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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The journey


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balletsky, it sounds as if you and your DD have a very healthy attitude toward her ballet. I would just add that you shouldn't base too much upon roles that she is given. Reasons for roles vary and include size, ability, costuming, seniority, politics and more. If she does well the roles that she is given with confidence, artistry and stage presence, if she attends a trustworthy studio, better roles should follow when they see that she can handle them. If my DD had based her decision to continue her journey upon roles that she was given at some of her schools, she would have quit long ago. There are so many variables in casting. Yes, usually the best dancers are given the best roles and are deserving, but we and dozens of ballet friends can cite many examples of other reasons for casting. Your DD is loving it, working hard, and doing her best. At her age, I think that IS potential.


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This is an extremely interesting thread. I'd like to comment on what ballet has done to our family. By way of background my wife trained for a professional career in ballet and when 17 torn a knee tendon and although she has taken classes on and off since was not able to continue pursuing a career in dance. I was a successful local distance runner, often winning races, but never getting to the national level. I have a career in the sports world and have been around successful athletes from a variety of sports. My career has lead me to work for Fortune 500 companies, for successful start-ups, and for small struggling businesses. I have been a small business owner. I also come from a family with deep and wide roots in the arts and enjoy many forms of art from the audience, including dance. We have 3 kids, 2 girls, one studying dance at a highly sought after university program and the other is younger and has met with more success.


Our journey started innocently enough when the girls were tiny. They stuck with it and although the older was never a star she was a leader within the groups of girls she danced with. In her early teens she had outgrown her school and switched to a school that focuses on producing professional dancers. By now dance dominated the house, every dinner conversation, our weekend schedule, our vacations - taken to pick girls up from summer intensives- were all about or related to dance. My son, not interested in dance, retreated to his room as quickly as he could every night from the dinner conversation. I tried and did participate in the conversations. I never balked as we shut down virtually all other aspects of our life for dance. And we were not the stereotypical over-involved dance parents; we didn't dote or hang out at the studio or suck up to the studio directors.


But worst of all we didn't see what was happening for years. We didn't see the rest of our lives disappearing and we didn't question the world we were subjecting our girls and so our whole house to.


Finally we did. My oldest was a senior in high school, going to on-line school so she would have more time to dance. We were told that the younger one would probably be Clara in that winter's Nutcracker. Nutcracker auditions led to lesser roles than expected for both girls; other parents even said to us, 'how could this be'. I asked the studio director to explain it to the girls. He said it would take too much time, he 'couldn't possibly do that'. I came to realize that we were always on the short end of the stick. And more importantly I learned that virtually everyone in dance feels they get the short end of the stick. The studio director even told me this, that even the girl who gets the best role is disappointed. So my daughters are always going to be frustrated and unhappy with their roles. Great.


The studio directors admitted that the ways of the dance world were not like modern management or human resources or child development or any kind of learning. "it's the arts' was an excuse I heard over and over again. I was told, 'we don't do that in the arts' when I asked why they didn't explain to the girls why they got the part they got. Can you imagine your boss posting a company-wide reorg on a bulletin board without explaining to anyone why they got the job they got? Outside the arts we know that we can get more out of people, we can make people more successful, we can make a group of people more successful if we do it differently. Maybe we used to do it one way but we know that we are all constantly getting smarter and that new ways are aften better. We do not ignore progress.The directors said that it would take too much time to talk to each girl (5 minutes?) 'it's the arts' was the reason business for the studio was tough, even though we were in a depression and plenty of other businesses were failing. 'it is tougher being in the arts' I was told. I passed that on to business owners I knew who owned failed businesses outside of the arts. They laughed, painfully. The studio owners did no marketing; they entered contests to try to get more money. They did not look at other small business owners as examples, people who followed their passion into business then had to figure out how to successfully accomplish all the other things one needs to do to run a successful business. They said, 'it's the arts'.


