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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The journey


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I think DD is still in the midst of the journey, so it's hard to tell how it will all end up. I have read on this thread and on others that many of our DKs express that they "have to" dance, and work tirelessly toward that. Responses here seem to indicate that they have largely been successful, maybe not dancing in the biggest-name companies, but dancing and being satisfied, wherever they did end up. My question to the veteran parents is: Were there others (not necessarily your own DKs) who also "had to" dance, worked equally hard, but did not make it? If so, did teachers or directors step in and finally give them a talk about the hard reality, thus ending the dream? If they did, at what point on the journey did this occur? Was it before the years of company auditioning, or did the company audition results themselves serve as the first indicator that they would not fulfill their dance dreams? I am just wondering if the professionals are the ones to introduce reality, or how this goes. I think it is hard for the "have to dance" kids to know when to try something else in life.

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Pointeprovider, I think those are good questions. And I do think that the success stories we share on this Board still present a bit of a skewed view of the rate of success and the degree to which the 'I MUST dance' and perseverance qualities can overcome the scarcity of job openings.


DD and I have known a number of very talented and committed dancers who ultimately had to 'walk away' empty-handed. Sometimes the dancer walked away prior to auditioning for companies, which we generally chalked up to them having an epiphany resulting in a change of heart in terms of what they wanted to do with their life. One such example is a very talented dancer whom all the teachers and mentors believed would definitely get a job during audition season. Instead, during her last year of the BFA program, she decided she did not want the life of a dancer, but rather chose to take the LSAT and attend law school the following year. Nothing the teachers or mentors said could change her mind about foregoing auditions.


Others have gone the route of auditioning after high school and not received appropriate offers or offers that make any sense for them to take. Some of these then chose to go to college as something other than a dance major, others went as dance majors. Still others have gone the auditioning route after college or a post-grad training program and not received any offers that made it possible for them to sustain themselves and their parents could no longer continue to support them. And still others received no offers and had to decide how best to proceed.


In each instance, decisions had to be made. Some made those decisions to 'walk away' more quickly than others. Those dancers tended to have already had some idea of where they might want to go with their lives post dance. Others needed more time and more of a transition. They often took whatever 'layman' job they could scrounge, tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to maintain their technique and skill levels with consistent open classes. (But 'open' class and 'consistency' do not generally go hand-in-hand, especially when one has to work around a work schedule and has to pay for classes along with all other living expenses, including rent and groceries). Some were able to work on a 'project' basis to garner some professional 'chops', but these tend to be in the more experimental choreographical area of dance. Some were able to land a 'pick-up' project here or there. Some were able to keep more contact within the dance community than others.


In any event, I would say that, at most, the dancers we knew that tried to stay involved in dance after the first big audition season attempt lasted maybe two years, three at the most, before they 'walked away' and transitioned dance to something less than center focus of their life. Some of them walked away entirely, others just down-graded it from their primary focus. Some moved on to teaching in smaller schools; others created careers outside of dance totally.


As far as whether the 'professionals' introduced them to reality . . . . well, perhaps indirectly by not offering contracts. But as these dancers were all very talented, it was more a matter of not being at the right place at the right time with the right director with the right company logistics with the right angle of their tongue and the right stair selected for the day when the resumes of those qualified were tossed down the stairs. They all received a lot of encouragement as they went along, including during auditions. It was they who eventually discerned the hand-writing on the wall---and it was more often than not a matter of getting on with their lives and moving out of the limbo of 'hanging in there until the job comes along'.


So, as much as I would like to believe that good things come to all dancers talented-enough who persevere and 'do everything' right, in reality, I have seen too many examples of that just not being so to really believe it. All I believe my dancer can do is prepare, prepare, prepare, network, network, network, and pray, pray, pray that she happens to be in front of the right AD at the right time, on the right day with the right artistic sensibilities for that moment. There is an incredible amount of LUCK involved in obtaining a dance contract, it seems to me.

