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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Transitioning out of the "Potential" Stage


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Having followed some recent discussions where students have experienced rejections by SI programs that had formerly accepted them (often for several years in a row), I am curious to know what kinds of things can be forgiven in a 14 year old that might not be as acceptable in a 15+, 16+, 17+ student? That is, a student who is still not company ready, but has several years of good training behind him or her. I read elsewhere on BT4D that teachers and directors realize that there are still years of growth and technical finishing ahead of the student. So is there some relatively universal, unwritten check-list of technical accomplishment for this age group?

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Thanks for starting this thread. As I mentioned in another thread, this is where we are. I do understand that in the older age groups for SI auditions, they only have so many spots in their upper levels. They have 15-18/19 year olds to choose from and I would also probably choose a stronger 17-18 year old before I would choose a transitioning 15 year old. Knowledge is power but it doesn't make it any less painful:)

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I know this is a very subjective topic but I do hope that some insights can be shared. My DDs auditioned at 14 this season and are very much talking about the fact that they really need to be "on their game" by this time next year when they move up to the older age group for many intensives. They selected four very tough programs this year and ended up with 3 out of 4 acceptances and are so happy to be attending their first choice. They know next year could be a whole lot tougher.


Although we don't have experience at the older age level yet, there are a few things that we have gleaned and that DDs are working on. The common theme when directors are interviewed in magazines either about SI auditions or company auditions seems to be a search for that "special something." At this age, many of the dancers have the technique but is their something in their presence that makes them interesting to watch, something that attracts your attention beyond their technique? There are a couple articles lately in Dance/Pointe magazine where Peter Boal and Adam Sklute both echo this same sentiment. It's not enough to just have a presence and smile (or whatever the appropriate emotion is) when performing. You have to practice it in class. Sometimes it might feel silly in class but you have to do it.


Stamina is something that my DDs are also working on. Now that they have weekly variations classes they realize that the cardio endurance necessary to perform even these small pieces is not provided in a ballet class. They are doing things outside of dance to improve their stamina. Flexibility is also on their list because they aren't naturally as flexible as some so they have to continually work on it.


Lastly, focus. By focus I mean making sure that you are always attentive in class, always having a focused look and not appearing bored and tired. Taking in all the corrections, not just the ones given to you. Programs want serious dancers and you can project your seriousness and confidence through your body language.


I'm not sure there is a laundry list of technical abilities that are considered a must at a certain age - and this probably varies by program and would largely be speculation anyway. I don't have the technical dance background so I'll leave that part up to my DDs and their teachers. But I do think the intangibles are more important than people give credit.


It's important to realize that it will be tougher next year, prepare for that the best you can and be smart about selecting some reach and some safety programs.


My two cents....

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I'm not sure that there is truly a tangible set of things that somehow, we as parents can gather, and then turn around and make sure our child is gaining. The reality is that at 14 or so, the quality of the training and the dancer's ability to show that they were trained in that manner are what is important and also what begins to separate them from each other. There was something our college professor used to say every year when open auditions occured to get into the program: Dancer: "Yes, ma'am, I've taken 15 years of dance lessons". Professor: "Well, baby can you show me you can dance 15 years worth or did your mom just pay for dance lessons for 15 years".


Now with solid ballet training, the likelihood of a professor having to say that might be a bit slimmer than they were in our modern program that had a majors division that was auditioned into and an open division considered recreational dancing. However, there is some truth in it as well no matter how harsh and rude it may sound.


At 14 with a couple of years of pointe work under their belt and with what should be a full week of ballet classes. The field just begins to separate itself. Kind of like in soccer, suddenly the kids who played in the same league from the age of 6 to 14 suddenly some are invited to Athena levels or higher and others are kept in recreational division. It's really not that much different in relation to SIs. Key is that the SIs might begin to look at the dancer to see if they would belong in classes with similar students their age at their school. And if they do, then what they expect their students to look like not only in stature but in ability and technical level become important.


Added: if you will reassess your SI needs and fit each and every year, there is less a chance that the list of "no's" will come. It's important that the dancer who seems to fit the parameters of one specific company may not fit those same parameters 2 years later. However, if they have set in their mind that the are "good enough" for said SI then they are not reassessing their needs.

