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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What Teaching Philosophy should I be looking for in Pre-Pro School?


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What are you looking for, nycdancermom?


@Clara76, 4-5 days technique @ 90 minutes and 3 days pointe @ 45-60 minutes (what DD does now).

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At age 7, I would not be pushing for 180-degree turnout and 5th position. A natural first position and 3rd position seems pretty normal to me for that age. I really doubt that a 7 year old has the strength, posture, and placement to stand in a correct, fully turned out 1st and 5th in the center (at that age they generally should not be doing barre work). We do need to keep in mind that one of the reasons ballet training moves slowly is so that we gradually increase the strain placed on the body so that the dancer's health can be maintained for as long as possible. Too much too soon and you see injuries perhaps not right away, but later on when the dancers are in their 20's and 30's. You don't want to have your career cut short because you were pushed to do more than your body could handle as a student.


So, at what age should I expect that they would be required to perform a fifth and 180 degree first then? And, should I be concerned about allowing dd to enroll in a class where these things would be required at 7 or 8? I am concerned because dd does not appear to have alot of natural rotation in her hip joints and she is not very flexable compared to the other girls her age. From what I can recall, of my training, we went straight to fifth and the conventional first. Although I was 8 when I started. I did have pain, achy knees in my late teens. And, I don't recall being particularly less flexible than my peers during all those years.


I had thought that perhaps this slower approach might be better. Perhaps a slower approach during the younger years is a good thing, and you can ramp up the number of classes and training intesity at some point and achieve similar results?

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Well, let's take a look at traditional training:

Most ballet schools around the world teach recreationally until a student demonstrates the talent, natural facility, and achievement of basic concepts to merit an audition for a vocational ballet system of training. That usually occurs around age 10 or 11. If the student is accepted into the vocational program, they then begin the formal training of classical ballet, which means ballet class 6 days per week from that age forward until their graduation with the US equivalent of a college diploma at around 18 or 19.


ONLY those who possess a body that takes well to ballet are allowed to train at that level. The training prior to age 10 would have been maybe once weekly for 1 hour, and 5th position is likely not even discussed for recreational students, simply because students younger than age 10 USUALLY do not have the musculature to support their skeleton in crossed work without damage. I said "usually" because there are some students who can, but they are usually the ones who will be granted the audition, aren't they?


Here is the US, with our freedom for all mentality, ballet training is typically not done the same way. Here, we aim to have anyone who wants to try be allowed to do so. Therefore, the training mentality has to adapt to the reality of the situation. You will find teachers, especially those who came from those intense residential experiences around the world, wanting to ramp up the teaching earlier because they experienced a totally-encompassing rigorous training system. They were essentially hired by their governments to represent their country as prestigious artists. Because of this, the government does feel some serious ownership over the artist, because it was their investment in the dancer that created the career. I'm not sure we in the US would be able to tolerate that type of governmental control over our persons..........


But that discussion would get too political, and that is not my point. My point is that training methods will vary, so we must educate ourselves as parents so that we can do right by our children. There is certainly merit in letting our children experience training in an art form to an elite level even if it does not produce a career. The things taught will amount to life skills that will see our sons and daughters through many life events, so in my opinion, everyone should have the ability to train in ballet, should they desire it. BUT, the reward is in the process, not the end result.

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So, then Clara, do your recommend that we as parents seek out a program that more closely mirrors the first system you describe rather than the second? Especially, with a child who may not demonstate the natural facility you describe. It seems to me then, that the this NTC would more closely resemble the first system, with a once a week class at age 8 or 9, perhaps twice at age 9. Is it your position that she would not be at a disadvantage if we waited to move to the more intense program, and less expensive in this case, when she's older (and the training gets more expensive).

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Since you asked what my personal opinion is, I will say that the NTC from ABT is well thought out and geared to accomodate both the recreational track and the professional track dancer. Now, do I think it is the only way? NO! There are many roads to Rome, as the saying goes. I would have loved to have been able to have gone through the Bolshoi training, myself, or to have been a Paris Opera "rat", but I was born in the US, and it wasn't meant to be.


You will find in this journey that there is not one way; there are professional dancers who started at age 4 dancing in an intense school where they had to take 4 or more classes per week, and they were placed en pointe too early, and pushed and pushed and pushed. You will also likely find that of those who endured that type of schedule here in the US, most are dealing with drastically shortened careers because of burn-out and chronic injuries.


