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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Lack of aggressiveness in dancing


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My daughter is 11 years old and has been on point for about a semester. She has been dreaming of becoming a professional ballerina since she was 3 years old, and has been taking ballet since then. We are in a good school, and she's learning all the right things. She smiles the entire time she is on stage, and loves to perform. Her teacher sees potential, but she and I are both concerned that she lacks drive... she doesn't practice with intensity or drivenness, if that's a word. She is just very laid-back in her approach to barre work, center work, everything. Her movements lack precision... she doesn't throw herself into her work with abandon. She had a private lesson today, and I videotaped the whole thing so she could see herself. We're hoping something will click. When I talked with her about it this afternoon, she kind of indicated that there was a certain shyness she felt about just letting loose and being aggressive. She is a reserved child in general. Her teacher feels at a loss to know how to communicate the importance of intensity and drivenness, and aggressive pursuit of excellence. And I am, too. Her teacher told me that it really just has to come from within the child, and there isn't really a way to teach it. It can be modeled, but the child has to own it. I get that. I worry that it reflects an underlying lack of passion. When I try to give her an out, and ask her if ballet is really something she wants to work at... if maybe she'd rather do something different, she cries and insists that she wants to continue, and work hard and improve. But she just seems... limp. Kind of soft and floppy, so to speak. She does better in private lesson where the teacher is constantly reminding her to keep her shoulders back and her chin up, and be sharp in her movements. But it doesn't come at all naturally to her. Any advice?

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Just continued training and encouragement, and maturity. At 11 I would not worry about this yet. She may be in a growth spurt and her body is not responding, but if not, then it will just have to come from her when she is ready. If she is still like that in a couple of years, then I would question it. Be sure she fully understands the meaning of work ethic, and that nothing improves without putting in all of the energy and effort. She has to be in there 100% or she is wasting her time and your money. But, don't expect this to happen over night! It is most likely a confidence problem, and the teacher just needs to stay on her case and encourage her to go for it.

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My DD who is 10 (almost 11) is sort of the same way. She loves ballet and sometimes says she wants to be a professional ballerina but she often doesn't seem to put 100% of her effort into it and she isn't always focused. Maybe she doesn't yet realize the amount of work you have to put in to become a professional ballerina. I think not all kids are super driven to excellence even though they are dreaming of a career that requires that. At least for my DD I don't care whether or not she becomes a professional ballerina (I think it is really a long shot for her) I just want to continue to support and encourage her love of dance.

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Thank you. I'm not pushing her to be a professional either, just trying to help her fulfill her dream. Victoria, your words are encouraging. I do believe she is in a growth spurt. She is hitting puberty just a little bit, too, and emotional. I do think confidence is an issue. She does all of her combinations, and dutifully follows every instruction, she just isn't passionate and aggressive. Hopefully you are right and she'll grow into it.

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@bunheadmama..I believe the artistry and confidence part is developed with age, I know my own DD didn't really become self-conscious until right now and she is 9, she always thinks someone will laugh at her if she expresses emotions while dancing (she is also prety reserved) I know she will grow out of this with age!! It was just so much easier when they were little and in the stage of "look at me, look what I can do" now it's "don't take my picture, that is embarrassing" LOL..

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So this might be a rather irreverent suggestion on a ballet forum but why not let her take class in another dance form that,is more free form? Hip,hop or jazz and maybe get her to improv some. Dance is expressive.

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May be some good documentary about ballet motivate her. There are many good ones, dancer's talking about their passion and pursing perfections, etc.

My DDs always loves watching anything ballet - but especially interviews with dancers, and backstage shots, and rehearsal scenes.

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I believe loveballet is on to something. I would see if you could find something that shows the hard work that goes into ballet, not just a performance. Sometimes children see the end result of something and just don't get the sweat aspect.

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I wonder if this is something that will come as she gets older and can understand better what it will really take to become a professional dancer. Certainly at 3, 6, 8 they aren't going to really grasp that. Some kids are naturally more driven than others, but I believe that that drive can also be developed with maturity.

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I think (only as a parent, no teacher expertise at all) that all kids are different in this aspect. 11 certainly is young, and going through what can be the beginning of a really difficult age (my own DD is 11 as well, I *know*, LOL!!). I do also think that some kids are naturally more driven and "focused/ambitious" than others. I see it in DDs peers. There are 2 ways I see it: in her age group (she's one of only 3 in this age to be in her level, the rest are older), meaning her and her 2 friends who are "ahead" of their same-age peers work harder, are more driven and may or may not have more natural talent than the others (I personally think much more focused on the work ethic). In her class (ranging from 11-14), I see the ones who are more laid back about it as well as the ones who work hard and give it their all, every class. Not surprisingly, some of the kids that don't apply themselves have been held back or will be. From what I have been told, the teachers look for talent of course but even more important is that the student has great attendance, is focused and works really hard in class. I know of students who have been moved back a level because of that lack of focus.

Not necessarily what you want to hear, but I do think it's very important in ballet. I'm sure all studios are different too.


I think you're very smart to involve her in the discussion and ask her how she feels about it all. Let her know how incredibly important it is. I know one of the girls who got moved back a level at our school quite well, and I know she certainly wishes that she has focused more last year because she would be with her peers now and not back in a lower level working super hard to catch up. Now, this year has probably been a great eyeopener for her and a wonderful lesson, so not a bad thing per se, but...