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There is an incredible amount of LUCK involved in obtaining a dance contract, it seems to me.


I completely agree!


Pointeprovider, The first ballet program dd attended would never tell anyone they should hang up the old pointe shoes, it meant less revenue for them. The other program she attended held annual appraisals and it known that if you didn't measure up, you were asked to leave the school. The school was in large part state funded so the revenue wasn't as important. The school also felt a responsibility to let a young person find other means to make a living as early as possible, if that needed to happen. This did happen on an infrequent basis but it did happen.


As far as professional company's giving indication that it's time for a would-be dancer to move on; I don't think they see that as their job. The hard thing about this is that auditions may or may not be an indicator of potential to make a living in the business. One director on a given day might cut a dancer at barre. On another day, the same dancer might just get a contract. Your analogy to the blue dress is one of the best statements I've ever seen and it applies for so much of the ballet journey. I think that it's more a matter of concrete learning... when your head hits the concrete, you learn and may decide to move on or it may take many more times of head banging before you just get tired of hitting the concrete! DD has had a couple of friends who are graduates of the hard knock school but who were beautiful and talented and just never seemed to be at the right place at the right time. Faced with the uncertainty of the job market both in ballet and on a broader scale, dd's friends decided to go to college. I hope that their drive and focus will help them be successful and that they will become great patrons of the arts!

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'he is leading an enviable life full of excitement and adventure. Too much so from my perspective somtimes'


Cheetah- Hurray! Really pleased there is a young professional dancer out there having lots of fun and adventures. Sometimes when I read this board I actually wonder why anyone would choose this path, or actually suppport there children to do it. But I have I always suspected being a ballet dancer must be a lot more fun than we are led to believe.

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Guest coupe66

Moderators, I hope I am not moving off-topic here, if I am please feel free to move my post! As I was reading through this thread (and have read through other similar threads in the past), I have often pondered the connection between whether or not a dancer considers themselves a success and how that dancer defines success. A short while ago, I was listening to my dd and some of her serious ballet friends as they discussed their ballet hopes and dreams. All of them expressed very lofty goals: The Royal Ballet, ABT, etc. - commendable goals, to be sure - but for most dancers, even the very talented - how attainable, really? Often times when I page through the national ballet/dance magazines, I see that most of the dancers interviewed, etc., are those from the big name companies. I understand why there is such a fascination - and well deserved - with the big companies, but I think it is also commendable for a dancer who lands a job with a smaller, perhaps not so well known regional or smaller city company.


So often, I have seen on our ballet journey that a young dancer will set their heart on just one specific outcome or a small handful of very narrow outcomes, and if things don't turn out just that way, they are understandably crushed. I think it's important while dreaming big to also have an alternative plan for success in the event that the loftiest goal remains out of reach, either permanently or temporarily. For example, if I look at the city of Philadelphia, The Penna. Ballet is there to be sure. But there are also several other smaller companies in the Philadelphia area that have superb artistic direction and dancers, and I would not consider my dk any less of a success if s/he landed a contract with one of those smaller companies. Any thoughts on this from those of you who have already passed this crossroads on your journey? I am hashing through this with my older teen at the moment, as dk struggles to plan for a future that hopefully will include a professional dance career.

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I think that a lot of dancers' goals change along the way as they find out more about the reality of company life. Being employed at a big company might seem nice, for example, until you find out that you might be onstage twice a week, if that. In a small company, you typically dance more, and you often get better roles, even though it may seem less glamorous at first glance. I think that dancers eventually find a place where they are happy and feel fulfilled, and they realise that what once seemed like their ideal company may not have been such a good fit for them, after all. Sometimes it takes being employed with such a company for them to find out that they are never going to move out of the corps there, whereas they could be a soloist or principal somewhere else. Sometimes it happens when they are not offered the job of their dreams, and they find another company that they love, and then they can't imagine themselves anywhere else. :)


It can be difficult for teens to realise this, so I sympathise. I don't know if your dk is at one of the big company-affiliated schools or not, but if so, I've found that sometimes there is a culture of "the top or nothing" at those schools, which the faculty sometimes either encourages or at least does not discourage. I think this is not helpful to the dancers, who should really be trying to maximise their options, considering how very few jobs there are.

