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vocational school abroad?


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Hello ballet parents,

I am complete newbie both on ballet sites and pretty much to the world of ballet - we are in the UK (on the lovely south coast). My DS is just about to turn 14 and has been seriously dancing for only about 12 months (before that only twice a week though with a very good Vaganova teacher). He has managed on cobbled together variety of lessons from local teachers and some Bolshoi trained teachers in London, and has just come back from the Kirov Washington SI (for which he was awarded a scholarship). He has now been offered a 100% scholarship to the full time program. More than this, the teacher there said DS has the potential to be world class soloist and he had not said this to any of the other students (all of whom to my relatively untrained eye were extraordinary). Caveat is of course that he need to be in full time vocational training from now, and of course as far as they are concerned that means Kirov (afraid no-one in the Russian world has a very high opinion of any other school except perhaps Paris Opera).


I understand the need for full time training, also DS is really wedded to the russian method and completely keen on going, but of course as a parent I am filled with horror at the thought of losing my boy at the age of 14 (probably, if his career continues on this trajectory, for good). Whilst we (his Dad and I) are not starry eyed and understand that there is a long road and lots of slog, good fortune and temperament involved in whether DS does make it, this is now the fifth top class teacher who has told us more or less the same thing, including his Kirov trained local teacher, Mary Goodhew (ex Elmhurst), Patrick Hinson (ex New York City Ballet), Evgeny Goremykin (ex Bolshoi principal, teaches at the London Russian ballet school) and now the washington teacher (ex of Kirov Academy/Mariinsky Company). We can't really pretend to need any more confirmation that he has the potential.


So, I guess my question is whether there are any parents on this forum who have sent their children abroad for training, and what was their experience of how it worked out? Is he too young to honestly know what he wants? Especially give the slower maturity of boys and (I feel) their slightly greater fragility. If we say no will he blame/hate us if he never achieves his potential? Is this potential worth the risks inherent in being effectively parentless from 14? Should we have looked at other schools (although there is general acknowledgment form many quarters that Royal ballet in London is not really turning out many top class dancers and that is really the only feasible UK option)


Many thanks for any advice...


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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, Celi. :shrug:


I understand your dilemma, and your concerns are valid, both in terms of the reasons for sending him away to a residency, and the seriousness of doing so with such a young male dancer. My thoughts would be that if you think he is ready to be away, at least keep him on that side of the pond! The Royal Ballet would be my choice, and I really do not think that he would have a better chance of a good career by coming over here. Good training is good training, just as talent is talent. If he has what it takes, the Royal is still one of the top schools in the world.


Keep in mind that most companies these days seem to be hiring people from other countries more than from their own. I think we probably have more, or at least as many, Hispanic and Asian dancers being hired here in the US as we do Americans. That does not mean that the talent and the training are not here, it just means that the directors are busy being fascinated by the dancers from abroad. And they are wonderful dancers, to be sure, but, so are the ones being trained here, and in Canada, GB, Australia, etc.

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Ms Leigh is giving you wise advice however perhaps you are unaware, there is a wonderful Estonian teacher at the Royal Ballet Upper School. Meelis Pakri is top notch if you are looking for Vaganova schooling. At least for this academic year he could stay in London. If you have an interest to continue with Vaganova schoolingafter his year with Mr. Pakris you may explore your options. Over the next year take your time. Do not rush into decisions.


The Kirov Academy has produced wonderful dancers over the years and with the new director, Martin Fredmann, there is a bit more of an open minded approach in helping to make Vaganova schooling fit more into American culture. He truely is wonderful. Have you spoken with Mr. Fredmann regarding your thoughts? He knows Mr. Pakri at the Royal Ballet School very well as well as the strentghs of the program at KAB. KAB has quite a few international students therefore he will not be alone. My suggestion is to speak with Mr. Fredmann or his assistant a bit more.

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Unfortunately ds isn't old enough for the upper school, and most of what I have heard about the lower school contrasts very negatively with his experience at KAB which was warm, friendly and inclusive (as well as challenging). Can't say I am too reassured by the low number of lower school students who make it into the upper school, or the low number from the upper school who make it into an English company (RB or other)- although I take your point that this may be a general propensity to want foreign dancers as they are more 'interesting'! I just get the impression from many people who should know (certainly better than I) that the next 2 years are really crucial, and I dont want to spoil his chances by prevaricating.....



(edited by mom2, to remove personal information)

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Our DS went away at 14 - it seemed to be a good age for him. He was in residency just before his 15th birthday. Here are some thoughts that may or may not be well recieved by others reading the thread - but they are honest opinions:


Kirov has, in the past, produced dancers that went on to some very well known companies. What is their track record the last two or three years while they were undergoing a lot of change? Is the same type of placement in companies happening? I haven't seen the statistics on this year's class. In the past dancers went on to ABT and other top tier companies in the US and abroad. Is this still happening? Contrast this information with the placement of students coming out of RB this year - I know we had a poster place them on the board in the "graduating class" thread. The last of DS' friends to graduate were in 2010. Those students were going to traineeships, graduate programs, a few second-companies and a few regional companies. Some international students went back to their country of residence and had jobs waiting for them.