Probably the majority of professional dancers here in the US, started off doing Creative Movement at age 5 and maybe 6; Pre-ballet once per week for the next few years, and then around age 10, increased the schedule gradually year-by-year, ending up in the uppermost levels dancing 6 days per week.


In my personal opinion, Classical Ballet, Opera, Music and Art ought to be part and parcel of every child's education during the academic years. That might solve a whole host of issues, but again, I digress.


There really isn't one magical formula that I am withholding from all of you: I'm serious when I say the journey is the reward.

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I'm serious when I say the journey is the reward.


And a round of "Amen!" to that, Clara76! :clapping:

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But which journy for which student? I there no where you could direct me for comprehensive information on the pros and cons of the various approaches?

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  • Administrators

Balmermom, we cannot tell you which way to go in terms of a method. There are many, and they all are capable of producing well trained and professional dancers. The most important thing is to find the best teacher you can get to. It is way more about the teaching than the method. You need to visit the schools you can get to, watch classes, look at the top levels as well as the young students, try to see a performance, talk to the AD about how they work with their students and the organization of the school in terms of quantity of training. You will need to assess the quality yourself, as well as the atmosphere in the school, which should be congenial and positive while still being serious.


There is a topic called Finding a Pre-pro School that should be helpful to you. But there is a lot you can learn just from reading many of the topics about training found in the parents forums too.

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balmermom, perhaps we are not understanding just what you are asking to find. :shrug: As both Clara76 and Hans have stated: when it all comes down to it, it does not really matter WHICH school of thought or WHICH training method is used, what IS important is that there be good TEACHING of whatever method.


The different methods may have nuances of style or even when a step may be introduced or nuances of presentation of that step, BUT what matters is that the clean technique, the proper body alignment, the proper use and development of the muscles of the body, the appropriate understanding of the epaulement and use of head, face, and eyes be taught. Along the way, the dancer needs to learn, absorb, and internalize an appropriate work ethic, learning ability, and find an artistic self.


What IS important is that you understand the fundamental difference in the Old World training of highly selected bodies ONLY that have only the most affinity for the un-natural demands ballet requires of the body in its most perfect state (i.e., highly flexible ankles and articulated feet; long, lean, flexible limbs; 180-degree hip rotation, etc.) and the training methods designed for THAT special body in a setting that is all encompassing and focused only on that training day in and day out from the time the child is hand-selected by the government and removed from their parents' care and the training methods that have been developed and are used in training children who may not have the proclivity for that natural selection, but can achieve great levels of skill and technique by virtue of careful and thoughtful work--along with children who may or may not have the ultimate desire, focus, interest or physical traits to dance professionally, but nevertheless will absorb and retain wonderful opportunities and life lessons in the pursuit of training ballet and who are in a cultural setting that requires them to balance their ballet training with academic pursuits, family obligations, family life, a social life, and other interests.


What I believe one should look for is a philosophy of teaching the children that mirrors what you believe makes sense, is respectful of the child's body, mind, and emotional well-being and is not driven by ego or blind-faith in a 'that's how I was taught' mentality without a concomitant understanding of what assortment of physical attributes is standing before them and in what cultural context.


Yes, there are training opportunities in the States that push too hard and too fast. Even the Old World model did not/does not push the children beyond what their specially selected bodies could handle. But expecting a body perfectly adapted for a particular skill to do something is not the same as expecting a less perfectly adapted body to do the same thing at the same time. Would you expect all babies to stand at exactly the same day or month or all children to begin to read at exactly the same moment? No---it all depends on much that is wired innately into their muscle development and maturation. So, you shouldn't expect the same in the ballet students that were selected specifically for their body's innate structure and ballet students that come to learn for no reason other than they want to.


The trick is to find those teachers that understand not only the very important order of how the foundational blocks of ballet training, skills, and techniques fit together in creating that strong, lasting technical foundation, but also understand that the individual student's innate body structure has its own time table in accepting and learning these foundational blocks. Yes, you can build a nice tall tower of blocks quickly, but if those blocks are not set squarely and firmly on the one before it, at some point the tower will list and lean, and may even actually fall down.


So, yes, children can be placed on pointe earlier than the generally recommended age 11-12 years and yes, they may be just fine------IF they happen to have one of those innate body structures and somehow managed to have the appropriate building blocks put in place, but IF they are not innately favored in structure and/or some foundational blocks were not set firmly or squarely enough, later on, they may very well pay the price. Gifted bodies can get by quite a while relying on those gifts, but eventually, if everything is not balanced just right (alignment, proper muscles doing their proper jobs, etc), something finally gives. Sometimes it can be repaired, other times not. What is gained by placing the child on pointe earlier than generally recommended? Bragging rights, maybe, a lot of oohing and aaahing, but at company contract time, it will not have made one iota of difference. But it may have set the dancer up for early retirement.