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DD was at one of those big company-affiliated schools and auditioned for jobs last year. The focus was simply to get a job-the best job possible in terms of pay, repertoire and continued growth but at the end of the day, the focus was to get a "foot in the door" and to get the first job! I agree that dancers goals change once inside company life and what may have seemed as the "dream" company may be viewed in more realistic terms.


Coupe 66,

As far as how realistic is it to think it's possible to get a job at the big name companies ... luck, talent, tenacity, connections, timing and... did I mention luck and timing? ... and tenacity? As far as smaller companies, they can be a very good choice for new, young dancers- just make sure that the classes are good quality and the repertoire is interesting for the dancer.




DD is also having wonderful adventures. I marvel at an 18 year old with the confidence and ability to explore the world. Lucky kids!

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Smaller companies can be a choice for all sorts of dancers not just new, young ones. It is an individual decision and one that can be based not just on youth but also on maturity. As an example, there is a professional dancer who was trained by our home teacher in her first school who danced at ABT for several years, after years and years of dropped promises of promotion to Principal, she left for a smaller yet well known company where that position was a reality. She has also mentioned this in many interviews when people ask why she left a big 3 letter. For her, it was a case of desiring to finally dance the Principal roles that she deserved and to feel that she was continuing to progress into more substantial roles where the staff agreed in action.


The flip side of that is that dancers at smaller companies are not at the end of their road, they can and do transition into larger companies as well. It may be in a lesser position than they held in the smaller company such as our local smaller company Principal who left for SFB where she became a soloist. But the choice and desire to look in either direction is based on what the dancer sees for their own career, how long they feel their body can hold up dancing, and the satisfaction they desire each day they go to work. Couple that with the desire to simply dance where a job was offered can be in place as well.


Looking at rep is important. It will tell you the kind of work you would get to do. And looking at the classes is equally important if you get that chance to. Sometimes as an auditionee that is workable and sometimes not.


The same analogy that is used in college degrees can be used in dance positions: When one graduates from college one has a college degree. One college may have been more prestigious than another but in the end, it's still a diploma. If one is hired as a professional ballet dancer, one is a professional ballet dancer. People may look and feel one company is better than another but at the end of the day, your job is that of a professional ballerina. One can be a surgeon at the best hospital in the nation or a surgeon in a rural area. But one is still a surgeon.


The key is getting the very best job you can that gives you what you want and need. And you'll learn to define "best" along the way.

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Excellent posts so far and wonderful examples!


At the academy DD-1 attended, they were not in any way helped in finding out where to go auditioning, etc., in fact, they were often hindered in doing so if they had rehearsals for something in the school or with that semi-attached company. (into which hardly a student ever gained admission... though many were "promised" places ;) )

DD-2 is at a different academy, and has another year before auditions start; we shall see what happens there.


At any rate, DD-1 just went off - travelling often through the night each way - in order to get to and back from those auditions and did end up with a contract. She did not have her heart set on any one company at all. (maybe due to growing up in a theatre household, where any illusions were "corrected" early on!)


I also think that it is a good idea for dancers to find work, if they really do want to dance. Yes, good training and decent rep. are great, but there was a time when I went in early to do my own training before company class because the training at that time in the company was not what I needed.



One does what one has to do.



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  • 2 weeks later...
concerned parent

I came here like many, when my dd was 12, not knowing anything about ballet training. I have learned much during the past 6 years. My dd has changed dance schools twice, graduating from a residential pre pro program and was accepted into a university program with a partial dance scholarship.

She recently decided to change her major from dance and will transfer to a different university that is more attuned to what she wants to study.