Have there been changes to the curriculum at Kirov, more specifically to include modern and/or contemporary? This is becoming increasingly important in companies around the world. My DS was strictly Russian trained and has had to work extra hard for the contemporary and neo-classical pieces he has had to perform. He knows a lot of character dances and has yet to use any of them in a performance! He did a class with Maks Ekk and said he had never hurt so much in his life. Apparently lots of unused muscles!!!


Who is the men's teacher now at Kirov - and does it appear that the individual will remain? This may or may not be important to you.


Are you prepared for him to become well enamored with the school and then have the scholarship dropped or lowered after the first year - and still want to return? Are you prepared to support that happening both emotionally and financially?


How will he fit with the acadmic program at the school?


The school accommodates only a very few boys. What ages are going this school year? I would ask the registrar. In the past, the majority of boys have been at the older end (16 - 18) and I know there were occassions that the younger boys were excluded by the older boys.


Do you have options for training if your DS were to attend the school and find out, mid-year, that it wasn't right for him?


Your DS is a few years away from auditioning, but when he becomes older the support the school provides in terms of helping students find jobs will be particularly important for you to consider. It's a lot easier to get to auditions in Europe than in the US. Also, in the past there were very strict guidelines on time away from school for auditioning seniors. Those guidelines were not enforced for some students yet strictly imposed on others. Just be aware of it (I like to plan ahead.)


The school is not located in a particularly good part of town so there are strict guidelines on students coming and going. I'm not saying it's good or bad, just that you need to evaluate whether your son is OK with these types of restrictions, especially if he can't get others to go out on a Saturday or Sunday. A summer program doesn't really let you know how tough it can be to live with those type of restrictions week after week after week (unless they've changed their policy, students can no longer walk down the road to 7-11.) There are chaperoned trips and other opportunities to get out, it's just that some students do better than others in that kind of environment. It can be oppressive for some.


There really are a number of good schools in Europe - more than I ever realized. Not to say that Kirov is not a good fit, just that you have options. If not the UK, consider the many schools in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, and even Holland! We have threads dedicated to many residency programs - they might contain some really good information to help you with your decisions.


NOTE: I will admit that my first hand information is a few years old and what I know now is second-hand so I can't post as much as I'd like. I know there have been changes at the school since the Vinogradovs left.

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Thanks so much Cheetah and others- that's a lot to think about. I did notice a distinct lack of competition wins from the Kirov in the last few years (if thats any indication) but they have a prix de lausanne winner this year so perhaps its looking up under the 'new management'. I will certainly ask them about Nikolai's plans though (although I doubt they would say anything other than he plans to stay!). DS rated him very highly- he is ex Mariinsky (the school and the company) so assume he has adequate credentials- the boys all said he was strict and exacting and gave everyone lots of attention, but not at all 'shouty'.

As for other boys: I know there is one boy his age who was at the SI and plans to come year round but as a commuter (he lives fairly locally) who he got on with very well, and the best friend he made there was a 17 yr old who is also coming to the year round prog. He doesn't seem to have trouble being friends with older boys, and certainly if the SI atmosphere is indicative it was very warm and the boys group mostly got on well. So far (as of a week ago) they had 8 boys confirmed for next year.

We will ask about curriculum- they did do character contemporary and flamenco at the SI but I don't know if this is indicative of the year round- we will ask.

He was allowed out in a group with the older kids and didn't seem to have any hassle or trouble negotiating the neighbourhood- he currently travels alone from home to London by train then bus and has to run the gauntlet of London school boys calling him gayboy on a regular basis (theres a very big style difference between young people in Lewes and those in London for some strange reason...) so is fairly robust and self sufficient.

I think he should be able to transfer his academic work form the UK and gain credits so that if he stays to 16 he will get the high school diploma, which would I think allow him to do english A levels if he then ends up back here.

They did talk in detail about classes held for 17/18/19 yrs olds specifically to support auditions and that students could stay on for an extra year if the teachers felt they weren't strong enough for a company position yet, as for time off for European auditions thanks we will ask about that. We may consider a more local option for 6th form anyway (once he has had his 2 years intensive Russian training which you just can't get in the UK) though perhaps this is unrealistic as he may refuse to come back!

And yes we are prepared to pay if necessary though I am slightly of the school of thought (maybe too brutal?) that if you aren't good enough to command a scholarship perhaps you shouldn't be considering ballet as a career? (or is this really unreasonable?!)

