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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Dancers: Those who are told they "have it and those that don&#3


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Here's another good story about the "have it" and the "have it nots."


There was this girl who had trouble during her first years of ballet study. But slowly, she got better. Eventually she achieved the rank of soloist for a premiere ballet company. But even then, some described her performances as "awful" and "dreadful." Still, she achieved great success as a dancer.


She eventually retired, started a school and created a new method of teaching ballet - Vaganova.


The girl was Agrippina Vaganova. She struggled during her first years at the Imperial Ballet School. She became a soloist of the Imperial Ballet. Her critic who described her performances as "awful" and "dreadful" was Marius Petipa. He was only one critic. She was an acclaimed dancer and had great success and high praise from others.


Good to know, right?




I do wonder what Vaganova, as a new teacher, must have thought or said to a young ballet student who didn't have "it" and was struggling to get "it." I highly doubt she stopped giving her corrections or attention. I believe she stopped to help her.

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As a teacher and a mother, I think that sometimes things are said in one way and remembered in another. ("The Invisible Gorilla" http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/overview.html)

There ARE teachers /directors - and parents - who say things which are not completely true, nor kind, nor necessary at times.

Usually I am very careful with what I say, and still I notice that sometimes what I said is not what is remembered. :o


As to "who has it and who does not" - that is a VERY difficult thing to predict!


The big, professional schools where I live, which are free of charge to the students, are very picky about whom they admit for studies. They are quite afraid of "wasting their time" and "wasting taxpayers' money" in training those which probably do not have much hope of earning their money in that job later on.

So, at the younger levels (under age 15 or so) the main things they look for are purely physical.

Later on, other stuff enters into it, to the point where there are students in the upper years who certainly do NOT "have it" as far as physical properties, though they usually more than make up for it in other aspects. :)


I am never sure who "has it" and who "has not" until they get that contract. Or not. And even then.... as we know... often many good dancers do not end up with contracts. -sigh-



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Elite level training is inherently unfair, is at the discretion of those in charge and often favors the standouts. The struggle is that when you are paying for training, you deserve training, but in a group setting, it is hard to administer that equally. Where student/parent expectations gap widely with the school's (or a particular teacher's) philosophy is when dissatisfaction occurs.


All students deserve respect - and if that isn't happening, it is a different problem. Provided that is not the case, even in the most inclusive pre-pro schools, not all will get the same attention. This is true whether we are discussing elite level basketball or music conservatory lessons or ballet training. Not all will have the same minutes of attention or the same experience or interaction. It is impossible. But all can be taught to advance, enjoy, excel and practice their skill throughout their lives in whatever way their path goes.

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When my daughter was about 12 she was in the "intensive" level at the big pre pro school. They took her out of the intensive level for the next year and that's when the principal told her that her turnout was not good enough. No one helped her to try and get it better. When she went to the 2nd school I talked about above, the owner said her turnout was fine- just no one had helped her find the right muscles. When she became a pro, she never was corrected about lack of turnout!

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@balletgirl22sk: That's just so awful! If only people knew what these girls go through! Congratulations on your daughter's success!


This is another great story to add to our list. My dd has two friends who are fantastic, beautiful dancers who are a bit on the short side. I worried about them, but I think with your story and others I am collecting, I am just going to enjoy watching them grow as dancers!

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I am never sure who "has it" and who "has not" until they get that contract. Or not. And even then.... as we know... often many good dancers do not end up with contracts. -sigh-



That's true, there are more exceptional dancers than there are contracts. Of course a lot of professional dancers had bumps in the road on their way. But looking back at the ones who end up making it, there are always indicators that they had it. Maybe not everyone believed in them, but enough did in order for them to get where they were going.

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mom57, love your post. I really think it's great to have a student 'walk a mile' in the teacher's shoes. What a great lesson for her. I am not condoning bad teaching, just saying again how important it is for all of us to not knee jerk react to any information at all. Over time as others have said, if it just doesn't feel right for your DD, you should change it. Or even ask the teacher. Conferences are always a way to get everything out in the open. You just can't assume anything is all. My DDs again do not have it all, and perhaps will never be professional dancers. But they both want to be. Every now and then, they get just enough encouragement for THEM to continue. And since I don't have that crystal ball, I can only support them because they are accepting of all of what they have had to go through so far. It's never easy. I'm sure they would have road blocks in any situation. But they are learning and trying. I have to commend them for that.

