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Is favoritism normal in good ballet schools?

ballonne mama

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In my background, and in other sports and activities, favoritism and scholarship, etc. are usually based on a kid's ability and work ethic. As my daughter and her peers grow into the higher levels of her dance school I've noticed a big change in the environment. To clarify, this is a pre-professional school who has placed many professional dancers throughout the US and Europe.


Scholarships... interestingly enough they are not given to the better kids or those that show a particular high amount of potential to dance professionally. Nor does it appear to be need-based. These kids are very average ability and/or lower than average work ethic & focus (perhaps because of the scholarship- less value if your parents don't stress about paying a lot of money for training?) One has a mother who is a friend & shopping buddy of the owner. Another has a parent who donates a lot of labor to the owners outside of the studio. A third I know of is a truly talented, professionally-focused kid - so that one makes sense. They actually lost a VERY talented, (with amazing facilities) girl this year to a scholarship at another school. They didn't even offer to match it or give her partial. And this is a kid who WILL dance professionally - no questions about it.


Roles - We're not talking serious solos, but standout pieces. They have enough pride in their school to give the important solos to the ones that can actually handle it. But, there is no question that there are special "created-just-for-my-pet" parts that kind of leave everyone thinking "huh?"


YAGP - the school has really gotten into YAGP this year. They started out by having it be invitation only. ONLY Three kids were selected for pre-competitive. Kids and parents were upset (understandability) and a few more were admitted after some parent requests. One child literally threw a fit at home until the mother talked the owners into letting her do it (then complained about the costs and is now doing it for free.) YAGP costs between 2-3K at our school for costumes, choreography, and privates. This kiddo is really struggling and is in way over her head ability-wise. Which leaves those of us who are paying a lot of money for the supposed "honor" of being invited feeling pretty stung.


I've told my daughter to keep working hard, try not to let it bother her - the ones who work the hardest and get the best will be rewarded in the end, etc, etc. Once I've finished my wise parenting words of advise, I always start to wonder to myself if maybe we're at a school that's too political and not a good match for a really motivated kid. We've been told by several guest teachers that she has an amazing amount of potential and she really, really loves ballet.


Is this kind of behavior normal or are we at a "weird" school? I just want her to have the best training and environment to grow into her potential. We expect her to "earn" everything she gets in ballet from hard work and do not feel it's our place to manipulate anyone for her opportunities. I just really hope it's not us who are "weird"!!


I'd love your advise, anecdotes, and wisdom...

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Sounds as if it may be time to look for a new school...


I don't think this sort of situation is normal. It hasn't been in my experience. But unfortunately, it does happen at some places, and even in some professional companies. I don't know the details of your situation, so I can't definitively say one way or the other whether to stay or go, but you might want to start considering what else is out there in terms of other training options.


Also, don't be too upset about not being asked to do the competition. Whatever value competitions have is typically, in my opinion, not worth the huge expense. Your daughter will get much more out of solid year-round training and summer intensives. Good luck to you and her!

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Also, don't be too upset about not being asked to do the competition. Whatever value competitions have is typically, in my opinion, not worth the huge expense. Your daughter will get much more out of solid year-round training and summer intensives. Good luck to you and her!


Where were you a few months ago?! (kidding :) ) She actually WAS one of the initial dancers invited to YAGP. Being flattered and feeling like her work was finally being recognized, we accepted. Now, not being a wealthy family, we are regretting it financially. My daughter, however, is loving it and realizes it is a big sacrifice for us. So, she is working her tail off. We've already told her she can't do it next year so she is trying to get the most out of it she can. Maybe that's partially why I am feeling so hurt by the politics and that some less abled and less motivated are getting it all for nothing...

Edited by ballonne mama
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Oops--sorry, I misread your post! The reason I think SI's are more useful is that they focus more on individual growth rather than "winning", and they typically offer more in-depth involvement and networking opportunities with potential future employers. So often in ballet, you find opportunities because you "know someone who knows someone", or because your teacher knows the AD at Company X, etc. Not everyone does competitions, but everyone goes to SI's.


Don't lose heart, though! There is certainly the possibility that she may win a scholarship or (depending on her age and level of advancement) an apprenticeship, or she may not "officially" win anything but still catch the eye of an artistic director. So there is still room for a positive outcome. :)

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  • Administrators

She may be a bit young for some of those opportunities, Hans! (This is the under 13 parent forum. :) )

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I've noticed quite a bit of favoritism in my DS' experiences, both at the pre-pro school and in SIs. Usually due to merit, teachers paying more attention to those with more ability and drive, and choice roles and perks going to the same. So at some level I think it is "normal." I find it hard to not get my back up about it occasionally, wanting the best for my son, but I try. If I compare to other educational environments, especially paid-for, I have trouble with it. Think of a math teacher in a private school - in what world would it be acceptable for that teacher to give noticeably more encouragement and attention to the brightest students? To be fair, most of the dance teachers I've watched will spread it around and try to give corrections to everyone in the class (especially when parents are watching), but the favoritism is still there. And on the other hand, comparing to elite athletic training and other competition arenas, favoritism starts to make more sense (when you want to win the game, you put your best players forward).


ballone mama's situation sounds like clique-ishness has gotten out of hand, though.

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In my experience politics exist everywhere. I have yet to have my daughter at a dance school where there isn't favoritism that has little to do with work ethic, etc. My daughter who is now 15 says it doesn't bother her much anymore because she knows that sort of thing happens in companies as well and it is just something you have to get used to. She says teachers are human too. It would be nice to think everything they do is done based on logical, objective reasoning but a lot of times it isn't so she just does her job and if it gets to blatent, she looks for opportunities that reaffirm her belief that hard work and heart are ultimately recognized. It's probably something you and your daughter won't really feel until she is old enough for an SI but as your daughter gets older you will find that she and you begin to ignore the politics and concentrate on the training.