I began to see what we had done; we had put virtually all life aside for the world of dance. A world where advancement (roles) is subject to more politics that the business world. A world where bad business owners are either unambitious, dumb, both, or just have their head in the sand and hide behind 'its the arts' rather than face the challenges head on like other business owners. I realized what terrible examples for getting along in the world these people were, although they were great dance instructors, and highlighted the studio owners shortcomings as human beings to my daughters over and over again. I do not want them to grow up to be these losers.


My daughters were also living in a world where they bust their behind for everything and yet boys can smoke, not be in shape, or just be bad, and yet still get a paycheck as a dancer. The reality of the male ballet world is that it's just not that competitive; there are more jobs for men than there are qualified male dancers. You do not have to be graceful or in control of your body or fit and beautiful to get a paycheck as a male dancer Sure the best male dancers are very good and earn their position, but there are just not that many men dancing for the number of male dancer roles for male ballet dancing to be considered a competitive career track. There are many jobs considered unskilled that are harder to get, that have more applicants per opening, than a job as a male ballet dancer. I have seen multiple men who are ungraceful and smokers who do not work out regularly and who do not concern themselves with fitness get a paycheck from a major city ballet company.


Then there are the morals in the dance world. While you can find people cheating on spouses across society things happen in the dance world that turn stomachs and yet get shrugged off because it's the arts. Our studio is run by a husband and wife team of ex-professional dancers. He was in his 40's and married when he got involved with his wife; she was in her early 20's. Great role models for young girls. If we hear of a middle aged boss having an affair with an intern in a corporation we wouldn't let our daughters near the boss and you won't be wild about her hanging out with her friend if she was the intern. But I've been told it's OK, this is the arts, it happens in the arts. What that person was trying to say was we have lower moral standards in the arts. In terms of personal choices they have low standards too; both are now fat. He smokes and eats junk food in front of the girls. This man earned his living with his body?


There are more examples of behavior one wouldn't want your daughter to learn. A daughter was promised a scholarship to a summer intensive if she went to a large national competition. The director tried to weenie out of the commitment. After pushing back hard, hard enough that my wife and daughter felt we burned a bridge with the director my daughter got a scholarship to a half session.


So the journey has led our family to be focused on dance to the exclusion of almost everything else. We have alienated our non-dancing son. Our daughters have been prepared for a career in a field where decisions are often judged to not be fair and where the explanation is as complex and thoughtful as 'it's the arts'. The people my daughters have spent their afternoons and evenings with are a couple brought together out of wedlock, when she was about college aged and he was twice her age. They are business people who expect success to be handed to them. My daughters rehearse with guys who are laughable in how they pursue a professional career using their bodies but pull a paycheck while the girls will have to work their asses off smartly and diligently to even hope to get a paycheck from ballet.


The journey has not been all bad but and we all knew that getting to the destination (a professional career) is a long shot, but there is a lot of confusion, angst, frustration along the way. The real question is do we want to take a journey on a map laid out and run like this? With people with these values running it? And if yes, can we do it in moderation so this world does not take over our lives?


It's hard not to look at the journey we've been through and not be totally disgusted with the people in authority in the dance world; it's hard to envision them as successful in other roles in our world. Which maybe why we, and others, get so sucked into the ballet world. The ballet world doesn't act like the rest of the world; they ignore learning in how people are handled, in advancements in training and athletic behavior, and in business. They think they can play by different rules, because they are in the arts.


Would I do the journey again? No way. I would not subject my daughters, my son, my family to the illogical, stuck in the dark ages, selfish ballet world.


Before you comment on my thoughts ask yourself, when did you last feel like a role was handed out unfairly, when did you last look at a male ballet dancer and say, he earned his position, when did you last hear as an explanation for something that didn't make sense relative to what you know and practice in the rest of your life, 'it's the arts'?

