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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Need some advice


finallykf

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I need some advice (any teachers out there would be particularly helpful). My son is almost 12, has been dancing since he was 8 - appearantly showed natural talent early on and has always been placed in levels with girls who are, on average, 2 years older than him.

 

He is a great kid. Straight A student, in the advanced program at school, takes classes one grade ahead of the grade he is in, is a leader in his church group. He always gets comments about how mature he is. He is also a BOY. He likes Star Wars, video games, doing stuff outside, hanging out with his guy friends, etc.

 

There are only three other boys at his studio. One several years older who is (and I say this meaning absolutely no disrespect, it's just his personality - very feminine and not interested in anything that boys are traditionally interested in outside of dance). The other two are younger, and raised in a culture that has taught them to be extremely stoic - basically don't show any kind of personality, no facial expressions, they don't speak to anyone, etc.

 

My son is very well behaved and is what I would consider a typical boy (if there is such a thing!). However he is the first boy to have grown up at our studio (the older came from another studio). Unfortunately I wonder if his personality is being compared to that of the other boys because subsequently he keeps getting comments about his "behavior" from the AD. The director of the school has also said things to me about his "behavior" but I haven't been able to get any kind of specific details about what they are talking about. Neither has my son. My son continues to be cast in lead roles in productions. The only thing that we can figure out is that he doesn't pick up choreography super fast. But even several of the girls in his class have made the comment that if they make a mistake with choreography the AD just gets annoyed that they messed up. When my son makes a mistake with choreography he gets a lecture about how he can't focus and is poorly behaved. Even the girls don't understand.

 

On almost a daily basis at the end of the day, the AD will make a comment to him like "Your behaior was good today." "Your behavior was better today." etc. He is puzzled, we are puzzled. My son is starting to feel bad about himself because he doesn't understand what he is doing wrong. His teachers are constantly telling me what a great job he is doing in class and how much he is improving (he made huge improvements over the summer). He has started talking about quitting because of the "behavior" comments. He says he will have a really good day where he will feel really good about his classes and then the AD will tell him "Your behavior was better today" as he is walking out of the dressing room and then he just feels like dirt.

 

I don't know what to do. Our AD is not exactly the most approachable person when you disagree with her. I don't have any problem with her needing to deal with it if my son is misbehaving. But we can't seem to find a "behavior" issue, and even on days when he DOESN'T seem to have the questionable behavior problem he is reminded of it with an assesment of his behavior at the end of the day. Which I guess is supposed to be a positive thing, but really only reminds my son that he is considered a behavior problem?

 

My husband is wondering if we are going to have to change schools if, for some reason, my son has been labeled a behavior problem and it doesn't seem like that label is ever going to go away.

 

I am not the type to want to complain or make a big deal so I'm not sure what to do. When they have talked to me about it before I have tried to get specifics but have never been given any - have just been told "there was an incident during rehearsal or in class" "he wasn't paying attention." And "wasn't paying attention"= messed up the choreography, not "was screwing around in the corner." I have said I will talk to him, and every single time it was that he messed up the choreography or the combination and got yelled at. Yet he is still given major parts in productions???

 

Any suggestions on how to handle this? We really don't want to change studios but it is making my son feel terrible about himself.

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You know, I hate to say this, but if you can find a school where there are more/have been more boys with teachers who understand boys, your son will be better served.

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I think you should set up a conference with the AD and be as candid as possible about your concerns. Get specifics about "incidents" that have shaped their perception of his behavior. If the communication isn't welcomed by the AD it may be time to find another studio, but talk to the AD first.

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I would ask for a meeting with the AD to discuss your son's progress, his "behavior" and AD's take on it. I find it that sometimes when I ask questions, matters get dissolved by themselves, but when I keep uncomfortably quiet things are pilling up on top of each other. But, just in case, are there any other studios that you might want to consider in your area?

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as a mother of a 14yo DS what I hear when I read your message is that the AD is not comfortable with boys/ doesn't like boys etc etc. Our previous AD wasn't comfortable with boys who aren't young children but actually young men. Who knows why that is but it is one of the reasons I am eternally glad we left. There was a different set of messages being given to my DS (a WHOLE other story) but I think that how our boys are treated is crucial (I know that is stating the obvious) but being surrounded by women can have its problems. DS could never put his finger on what was 'wrong' with the way the previous AD treated him but it made him feel uncomfortable. So we left for lots of reasons but in hindsight, this was the most crucial one. I agree with the other posters that it is worth hearing what she has to say but in the end it may not matter. Where ever these ideas come from is deep seated and IMO are unlikely to change. My view is that it is hard enough to be a young man in ballet without 'weirdness' going on. Now that DS is with a male AD and very straight forward adults (plus a couple other teenage boys), it feels like we are back on normal ground and can focus on the dancing.

