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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The journey


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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.


DancerDad, it's clear that emotions are still raw for your family, and probably will be for a very long time. Our family has been there and done that as well--know that you are not alone. But we figured it out, just as your family has, and we made the changes that were necessary for my daughters to be able to continue in the ballet world and keep our sanity too.


Also know that it is not the "ballet world" in its entirety that is as you describe. For every studio that lacks business sense and morals, there are plenty of other schools that are truly trying to serve students well and do the right things. It's unfortunate that your family found its way to such a bad experience, but I agree with the poster above who said that your daughters (and your son, too) are learning something from this experience as well. My older daughter (who is in her fourth season dancing professionally) also began teaching ballet in her company's associated school this year. Teaching has always, always been her long-term path, and I can tell you that she is taking the good and bad experiences from her training throughout the years and incorporating them into the kind of teacher she aspires to be.


And honestly, I could not be more proud of the person she has become.

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LovesLabor, just wanted to comment regarding your feelings that your daughter,who at 15, doesn't look like she is heading towards a professional career. We felt the same way with our daughter at 15. I wouldn't underestimate the determination of a teenager unless she has indicated to you that she just wants to do it for fun and if so your decisions regarding balance are a whole lot easier. Our dancer really surprised us. She kept plugging away, undaunted by the negative feedback she received. You just never know!

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I have a child who is 10 so maybe I am *not supposed to post* but well everyone's experiences can be different. I think that the experiences posted here are really very typical.


I SO appreciate the warnings. .. Like don't give your life over to ballet totally.


Right now I am wading through Stephen Manes METICULOUS account of all aspects of the world of ballet (e.g. union rules, stagers, costum designers, budgets, summer intensives, stagehands, lighting designers, PNB school, board of directors, outreach etc) from the vantage of PNB and honestly, it IS very business like and they ARE running PNB like a successful multi million dollar corporation. The union protects the dancers. There is a sizeable budget. Peter Boals appears to be an AMAZING AD and I say that only from the perspective of how Manes reports that he interacts with the dancers.


I guess I am sharing this because it appears to contrast with the ways that these local schools are operating. It has really educated me about why details (like union membership) really matter. I have also learned how tedious and demanding ballet is.

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Thanks for the words of encouragement, Isu. As I said, dd is really, really loving her ballet training, and is living her version of the dream right now. At whatever point that dream ends, we'll hopefully be there to support and cheer her on.

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ballet valet

Although unintentional, my dd has danced at 8 studios, plus 3 more for SI's. Some moves were because of a change in dance styles, some due to family moves, and some for personality reasons. At almost all of the studios, I have found that for the most part, owning a dance studio is a labor of love and most owners are not great business people. They want their business to run effortlessly and don't really want the input of their customers (parents). Some studios break even, some make a little profit and many rely on in-house nonprofit foundations to subsidize their funds. I have been frustrated and disappointed by their lack of simple business skills like listening to your customers, give good customer service, provide clear, useful information, encourage your employees to 'own' their business, work within a budget..... The list goes on. As a consumer, we made studio changes that several AD's thought were disloyal. I am one to over analyze the purchasing choices our family has, including the quality/value of my dd's dance education as well as her academics. I find it bewildering that studio owners are suprised when I ask for something other than what they are providing, like additional classes or teachers. If I am being an advocate for my dancer and an informed consumer, then I can't imagine not asking for what we want. Sometimes they respond positively and sometimes not. They really just don't seem to want to create more work for themselves if they don't have to, regardless if it might be good for business.

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we'll hopefully be there to support and cheer her on.

That's what's important. LSU is right, you just never know what determination and hard work will accomplish!


And..Yes, learningdance, it IS a business. At the end of the day, it's about putting people in the seats for performances if you are a company. It's about bringing in enough money to pay the overhead and personnel costs if you are a school. You can be the best, nicest, most qualified person in the world but if you don't sell tickets the company will not be around very long or the creditors will shut down the school. Some countries financially support ballet companies but if no one goes to the shows, you can bet the financial support will too. Again, at the end of the day it comes down to money. This is why (IMO) there are some ballet schools and companies who have really awful people running them and they stay open....they've figured out the money part. This may be fine if your student fits the business plan or if the community fills the theatre but if your student doesn't fit the business plan or you have a dancer in the company with an AD who really doesn't care about their dancers than it's horrible on a personal level and time to reassess the situation. Fortunately, there are schools and companies with directors who are genuinely interested in the well-being of their dancers and progression of their students. They may not be in your neck of the woods though and along with the impact on family time that ballet training has, that's what's so hard when you are trying to raise a ballet driven child.