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Momof3darlings, may I ask of you to elaborate on the process of reassessing the dancer's needs and their fit with the SI program? Besides heresay & rumors, how do we know what the school (and the company it feeds into) is looking for? Do we look at their current company dancers and at their repertoire? I understand the simplicity of figuring that a Vaganova-trained dancer may not be a quick fit into a Balachine-based school (although I wonder how an advanced dancer can obtain training if they do want to learn other methods so that they'll be versatile). But how do you know if a program fits the dancer's needs if they haven't attended yet?

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Besides heresay and rumors, how do we know what the school (and the company it feeds into) is looking for?


Rather, how do we know the SI will provide what the dancer needs after the dancer makes the assessment of their goals? For example, lets say the dancer wants to work on their partnering skills, but only certain levels at the program provides pas de deux classes...and the dancer has no guarantee that they will be placed in that level.

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Ack! Typed a response and then slide on the tablet and the response disappeared. I'm off to work so hopefully someone else will come on and can offer wisdom on your questions in my absense. If not, I'll respond when I return.

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When I stated the dancer needed "to re-access their needs and fit" each year, I was referring to the hope that every dancer plans out a realistic wish list for their SI audition season each and every year including their Dream SIs, their Dream but hopeful, and their "I'm pretty sures". And that each year they look at this again and re-evaluate not just keep the same list they've had since they were 10. Sure the list may remain the same, but, it may not.


In terms of how to figure that out without hearsay and rumors. We have over 10 years of first hand experiences here in our archives. It is alot to read through. However, it is also a wealth of information that deserves to be read by those currently in the journey. We're not always successful at our mandate for first hand perceptions and experiences, but for the most part, our members have been open to that idea. Those archives give a pretty good picture of most SIs even with changes over the years. Couple that with other dancers from the home studio who may have attended different SIs from you and keeping in contact with friends made at other SIs who now have a list of places they've been as well, you can get a fairly good picture. The key is to remember that those are each person's perception and perceptions can be flawed.


Someone earlier mentioned not getting into several SIs they normally had gotten into. I'm sure this is very difficult both on the dancer and on the parent. In those cases, I hope there is at least one teacher/AD at the home school who is approachable and trusted where a conversation can be had about what they feel that means. If anything. They are the ones who see the dancer everyday and know what might have changed in them. That shift from earlier potential to a more narrowly focused view of "could we offer this person a position in our school at the correct level for his/her age" is a very tough go. However, if the dancer has done the 3 step list, hopefully they auditioned for some other SIs who offer equal training but maybe don't have the same big name that they aimed for when they were 10-12.


You asked about your DK wanting to focus on partnering. I see two choices. Take her chances on an SI where partnering is guaranteed for her or go to an SI where everyone partners. That's the only way she'll guaranteed that she gets what she wants unless she goes to one of the few SIs who give you placement in their acceptances. But if her Dream SI for this year waits until she gets there to determine if she's in a partnering level then it is what it is. We can't control it all.


Year after year, we see members get to this point, the 15/16 year old age is tough. But it's important to remember that if a ballet trained dancer wants to dance there generally are ways they can. It may not be in the manner they desired or first intended. But as they get closer and closer to actually auditioning for dance jobs, they will begin to understand that the choice is theirs to tunnel vision it into ballet. There's a big dance world out that that is craving ballet trained dancers. It's up to them.

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Rather, how do we know the SI will provide what the dancer needs after the dancer makes the assessment of their goals? For example, lets say the dancer wants to work on their partnering skills, but only certain levels at the program provides pas de deux classes...and the dancer has no guarantee that they will be placed in that level.


1. Take a look at the schedule that the SI presents in it's publications.

2. Read through the archives here.

3. Ask the question on the SI forum under the program you are considering.

4. Call the SI and ask if they have partnering for your dk's age/level or whatever other skill you are looking for

5. Let your dk's networking skills get some practice. Have them ask friends who have attended.


Honestly, I think the value of SI's may be that the number or hours increase rather than specific training skills. That, and working with new teachers who have a fresh perspective on your dancer as well as your dancer working alongside other talented dancers. So, if you can't find or if your dk doesn't get into what they thought was the perfect program, just know that more hours dancing with talented teachers will strengthen your dancer.