The best advice I can give to parents who are still on the journey is that as your child approaches their senior year of hs, you should insist they develop a back up plan in case they cannot dance. In our case, there were a series of events and circumstances that started during her senior year that led her to conclude that ballet was no longer a viable career choice. This included the realization that there were stronger dancers than her struggling to get decent pro contracts, that the auditions for the best college programs were very competitive and a serious injury during the spring of her senior year caused her to miss her final performances.

Fortunately, my dd had a back up plan, which is now her new career plan and she is quite happy with the change. Hopefully, she will still take some dance classes for fun and will have a life long interest in ballet.

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concerned parent, thanks for the story of your DD! In my experience (through my own studies years ago, and now my DDs') there are not only a few young dancers who choose to do something else, often in the middle of their professional training, and some just one or two years into their careers.


Back when I was a student I remember being shocked that anyone would stop; later on I started to see it very, very differently.


I find I am often relieved, in a way, as think that these dancers who do something else early on have a "leg up" as far as getting started on a different path.


Those who continue in the dance-profession will have to face the end of it sooner or later, of course.

It is a short career, painfully short for many, and it is soooo important to have other interests and passions!



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  • 4 months later...

Please somebody write a book! I will buy many copies for myself and my ballet parent/dance parent friends. Thank you to all of the moms on this board who continue to share their wonderful, heartfelt and honest stories. It is a journey I am on, daily with my 3 dancing children.

Thank you

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks, 3childrendance, for commenting on this thread and, thus, bumping it up. There is a lot of great stuff in this thread. For starters, I see so much of myself in danceintheblood's initial post, beginning with the fact that I was widowed in 2008 as well, and ending with the kinds of lines that I'm often found saying: "I just don't believe there are many careers that are so tough and at such a young age" and "pull them out (!)" I also really like 101driver's line: "We laughingly refer to her as 'the worst of the best.'" That's a good description of my DD's ballet abilities. Fortunately, she's one of the best non-equity jazz dancers, so she's found her place in the dance world.


My daughter realizes she'll have a lot of material for a book one day, but she's not ready to reveal some of her trade secrets at this point. A friend of hers even asked if she'd be a contributor on her dance blog site and my DD declined. But that's where a lot of advice can be found - if you're willing to hunt for it and sort through all the crap. :lol: DD also heard of a dancer who has become successful as a YouTuber - the kind who has their own "channel" and earns money by video blogging. Hearing that, I've been trying to encourage my DD to at least take more pictures - to illustate this future book of hers!

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So much good information on this thread! Thank you all for contributing. I can only say that our dancer always had a back up plan at each stage of her ballet journey and it didn't matter where she danced, just that she was able to dance. She leads a very happy, fulfilling and interesting ballet life as a result.

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It was funny as I read this thread I didn't notice it was a year old until the bump up comment. But I am glad I stumbled upon it. We have been going through the ups and downs here in this household though my older DDs journey has just started. She has gotten a lot of positive feedback this past year and was very pleased, but has also gotten a lot of mixed feedback that hasn't been positive. It is truly hard for me to assess her real possibilities on this journey given the constant reminders that she may never accomplish her goals. It is difficult to know what feedback to listen to. Yet she is determined to keep going and only seems to grow more positive every time she hears she still has work to do. We do have a backup. But it is extremely difficult to walk that fine line between encouragement and pragmatism. I don't think we as parents can ever do it perfectly. So we stumble on, and do whatever we can to be encouraging but have other plans on the back burner. I do understand her need to do this as her choice. At every turn I wait for her to tell me she would like to pull back, yet it's as if the harder she has to work, the more determined she becomes. I can understand her feeling that way and see that she seems more apt to succeed in adversity, but at the same time I can't help but doubt it every step of the way! So many of the posts above have resonated with my feelings lately. There are other issues in our family life that are probably contributing to this. But I am very grateful to have this board as an outlet, if only to remind me that there are so many others out there who have these very same issues.

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