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Wait a minute!! Am I the only parent of a hard working male ballet dancer who is deeply offended by the characterization of males in dance as portrayed in this rant?


DancerDad 3211, I understand that you are disappointed and perhaps still bitter about the turn your dance journey has taken. But it is completely unfair of you to bash all male dancers and accuse them of unjustly earning a paycheck. I don't know in what part of the country you are in, or indeed which ballet companies you have observed, but believe me, male dancers indeed earn their position and money.


My son has worked and trained just as hard as girls since he was nine years old, he does not smoke, and works out on top of his daily workload as a professional in order to be fit and safely lift and carry those girls. He is compeletely dedicated to his art and his profession. And no, he did not obtain employment by merely having the correct genetic chromosomes.


"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 find that statement to be not only downright wrong, ignorant of the profession, but also very offensive. Moderatores, are you asleep at the wheel?


Some oldtimers here will know that I have been on Ballet Talk for many years and seldom write in nowadays since my son is a professional, but I just can not let this characterization go without comment, especially as many newer parents are learning from this excellent forum, and need to understand that males have as much right as females in this profession.

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Moderatores, are you asleep at the wheel?


No, but everyone is entitled to voice their perspective based upon their unique experiences--however, generalized and sweeping it may be. We moderators felt that our fine, experienced members would be best positioned to offer this Dad a more personal and less sweeping view of the true nature of males of in ballet and their job market, (which I think you do have to concede is not as crowded as the female dancers', but which does not equate to less than very talented).

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Thank you to all who took the time to read my long story. I appreciate your responses and insights.


Please allow me to clarify my comments about male dancers.


Millie, it sounds like your son does indeed earn his paycheck. I thought I was clear that some male ballet dancers do. I have watched those that clearly work hard both in and out of the studio and enjoyed their performances greatly. But I have also wondered how those dancers feel about the male ballet dancers who are not as talented, who do not work as hard and yet have reached some level of success in the dance world, either at the company level or at the studio level. While without question the male dancers at the top of the ballet world are talented and work very hard the talent level required as one moves down the dance world in stature falls off faster for males than it does for females.


For example, how many members of your son's studio (back when he was at that level) wanted the Nutcracker part of Clara or Sugar Plum? How many members wanted the parts of Prince or Cavalier? At the professional level while the competition for a male principal position at a top 20 ballet company is probably equal to that of a female principal but can the same be said for a male corp position vs a female corp position at a third tier ballet company? The reality is that the male ballet world is not as competitive as the female dance world. They are different worlds yet side by side.


It is one of the unique things in the dance world. I can't think of another profession where to distinct groups of people are side by side and yet their worlds and experiences are so different. It is one of the things that make the journey more frustrating for females; they watch or dance beside males who do not have as many people seeking their position as they have, they hear of males getting scholarships not given to females. It is part of the journey we are discussing on this forum. I imagine that your son's journey, while it may share many of my daughters' experiences also has a set of unique experiences that she has never had, challenges that she will never face. They are different journeys.


As for the comment about there being unskilled jobs being more competitive than some male jobs, I firmly stand by that and can offer many examples. The first 2 are from my current company, a small local company, we are not the Bolshoi of what we do. An opening for a warehouse position recently received over 300 applications. An opening for a no-experience required office worker received over 500. Do that many males apply for the same one spot at a local company?


We are in a top 30 city in the USA. Our studio 'rents' male dancers both for rehearsals and for performances. It is the law of supply and demand in action. We have a demand for male dancers but the supply is so short that we must pay. We do not do the same for female dancers. Our studio has been cited in dance magazines as a top studio in the USA, yet we can not attract the comparable number of male dancers for male roles as we do female dancers for female roles.


The male and female dance worlds are very different, and one of those differences is that the male world is less competitive. It does not mean that all male dancers are lazy or smoke or do not work as hard or have as much natural talent as their female counter parts. But is does mean that when you take the ballet world as a whole, males do not have as much competition for roles and positions as the females do. In my own experience I have witness 4-5 males from the city's top ballet company corp who smoke, who do not work out regularly, who are not particularly graceful or enjoyable to watch. Yet they have a professional position in the dance world and are paid by our studio to fill roles. That is reality. And watching those males and how they approach their chosen work is part of my daughters' and my family's dance journey.


Congrats to your son and all the best.

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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'?


