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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Help me with tact and finesse...


NikkisMamma

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Yesterday I received an e-mail from our AD that my DD would not be moving up with her peers for the summer intensive/fall. The specific reason was that she needs to work on placement, her legs need to straighten and be more turned out and her feet and legs need to be more articulated. All things I can understand and see, I'm not one of those parents who believe my kid is a natural star. However, I do feel that she is right in the middle ability-wise of the group who *is* moving up and both my DD and I are very surprised by this. I absolutely appreciated the e-mail so I could break the news to my DD and explain why rather than simply get the placment letter and be shocked. The e-mail was factual and kind. I asked briefly about pointe, since recently about half her class (including her) was put en pointe and half was not (this "lower" half will also be staying behind, presumably as she told me this group will be split). She said she will not take her pointe shoes away, but (my thinking, not said out loud by her) is that the group my DD will now be with is not en pointe yet, there will be no pointe work for my DD during the summer and when fall classes start, she will be relegated to doing rises by herself by the barre while the rest does pre-pointe expercises (as this is what has been going on all year with another student who was held back from her previous level this year and placed in DDs class).

 

DD went to class even though she was crying and visibly extremely upset yesterday, and so far none of the other girls who are in "her" group will be held back. I want to e-mail the AD and sit down and discuss with her what my DD needs to do in order to improve and perhaps have a chance at catching up with her peers, but I don't want to come across as pushy or "difficult". The atmosphere is this school is not bad at all, but there is a definite feeling of "do not bother the AD with trivial matters". The past few weeks I have felt as if something was "wrong", as if either my DD or I did or said something and staff was generally being slightly short with us *but* we have had a very busy season and it could totally be my imagination and everyone was simply busy.

Added to the situation is that DDs new teacher (and the ADs very talented new prodigy teacher) for whatever reason does not seem to mesh personality-wise with my DD. My DD constantly says that she feels this teacher doesn't like her, doesn't pay attention to her and doesn't correct her. This teacher definitely has obvious favorites and DD is not one of them. She does very well for her other teachers, and I have told her I'm sure this teacher likes her just fine and to just keep working hard and do her best, be friendly and positive and everything will be fine. Well, it's clearly not. The AD also teaches this class but only once/week, the new teacher is their main teacher. I do not in any way think that this is something personal against my DD, it just adds to how my DD feels about the whole situation.

 

The people that noticed something wrong (with us) yesterday and asked were all very surprised as my DD has always been firmly in the upper half of this class. I absolutely understand the ADs point and know she has my DDs best interest at heart, and the training she receives here is good. There is no other comparable school in the area whatsoever.

 

My concern is that this will crush DDs confidence, make her bored and frustrated and make her give up something she loves. I know that it's not the end of the world at all, she is still very young (11 1/2) and will have plenty of time to grow and develop as a dancer. *She* is concerned that if she's forced to be with the lower class for a whole year, she will never catch up to her peers again. I explained to her that all girls develop at different rates and she could very well catch up with these girls again next year, but part of me questions that because they will obviously go on to learn more complicated pointe work and she will not have that at all, so it's probably fair to assume that there may be some of her friends that she will indeed never catch up with again. She was skipped ahead a couple of levels a few years back, together with 2 other girls that she has alway been in class with and this will be the first year they are not together. She is also very concerned with the schedule. She has read the sticky here and knows that right now, at 11, she's right on track *IF* she ever gets good enough and has a chance to consider a dance career. She's terrified that this set-back will mean she will now never have a chance because she'll be "behind".

 

Here's the e-mail I want to send to the AD. I would really appreciate thoughts on any of this (the whole situation), and especially whether I'm coming across as disrespectful or confrontational because I absolute do not want to.

 

 

Hi AD!
DD is as you can imagine devastated, and I admit I'm surprised as we both felt she fit in really well with her group. I know you have her best interest at heart and it was probably not an easy decision to make.
In order for me to better understand what, if anything, she can do to improve I would really like it if we could sit down and chat briefly. I will be at the studio tonight and tomorrow. We leave for vacation tomorrow evening but she has a private scheduled for June 5th at 4PM.

My main questions or concerns are:

Do you feel this is a technique/training issue, and if so is it something you feel she will be able to correct? What would be the best plan for that, privates through summer or simply wait until fall?

or

Is it a physiological issue, as in an actual physical limitation on her part? If so, in your experience do you believe it to be temporary/growth related or simply a limitation that will always prevent her from achieving ideal placement?

If she works hard and shows improvement throughout the summer, is there any chance of you reconsidering the placement for fall?
Is there any possibility of her catching up to her peers at all at this point? Would a "mixed" schedule be a possibility at all (for instance having class a few days/week with the lower level to work on technique and class one or more days with the higher level to keep her challenged and motivated)?