Trouble with other European schools is the language barrier. He isn't very good at languages and at his age I think a new language AND being away from home would just be too much. Hence no intention to audition for schools in Russia at this stage.....

Anyway, lots to think about so I am really grateful....

ps sorry if my replies are tediously rambling- it really helps to think it through with a bunch of people who have some seriously informed views.....

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It's really a great dilemma to be in...congratulations to your DS and yourselves.

We're based on the US West Coast but from the UK.

Our DS was at a good local school, maybe 10-14 hours/week, from 6 years old until he was 14. Then, against their wishes, he moved to the 'big-time' pre-pro company school in the city [40 miles away] but as a day-student, then went full-time [but not live-in] during the last 3 [uS high-school] years.

Then at 18 went on to the final/3rd/trainee year at RBS in London, and had a marvellous time, made great friends, and has gotten a great job in a good European company.

My opinion is that 14 is too young for a boy to be far from home... but every kid and every family is different. Many people say don't push too far, too fast while their bodies, minds and emotions are still developing. If he's exceptional now, why shouldn't he still be exceptional in 3-4 years time?

And it's natural for every good school and good principal to try to grab the best students when the opportunity arises.

I think Ms Leigh provides very sound advice. I'm a great one for compromise and I think if you and he feel he's ready to make a the leap away from home then at least keep him within an hour or two's travelling time [London?] for a couple of years then re-evaluate. Maybe he will end up moving to Russia, or the US, for his last year or two of training?

You have some reservations about the RBS Lower School and where the Upper School graduates end up, but your DS is going to face extreme competition for the next 20 years [if he's lucky] so why avoid it now? Ballet has become more and more global, and those 6 or so male jobs that come up annually at RBS, BRB and ENB will be filled by the best available, with only a slight preference for the UK-born.

Good Luck!

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A few additional notes:


I would ask specifically about company placement - not competition wins. The last few years there was less focus on competitons for whatever reason, though there were several competitors for Jackson last summer. No medals won, though, as there had been in previous IBCs. The lag in competitions began the year the Vinogradovs left or perhaps even Mr. Vinogradov's last year. It simply wasn't the focus or students weren't interested. If your DS is interested in competitions you might ask up front about that as well, including the cost of private lessons that might ensue in order to prepare for said competitions. Unless it's changed, those preparations were not free, at least not to the students we knew.


My reference to the area the school was located in was to make sure your DS understood that a lot of safety procedures were in place and the days when students could walk off grounds unescorted are gone thanks to an incident that happened several years ago. Unless policy has changed, the students must be driven to the closest metro stop even though it is a walkable distance. That type of structure can be frustrating for someone used to more independence. Most of the areas the students visit - Chinatown, Union Station, Dupont Circle, Georgetown - are perfectly safe.


They boys' dorm does not hold many students, so he has to be comfortable with that idea. Some boys have had no problems while others didn't like being one of so few, especially if isolated by age.


In regards to scholarships, I know of students that have attended residency programs for multiple years on full scholarship and they are still not dancing professionally. I know of students that received NO scholarships - and were cast poorly in student performances at their residency schools - that have very good jobs. And I know of everything in between. Every school has its own standards in terms of scholarships and the ability to dispense them. For some schools it depends on the school's ability to raise funds. Given the current economic situation I don't know how those fund raising efforts might progress. So, to say that that "if you aren't good enough to command a scholarship perhaps you shouldn't be considering ballet as a career" does, at least to me, seem a bit harsh. The arts aren't publicy funded here so someone has to pay! Schools are, after all, businesses.


Finally, I will say that our experience there was not warm and nurturing - in fact far from it! - so it's interesting to hear that there seems to be a shift in the environment.


Good luck with your decision.

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As I stated above, there is a much more open approach at KAB with Martin Fredmann as director. Things have changed quickly, in a good way in his 1st year as Director.


As for job placement, the young lady who won Lausanne will now have a contract with the Royal Ballet. I am not sure of the other graduates from this year however with the economic and political climate of today, students graduating from schools in the US and many of the schools in England are getting trainee, second company and apprentice positions. Getting the coveted corps contract has become much more difficult. This does not reflect any particular school's ability to train highly qualified students.


As I ask with the parents of those considering entering HARID on a full-time basis, call the Director of the school for first hand information. All directors are interested in having good students however having a talented student who is unhappy is not good for any school. I am not advocating one school over another however I do know if one enters into a commitment with a course of study with distrust, the student cannot thrive and neither can the school. If Mr. Fredmann is not currently available, I am sure he has left a competent person in charge of handling student recruitment.