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, DancerDad3211. It's jarring to read your experience but it's also the experience I've heard from a many others. As a long time member and moderator here, I sometimes have people not understand the limits that we allowed dance to have in our lives or why we preach that each family needs to set their own limits. It's sooooo easy to get sucked into the belief that as parents and as dancers you must give it all up to make your dreams come true. But in reality, as my signature states, we must have "balance in everything ballet" and this includes the degree to which the journey takes over all that is life.


We were blessed to find a wonderful school with excellent role models for our dancing daughters. We left one school with some similar situations you've explained but we were blessed to be in a metro area where we could drive 45 minutes-1 hour in all directions to find equally qualified instruction. I am most thankful that we were because it allowed DD to live her dream in a positive way. And it is why, here, we remind our parent members that while helping their child reach their dreams, they must remember that their job is to raise a happy, healthy adult. Their job is NOT to raise a dancer. If parents let that belief guide all decisions made regarding the dance journey they make sound parenting decisions for their entire family instead of looking back and realizing that they forgot to do so.

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'The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run."

Henry David Thoreau

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Thank you for posting your experience. I think it took courage. I can already see how dance could takeover a family's life very quickly; thank you for reminding me to calculate the cost. Sometimes art feels like a casino, where slowly or quickly but always inevitably the house wins.

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DancerDad3211- wow that is a cautionary tale if I have ever heard one. Part of my brain has already started trying to find how our situation is different than yours. I think it is called denial? As the mother of a DS hearing your comments on male dancers is really hard. He is only 13 so I cant even start to think about whether things are different for him. I absolutely hear your comments on the running of dance studios. I run my own small business and I find the way our studio is run to be laughable. The owner seems to feel entitled to all sorts of help and support (unpaid) from parents in addition to fees. Who else does that with their customers? I hope some more experienced members give us some insight into that end of things. I wonder if studio owners feel they are running more of a community service? I wonder how they see their place in the economy. I would love some insight into that. I see families like you have described yourselves who drop everything and focus on dance. I think I am too lazy to do that- driving all over the nation for competitions for instance. Forget that! Part of my head wonders what on earth we are doing- supporting our children to pursue a life of uncertainty and competition as well as an unreliable income. Dance teachers say that they have done this themselves because 'they have to dance'. Why cant people do it as a hobby? As a non-dancer I dont really understand, I acknowledge that. Anyways these are just ramblings but thank you for taking the time to be so honest DancerDad3211. I read every word with more than a few cringes. We all need this kind of brutal honesty. It is much appreciated. Can I ask what has happened in your family after all those experiences?

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Why cant people do it as a hobby?


Who says they can't do it as a hobby? There are many ways to still train as a ballet student but by making that your extracurricular activity of choice and not your chosen career. Possibly this is more readily available in the US, but here, it is certainly possible. Having 3 DDs, only one chose the road to a professional career. The other two danced because they loved it and that is what they chose to do after school instead of soccer, cheerleading or softball. It is their hobby, not their dream.


Thyme--you've raised some questions more about business practice that might be a nice offshoot conversation. Would you be willing to do so?

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Thank you for sharing your journey. Your words are clear and evoke many raw emotions that most (if not all) of us feel along our own journeys. I completely agree that bad behavior and poor business strategies are not excused "because it's the arts." Like Momof3 (and many others), we have fought for balance in our family; honestly, it didn't always happen.


We also have a non-dancing son who played football and ice hockey in high school. Friday nights in the fall consisted of a mad dash back to the suburbs after ballet class to meet dad in the stands with a pizza to catch kickoff. Our son always looked to see if we were there. Once we didn't make it in time to see kick-off from the stands, we were standing by the fence but he thought we missed it. He was angry and always felt that ballet threatened to overtake all reason in the family. It was difficult and we had many discussions and a few arguments that were the result of his feeling less valued because of being overshadowed by Nutcracker, class, rehearsal, etc. We did point out that we were always at his games (even those awful 1AM hockey games) but it seemed to him that ballet was more important because of the time it took. His games were close to home, he could drive himself, ballet was 1 hour (in traffic) away and dd was too young to drive, adding to the time consumption. I pointed out that it wasn't ballet but the intense training of another activity that wasn't easily found close to home. If she had chosen to figure skate (which had been an option), it would have been the same. It was like travel hockey which he was invited to do and decided it just took too much time because it interfered with football and school. Looking back, it's hard to justify that decision after dd went down the ballet path (but he's a first child-live and learn).