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Just an FYI, if you search BTFD with identifiers like: crystal ball, teacher honesty, dancer potential, etc. You'll find some nice previous discussions which would be good reading on different sides of the "haves and have nots" issue. I don't want to link to them here because not all the links would work for all members. Some of the topics are discussed on PTA and not available for all to read.


Within this thread, we've focused more on those who even though we've called them "haves and have nots" are truly different degree of "haves". That meaning that even if not a totally ballet fit, the dancers are good enough fit for the wide array of other ways a ballet trained dancer can dance. Or some that were simply a misdiagnosed "have not" because of personal bias. However, in many pre-pro schools in the US, especially the smaller ones, if you take class for a certain number of years, you're likely leveled with others who have studied ballet for the same number of years. I want us to be sure that we are separating the difference between expecting teachers to teach to the entire class (which they should) vs. expecting teachers to be all warm/fuzzy and say that anyone who wants to can dance ballet professionally, even if they aren't a fit. So do check out some of those threads and the discussion that took place to see if there is a balance to achieve.

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Mobadt, you have just described my DD's experience and our support of her thus far. Sometimes it's hard to maintain hope and support, not knowing how it will end up.

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Interesting article in the New York Times today.


Here is an example of a 14 year old, who while not told she didn't have "it," was told in a very negative manner what it would take for her to get "it".


This girl was studying at the Joffrey in NY City and had even been given the honor to take classes with the company, but never allowed on stage.

What advice would people here have given her? Granted this happened at a different time and place in dance, but if it were now, I would tell her that she is a beautiful and talented dancer. She may or may not make it to some big name ballet company but if you want to dance professionally some day in some capacity, then the education you are receiving now is essential.


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Edited by Momof3darlings
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Is that really from today's New York Times? From my link it looks like it is from a Huffington Post web article from back in June.


On topic, I am all for people proving the world wrong and achieving their dreams, but this topic has gone a bit off center for me.





*Edited to add: the original linked article was about a 40+ yr old who quit ballet at a young age and featured several anecdotal reasons for why she did not progress --- and was also a promotional piece for non-classical ballet / dance lessons she gives now.

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My daughter was considered one of the "have nots" at her old pre-pro studio as she does lack some of the physical attributes for a classical company dancer, so she was not taken as seriously as the other dancers. She did have some redeeming qualities though, like musicality, picked up combinations quickly, clean technique, lots of stamina and the school recognized this and promoted her into their second company. When she couldn't get the correction, she usually went up to the teacher after class to ask for a little help. It showed the teacher that she was willing to go the extra mile to learn. Thankfully, most teachers weren't in a rush to get to the next class. This didn't translate into being a more favored dancer, but it did help her progress in her dancing, which to me, is more important. I think attitude plays a huge role in the success of a dancer. My dancer is an optimistic person, although I am not. Her optimism really saw her through the tough times and as a fellow dancer pointed out to me one day, he noticed that she had a "wonderful way of putting on blinders to void out the distractions" such as the favortism and being ignored and he felt that this helped her in her dancing. She did have her bad, "losing her confidence days" that all dancers go through, but she never gave up and in this ballet world, sometimes it's the last man standing that gets the job. It would have been wonderful to have that crystal ball. We did our share of will she or won't she make it worrying, but also knowing that nothing in life is a guarantee. That is why we always tried to enjoy the journey because the final destination, should she achieve her goal of dancing professionally,would have been just the icing on the cake. Had she not made it to the professional ranks, I know she would have used those wonderful ballet lessons in her next endeavor and would have been successful. In her professional career, she sees favoritism by the director and ballet masters/mistresses towards certain dancers and of course they are the ones that get the roles whether they earned them or not. If the dancer is not favored then they need to find a way of standing out and showing the ballet folks that their skills are needed, which can be difficult to do if their particular skills are not needed at that particular time. So a dancer does need to acquire that thick skin in the pre-pro studio, ignore the distractions, find ways of coping through the bad times and persevere if they truly want to dance professionally.

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@Mousling - sorry, you are right. It is from Huffington Post. I didn't notice it was from June. It just popped up today when I went to the "Dance" section. I had two screens (actually more) going on at once. Thanks for the correction.

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I'm with Mousling; I think this thread has gone off-topic. If all we want in the thread is to collect and exchange stories of success-despite or teachers-who-said-they-couldn't, then the thread is simply becoming one more of a myriad of like-minded threads that have developed and are already present on the Board.


This thread could be so much more, as Momof3darlings pointed out:



Within this thread, we've focused more on those who even though we've called them "haves and have nots" are truly different degree of "haves". That meaning that even if not a totally ballet fit, the dancers are good enough fit for the wide array of other ways a ballet trained dancer can dance. . . . . I want us to be sure that we are separating the difference between expecting teachers to teach to the entire class (which they should) vs. expecting teachers to be all warm/fuzzy and say that anyone who wants to can dance ballet professionally, even if they aren't a fit.