As for the course of study, if you are interested to pursue a Vaganova program for your young son, you will have difficulty finding a professional one in an English speaking country. This is a fact. I do not believe this thread is about what course of study you might pursue for your son, as I think you clearly stated you where interested in Vaganova. As someone who is qualified to teach Vaganova, it does matter if your son gets his lower level training in this system. It is possible to study under a different method however the results cannot be the same. I am not saying better or worse, just that the results cannot be the same. It is a family's decision as to what course of study to pursue. If you have chosen Vaganova for your son, you will need to send your son to a school that can and will proceed through the 8 year course of study in order for him to know the program physically as a dancer. If you choose not to do the full 8 year program, fine, just understand that he will not have completed a course of study. In this case, what the results may have or may not have been will be an unknown.

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I've thought about my post off and on during the day. I was running to work and feel as if I left my comments a bit up in the air. Perhaps all I am trying to say is that if Vaganova schooling is what you have an interest in pursuing, the sooner you get on with it, the better. It is designed to be studied for 8 complete years of daily classes. Beginning the program later on is possible however in order to get the full benefit it should be studied sooner rather than later.


As for KAB, they are presenting a lovely opportunity for your young son. There are pros and cons of every program. As a parent, you must decide is it the best for your child. I think you are approaching the subject well. Know that KAB has in the past produced good, professional dancers. There has been controversy over the years for various reasons. With the new direction there is a more open atmosphere of learning that is more acceptable by American standards. The level of teaching is professional with a faculty who is trained in Vaganova, some as teachers, some not, but they are qualified teachers who are doing their very best to train the students in the school.

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Sorry, Swanchat, I know you were trying to clarify a commentl, but as you noted, this Forum is for the Parents of Boys to carry on their special topic conversations, so your post was removed. Thank you for understanding.

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CeliB - there's an interesting thread in Cross Talk called "Too young to move out" that may also answer some of your questions about age and traveling/studying abroad. It was started by someone who was considering have a DK move from the US to Europe for training at a young age. Not the same exact scenario but a lot of different opinions were presented, and responses given, that might help answer some of the questions you are considering.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi all, wanted to say thank you all for your extremely helpful comments and although I think the general feeling here was that 14 may be too young to go so far we have in the end decided to send DS and see how he fares. He was desperate to go, knows at least 4 of the other boys going and likes them greatly, and now that the scholarship offered is so huge (100% artistic and about 80% academic/boarding) it is as cheap as our UK options and he gets the training he really wants. But I really value everyone's opinion on this site- it is so fabulous to have access to such a network of expert and experienced people (of which DH and I are neither!!).

Many thanks again


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Be sure to remind your boys that in the US, we drive on the wrong side of the road, so when crossing the street, look to your left first before stepping off the curb! Winston Churchill forgot that once, and got hit by a taxicab.


It's a good thing to have a contingent of mates there. It makes the whole adventure a lot easier.

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  • 2 months later...

Just a few comments on the Royal Ballet School if I may...


I've not really had time to read the whole topic, but on the subject of methodology, the current Royal Ballet School system owes much to the influence of Vaganova, but with a strong core of Cecchetti to maintain the purity of the English repertory of Ashton and MacMillan and other influences to meet with the demands of the industry as it is now. A dancer trained in Vaganova would not have any difficulty adapting to the Royal Ballet School regime.


In terms of the environment of the Royal Ballet School, it is tough in the lower school and certainly not as cosy as others, but it is by no means unpleasant or unfair and all students are very well cared for, emotionally as well as physically. With (some) ballet schools in Eastern Europe still having a tendency to employ stick hammering harridans, a bit of tough treatment does need to be on the menu. There is certainly an aspirational feel to attending the Royal, with all students being acutely aware of the demands being place on them and the need to become responsible, strong and independent individuals. RBS students are always exceptionally well disciplined and self-reliant as a result.


I did also want to point out that 'assessing out' has always been a feature of the RBS setup. Low numbers progressing from the Lower to the Upper school is not due to poor training or lack of ability, but by a tried and tested system, which to all intents and purposes is designed to gradually filter out the dross as the students progress through the school. In fact, well over half the students in the upper school have made the transition from the lower, with only a small proportion of students from overseas, other UK schools or competition winners.


The problem with ballet in Britain at the moment is not the school. In fact the RBS has really upped its game of late and the training is first class. The failure of British ballet lies with the Royal Ballet company and its inability to develop British talent to Principal level. It seems that at any one time, the company only has one home-grown 'star', to the detriment of all others. It was Darcey Bussell, and since her retirement it has been Edward Watson, with no future prospects being brought to the fore.


The true example of the success of the British schooling is actually Xander Parish, who was plucked from the obscurity of the Royal Ballet corps and given a job with the Mariinsky, with a number of soloist roles already to his credit. Had he remained in the UK, his exquisite virtuoso technique would have been ignored and he would never have been given the opportunities due to him, whereas now there is talk of him being promoted from Coryphee to Soloist, which if true, would be an outstanding achievement for a Western dancer.

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