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I agree with previous advice - have a frank talk with the AD. If they cannot or will not explain what their problem is with your son, then walk away and go somewhere else. 12 is such a crucial time in a boy's life where everything can come crashing down - hormones, middle school, etc. If it has gotten so bad, to the point of him wanting to quit, then something needs to drastically change. There are so few boys in ballet as it is, it would be an absolute shame for your son to quit because of 1 person. My son is the only boy at his studio. There were 3 when we moved to the studio we are now but, for various reasons, they have moved on. I had hoped, moving to this studio, my son would find guy dance friends who were like him. Unfortunately he didn't, but what he did gain is an AD who believes in him and goes out of her way to give him the best training and opportunities possible. He can deal with being the only boy, but he could not deal with an AD who constantly put him down or held him back like his previous studio.

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Personally I would be considering a move if there is any alternative place to get training and especially if you can find a male teacher. Reasons for this:

1. You can of course talk to the AD but it seems to me that if she can't cope with a normal boy, she isn't going to change no matter what you say- e.g. she can stop herself from explicitly mentioning his behaviour but she won't be able to stop herself from feeling irritated if he doesn't focus in the same way as the girls (even if this is just her perception and not actually true), and he will pick up on this even if she doesn't speak about it. We can all read body language too well for anyone but a consumate actor to be able to hide their feelings.

2. Our DS's wonderful teacher (who adores boys and is great at keeping them focused) still encouraged him to apply to vocational school aged 12/13 as she was insistent that boys need to be taught by a man...if you look at all the top vocational ballet school in the world I doubt you'll find any where the boys are taught by women which seems to bear this out...

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My DS is now 16 and has danced since he was 6. Started out at his older sisters studio with mixed results. Many ballet teachers just aren't comfortable or experienced with boys - an this studio had about 5! Some of his female teachers were wonderful, but by a certain age they need more.

 

Your son sounds like mine.......loved dance but all boy at the same time. We moved him when he was 13 and have not been sorry. The AD from his old school wasn't thrilled, but she understood it was time to move on. Please find a male teacher experienced training boys if you can. It will make a tremendous difference in your son's experience and training. His men's class has guys drive in from all over, even if its just the one night. At least maybe you can find something similar for your DS.

 

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My son has a cohort of approximately 15 boys in his age range and we couldn't be happier about the numbers. They hang out together between classes and have an after performance life as rich as the girls. The social aspect is so important, esp when regular school peers see boys who dance as "different". I would recommend looking at other programs with more boys in his age range.

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You've received lots of good advice here. The most important thing is to have a good teacher who understands your son and can instruct him effectively. My son is 13 and was in classes with lots of boys when he was younger, but we moved and he's been the only boy in his class for the past two years. But his teachers are fantastic and he loves it. He gets to be with other boys when he joins the company classes periodically, and he enjoyed some men's classes at RDA and his studio summer intensive, so he at least he has that.

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Regretfully this seems to be a problem in both the regular classroom and in dance class. Boys' natural behavior tends to get on teachers' nerves more than girls' natural behavior. I see it firsthand at my son's dance school. ALL the boys there display typical "boy" behavior and thus are reprimanded much more than the "typical" girls (although the more rambunctious girls are reprimanded a lot as well). I would SO much prefer to find a school where there was a male teacher, or at least one that offered an all-boy class, but there is none close to here.

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I can not tell you how important we have found it to have a male teacher for our 14yo DS. He encourages 'maleness' and my DS now dances like a man- not a weird version of a woman. It has changed his dancing completely and his confidence is much higher. Our male teacher is v masculine and has lots of typical male interests. It has been a real gift but I can see that we have been extremely lucky to find him. I guess without him, we would just make a point of finding summer programs with male teachers to tide him over.

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  • 3 months later...

This is one of those posts where I feel the need to check and make sure I didn't post the original! Such a tough situation and SO dependent upon the specific DS. Very few boys at our studio and only one male student more advanced than my son. I see my son at the point of needing other more advanced male dancers to serve as role models and raise expectations in classes. Unfortunately even though he is in "Pre-Pro" group, their main instructors keep leaving and he's losing ground due to inconsistencies and no one really pushing him. It sounds as if you have received very sound advice and I agree with having the private discussion with the AD. Just be sure you have your plan B in place if you receive a negative response and she doesn't change HER behavior with your DS. I also think it is VERY important that the choreography for performances be very masculine or our DSs will eventually stop dancing. Most of our choreography is now done by women who are not respectful to male dancers and either choreography combinations identical to the females, have them stand in a pose while the ladies dance around them, or just use them to lift the girls - even when they are too young to do so. This is a perfect example of why I believe DSs need to go to "boy-rich" SI's.

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Unfortunately we are having to look at plan B - the problem is there isn't a plan B in our area so we are trying to figure out how to make plan B happen for our son. Hoping that a SI might open some kind of door for him this summer - at least help us in finding a place where he might like to do his year round training so we can then figure out how to get him there.

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So sorry to hear. Were you able to have the private meeting? Not sure what your area is, but we drive 40 minutes to 1:10 each way for classes for my DS and we've known others who commuted up to 2 hours each way (lots of time for school work or sleep). Hope he hasn't stopped dancing altogether.

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