aspires to study through college and to pursue dancing professional While I anticipate that there is a very good chance she will change her mind between now and then, I know that I have to be sure that she at least receives the right foundation in her training if she is to have a chance of pursuing that dream.

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Tldx, before going into this, I would like a bit more information. Is your daughter in ballet technique classes at her home school, or pre-ballet? If she is in regular classes now, how long has she been out of pre-ballet? How many classes a week does she take and how long are the classes?

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'Victoria Leigh' - She does take technique, only, at her home school, 2 60 minute classes per week (since March). She finished the pre-ballet courses a little more than a year ago, and spent 1 year in PP level 1.

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I'm not sure what PP is, since most schools don't start their pre-pro programs at that age and level, but anyway, I would have to wonder then why she would be put into pre-ballet at the summer program. In pre-ballet they don't even learn technique. I find this somewhat confusing, and I think that I would want a meeting to find out exactly what is they need to "fix", or what knowledge she doesnt' have, that could not be learned in a Level 1 class, at least. I mean, how much can they expect a 7 year old to know already after such a short time in real ballet? (I'm sorry, but I do not consider pre-ballet to be actual ballet. They do learn things leading up to it, but students are usually 4 and 5. maybe 6, and what they are capable of learning is quite limited.)

 

While I might have some questions for the home school, I think I would have even more for this school.

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PP is yes, pre-pro. Pre-pro at the home school begins at 8, with younger students with experience being considered. DD started at 6 1/2 on the directors' recommendation. As I said before, I know very little, so perhaps what they are calling pre-pro 1 or 2 is more like beginning formal lessons? I don't know if that makes sense though, as most girls begin pointe in level 3 (needless to say DD will not).

 

I have a message in for the director of the summer program and hope to speak with the actual instructor. Hopefully I'll speak with them before DD has her regular class tonight.

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So your daughter is in Level 2 at your home school where pointe is usually introduced at Level 3?

 

My now 8 year old DD was in a similar situation last year; she was placed into the "pre-pointe" level for this past year at our old studio, which I thought was ridiculous at her age (she, too, was placed into the beginning ballet level at age 6, upon the director's placement, when the published minimum age for that level is 8). We have since changed studios because of older DD, and younger DD was placed in the Beginning Ballet level because the new school does not believe in formal instruction for those younger than 8. At first DD was perhaps a little arrogant because she felt she already knew more than most, if not all, of her classmates (which was probably true), but she soon realized that the more serious, technique-driven nature of the new program allowed her to actually improve more than she would have in a "higher" level at the old school.

 

Are you in the Baltimore area?

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Blanche - When I realized that she was fast tracking towards pointe I was concerned, but there is another mother at the school who flat out refused to allow her daughter to begin pointe in level 3 because she was only 9. The school was very okay with this, allowing (perhaps encouraging) her to wait until 11 to begin pointe. I really liked that (the girl who was held back did not).

 

My daughter was perhaps a bit arrogant at the beginning of this workshop which is may be where some of the issues came from. She was so sure that she knew more, that she was better, etc, and there was no convincing her otherwise. Now, after a few days of frequent correction she is starting to change her tune. It still makes no sense that she was thrown so far back, but if she is getting something beneficial out of it I cannot complain [too much].

 

And yes, we are, just north of Baltimore.

Edited by tldx
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An initial response form the Director of the summer program:

 

"I understand her frustration and disappointment, especially since she has been working so hard at her school. We have found students have an initial adjustment from their outside school, given that we concentrate a lot of perfecting and refining their technique. Even though a student may know more vocabulary, we try to take inventory on their total body technique and then break down each component to better refine in order to help them achieve a cleaner and clearer technique. This is why we also do not have multiple classes in levels, each one of our levels has a skill set the students must achieve correctly before being advanced to the next level.

 

C is working hard, but she is currently at a pre-ballet or what our level would be: the ballet fundamental level. Again, although she knows vocabulary, her ability to execute the material correctly is difficult. It is simply taking a step back to refine her technique of the fundamentals, so that she can move forward with executing and advancing the vocabulary she knows correctly.

