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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Decision for 16-year-old


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My 16-year-old dd moved away from home last fall to become a full-time ballet trainee, because she would like to one day dance modern professionally and we thought the best way to get her into an excellent college for modern dance was to focus on ballet in high school. By early October, though, she was experiencing a great deal of pain on pointe (she was on pointe much more than she ever had been before) and we didn't know that she had Os Trigonum (an extra bone in her ankle), since the PT said tendonitis. So we moved dd to a different program (thinking less pointe, less pain) at a different school that focused on more modern and ballet, with much less pointe and a lot more modern. We mistakenly thought that too much time on pointe was causing the pain, so first she cut down on pointe (still had pain), and when she finally stopped doing pointe class altogether, the pain continued. Finally, we went to an orthopedic surgeon familiar with dancers and found out what was really wrong and that dd needed surgery if she was to continue to dance ballet and modern. Needless to say, dd couldn't continue with her contemporary ballet program, since the doctor told her she couldn't put pressure on her ankle until she'd recovered from surgery- to prevent further injury. So dd has shifted to an "Open" program at the same school, where she only does Pilates, Yoga, floor barre, and stretch class, over and over again. She will continue this until surgery.

 

The school director is wonderful and she said dd could restart the structured modern and ballet program in September. So, what is the problem? Well, dd is considering continuing in the "Open" program rather than rejoin the set ballet program for several reasons. First, she'd get to choose all of her classes and teachers, and right now it is only for body conditioning classes, but she can see the potential for how next year after surgery she could choose only classes/instructors that she most wanted rather than following the set program that was given to her. She is considering the option of taking full-time open adult classes- 6 ballet, 5 modern, 5 contemporary, pilates, floor barre, and limited pointe after she's healed fully (or something close to this schedule) with all of her favorite teachers in the most challenging classes. The other reason that she is considering continuing with the open program, is that she also is a dancer in a completely different style and she gets offered many jobs and opportunities to work in this unrelated field. If she stays in the structured program, there is no flexibility to do these other dance jobs- she can only participate in them if they happen when she is not involved with her program. This severely limits her ability to take these jobs, which she also enjoys very much, and she hopes to work in this other field for a portion of her career.

 

The problem with her piecing together her own schedule is twofold. First, she will have no performances in modern, contemporary, and ballet if she is not enrolled in a structured dance program. The classes in the adult program are all drop-in, with no mid/end-of-year shows. Secondly, although my dd will be taking at least 2 classes each week with each of the instructors that she chooses (so she will get to know them), she will not be offered repertory, and the classes will all be individual with no continuity from week to week, as you's find in a set program.

 

Can a student progress sufficiently under these circumstances? Or is it necessary to be involved in a structured program where she will be nurtured, observed, graded and where she will have performance opportunities?

 

What do you all think of a 16-year-old becoming independent in this way (she's highly motivated and will not skip classes if she is not accountable to a certain program) and just "taking classes" as a path to a college modern dance program?

 

I know this is complicated, but we are attempting to try to serve two completely different "dance" masters, and we do not know if it is possible.

 

Thanks!!!

Dascmom

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My daughter might have been "observed" by her home-studio ballet teacher, but that didn't stop DD from developing some bad habits that were corrected at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. To cobble together enough classes, she had to attend several different dance studios - virtually one for each style (ballet, advanced jazz, advanced tap, and modern). The first time she got any "nurturing" was at a summer intensive, where her modern teacher - who happened to be the dance department chair at our local Major University - told my daughter that she had a future as a contemporary dancer and invited her to take classes in his department as a high school student. As DD was only entering 8th grade, the continuation of that nurturing had to wait until 11th grade. Her first repertory classes were at the University of Arizona.

 

I think your DD knows what she's doing by putting a high priority on the tap gigs and building a schedule out of open classes - which I gather must be pretty good, given the volume of classes offered. In fact, I think her alternative pathway could prove to be an advantage, just as it was for my DD. But given the need for your DD to properly heal after surgery, I would strongly urge her to keep the long view and not rush too quickly back into those tap gigs.

 

Check out the University of Arizona's Jazz Dance Showcase and consider it as an opportunity to visit the school. I know your DD is thinking of modern-based schools around NYC, but UofA has professional ties with River North Dance, which I believe you made note of in another thread.

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My DD has also done this approach, she is taking classes at several different schools and enjoying it more than ever, she actually has performed more this year than in the past with a structured program and, is gettingas much dance instruction as much with reputable instructors but seems to have a schedule that fits her better. She has met different instructors and gotten the mentoring she has really needed as well as the chance to dance with dancers she would not have gotten the opportunity to do, more partnering as well.

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Hi. Thanks for the replies. I have to be honest, I didn't expect to hear support for the "pieced together" schedule that I had suggested as a possibility. And, in fact, another person who I rely on for advice suggested the same thing. I was starting to lean towards the structured program, and now I feel I need to stop and think this through some more, and, of course, talk this out some more with my dd. Yes, the instructors that she would be working with in either scenario are top-notch. In many cases, she already knows them and they know who she is. I guess it is just the traditional side of me that likes to think of dd in a reputable "such and such dance program" where they are invested in her success, rather than take on the responsibility of creating the schedule and hoping she gets what she needs from it and doesn't get overlooked.

 

Does anyone else have opinions on this? I really do listen to your answers and weigh what you've all said, because many of you have so much experience with making dance decisions. Also, I am still wondering how important performance experience is to the college-bound (or even a modern-training-program bound) dancer.

 

Dascmom

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I think you'll get more responses if this thread were moved to the Higher Education General Discussion. Till then, I'll just add some other points.

 

For one, your daughter is aiming to be a contemporary dancer, which is why a structured and traditional program may not be the best fit for her. I've seen many young ballet students who are drawn more to the perfectionistic qualities of ballet than to the artistic qualities. Once they graduate high school and the illusion of control over something fades away when they can't find more advanced positions in the ballet world, they simply move on from dance and find something else to do. But your daughter seems to have a more artistic calling and the ability to take what she is seeking from different teachers and learn from all of them is to be respected. An artist needs to find their own voice, and no single program or teacher can offer that because then a student is merely copying and not synthesizing something new.

 

This is why I think a good modern-focused college program would actually delight in seeing a non-traditional resume because, after all, modern dancers pride themselves in being artists, first and foremost. Then I also think that learning from different, high-quality, teachers will give your daughter the opportunity to make those vital learning connections that cannot be made in isolation. It's this "je ne sais quoi" knowledge that cannot be taught - as hard as teachers try to convey it. This is part of what I was trying to get at in my "Going professional" posts about the need for adaptability and defining for oneself what art is. A diversely trained, contemporary dance student can benefit greatly from performance opportunities, but they can be in any style. The lesson is the performance, not the specific repertoire.

 

Of course, "the proof is in the pudding," so everything will be resting on your DD's college audition. At that point, she'll be very experienced in how to respond and take corrections from new teachers, so the audition should be a lot like attending another open class. She'll also have experience in "reading the room" and learning from her fellow students.

 

Hope that helps.

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Your response again is awesome! Very helpful! I'm actually going to print it and discuss some of the things you said with my dd. If any moderator feels that this would be better placed in Higher Ed General Discussion, it is fine with me if it is moved.

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