I remember pulling dd from a Nutcracker rehearsal so dd could watch her brother at the senior recognition at homecoming. DD wouldn't have missed it for the world but I remember feeling torn about her missing a rehearsal; nonetheless, we did make our stand that day and other days as well. Our slow cooker got a workout for years and it was the only way that I could make sure dinner was cooked and not drive through. Why? because I was driving to ballet. We insisted that the family have dinner together unless it was the late night for ballet. There was one night that class didn't start until 8PM and the guys ate dinner in front of the TV that night. In retrospect, we should have found another class closer to home that night but when we expressed our dissatisfaction with the late hour and stated that we might not allow our dd to attend that class, the AD told us that it would affect dd's casting. We caved. We shouldn't have. We were the parents, not this AD. We knew in our gut what was right. I think what is really interesting, is how this whole ballet quest can take perfectly rational parents, suck them into the madness and steal all common sense. The reason for many of us is that we don't know anything about ballet and many of us aren't familiar with life in the arts so we don't think we don't have a guidepost. BUT WE DO! After a few times of doing what common sense told me the right thing to do (like that missed Nut rehearsal) and seeing that dd didn't suffer terrible consequences we learned to find that balance. There were many nights that dd didn't make that late class because of homework or just needing a night off (in my opinion, not dd's because she rarely felt she needed a night off) This school seemed to throw these little tests of commitment (late night class, rehearsals announced for mid-day with 1 hour notice, insistence that the dks do their own version of academic school: verbally stating that if they didn't, they weren't committed to their career or the school. It was the latter that finally made us take stock of the process. DD was absolutely committed to her career but my common sense told me that this school was acting from their own self-interest. We looked at options, decided that dd needed better training and an environment that was committed to her goals and not just their own self-interest. Note: these places are few and far between. She moved to Europe to accommodate her needs. It was the hardest decision we ever made, letting her go so far away at 15. Interestingly, though ballet took on a different place in our family. It was hers, not ours. Her opportunity became an exciting trip for us and for her brother. We gave her what she needed and it liberated us. This was our journey; it's not right for everyone but it worked for us. She's dancing professionally now and making a pretty good living. She's still in Europe; more trips!


As far as using the excuse that it's the arts to conduct business poorly- well, bad business is bad business. Eventually, it will cause the school or company to have to reorganize, downsize or go out of business. The school that questioned my dd's commitment lost our business but they also lost any future donations as well. We weren't alone. Their enrollment is down and there's another highly regarded school opening down the street. Their arrogance is remembered by many when asked for training recommendations. When it comes to ballet companies, I think that AD's of companies should have a some business knowledge but most don't. This causes problems IMO but this is not unique to ballet: doctor's are notoriously bad businessmen!


edited to add:

As far as the boys and shortage of male ballet dancers. We saw more of what you experienced, here in the state more than in Europe but yes, boys do get scholarships easier than girls in the US and they are given more leniency. Boys also mature more slowly so it may be helpful for them to have some leniency. That said, as a parent of a dd, I want those boys to have lots of strength training before they lift her and sometimes, that hasn't happened :nixweiss:

