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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The journey


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When I first discovered this board dd was 11, had been identified as 'very talented' and I was deperately trying to find answers to a million questions. Many times moderators expressed the hope that parents who had been through it all would come back and share their experiences, so I thought I would.


When I first found this board I was a real regular. I was "oh my gosh, oh my gosh, my daughter is so talented - what should I do?" I can laugh at myself now, despite my good intentions at the time. I loved the good advice and also the many robust conversations that took place.


So, I followed (most of) the advice given - "get the best training that is available - x y and z classes are optimum etc etc". Dd became 12, 13 14, 15 and was taking classes three days, four days, five days, six. She remained at her school where she was given good training. While she loved dancing because 'it made her happy' she was not ready to make a commitment to this as a career - as she said "I'm only young - I don't know if this is what I want to do forever". And she didn't make this decision until she was almost 16.


We really had no idea of the bigger picture. She had for some time been the most talented dancer at her school but we really didn't know what was out in the bigger world. At 16 she left home and moved interstate to attend a full-time vocational (pre-pro) school - one that had great respect and had a reputation for turning out wonderful young dancers. And there were incredible young dancers there! Some had been in full-time training since the age of 13 or 14 and they were technically and sometimes artistically well beyond what we had ever seen. Dd had to remind herself constantly that it was not about getting there younger, faster etc but about bulding a long lasting sustainable career. But it's not always easy when you're in a big pond of talent.


Within two weeks of arriving dd had her first major injury - a disc problem caused by hypermobility of the lower back. Eventually it resolved and she began to make great progress. It wasn't only her back that caused her problems initially, but having to adapt to a completely different posture, approach, five and a half days a week that required a greater level of stamina and the dreaded comparisons to students who were 'so much better'.


Toward the end of her first year dd had more injuries - the muscle that warps around the achilles for three months, then hip flexors, then a major back injury again - herniated disc. By June this year she had spent 10 of the 17 months in the full-time ballet program injured, dealing with pain, limited capacity and a level of depression. This wasn't how it was meant to be once you 'made it' into such a reputable progam. Everything falling apart.


Besides all of this, we found that there was always a small select group of students that fitted the principal's preconceptions of who 'had it' and who did not. Those not in this group tended to be either ignored or insulted - and if in the latter group this could be very cutting. Yet the school continued to put out good dancers. Dd had teachers who were very supportive and believed in her, but it was difficult for her to rise above the principal's attitude, and 18 months into her training I saw a dancer who had less confidence than when she had first arrived. There was also an issue with insisting that she continue to prticipate in classes at some level, when the medical and physio advice was that she did absolutely no training for at least two months.


So after much soul searching she moved to another school, a new semi-pro program, capped at 12 students and completely attuned to bringing her back very slowly from injury.


It has been the best move, many small issues have been identified and remedied and I am seeing dd's confidence grow again and her technique really solidifying.


So my big lesson out of this is, despite your child having everything going for them IT IS NOT ALWAYS EASY!!! Anything can happen, even though you think it won't. All the talent in the world can be beaten down despite your best efforts as a parent - and you might not even see it happening! Because all things going to plan you will have got the hell out of the driver's seat by then! And your child WON'T always tell you what's going on, because they want to deal with it and 'tough it out' and not complain. And let's not even go to how on earth am I going to afford it! I now live with my mother (who has frontotemporal dementia) in her house, and as awful as it is, I couldn't afford to support dd's training otherwise on a single income (as her father passed away in 2008). It is currently costing at least $30,000 a year and I pray for the day she gets that first company contract (or frankly, any job that pays money!).


Despite a very tough year, dd still wants to dance and I figure her resilience has been tested to the limits. Her new teacher is very excited about her future and is incredibly supportive. And most importantly dd is excited again.


I just don't believe there are many careers that are so tough and at such a young age. My advice to parents of young children now is "as soon as thy start to get good at something - pull them out - say you're broadening their experiences"! Tough, costly, heart wrenching - and yet, perverse though it may seem to some people, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather dd be than in the studio and on the stage. Because ballet has captured her heart in a way that's impossible to describe. As she once said to her father "when I dance, it's like I'm not there anymore, I just become the dance".