One of DDs teachers recently told the class when some of the girls were less focused than she liked "you should treat each class like an audition". When you go for an audition, you want to be at your best, you want to show yourself to the greatest advantage and you work hard to get everything right and stand out. That's what she wants from every girl, every class. I think it really struck a chord with some of the girls!


Now, if someone could tell me what to do with a child who *is* extremely focused and works hard in class but doesn't seem to get that she needs to WANT to work on the things she could do better at home.... her feet aren't ideal andshe knows that doing her exercises and Theraband stretches every day will help, but yet I have to nag her to do it. I feel that *she* should WANT to do it, because this is her dream and her goal she's working towards... sorry, off on a tangent!


Best of luck, I hope she sees the light and you can find a way to motivate her!!!

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You know, this reminded me how four years ago or so we were constantly on our son, telling him that he has to work harder, that he has to show his teacher that he is ready to do more complex things, that he is serious about it, etc. And our son was just like you are describing your daughter - laid back and happy looking kid. We didn't know what to do, how else make him more serious and "aggressive"... One day at a birthday party he broke his toe. He insisted to go to his dance lesson and he danced even without telling his teacher what happened. I was worried about him, trying to make sure he is OK, his foot was in pain. That night, when I was kissing him good night, he asked me: remember you told me to be more serious in dancing? Do you see now HOW serious I am? That was a good lesson for me to just let him be in his dancing...

Edited by bluemountain
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I'm wondering if you are talking more about motivation or sharpness in the actual movements...


My dd had similar issues at about the same age (10 1/2) in terms of the preciseness of her motions. I remember how at the annual parent teacher child conference when the teacher was trying to explain it to her. We had just had observation class and I knew exactly what she meant, but dd just kind of looked at us blankly. She just didn't understand. She was doing a tendu, just like she was supposed to, she thought. So later when I tried to show her what I thought the teacher was saying - the difference between putting your foot here and doing a tendu, I got the same blank stare.


Fast forward 5 years. Now her little sister dances like that - not really floppy but almost without "intention", and dd15 can't understand how dd9 can dance like that. When I remind her of that parent teacher conference, she says "but I wasn't like that, mom! All floppy and just moving but not dancing it."


My point is that it seems like it is not that uncommon. And what may be perceived as not "dancing full out" or being aggressive or passionate, may be simply an expression of that age or muscle maturity. As much as dd's teacher and I tried to explain the concept of "sharpness" or "attack" she didn't understand what was being asked at 10.5. Now she can't understand how she didn't understand it.

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lemlemish, that's really interesting!


I just wanted to say that I didn't want to come off negative in my post and I apologize if I did. Focus or lack thereof has been discussed frequently throughout the year because of the girl in DDs class (who got moved down). Of course the most important thing is for the kids to enjoy themselves and soak up the training, 11 isn't a make-it-or-break-it age. :)

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dd (10) helped other kids in her dance class by inviting them to watch some of

ballet classes. to put her simply, she came out of the womb in attack mode, went into deep hip-hugging shyness for many years, and now finds dance concepts of "sharpness" or "attack" second nature. not too weird if you think about it, as we are all so damn variable as we grow and get older, and of course she has other 'issues' at present, but i suspect this bit of socializing helped her 'competing friends' to improve. (methinks she'll be a teacher in future.)


...now if i can only motivate her sister


i hope that helps.

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Thank you all for your thoughts. It's so helpful! This all came about because her teacher told me that if she wants to move up with the rest of her class in the fall, she has a lot of catching up to do. She suggested a couple of private lessons at the beginning of summer, and she's doing Summer Dance (sort of an intensive for younger girls) for three days a week this summer, two and a half hours each day. We can't afford more than that. She has several ballet documentaries and movies she's watched, including First Position, which she went to see at the theater with her friends in class, and loved so much that she got the DVD for Christmas. So she has seen the work aspect. I guess I panicked after the conversation with her teacher and the prospect that she might get left behind. She has been with the same group of girls for a long time, and they are all great friends. I think she'd be devastated... and maybe I'm trying too hard to rescue her from natural consequences. Maybe the only way she'll get it is through not moving up. But then, like lemlemish described her daughter, mine also seems completely unabale to grasp what we are talking about. So I really don't think it's laziness, exactly... which would make me feel even worse if she doesn't move up and doesn't understand why! She cried when I told her that her teacher felt she was way behind. Maybe the summer stuff will help her catch up, and things will be fine. I don't want to overemphasize the work ethic to the point that I end up pushing her away from dance because she's sick of me harping on it. But I also don't want to neglect to make her aware of what is required to succeed at this. I'm encouraged that so many of you with kids the same age have experienced the same thing. Maybe it really is developmental. She's actually the youngest in her class, but also the tallest, so it's easy to forget she's just eleven. And there are several girls in her class who are twelve and approaching thirteen who are far more sharp in their movements, and artistic, and push themselves harder... it has just clicked with them in a way it hasn't with her. And one of the most talented girls in the school is only 13. She's dancing with the senior girls, and is incredibly talented and motivated. And so maybe I'm expecting too much based on what other kids near her age are doing. I don't know. But I really appreciate all of your thoughts on this. :) Thank you!

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