My daughter is training in NYC now. She has been in so many performances, shows, recitals, Nutcrackers, etc, I couldn't count them. I don't remember ever thinking, "wow, was that person wrong for the role!" The stronger dancers seem to get the solos, main parts, etc. For certain roles sometimes dancers are chosen by looks, height, age, etc. But typically the talented are the lead dancers.


With regard to all of her former classmates, I'm not surprised by who is still dancing post high school, either professionally or still training. It's the talented, hard working, totally committed dancers. The ones who were recognized as teens as the ones most "likely to succeed." It's not rocket science. Either you have it or you don't.


You only specifically mentioned Clara regarding your daughter. She probably didn't get it because there was someone better for the role. The role she got was probably better suited for her. Nothing wrong with that.

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Well said DancerDad. Our studio has one male dancer. While we do appreciate him very much he gets lead roles and roles created for him just so we can keep him. This male dancer also received a 1/2 tuition scholarship this past summer to a mid-sized intensive and bless his heart this male dancer is about as flexible as a 2 x 4 but he can lift the girls! Like I said we do appreciate him but he is not as talented as the girls we have and the girls do not receive nearly the scholarship money!


My oldest DD has had a rocky road. Middle school was great for her. She received a lot of attention from her teachers as well as outside instructors who taught master classes at our studio. She's petite, strong, versatile and a very hard worker. High school was a bit of a roller coaster ride. She attended a couple of selective SI's and received a full tuition scholarship (mainly because of finances at the time but still had to submit a video to show she was talented). She lost some of her confidence once her body began to change and did not look like a "typical" ballerina. This is the frustrating part for us. When looking at photos on websites and magazines a lot of these dancers are NOT stick thin but those are the girls that get a lot of attention.


Then it was audition season for post graduate training, traineeships etc. It was very devastating to her. Most of her auditions were for SI's who required attendance before inviting to stay. We couldn't believe what happened. Only one company even showed a little bit of interest in her and some didn't even extend an invitation for the SI!


She now is continuing her training at a pre-professional school attached to a company (the one that show a little bit of interest) where they have recognized her hard work.


Younger DD (16) just goes with the flow and thinks she wants to dance professionally but I don't think I can handle another one. She does not have the determination her older sister has. She has the "typical" ballet appearance she's just not tough enough.


That's our journey so far...

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With regard to all of her former classmates, I'm not surprised by who is still dancing post high school, either professionally or still training. It's the talented, hard working, totally committed dancers. The ones who were recognized as teens as the ones most "likely to succeed." It's not rocket science. Either you have it or you don't.


We truly hope this this is not absolute or always the case. At my dd's studio, she is one of the invisible dancers, but so very dedicated and hard working, despite not being recognized because of studio politics. She has seen talented 'Claras' get the all glory but then often fizzle out. She keeps telling us that she is determined to make it. Thanks for the following example of encouragement, lsu....


LovesLabor, just wanted to comment regarding your feelings that your daughter,who at 15, doesn't look like she is heading towards a professional career. We felt the same way with our daughter at 15. I wouldn't underestimate the determination of a teenager unless she has indicated to you that she just wants to do it for fun and if so your decisions regarding balance are a whole lot easier. Our dancer really surprised us. She kept plugging away, undaunted by the negative feedback she received. You just never know!

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I can't respond to all of your issues/concerns in an informed way as I am just a mom, not a dance teacher or dancer, and I have two daughters. One is dancing professionally; the other left that pursuit at the end of highschool but remains a dancer at heart. She is recently graduated from law school and to be honest it feels like the job finding odds out there for recent law school grads are about the same as for recent dance school grads.


Both of my daughters attended ballet residency programs (different ones), and in the earlier days both were cast as Clara's brother for Nut. The older daughter (the recent law school grad) shared this role with a young man. They were something like 12 or 13. I'm sure each of them felt that they could "do the part better" than the other. I know that when my dd got to dance the role she was very excited- no doubt the young man felt that he should have been dancing it at all shows. The young man was and is an excellent dancer - I think they both brought something unique to the role. I guess what I'm trying to say is that for some roles in the younger years it's not only about how many young men are desirous of a role - but what the general competition might be. The year my younger dd performed the role with a professional company, I believe two girls were cast even though there were several boys of the appropriate age and dance level in the school.


I can also tell you that the young men my daughters have trained with have not all had an easy road to a job. Yes, a couple of them have been very lucky but then so have a couple of the girls. We've seen very talented young men (and young women) attend audition after audition with no job offer - some of this written about here on bt4d but in older threads.


It's not an easy road to be sure. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's a challenge for both men and women/boys and girls.



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


Yes that would be great if you think it is of interest to people.

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