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  • swanchat


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Thank you so much for sharing your story! We could be soul mates :) Your story sounds very much like my girl's with just the details being different! I wish you and your dancer the very best! I am so glad to hear that she is excited again. That will make a huge difference in her recovery. Once again... my best to you both (& your mom too!) You have a whole lot on your plate, but it sounds like you are taking things as they come & working things out. Just remember to let your little light shine. :flowers:

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Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes I see young children at the studio and I think, "Run away, run while you can still get away!" haha. But honestly, my dd lives to dance and I also want her to be in the studio. She also has been dealing with injuries, for close to 9 months now (foot/ankle). She has also had to deal with pain, limited mobility and missing activities due to foot casts or boots, and depression. Yesterday she completed her first class without pain since March (maybe she did one over summer). It is such a stepping stone...the next big one is pointe!


So again, thank you for coming back and sharing. It really helped me to put things into perspective. Some days my dd feels as if she is far so behind because she is not up with class she has been dancing with for years. Some days she feels forgotten. And some days I wonder if this is a chronic injury that will have her sidelined. Some times 9 months can feel like forever....

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Thank you for sharing and "paying forward." Much of your experience resonates for so many of us who have children who have committed themselves to dance. I'm so glad your dd has found a nurturing environment for her body and technique. I think it may be helpful for families to know that if they find that their dk is in a school where their training needs are not being met, for whatever reason, that it is well worth investigating other options. Finding the best training program is not just a matter of looking for a good reputation and history of producing professional dancers but just as importantly, finding the program that is a match for your dk. Sometimes it's hard to recognize or accept that your dk is just not thriving in their training program but depression and change in personality and approach to their work are sure signs that something is wrong. That's when the parent detective hat must be worn to determine whether their dk is losing interest in dancing forever or if the school is just not meeting the dk's needs (this certainly includes exclusion or being ignored by the principal or teachers).


When dd had her first ballet related injury (at 12, she had Achille's tendonitis), I couldn't believe that an after school activity could cause such injury! I joked with dd's physician that they should turn me into the Department of Health and Human Services for driving my child to an activity that causes such pain! Honestly, if it weren't for her wise sport's medicine, ballet friendly physician, I don't think I would have enough information to have allowed dd to continue to dance. Even at a young age, dd understood that if she was going to be successful at ballet, it would only be because she has a whole team of people who help her. It is vital to assemble the best team possible. DD's team includes her physicians, physical therapists, teachers, school/company directors, ballet masters/mistresses, massage therapists, dieticians, understanding academic institutions, master pointe shoe fitters and even "cheerleaders" who are ballet professionals that spend time promoting their dancers. Of course, parents, siblings and loyal friends round out the team and provide much needed emotional support too! It does take a village :) and thankfully, BTFD is a part of the village too!

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Thank you so much for your post Danceintheblood. Your honesty is truly appreciated. It's what makes this board so vital to parents and dancers. Good luck to you and your dd. Now that her passion has been reignited, maybe the turns in the journey will begin to make more sense.

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I am feeling reflective today and the original post struck a chord with me. I rarely come to BT4D these days, but happened to stumble on dancingintheblood's post. Our journey has changed course of late and my DD and I find we're constantly looking back while looking forward. DD recently came to terms with the hard truth that she didn't love it all enough to keep going.


BT4D has always been a huge source of information and support for me. Thank you! to all those who helped us along the way. So I share today to provide a different perspective on the journey.


When younger, DD was a big fish in a small pond. She made the decision to devote herself to her training at age 14 and left traditional school, started dancing all the time, and got serious. She'd always been aware of The Big Ballet World beyond our smallish town (mostly because of years and years of really good summer training), but it wasn't until she made the move to a pre-pro residency that she really saw how absolutely amazing some youngsters were. She will always be grateful for her time in their company, honored to have trained with them, and always aware of the inspiration they provided her.


After a year of dancing as an apprentice with a company, DD re-evaluated her course. She would tell you that life as a professional is very different than life as a serious student. The goals become much more about merely surviving ("will I ever be able to pay my own way in life without mom and dad's support?"), security ("another year of auditions...ugg...where will I be after 5/10/15 years of this?"), and stability ("will I ever feel like I can settle in any one place, or will I constantly be chasing this dream?"). We laughingly refer to her as "the worst of the best" - which sounds awful, but it quite true. Her peers -- some of those very same youngsters with whom she trained that she considers the very best of the best -- were and are still struggling to find jobs and making their murky way through the quagmire of traineeships (some of which still require steep tuition)/SIs that vaguely promise positions after the summer/lateral moves that seem endless/non-paying apprenticeships and second companies, etc. DD realized that if those folks were looking at struggles and years to come of working their way up ladders, she realistically had to come to terms with the fact that a life of professional dancing was going to be tough for her. Mostly, she realized that it wasn't making her happy the way it had once.