(sorry, Mom of 3, we were typing at the same time)

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Good list swanchat!

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I've come to the conclusion that even after researching and networking, there is no definite way to compare programs; there is no guarantee that the dancer and the school will be a good fit. That is one reason I believe my DD14 has chosen to attend the same SI she attended last year--she already knows that it worked for her last summer and she wants more training with specific teachers there. She was accepted into other programs, but we don't know if they'll meet her needs, and she doesn't want to take the gamble this particular year.


Networking may not be helpful either: Last summer, DD13 auditioned with several of her peers for a program. They all got in, but DD was placed in a higher level and she completed the whole program, including the performance at the end. DD had the time of her life and gained so much from the school. Meanwhile, her peers who only attended a part of the program in a lower level came back to the home studio early and badmouthed the program to future potential "customers" (other dancers and parents). When DD came back home, a parent asked me if she liked the school. When I had nothing but great news, the mother was surprised because the other mothers had complained about the program, claiming that their DD wasn't challenged and that there was favoritism. Another example is that a dancer a DD's studio has attended some prestigious SIs, but the AD says she did not return improved (during a conversation of him advising my DD to go to a smaller program), but is it necessarily the program's fault she did not improve, or do we blame that on her ability?


So make the choice to the best of your ability, but it is a gamble. And if the dancer benefits from a program and loves it, then there's nothing wrong with returning the next summer instead of hopping around all over the nation (or world) trying to accumulate big-names for their resume.


I believe this thead has been hiijacked, so my apologies to the OP. I appreciate that LovesLabor started this thread, because after reading recent posts about the younger dancers being judged on potential, I also wondered at what age the cutoff would be. My DD will be 14 for next year's auditions/ 15 attending 2014 SI. I'm suspecting it will be even harder for her to be offered positions? We'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, but in the meantime, she's all about progressing. Her philosophy is that she'lll be even better, so she has no worries about not getting in next year. ;)

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Well, I think it is because my 15yo (turning 16 in spring) dd has been so outside this entire process that I asked my original question. I am trying to understand the shift in expectation, pedagogically, that occurs at this point in similar terms as one understands the shift needed to move from arithmetic to algebra to Calculus; or from passive absorption of information, to a creative and independent output of those facts in original forms. Whether, perhaps, the technical mastery of a dancer at this phase needs to be almost complete (and is that measurable?) in order to allow the intangibles to emerge, and whether doors were closing on individuals for that reason or for something less measurable. I understand that it might be difficult to codify for the sake of a layperson. This period seems to be a somewhat mystical developmental leap across the board - academic and otherwise. It's just when it comes to ballet I have totally no clue what it's supposed to look like.


Cupid, I totally sympathize with your post above. I think the rough philosophy of most of the parents and students I have encountered has been to try to find as early as possible a place or teacher that hints at the right chemistry and interest in the student, and then to stick with that. This has often occurred at master classes, competitions or other chance occasions, as it has by attending SI's. We've also often found that one man's meat is another man's poison. What has worked for dd's best ballet friends, would never have worked for her, and vice versa. For the last couple of years, dd was driven simply to go where she knew for a fact that the teachers would work with her, and did not wish to gambol away her summers in places where that was not a given. That said, I do regret that she did not choose to go out and test the waters more this year, and I think she is starting to regret it a bit also (why this regret didn't set in during the January audition season, I cannot tell you!) So in the meantime, we wait another year to receive the kind of information and feedback that many dks have already gathered in the field this year.

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I appreciate all the great advice Momof3darlings and swanchat. I eagerly read all posts by parents who have been there before. While everyone's path may be different, there is collective wisdom that is priceless.


LovesLabor, I fully understand your question. DD when through that awkward period actually at age 13. For DD, though, it was simply a change in studios that made all the difference. Some times it might simply be the case. We were told to watch out for that awkward age of 15/16 because it is at that point that potential needs to change to being able to "bring it to the table". This year, however, DD found for herself personally, the 15/16 age was not a brick wall. She did better this year than any of her previous years as far as SIs go even though she did well previously. While I too wish DD had attended more auditions, our whole purpose this year was to gauge the new training. Afterall, SI acceptances are great and some come with those bragging rights, but the main thing is the year round training. Hopefully, DD will continue to grow and do even better next year, but I know that the training and hard work is what will bring that to pass. We trust DD's instructors to know what DD needs to make it so we rely on them to decide what that ability level needs to be at this age. The rest us up to DD.