The best approach is to slowly and carefully get those foundational blocks in place and build up slowly, making sure everything is the best it can be before adding on more blocks that need the underlying support. It is much easier to correct a skill in the foundational stages as one goes along than it is to go back and either unlearn or re-correct a foundational base that is missing or insufficiently mastered or employed.


ANY training method can do this---as long as the teacher(s) are good and know what they are doing and why they are doing when they are doing it.

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Dancemaven, your post is helpful. Perhaps the question should be what teaching philosophy should a teacher/school have. What types of questions should a parent be asking, and what kinds of answers to those questions should we be looking for?


I started asking about NTC, only because its approach, at least from what I have seen of it, seems unique. And, I don’t have any experience with a specific method myself.


A lot of the advice I see here seems to be along the lines of get the best possible training for every child. That statement is not really helpful when trying to evaluate what “best” is for one particular child. As you state, every dance student here in the U.S. will have vastly different physical attributes. As a parent, I feel it would be less than responsible of me to promote an activity without at least being aware of possible harm that could result to my child and without attempting educate myself on possible strategies for injury avoidance.


I am now looking at two programs, both appear to achieve similar results, students who are accomplished and able to go on to professional careers, but seem to have very different approaches. Just knowing that a program produces some accomplished dancers does not tell me how many dancers had their careers cut short, or were not able to pursue a career at all due to injuries or burnout. Or, how many dropped out at much a younger age due to inability to keep up, and thus were not able to benefit from the positives that dance has to offer.

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You are looking for answers to things that are just not generally known. I don't think any school is going to tell you how many dropped out or became injured and could not continue. There are no statistics available, to my knowledge, on these things. You need to watch classes, see how the children are handled and taught, in terms of attention to correct positions, lines, use of feet and articulation, port de bras, and most importantly, how the teacher handles these corrections. Look for discipline in the classroom, students who are attentive and focused, and a teacher who is able to work hands on with corrections and is good with explanations, along with being positive and encouraging. Then look at higher levels and see the results. If you have watched a lot of professional ballet, you should have some idea of what they are supposed to look like by the time they are around 16 and up in a good school. Send me a list of the schools you are looking at and I will see what I can do to find information. You will need to write to me at Contact Us. I am familiar with the area, as I taught near that area for many years.

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I would really appreciate that Ms. Leigh. I will sit down this evening and put together my list. Thanks so much. :)

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  • 11 months later...

dancemaven, clara, victoria,


Are there specific physical capabilities that are more compatible with one method or style than another?

For example, I have heard that Vaganova is less forgiving of imperfect turnout than other methods.

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My thought would be that it is not the method itself, but rather the teacher attempting to implement the method that might be "less forgiving" of some specific physical capabilities of an individual.


But, then I am not a teacher, so really not qualified to answer that question. Hopefully, our fabulously qualified Teacher-Moderators will have a real answer for you, adam12. :)

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It's the teacher, period.


Let's compare it to reading:

First, we have to teach the alphabet. Teacher #1 decides that the best way to teach the alphabet is to have everyone sing a song. Teacher #2 thinks that a song doesn't really work, so they have everyone repeat the alphabet over and over. Teacher #3 has the children stand up and form the letters with their bodies. Teacher #4 uses all of those methods.


Which way is correct for your child? It's the same alphabet, just as in ballet, it is the same steps being taught.


I realize that is a very oversimplified comparison, but I think the basic idea comes across.


As parents, we know our child the best, so while The World's Most Prestigious Ballet Academy may be wonderful for some, Former Ballerina's Small Town School may be right for others. The important things are whether the teachers who are working with our kids have an extensive "tool belt", and that may or may not mean a professional career, but simply someone who has had lots of experience teaching. Or, it may mean a teacher who is currently a professional dancer, who just has a knack for breaking things down and imparting them.


In my area, it wouldn't take me too long to figure out which Karate schools are decent, and I know absolutely zero about Martial Arts. I would ask around, look up websites, and after narrowing down a few places, I'd have my child take a class to see how they liked it. I'd have to not think too much about whether my child was going to grow up and some day become an Olympic level Martial Artist, because if it is meant to happen, it will whether I stand in the way or not. However, I wouldn't be taking my child to a class off the bat where the teacher yells "Hai Karate" and chops through the air with his fist.

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