 

I would be more than happy to speak with you more in-depth if you would like. C should by no means feel discouraged, she is a wonderful student who works very hard. "

 

We will discuss further tomorrow.

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Guest coupe66

Hi tldx,

 

I would encourage you to speak with the director of her home studio regarding what is happening at the collegiate program before becoming too alarmed. I have found that when attending a new school/program, even if just for a week or two, the new teacher/director will often want to "fix" things in the dancer that may or may not need fixing. Sometimes it is an issue of a difference in technique (for example, our studio teaches Vaganova syllabus, but other studios in the geographic area you listed use the new ABT syllabus or others). Sometimes is is just a matter of the opinion of the new teacher/director.

 

I know that you do not have pm privileges yet (I think you need 30 posts), but please pm me when you do, or perhaps there is a way to somehow exchange e-mail addresses some other way. One of my older children is in a ballet company in the geographic area that you listed, so I am very familiar with the area and the schools/programs there.

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Adults are free to post their email addresses, if they wish. It is a good idea to disguise them a bit, like J.Doeatcomcast.net. Replace the "at" with @. :D

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Is there that big of a difference in syllabus that the different techniques would result in drastic different level abilities between Vaganova, ABT, Chechetti, etc?

Does one place more emphasis on vocabulary and certain technique at an earlier age or level than others?

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Actually, the teacher places the emphasis :) If the teaching is excellent, the syllabus is of minimal consideration.

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There are differences in what is taught at what time in each of the syllabii mentioned, therefore at differing ages the students will look differently. The general posture, musicality, usage of musculature and port de bras are quite different in Vaganova schooling from Cecchetti, RAD and Balanchine. I cannot address the ABT program of study. Perhaps it remains an unknown since the program has not been in existence long enough to train a dancer from beginning to professional level.

 

The good news is that there are so many different companies in the world that there is room for all qualified professional ways of teaching. :)

 

Clara76 we must have been posting at the same time. May I say that since the Vaganova program of study is not recommended for students younger than age 10, there is a difference in the way a 7 year old will look in comparison to other programs of study. There is no program of study in Vaganova for those younger than 10. Creative dance and pre-ballet are very different than professional ballet training for 10 year olds.

Edited by vrsfanatic
posting at the same time as Clara76
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May I say that since the Vaganova program of study is not recommended for students younger than age 10, there is a difference in the way a 7 year old will look in comparison to other programs of study. There is no program of study in Vaganova for those younger than 10. Creative dance and pre-ballet are very different than professional ballet training for 10 year olds.

 

For us moms, trying to educate ourselves, where would/could we find information (ie, a syllabus) on the various methods? I'm interested in the comment because according to our AD, she teaches the Vaganova method, so if the Vaganova method isn't designed for students under 10, what the heck was she teaching the years before dd turned 10? It's not like I saw a significant difference in the way she taught ballet classes. The biggest difference I see in classes is between teaching styles of teachers, not the technique they are teaching.

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Classical Ballet can be boiled down to a long list of "steps". Think of it as how one learns a foreign language; one starts with the alphabet, then begins to learn basic words, moving up to learning how to form sentences with those basic words. Sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become short stories, short stories become novels and theses, with beautifully constructed descriptions, characters with depth, scientific data with research, etc.

 

Within each ballet methodology, there are differences regarding how and when to teach certain steps, how much turnout is required and at what point in training that amount is required, placement differences, port de bras (carriage of the arms) differences, and variations in the names of steps.

For example, in the Cecchetti system, when the feet are in 4th position and one arm is high, the other out to the side, that's called 4th position of the arms. In the French school the feet would be in 3rd position when the arms were as above, and it would be called 3rd position, with the French 4th position having one arm high, the other in front. (I'm not describing proper arm shapes or anything, just trying to give the essence of the idea.)

 

Getting more into specifics, the exact height of the arms varies slightly with each method, as do other subleties.

 

The Vaganova method is recommended for students aged 10 and up, and is a very detailed, specific, and thorough method. I cannot answer what your child's teacher was teaching prior; what I can tell you is there are no academies here in the US that are structured so as to give true Vaganova training. For that, you must go to Russia or have your child learn with one of a handful of US based teachers, vrsfanatic being one of those!

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