Let's face it folks, there are students in class who truly are not cut out to be professional dancers, no matter how hard they try or how much they perservere or how much they want it. In a pre-pro school, i.e., one whose mandate is to train dancers to the professional level, is it so inconceivable that although a teacher may give corrections to everyone---and ALL corrections to whomever should be applied by the students to themselves, whether specifically directed at them or not---the bulk of a teacher's focus may be to advance those students who are capable of applying the corrections and ready for more? Is it not pretty much the same thing as engaging, advancing,and nurturing those academically talented students in a class that is designed for challenging those students?


Over the years, I have had several discussions with a number of well-respected dance teachers regarding philosophies. What I found most informative was their universally stated approach to corrections: They give corrections to students in class as much as possible. There are times when students sometimes feel they are no longer getting corrections and feel 'over-looked'. Learning/mastering ballet skills, however, are a lot like learning to read: One first needs to learn the alphabet (foundation, such as alignment), then the sounds of the letters (basic exercises), then the sounds of the blends (more exercises), then individual words (individual steps), then sentences (simple combinations). From there, the sentences can be put together in combinations to create paragraphs (choreographic phrases), which then get put together to create stories (choreography piece).


Until the individual steps are learned/mastered, to move on to the next level is just asking for trouble. Students learn at different rates, some reach plateaus at different junctures. Some stall out and really won't be able to go beyond that plateau; others just take longer to master that plateau and then move one. The same correction over and over and over is an indication of a plateau. Sometimes, the correction is one that can be worked on simultaneously with others. However, there are some corrections that are so important and integral to a student's progress that until (and unless) it is mastered, there is no going on. Positional alignment of the back is one of those. At a certain point, without proper alignment, it is not healthy for the back for a student to move to the next skill set. It will wreak all kinds of havoc---not to mention instill bad habits that will be even harder to break later on.


So, all the teachers I've ever had this discussion with tell me that they are very cognizant of the development of the student and the progress of the student towards incorporating corrections. They, to a one, say that they do not want to give a student so many corrections at a time that the student becomes confused or discouraged. They also do not want to keep repeating the same correction if they are seeing not progress. There are times that although the student's mind is willing, their muscle memory is behind. It just needs more time and no amount of saying the same thing will change that. But certain corrections are so fundamental that until that kicks in, the student is not ready for the next correction. They are stacked and linked building blocks--not independent, unrelated blocks.


If a student is frustrated or discouraged, but desperately willing and wanting to improve, then this is the time for the student to sit down with the teacher and discuss it. DD had an incident like this. What she learned was that her teacher was frustrated as well. She thought DD understood the correction being given and that DD was choosing not to incorporate it. DD thought she was making the correction. She misunderstood the body awareness the teacher was looking for. It happened to be one of those very crucial back alignment issues--without making the correction it was not prudent or possible for DD to move to the next step. After the talk, both she and the teacher were back on familiar ground and understanding and things went back to normal. DD worked hard to make the correction now that she better understood what the correction was.


That said, there were any number of students in DD's classes over the years that simply did not have the muscle memory or co-ordination, or whatever to really aspire to be a professional dancer. They were corrected, but if one were counting the number and nature of the corrections those students were given as they advanced (attending one or two ballet classes a week versus the 5 or 6 classes DD and her career-seeking classmates), they would complain that all the corrections were given to the 'favorites', i.e., DD and her like-minded 5-6 ballet classes a week attending classmates. But, those students like DD were ready for so much more than the once or twice weekly classmates, so . . . . . . . should they be held back so their classmates could catch up? When that became the norm, DD left for residency. Five years later, the school that had been in existence for 100 years, closed.

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I don't think it is often as cut and dried as "have it" or "doesn't have it". My DD has been blessed with many attributes that are desirable for a ballet dancer, but even so... most of those attributes also come along with a negative aspect. For instance, she has always been told that she has extremely beautiful feet. But she must take extra care every day to strengthen (besides what is done in class) or she ends up injured because they are TOO flexible, but not naturally strong.


Most of her teachers have been cautiously optimistic at best, regarding her future as a professional ballerina. There have been one or two who have said "She has it in the bag!", but mostly not. Mostly she has been told that although she has gifts, they come along with inherent weaknesses, and unless she works hard to compensate for those weaknesses, she will not make it.

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