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Dancerdad, I totally get you and I am in full agreement with Swanchat in that we had a tough time balancing family time with ballet. As non-dancing parents, we were clueless to the demands placed on dancers. My husband lovingly referred to our studio as the "ballet nazis" and questioned the necessity of every rehearsal as he considered this "just an extra-curricular activity" that took away family time. Our son, also our oldest, was involved in soccer. While his sister tried to attend all of his games, there were times she could not get out of rehearsal and I would have to leave a soccer game to go pick her up. Dinner was crazy. Class/rehearsal was during dinnertime so at times we just ate late dinners as a family. Other times we kept a plate for her and she ate when she came home. Not optimal but at least she didn't have to eat dinner in the car as our studio commute was short. We didn't know where, when or how to draw the line in the sand which would have resulted in the loss of casting in what few performances that the studio actually did and our dancer was shy, so those opportunities to be on stage were critical. To this day my son still thinks our daughter is the "favored" sibling and he calls her our "special needs" child which has become the inside family joke. The strain on the family ended when she moved at 15 for better training at a ballet school 1100 miles from home, but we felt incomplete as a family and worried about her well being. Then there was the added expense of travel to see her. No matter what decisions we made, family time was sacrificed. I think we did learn to make the most of our family vacations, when she moved from place to place in her training/career, creating wonderful memories but if we had to do it all over again, we would have never put her in dance. However, she, like many other dancers showed the passion early on and we couldn't say no. As a professional dancer today, she will tell you that she couldn't be any happier, even with the ups and downs of the career. So no regrets, we feel fortunate that she is employed in something she loves and she tells us often how much she appreciated the sacrifices we made to get her there. She and her brother are extremely close, so no harm done to their relationship and we still guard our family time to the point of being selfish.


In regard to studios and how they operate: Dancerdad, your directors lack a moral compass, shut you down with the "it's the arts" excuse and can't spare 5 minutes to talk with a dancer. Hmmm....I would rethink a possible move here to a more nurturing studio if you can find one. But if you can't, your daughters will not end up losers; they are learning what NOT to do to be successful adults- a golden opportunity for teaching them a lesson. There is politics and subjectiveness in any field you enter but it does seem to me that the arts have more than the norm. Also have you noticed that many creative people lack business sense? Perhaps, this is why so many studios have a hard time staying afloat. Just a thought. So you have a choice to either learn to live with it and try to provide the best balance for your family that you can or walk away with a better option in place. If anyone has a better idea on how to better balance the needs of a ballet dancer within the family, I would love to hear it.

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I can completely sympathize with everything you wrote, and I think it serves as a good caveat for parents everywhere. So often, in so many areas of life, the emperor is wearing no clothes, but people are unwilling to draw attention to the obvious for fear of seeming stupid, uninformed, or outside of the trend. I find this thread interesting having just read the link (on this forum) about the new book Ballerina which apparently discusses how the contemporary female dancer exists in a virtual time bubble (in the age of the modern liberated woman, today's 'ballerinas' are still often forced to conform with their historical prototypes - the courtesan or the helpless, mindless waif). But this is a wonderful forum where extremely intelligent, articulate people from around the world with all kinds of first hand experience do introduce and discuss these issues, and ask what can be done about them.


I can also relate to much of what Swanchat has described. I do think that it behooves us all to figure out much of what you have just described, stop being passive about the state of affairs, and proactively find solutions. I have been in your place, and I'm not entirely out of it yet! However, my husband and I took stock of the illogical situation we had allowed ourselves to get into, and actively sorted out a solution that would benefit the entire family and create the kind of positive, hands-off parental relationship to ballet training that Swanchat describes in her post. In our instance, I remain largely unconvinced that my 15 yo daughter really has a future in the dance world post high school. However, she is loving doing what she is doing and having an amazing experience with it all. We have been fortunate to find a situation where she can have this experience during her high school years while leaving the door open, just in case some miraculous opportunity does emerge from this training, without everything being sacrificed on the ballet altar.


