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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career Paths

Victoria Leigh

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The following post was made on a YD forum by Clara 76. We feel that it is a "must read" for all serious students approaching high school graduation, and will also be helpful to parents and teachers.


Let's start with one thing at a time. It sounds like you're feeling a bit of the panic that kids go through around the last few years of high school. My son went through it, and I will tell you the same things I told him:


Breathe. Everything doesn't need to be decided today. I know it feels like it, but it doesn't. There are options and I want you to weigh them carefully.


Take the next few months to play with different scenarios in your head.

For example: if college was paid for by a rich anonymous donor- any college anywhere with the only rule being you can dance forever for your own pleasure, take ballet classes for the rest of your life, but you will not dance professionally, what would you do? Quick- how did you feel when you read that sentence? A sense of relief? A sadness but also a bit of relief? Completely devastated?


Another example: You convince your parents to use whatever money they had set aside for college for you on a ballet training program. You end up studying for the next 4 years because by your own admission you had a late start. You begin the audition process at age 21, realizing that for at least the next 2 years, if you are lucky enough to get a Traineeship or Apprentice contract, you will still need to be supported by your parents.


Trainees and Apprentices are usually on both company and school time, so having some sort of job outside of dance becomes daunting. Are you willing to go on 4-5 hours of sleep per night? Are you willing to dance all day, work all eveing usually at a restaurant or retail job, and finally drop into bed at 2 or 3 am, only to start the whole process over again at 7 am the next day?


You hit the audition circuit which means airplane tickets, delays getting into the next city, taxi rides to an unfamiliar facility, day after day after day for several months. Airplane fare costs money- lots of it, so you are still living off of that slowly diminishing sum of money your parents had for you. You are fortunate because during this journey, you did meet some very interesting people, and they offer your their couch (they found it on a street in New York City- it may or may not have bedbugs) for a few nights so you can attend several auditions within a few days.


You don't sleep well on the couch, and you're pretty sure you saw either a rat or a gigantic cockroach cross the living room floor in the middle of the night. You still head out the next day for your first (of 3) auditions that you need to get to. The first one you're cut after the plié combination; the second one they lined you up, looked at all of you, and cut all but 3 dancers- you weren't one of them. But at the 3rd one, you make it all the way to the end of the class only to have the AD tell all of you that he is looking for a principal dancer, and some men. Obviously, you don't fit either category, so off you go to the bedbug couch for another night.


Quick- how do you feel? Excited- this sounds like an incredible adventure- something you'll tell your grandkids about some day! Discouraged? Mixed?


And a third scenario: College, but a dance degree- maybe even a double major, or at least a degree that might offer you some sort of dance possibilities, along with some sort of financial comfort- better than the bedbug couch, but modest.


The simple reality of the ballet dancer's life getting started getting a job is pretty much how I've laid it out. I didn't do that for any reason other than to be sure you are armed with all of the realities that may occur if you decide to "chuck it all and go dance". You also may not win the financial support of your parents.


These are all things to consider as you write down the pros and cons of seeking a ballet career.


Now, let's open our minds for a bit: Have you considered other dance forms? Not that anything in the arts is much easier, but there are college programs that can be more accepting and more tolerant than the ballet departments can be. My personal advice would be to cast your net- far and wide, if you want to do a dance program in college. Take a look at some of our threads here on different programs that offer dance, and see if anything interests you.


Start a journal and keep track of the pros and cons of each one of your options. When you have compiled as much information about what it might take to gain you entrance into the ballet world and what it might take to get you into a dance department that looks interesting, talk honestly and as unemotionally as you can with your parents so you can find out what they might be open to. Keep your grades up as well as your chores so that you are as mature as possible during this process.


It's also possible that you could start a college program, and on a holiday, happen to audition for a company you had never thought of previously, and that could work out. Or you keep training and luck into an apprenticeship. While you are an apprentice you decide to start some college classes at a local college, and slowly but surely, you earn your degree.


And even though many parents may not like it, there is also the possibility of you deciding not to go to college now, and end up down the road in your late 20s deciding it's time. However, in that scenario I do want you to look up what it takes to live in whatever city you want to live; projected college costs 10 years down the road because you will probably be missing out on any scholarships; what jobs you might be qualified for.


Your situation is not optimal, but sometimes the impossible becomes possible. The one thing I can tell you is you can always dance, and you can always do college. It's just up to you to figure out what will work the best for you.


Clara 76

August 2011

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