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Guest coupe66

While politics do most certainly exist everywhere, everyone has their own personal "threshold of pain", so to speak, where the amount of politicking going on at a given school/studio/company, etc. is either bearable and within reasonable limits, or, it begins to cross the line into the realm of the dysfunctional. As long as it does not become too much of a source of distraction or destroy the overall learning environment and atmosphere of the studio, then ignoring it is a possibility. Once it starts to poison the learning environment for a student, in my opinion and experience, it has crossed the line. While of course it isn't a good idea to hop from studio to studio, sometimes a change is needed or should at least be considered if circumstances have become unbearable.

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At my DD's school there is a fair amount of "celebrity" favoritism. Children and grandchildren of former famous dancers, and children and grandchildren of big money donors. These kids get picked for roles all the time. However to the school's credit, these kids do NOT get promoted simply due to favoritism, they have to do the work. The hardworking non-famous kids get great instruction and are quietly promoted along. In fact in the upper levels there is no apparent favoritism except for ability. I remind my DD all the time, that on a certain level, this is show business. There will always be decisions about roles that appear to make no sense from an ability or merit standpoint and to learn to deal with it. I agree with coupe66. I watched my own DD very carefully this year; the number of kids that were picked for Nutcracker simply because of their status was overwhelming. She was okay with it all. She continues to love class and is thriving. If she were suffering as a result of the politics I would be willing to look for a new school. Good luck!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Wow! I know that favoritism exists and a lot of time it is just seemingly random. But, I often see favoritism occurring because of the parents. Not necessarily that the parents are rich, or famous dancers or whatever else they may be. But, because the parents are quite simply...reasonable. In our studio it seems to play out that the annoying parent, the one that is constantly going to the teacher because of this that and the other, creates a wall that goes up between the child and the teacher. Meanwhile the reasonable mom, who doesn't get involved and allows the teacher to do his/her job seems to become the favorite.


I don't think it is intentional. I think it is often accidental. But, if I stop and think about it, it makes sense, in the past if somebody is unpleasant towards me, it is really hard for me to have the same positive feelings for their child as I do for the one whose parents are very kind. Parents who are dancers or benefactors even tend to have more realistic and maybe even relaxed expectations than we "laypeople" so maybe the fact is their children are liked because of a) inherited facility and B) mom/dad know what not to do when it comes to being a studio parent.


My eldest child is attending a residential pre-pro school now and he says that without the parents there, it is wonderful. The studio drama is minimal and he is grateful because they can all focus on the training. I don't know if that is what is going on in your particular environment, but it may play some role in the particular dynamics.

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Kandi -I thoroughly agree! Wonderful post. Favoritism exists at every school to an extent I'm sure, and it can be very frustrating at times. It can be because the director only has the best of intentions and wants to be fair and 'give someone else' a chance too. We have that happen a great deal at our studio. Unfortunately, when that is done, it creates in my opinion, more harm and does send mixed signals, but the dancers must learn to work with it all if they are to survive in this business, and concentrate on their training and being the best. Most of the girls I know (and this is once they do get older) completely see through these things. They are quite mature and of course can tell a great dancer from a good one. They too become more than capable of understanding what goes on and can either handle it, or find it's just not for them. So it is as coupe 66 says, everyone has their threshold of pain - can you put it into some sort of perspective, or is it just too much and you can't be comfortable? Is your DD getting the best training in this scenario despite the drama? These are the questions you have to ask yourself, and realize that there may be drama in other places. I like to say that ballet is more stocked with drama because after all, you are dealing with artists. What you have described sounds like there may be some good, but misguided intentions in place, and also the dancers are young yet and from what I have seen, you really can't make judgments on their future at a very early age. I'm no expert, but I have seen very strong young dancers disappear, and older ones who were not thought of as good become great. It really changes from year to year. And the director may just be seeing things you are not. I have 2 DDs - one that led me to post in this forum - and and older one. I go back and look at video I had recorded in classes from my older one from when she was young and have noticed dancers in her classes had some talent that I had not seen at the time. So if I can see something that I didn't then, it is possible that time will show you the dancers are not just being given things because of their relationships. Whatever the outcome, I would say follow your instincts. if you just feel it's not moving in the best direction for your daughter, then a change could be needed. But it is best to evaluate that based on what your daughter is getting in training and not what happens to others, in my opinion. I hope you work it out! :yes:

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I've written in the past about favoritism issues & what I've always said is very similar to Mobadt's "Is your DD getting the best training in this scenario despite the drama?" That's the key issue. Most of these "favorite dancers" fall away over time (either in status or by quitting ballet). Sometimes the favorite status causes them too much pressure. I know more than one student who quit ballet because of it. They hated the pressure and gradually lost their interest in dance because they felt they were doing it for everyone else but themselves.


And here's one reason why I loved the favoritism-due-to-lots-of-money scenario: The families with money nearly always donate to the studio, especially when their kids get such attention. Both my kids were recipients of hefty scholarship monies in both academic (private school) and dance school life. They could not have attended such schools if there were not the wealthy families whose kids got lots of attention. While it was often annoying and I did my share of silent fuming, I also always knew how thankful I needed to be that the only reason why my kids were in the schools they were in was because of the wealthier families.

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  • 2 months later...

Vagansmom, I love your take on that! I'll keep that in mind next time I start fuming over the "favorite" dancer getting all the corrections in my DD's class!

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Oh so true vagansmom! Sort of like my justification for my addiction to consignment shops; I let the wealthier absorb the initial cost! LOL

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