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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Bizarre Evaluation Conference


Blanche

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I have been letting this incident settle for a few days, but I still am at a loss as to how to proceed...

 

At the end of each year (June), in the letter which notifies parents of their student's placement for the following year, comments are included, along with a note that says something to the effect of, "please direct any questions you have to your child's teacher."

 

At the end of every year for the past three years (since starting pointe), older DD's comments always mention that they are concerned about the "stiffness" in her left ankle. Our studio, as another parent once put it, is "all about the feet," and DD does not have the wonky feet that many others have. Obviously, as the studio has allowed her on pointe and promoted her each year for the past three years (this year to a "pro" level which requires her to leave school early), her feet must be good enough. We have even had evaluations done by two physical therapists, both with extensive dance credentials (one is PT to a number of local companies and the "local" PT for several big companies when they are in town on tour; the other trained at SAB, has a sister and daughter who were/are professional dancers, and has trained at Harkness). Both of them told DD that her feet were "beyond adequate" for pointe work, and that she does not have any physical limitations that would prevent her from successful training and dancing. They both suggested the "usual" foot strengthening/articulation exercises, telling her the better she can use her feet the better they will look.

 

Again this year, she got the same comment. She asked me if I could find out what they (the studio) suggested she should do to improve since she didn't feel that she got specific corrections during the year, just the same comment. I asked at the office who I should speak to since she had three different teachers this past year, and if I should meet with or without DD (she just turned 15, so I have been nudging her toward asking her own questions). I was told that her main teacher was the school principal and that I should talk to her and that it would be fine for me to talk to her first and then have a second meeting with DD, if necessary.

 

The meeting was on Tuesday, and it quickly took a very strange turn. I told her teacher I wanted to discuss her evaluation, particularly what DD could do to work on her feet. She corrected me to say, "foot--it's just her left foot." So I asked what she suggested DD do to improve what they are calling the "stiffness" in her foot. She said that there was nothing DD could do. I asked if strengthening or stretching might help, and if so which one. She then said that she works to the best of her ability, and that her left foot will never improve; it is what it is. At this point, I was a little taken aback, so I reiterated the information as a question, "So there is nothing she can work on or do?" Her response was that DD is clearly in constant pain. I asked for clarification saying that DD had never complained of pain on a regular basis, and on the occasion she did (has been maybe once or twice a year), we have had it checked out, but that it has never been her left foot. She then said that she is indeed in constant pain and that all of her teachers are aware of this. I said, "then why isn't she telling me? She has told me about other aches and pains." She said, "well, why would she tell you? She's not going to tell you that!" She went on to say that they know that she is in such pain that it is only a matter of time before the pain becomes so unbearable that she can no longer dance. I was at a loss for words at that point, thanked her for her time and quickly left, feeling like she had not only questioned my parenting but also implied that my child was keeping a secret from me/lying.

 

My concerns are that, given this conversation, the current studio has written her off and that even though the ballet training has been extremely good, there is an attitude that is not conducive to excellent overall training from a psychological perspective, at least for my daughter.

 

In our texts Tuesday evening, I asked DD sort of vaguely about pain/discomfort, and she said, "noooooo.....why?" I told her that her year round teachers think that she's always in pain. She wondered if she makes "weird" faces during class. I will add that she had already texted me multiple times around the beginning of week 4 of her SI that her right ankle was a little swollen but didn't hurt, and which classes should she sit out of, and what should she do as far as icing, etc. Normally this is the child who screams that her toe is broken when she stubs it, so I have a hard time believing that she could be in constant pain and not show it.

 

I am not sure at this point what to do. I am highly disappointed that the studio has this attitude, but I got the impression that they have their opinions and that's it. Since there is no one higher up at the school to speak with, I don't know if I should schedule another meeting to clarify, or if I should try to speak with another one of her teachers (though I don't want to appear to be either pitting one teacher against another or looking for validation of my own point). If I do schedule another meeting, should DD be there to "defend" herself, or will they just say that she won't be honest in front of me? DD doesn't know the details of the conversation, and I do not plan on sharing them with her. I am trying not to feel offended that they have implied that I do not know my own child, but I am feeling a little "mama bear-ish" in that it is my job to look out for my child.

 

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as maybe I am not seeing the "big" picture.

 

 

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First of all, I believe you should be honest with your DD, and find out what she has to say about this. Then I would want to know what they are physically seeing that gives the appearance of her being in pain. Perhaps she isn't in pain, but making a consistent physical move that gives that impression. I would also ask why they haven't asked your DD if she was in pain if that is what they believed. I find that part the most disturbing.

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Blanche,

 

From one mama bear to another.... I know you must be feeling so confused and frightened so I'm sending you a big cyberhug!

 

1. You want to make sure your dd is healthy and physically without injuries.

You have had your dd seen by people who should know about feet and ballet so you've been doing what you can. If her left foot really is tighter than her right, you might want to look into an experienced chiropractor who is good at Active Release Therapy (ART). DD has seen a lot of benefit this summer from ART and tight parts of her body. You might check with her physical therapist to see if they can see any changes or if they can offer any further suggestions to help with the stiffness. Then you can deal with the school issue.