I know it's a lot to consider and I apologize for taking up your time, I know you are busy and have hundreds of students to think of. I really appreciate the heads up. I want DD to be the best she can be and I'm afraid that she will lose confidence and/or that joy and love for ballet if she is left to "review" for a whole year. I am telling her it's part of being a dancer and that everyone doesn't develop the same and there's a chance she can catch up by working hard, but her fear as that she will fall so far behind (especially en pointe) that she will never be able to be with the group she feels she belongs with again.

 

 

 

Any thoughts or advice on this greatly appreciated!! And yes, I know that this is such a "small" problem to have and DD *is* quite young.... but for a tween this is her whole world crashing down around her ears so any advice from those who have BTDT and come out the other side would help... thanks!!! I admit, I am quite upset about it as well but I do trust the AD to know what;s best for my DD.

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I think your letter is fine, with one small exception. I would remove the thought about this next year being "review". I don't know what the real reason is, but I'm going to guess that if she is having difficulty with the things mentioned in the AD's email, especially the straightening the knees part, there is a very good reason for her to go slower. This is very important for pointe work, and moving into more difficult pointe work when still struggling to get up all the way with straight knees is a big problem.

 

Personally, as a teacher, I really wish more AD's would do this. I get students in my classes who have these problems but get moved up anyway, either as a group or because of age. It is definitely not a good thing for the student. Of course I also question these students being on pointe at all sometimes. That said, I have a feeling that your AD has a good reason, and talking to her should help. Your questions are good, but I'm wondering if by writing them you might get an email response rather than a meeting with her? You might know her tendency in these kinds of things. In person would be better, in my opinion, but I do appreciate that she took the time to notify you prior to the placement letter arriving.

 

I would also ask if she might, after the summer and fall classes, possibly be ready to move up during the school year?

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I think that I would limit the email to just the following:

 

Hi AD!
DD is as you can imagine devastated, and I admit I'm surprised as we both felt she fit in really well with her group. I know you have her best interest at heart and it was probably not an easy decision to make.
In order for me to better understand what, if anything, she can do to improve I would really like it if we could sit down and chat briefly. I will be at the studio tonight and tomorrow. We leave for vacation tomorrow evening but she has a private scheduled for June 5th at 4PM.

 

However, I would have my questions/concerns with me rather than spelled out ahead of time in an email. That way, the AD has an open-ended possibility for explanation. Sometimes, the questions that we think are relevant aren't at all, and an in-person clarification clears things up very quickly.

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Thank you Ms Leigh! Yes, she does have problems with straightening her knees en pointe, this class is VERY new to pointe (I think they have had 5 or 6 classes now) and she does have problems with her hips/turnout/rotation. She grew at least 2" since dec which I suspect isn't helping.

My main reason for outlining the questions I have in the e-mail is so that she can think about them, I do want to address them in person (hope that made sense). The reason I mention "reviewing" is that's how my DD put it since she will be put in the class below and feels as if she will be in essence doing the year "over again". There has been students moved up halfway through the year and that would be a very desirable outcome for us, unless she can work so hard during summer that she can somehow reconsider the fall placement and go with her normal class then (but I'm somehwat resigned to that not happening but striving for moving up sometime during the school year). I will edit the letter and take the "review" part out.

I should also mention that my DD feels as if last night something "clicked" and she finally understood one of her corrections and cannot wait to show the AD and ask if that can possibly make a difference (her hip placement for better rotation. DD has hip issues and I am in fact calling her doctor right now to see if we can get a referral to an ortho but that's a separate issue, although related).

Thanks again Ms Leigh!

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She needs to understand it is not reviewing. That class will be moving on too, and every class is about learning and improving everything. It's about being able to go just a little slower in order to fix some things. Having learned something doesn't mean that it has been successfully accomplished.

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I agree with Blanche. I would just include the first paragraph and save the point by point questions for the actual conference. Couple that with Ms. Leigh's wisdom about the specifics you have already discovered and I think you have enough questions for a good conference. I was glad to see one of your questions was evaluation after summer (and possibly by the group of teachers).

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As far as feeling she will 'never catch up on pointe', please allay her fears. That is simply not true. One of the dancers in my DD's class was held back a level one year and kept off pointe for a year. (She was very delicate boned and lacked strength). She, too, was towards the top of the class. She did pre-pointe for 2 years instead of one---and no, she was not happy.

 

But, once she did go en pointe, she 'caught up' nicely. She also rejoined her original level class after a year or so. She now dances for the Dutch National Ballet.