I do see that by this age, they are expected to have the technique down. They should be confident enough so that the technique becomes second nature. We have seen a shift in DD's case from the emphasis on techical training, although always present, to one of artistry. How to let the emotion and love of dance emerge versus the technical "robot". Maybe this has made the difference with DD. I do feel that parents of children that are younger than 15 tend to view SI acceptances as a sign that their child is the next great prodigy, but they need to realize that until age 15, it is all about potential. I can not begin to tell you how many kids we have seen that were accepted into top level intensives with full scholarships, hit a brick wall when they reach that magic age of 15/16. At that age they need to have more than just ear reaching extensions. They need the strength to back them up and the technique. Then they need to develop that special something that will make them stand out from all the other kids that have worked hard over the years to get that strength and technique down.

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I think it's really hard to answer the question about what is looked for as a student makes the transition to serious pre-professional studies because it's subjective and varies with different directors, teachers and companies. Here in the states, 15 seems to be the age where things get more intense and serious. In the UK, it's 16. Both are interestingly at the natural progression in academic schools. The kids are going on to high school or A levels in the UK and the academics get more intense and serious and there are a lot of distractions in terms of more extracurricular opportunities too. It takes a very committed person to stick with the hours necessary to progress to ballet company ready status with all the other stuff going on. I think the young dancer at this stage has to almost have blinders on. It's difficult (but possible and necessary) to do the academics and the ballet training and that means the other stuff gets sidelined.


If a dancer is this focused and is being taught and learning the technique and their body hasn't changed dramatically due to puberty then they are already ahead of the game. Yes, it's better if they have something "special" when they perform, it's that "X Factor" that people either seem to have that or they don't; however, they can and should practice facial expressions and understanding how to make their movements softer and then more intense. Here's where it gets really tricky to make predictions though: for every one of these characteristics, there is a professional dancer out there who worked through not having that "perfect" body, or "those" feet, or took longer for the training to completely sink in, didn't have that special something at 16 or didn't even have the support of parents. The common denominator for a very successful professional dancer is that no matter what obstacle or adversity came their way, their need to dance, to perform was more pressing... more necessary. It's also very important that the dancer make the journey on their own; that they do it because of their own desire and that of no one else. Yes, it's important to have parents rooting and supporting them both financially and emotionally but navigating the rough waters themselves is a good test of determination and resilience (they will need both to succeed as professional dancers).


My window on this world:

We start the journey with the innocent decision to take these precious little kids to dance. It's exercise and fun and the little girls look so darn cute in their little tutu dresses. Then for many, Nutcracker or some other performance starts and suddenly this whole ballet thing takes on a life of it's own. As early as 11, our dd was looking at the possibility of doing ballet for money. She couldn't believe she could get paid to have so much fun. I'll admit it, it was so wonderful to see how beautifully she moved, how well she remembered the choreography and at least in this mom's eyes, how she shined on the stage. And in the blink of an eye, she left to go for better training. We too wondered if the choices of where to train, where to perform were the ones that would help her on the journey. Yes, there's a good bit of luck involved but it seemed that our dd always somehow figured out what she needed and where to get it. The journey was always her own; even if we got to tag along for part of it, it was her body, her mind, her soul that demanded the journey-not ours. So, we supported her both financially and emotionally and she worked and sacrificed both her childhood and her body to do this thing called ballet. If at any point she had said, "enough," we would have gladly celebrated all of her past successes and the hopes for future successes in other interests too but she's one of the few that have persevered and now is getting paid to have so much fun doing what she loves. Now we just feel proud that we have raised such a determined, beautiful person who feels so grateful to so many (including us) for the support as shes forged her path to do this dance thing. Somehow, it feels like we let her go far too young, far too far away and yet it also feels right as we share her with the world.


So... along with the worry and trying to predict the future (this is the lot of parenthood), try to savor every moment you have. Revel in those long drives to and from ballet class, embrace those tears, celebrate the performances... for too soon, you will be sharing your own lovely person with the world!

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