 

2. Understanding the school and making sure it's a fit for your dd

Sometimes dance students simply outgrow the school and need a change to thrive. We started to have doubts about our dd's local school (well-known for training professional dancers) when she was in the 8th grade so we made certain to choose an SI that wasn't attached to any school and asked for the director's impressions of her potential to become a professional dancer. The director of the SI quickly assessed her physical potential, her intellectual potential and her artistic potential. Her comments affirmed for us that our dd did have the potential to pursue the dream. By her freshman year, our dd realized that her school was no longer a good fit for her. There were some things stated by the director that didn't make sense and some comments that weren't even related to the actual ballet training but more to the business strategy of the school. Having spent a lot of her childhood at the school, it was difficult to accept that she no longer fit at the school and it hurt but the change that occurred after the reality sunk in was definitely for the better. DD was accepted into a much more comprehensive program and thrived. She's now in her 3rd year as a professional dancer. The moral of the story is to listen carefully to what your school is telling you, go on a fact finding mission to see if there is anything that is physically a problem and to see if the school environment is still one where your dd will be given the same opportunity to thrive as others. When you have hard facts from independent sources and a cold hard look at the school environment and the teacher's desire to help, you'll be able to make good decisions.

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Now that I look back over the text conversation I had with DD about this Tuesday evening, and though I did not tell her that they thought her days were numbered, I told her that her teachers think she was always in pain. She said that she sees what chronic pain looks like, and she's not like dad (hubby has chronic back pain which is managed through a pain management practice). She said the only time she was "sorta" in pain was when she tweaked her ankle but it was only swelling not pain. She continued with a comment that her left foot is just stiffer than the right and she needs to stretch it to "catch it up." She assured me that her feet don't hurt, and asked again what they said she should do to improve. I told her that it wasn't really articulated, and her comment was "weird convo."

 

My issue is that (a) they have not said something to her, and/or that they did not say something to me earlier if this was such a concern.

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Three years is a long time to think a dancer is in pain and not say anything, and you went to them. This raises a big red flag in my mind.

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I agree with swanchat and backstagemom. Three years is a long time for an instructor or instructors to think there is a problem and not say anything to you. Even if the issue of pain had occurred only this past year, something should have been said to you as soon as it was noticed.

 

Since you stated that she has been to two different qualified PTs, I would think their opinion should hold some weight. Like swanchat, we have used SIs to gauge where our daughter was and have had access to many dance professionals who have given their honest, unbiased opinion about DD. Is there someone else, another school or physician that is experienced with professional dancers that can evaluation your daughter?

 

Maybe some of my thoughts are clouded by my own DD's experience with the school she grew up in, but as swanchat stated, you have to decided whether the school is still a good fit for your daughter, regardless of the amount of time she has been there. If the director has already written your daughter off, she will not get what she needs. Some schools do produce professional dancers, yet they have certain things they look for, in your school's case, the feet, and if a dancer doesn't possess the quality(ities) they feel are important, they will write the child off. That does not mean that a different school will feel the same about your daughter's abilities and not be able to work with her to become a professional as well. That is why we have so many ballet schools and so many different ballet/dance companies. It would indeed be boring for them all the be the same and look for the exact same thing in a dancer, for example everyone tall or everyone short. If your daughter wants to dance, let her, but let her do so in an environment that is healthy for her and will give her the instruction she needs to be the best she can be. If it turns out that her ankle will be a problem, than so be it, but at least you will have given her a fighting chance and it might be that there isn't a problem there that can't be fixed by the proper exercises.

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After posting this morning, I contacted her Summer Program and asked if I could speak to someone (a teacher, etc.) regarding DDs progress this summer. I guess I was thinking in terms of a second opinion. DD was asked to stay for their year-round program at the most advanced level later the same day as my meeting with the principal, so that may have factored into my inability to wrap my brain around that conversation particularly that evening.

 

This afternoon, her main teacher, who is also Ballet Mistress called me after consulting with the AD there. They have been very pleased with DDs progress there, promoting her to the top level after the first two weeks. The teacher's initial comments focused mainly on DD's port de bras and tension in her neck and upper body. I asked her point blank what they thought of DDs feet, and whether she thought that the stiffness she sees is a physical impediment to her dancing, or if it is a development issue. Her response was, "oh, with that body type, she is stiff all over, but it is nothing that can't be fixed (DD is long and lanky and grew almost 5 inches this past year); she is always going to need to stretch, her feet, her back, her legs." She then asked if DD had just turned 15 or was nearing 16 (she turned 15 last month), and said emphatically that she is very young, and too young to make an ultimate determination of anything because she is most likely still growing. She said if DD was 17 or 18, they would be looking at her differently. She said both she and the director felt that the raw materials were there, that she had a good work ethic, and picked up choreography well. She also pointed out that they accept only 40-60 students total into their year round program, and that there were over 100 who auditioned, with only about 20 offered spots.

 

I do feel somewhat better about swanchat's #1 above as I think that the information I got today was perhaps more objective in that they didn't know any of these kids until five weeks ago, so they are pretty much starting with a blank slate. And ART sounds like it might be helpful.

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