So solutions do exist, even though they're not always easy to come by, and often entail further sacrifice in one way or another. I do wonder if I don't prefer the concept of a more European model of training, with just a very few, elite pre-professional residential schools that are the clear go-to places for a career, and with a long-standing reputation and established business practices in place. The smaller, ubiquitous schools would better provide excellent recreational opportunities that also identify regional talent, and send it off to the main, established elite schools. I know that is, in a way, the system that already exists here in the States, but I'm not sure it is really presented that way to many, many parents. I did a little marketing for dd's former school, and this was always a big difficulty for me - that the elephant in the room is that the parents were being sold on the dream (either theirs, or their child's) of having a pro ballet dancer at the end of the day, and all the sacrifice that was absolutely necessary to make it happen (money, time, investment), when the reality was for the vast majority of 'customers' that they were simply procuring a wonderful recreational opportunity for their student. And then so often you end up with this strange mix of "It's the arts" and "I need lots and lots of checks by the end of today, so do whatever you have to to get them." I wonder if that was better understood from the beginning, family decisions might also be more moderate and logical from the beginning? I know there have been lots of discussions on this board about this, but as a parent, I find that a higher rate of early, up-front selectivity and exclusivity so much more merciful for the entire family than the situation where hopes are actively fed in countless smaller schools around the States.


I also had to smile at Thyme's remarks about schools expecting help. My dd's former school still asks me to help (not donations), even when my child is no longer enrolled, and I'm living halfway across the country. I understand the need, but I don't think it is always a great solution for either party, and it can suck a family into the child's ballet world to an even greater extent.

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Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for these honest and insightful posts! I read with tears as I laugh with hope and cringe with regrets. It seems we all have these moments when we question what we are doing. But reading the stories of those ahead of us (or beside us) on the journey provides much light on things we may want to ignore or just haven't seen or experienced yet. We see things in a different light now since my dd had an amazing experience at a SI in Europe this summer. And it has changed how we view her studio.


Just wondering ~ do hockey, soccer, skating, etc. parents have all these same collective worries and vents or is the ballet world unique? I hope they have a BTFD, too!


Thanks for the laughs, too, like the emperor is wearing no clothes analogy!

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Just wondering ~ do hockey, soccer, skating, etc. parents have all these same collective worries and vents . . . .


Yes, they do! Non-dd was an elite-level, national athlete in her sport and yes, all the same things went into the mix.

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Just wondering ~ do hockey, soccer, skating, etc. parents have all these same collective worries and vents or is the ballet world unique? I hope they have a BTFD, too!


Gracegirlz, I hope so, too! I'm sure they have their own versions on the theme.


I remember jokingly suggesting to all my arts-involved children that perhaps I should have just signed them up for chess club instead, as it would probably involve far less hassle and would look good on a college application. Then I actually did sign dd up for a chess class where she was recommended to attend a local chess tournament - nothing flashy, or high stakes - just a regular event. That experience completely opened my eyes, as I watched parents arrive early on a Saturday morning with their children, chess coaches in tow, laptops with chess software in hand and piles upon piles of chess strategy books, all there to warm up their young children for the tournament ahead. My dd was about 7 and just wanted to play chess because it was a fun game. I remember one particular, tiny little girl coming out of a round with her coach lecturing her for losing her concentration, with her concerned parent following anxiously behind. DD begged to leave that place, but we weren't allowed to immediately because it would mess up the entire national network of rankings out there. I dropped the whole chess-club idea forthwith.


While some of this is always going to be unique to the idiosyncrasies of a particular field (and in ballet, there are many), a lot of it is equally affected by the modern parental approach. While I'm sure every field has always required huge amounts of sacrifice, I do feel that my generation (and I stand guilty as charged) has taken some of that to a whole new level in a way that would have baffled our own parents. Perhaps that started with the 'baby genius' phenomenon that was popular when I was a new mother, and which gave us the illusion that we could shape our children's destinies with just the right choices and investment. So I do think we as parents are perhaps a bit more willing to enable the outrageous as well as the truly necessary demands out there than our parents might have been?

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