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I kept one of my students, a number of years ago, off pointe until she was 13. And when she was ready, she was READY! She was up with everyone in no time, and ended up one of our major success stories. She danced professionally, and became a principal dancer, retired, went back to school and became a school teacher and is married with two children. :)

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Thank you all again so much for your insights!!! I do have full confidence that it is the best thing for her (but that doesn't make it any more fun for a girl this age) and I will share all the wise words said here with her. I will go ahead and just send the abbreviated e-mail and hope I/we get a chance to chat with the AD as soon as possible. I really hope this works to her advantage and makes her work even harder to correct the things she needs to work on. Her AD did make sure to point out that DD is a good student and a hard worker, and sometimes kids just need a little extra time working on something specific so I do know that it's absolutely for her own good and she will hopefully become that much stronger of a dancer in the end for it. It's not going to be fun for her watching her peers go on to learn more and be included in more complicated dances, but I hope it will be a good character builder.

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NikkisMamma - we went through this same thing with DD this year so I can relate to your feelings. I did a couple of things that made a difference for my DD: First, I met with her teacher and asked, specifically, what DD needed to do to catch up with the girls moving to the next level. For DD, the issues were more strength and ankle articulation, so we found out what exercises DD could do at home on her own and then I scheduled some privates so the teacher could work with her one-on-one on areas where she needed the guidance and watchful eye of her teacher. What I mean by "specific" is not "she needs to work on turnout," but "what exercises can DD do to improve her turnout?" and then "can you work with her and show her how to do them and how her body should feel?" Second, rather than placing her in the "next level" class one day week (which we were offered) DD decided to take a class below her level for a "back to basics" approach. It allowed her to really think about what she was doing, what she should be feeling in her muscles, and what she needed to correct. DD also let her teacher know that she was eager for corrections during class. Now, a year later, DD is a much stronger dancer and has, indeed, caught up with the others. Her confidence has improved tremendously. She understands that she doesn't need to rush through learning the next trick but can spend the time improving even the most basic plié. And even though she has moved up, she decided to take an additional class or two below her level again this year.

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Very wise young lady there, MamatoMary. :)

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I had a very nice chat with the AD yesterday and I came out of it feeling much better about the whole thing. I already knew she had my DDs best interest at heart but to hear it said and said well was still comforting.

The bottom line is that the AD feels my DD somewhat slipped by and the "holes" in her technique went unnoticed because she *is* very good at most aspects of ballet (this is the first year she has taught DDs class). The AD felt that my DD was absolutely strong enough to go en pointe but she said what sometimes happens with kids similar to my DD is that once en pointe, they see that there is a bit more groundwork to be done before those kids can truly succeed. She feels it's a combination of technique "flaws" and physical limitation (my DD does not have wonderful natural rotation) and she will be spending her private with me in there as well going over specific exercises to help with the things she needs to work on.

Regarding level placement she said that if she sees that there is sufficient improvement, she will absolutely move her back up to her peers, probably not before fall (although she said it's not impossible, but more than likely DD will start the year in the lower level) but it can be at any time during the school year and she now knows that we are flexible and would welcome a mixed schedule. I told her DD would be happy to take additional technique classes in even lower levels to fine tune things and she was very happy to hear that. She wants DD to enjoy dance and be with her peers but the placement and turnout needs to be improved before she can truly move up, not because she doesn't think DD isn't capable of learning more advanced moves but because they will then of course be learned with incorrect foundation and that needs to be cemented and "automatic" so she doesn't need to think about it while learning more challenging moves.

 

I told her my DD is a bright kid, DD knows that a career in classical ballet will probably never happen for her because of her rotation issues *but* she loves it and knows that if she wants to be able to do what she *really* wants (which is contemporary ballet), she needs the classical foundation and the AD agreed 100% that contemporary would be a better direction for my DD and that a classical career was not likely for her (which we absolutely knew). The AD knows how much my DD loves ballet and how hard she works and she said that when she had kids like this, who had this obvious passion but had small physical limitations or struggled with certain elements she wished she had a magic wand that could make *those* kids have the "perfect" ballet bodies. She also of course said that DD is very young and there is always the possibility that as she grows her physical limitations may disappear in which case it's a totally different story. :)

 

All in all, it was a great conversation and I walked out of it knowing that my DD truly is cared for and even more confident that the training she's getting is excellent.

 

Thank you all again. I'm going to let DD read through these responses to encourage her. Yesterday she had come around a bit more and told me that she desperately wants to be with her peers and even if it takes all year, she is going to do it. She's going to work twice as hard as she ever has to be able to catch up and do whatever it takes. (the day it happened she had set the "limit" that if she hadn't improved enough to be moved up by winter, she would just quit because then clearly she want's good enough and there was no point). I'm sure the road will be difficult and there will be times she feels like quitting but her attitude about it last night was so much better than the day before.

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All good news, NikkisMamma! Thank you for the update, and, don't worry about her negative reaction at first, or if it happens again, as that is quite normal. At that age they can get over things rather quickly. :)

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