So flash forward to now and I have a happy, angst free girl who is excited to be a full time college student and dance teacher at a local studio. She has been revitalized and intellectually invigorated. She's preparing for a career as an elementary school teacher and is incredibly optimistic about her future. She is transferring to a university next fall and will double major in ballet (choosing to happily keep dancing a part of her life and gratefully accepting a ballet scholarship) and elementary education. Her body no longer hurts and the tendonitis she had in so many parts of her body is healed.


I guess what I have in common with so many on this board (and dancingintheblood, who stared this conversation) is that the real journey for our kids is one towards happiness and fulfillment, whatever shape that may take. Best wishes to everyone.

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Thanks you danceintheblood and 101driver for sharing your DK's journeys.

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101Driver, I know your lovely daughter personally. I am one of her biggest fans. She's sweet and talented and smart and I'm so glad she's found her calling in life. Lucky kids who have her as their teacher!!! You are 100% correct; in the end, it's all about happiness and fulfillment!

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I haven't been on this site very often since its big change, but enjoyed reading this thread today. Different portions of 101driver's and danceintheblood's stories are similar to portions of my DD's journey. She, too, attended a residency where some of the best of the best were training with her, and it provided inspiration while also causing a loss of some confidence. I think it is quite common for teachers to highlight and promote those who, in their opinions, "have IT." She was not one of those, and I still marvel at her decision to persevere with hard work and keep working toward the dream. When swanchat listed the many people with varying specialties who helped her DD, I realized that our list is quite small- a few teachers, myself and my husband, her patient brother, questioning yet prayerful grandparents and friends, and the occasional pediatrician, physical therapist and podiatrist. I'd also include the host families who allowed her to live with them for 2 years. I wish she had had some of the same resources. I don't know how I'd rank DD or how she'd rank herself. It's hard to do, because it seems to be based upon the A.D.'s opinion/reference/ranking, and, except for trying to "read into" casting, you can't always know that until contract renewal time. I wonder if DD would be something like "the worst of the best" or "the best of the worst", or something else, or maybe if those overlap and become the same thing.

What I can say about DD is that she never wavers in wanting (having to!) dance, as she puts it, and her belief that hard work will somehow win out. Only time will tell if she is right. I am thrilled that 101driver's DD is happy, and thrilled for swanchat's DD, and happy that danceintheblood's DD has found a good place for her training and emotional needs. We all just want them to be happy. For now, DD is very happy with her position, but she hasn't yet been able to spend 2 years in the same place, so it remains to be seen whether or not this will involve moving on, again.

Thank you to all who share their stories, and not just the positive aspects. I never grow tired of reading them, and I learn from each one.

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Thank you all for sharing your journey. In a few years, I hope to be able to share also. Right now DD is a junior, has stayed local and attended SIs. The real test will come next year when she heads to college auditions. She has some thoughts of auditioning for companies, but knows also she wants to go to college. The journey will be interesting for sure!

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What I can say about DD is that she never wavers in wanting (having to!) dance, as she puts it, and her belief that hard work will somehow win out.




I love your beautiful dd too! She is a beautiful artist, a beautiful soul and has the passion and persistence required to do this whole ballet thing! I think it's absolutely amazing when dancers persevere even when school/company directors or teachers give no encouragement or worse, treat them as invisible as danceintheblood described. These dancers are the true warriors of ballet! One of dd's' teachers told her that dancers live the lives of gypsies. Not what I had in mind for my daughter but those who "have" to dance go where the dance is!

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Thanks for sharing all these wonderful dd journeys. I do think that hard work eventually wins out because the dancer who has done her homework will stand out . Patience, perseverance and positive attitude, I think, are the key to becoming successful in this crazy ballet world.

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What we are learning through DS' journey is that sometimes it's an advantage to be the one who wasn't a star. These are the ones that enjoy what they get and don't obsess on what they don't have (i.e. casting.) At least for my DS, he is enjoying being 20, getting a paycheck, and dancing good roles periodically. In the interim, he is leading an enviable life full of excitement and adventure. Too much so from my perspective somtimes. He is quite honest and knows that there are few stars in his company - and they are much older and much more experienced. He also sees how they have to work a LOT harder :)

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