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Large 'big name' pre-pro versus smaller pre-pro

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Chessiesmom - it is really difficult to decide the best route for such a young dancer. Just because someone is talented that doesn't mean that they will want to be a professional dancer. Some young dancers seem to know that this is the path they want even at a very young age. When you read the biographies of some professional dancers they say they fell in love with dance before kindergarten.


However, if you want to give your daughter the chance to have this option, it is a good idea to look at the track record of the school. Do dancers who attended this school become professional dancers or get accepted into prepro schools when they are older? Not just accepted into summer programs but do they actually become professional dancers?


Buzzandmoo is correct that some of the pre pro schools view the younger dancers as a way to fund the school and they focus on the girls who enter the school at a later age. But the same rule applies to the pre pro schools as to the other schools - do the dancers go on to professional careers. At the pre pro school that Buzzandmoo is referring to not many of the young dancers actually become professionals. At that school it might be better to come in at an older age because it is the rare exception to make it through the children's division and into the company. It's almost like it is two schools and the children's division is not very successful in training dancers who get jobs.


So final words of advice - check the track record of the school You wouldn't send your child to a medical school that did not produce licensed doctors or to an engineering school that did not get jobs for their graduates. Think of it the same way, does this school train dancers who get jobs? Not dancers who get into fancy summer programs or college programs but do they get paying jobs with respectable companies?


I hope that is helpful

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  • vagansmom


  • Balletpop


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I have found this thread very helpful, as we are in the process of making a similar decision: large pre-pro vs. smaller pre-pro.


I keep seeing reference to the fact that large pre-pros make huge cuts at around 14 or so, and part of the reason for these cuts is that the training in the lower levels is not the schools' focus (because they know they can always attract talent from around the world for the upper divisions).


Is the reason for these cuts because the training in the lower levels is not very good at these large schools, or is it that the standard of the upper divisions of these schools is at such a high level that statistically there is only so much super-talent locally, hence the desire to bring in the best of the best?


I do know that just because a student is cut from a school does not mean he or she is not a talented dancer, that subjectivity does play a huge role in these decisions. I guess I am just struggling with the allure of the prestige of the large pre-pro idea, and I wonder how the training could be so inadequate when there are accomplished teachers on staff. Why wouldn't the large pre-pros focus on the younger years? Why wouldn't they teach with the best syllabus with gusto? Is it just a money-maker because they know they are eventually going to bring in kids from around the world? If you have to audition to get in when you are little, isn't that saying something about potential? In Russia or Europe, do the schools eventually cut just as much as in the US? I'm just confused!


Thank you!

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est - I think it is a little of all of the above. The older divisions usually have students from around the country or the world so there is not room for all the younger ones coming up through the school. That said, there are many advantages to going to a pre pro school even if it does not end up with a place in the company. In a pre pro school you are surrounded by other dancers with talent. There are professional dancers around to learn from and it gives the younger dancer a chance to see what company life is all about. The level of discipline in the classes is high as these dancers are more serious. Many times there are opportunities to dance child roles with the professional company too. I guess the risk is that they might eventually ask your dancer to leave the school and that can be very unsettling. It does not mean that their career is over but just that this is not the company for this particular student.


Another thing to consider is that it gets harder and harder to get into these schools as the dancer gets older. So if you have your foot in the door it might be wise to go for it and see what happens.

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Balletpop....spot on advice! :clapping:


I'd only like to add....listen to your gut. Try to tune out the "noise" (reputation is the noisiest! LOL) My only regret was 3 years ago my gut told me to pull my DD out and go small, and local. Instead, I listened to the "noise" and now we are making the move later. Thankfully, she is VERY motivated, and happy to move on. Also the school she was at has a terrible track record for injuries in the children's division and she is (thankfully!) injury free and very strong. I would also like to add to Degagirl's comment that last year when my DD went away for the first time, she also encountered DK's who did not go to the "big name" but were further along than she was. Sometimes "big name" does not equate with better.

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If you attend a year end showcase, gala, workshop, or recital at any of the large company affiliated schools, it isn't uncommon to see the dwindling numbers as you move up the levels. In our case, going from 2 large classes per level in the younger children's division to one smaller class per level in advanced levels, with progressively smaller numbers the higher you go. With fewer slots available, and a larger pool of talent including dancers literally from around the world vying for admittance, there just are not enough slots for everyone who started at a school in the lower levels who may want to stay.


Deciding when to move is a tough decision, it was recommended to us by a teacher at a rec program that we move our DK to a specific company associated school when she was 8. We were not convinced that this was the right thing to do so did not audition and asked for a second recommendation. We were guided to a small local non company affiliated school with good technique and some past success with dancers making it to professional companies. At 14, we made the switch to the company affiliated school via audition. In retrospect, maybe we should have made the switch one year earlier. Our DK had developed some bad habits that had gone uncorrected and her core was not as strong as it should have been. That said, the experience at the smaller school was positive and our DK may have been lost in the larger school at the earlier ages - a bit shy and at that age, easily stepped on by pushy kids.


Remember no decision is final. Good luck.

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Thank you, all three, for your advice! You are the best!!! :)


We are betwixt and between. Our child knows some kids at the big school, which is a social draw. So many factors. Ugh. And buzzandmoo, oh, I wish I could understand my gut! It seems to be speaking gibberish to me--making me sick. Ha!


Thanks so much for your help. You've given us a lot of factors to ponder. We just want to make the right decisions early on in the game, but as Coco notes, "No decision is final." Perhaps we just need to keep that in mind. We will figure it out!


Thanks again!

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As Buzzandmoo said, when DD went away for the first time last year, it was shocking to see girls from so called "no name, little schools" from anywhere, more advanced than someone from the "big name" school. The SI experiences for us have proved to be very eye opening to this for us.

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Here's another perspective: My daughter attended a small pre-pro school, no company attached, from 1989 - 2004, starting when she was 4 years old. In the early years, they had only one or two students who were not home-grown, but who came from elsewhere as young teens and were living with host families. An important note is that this was during the time when girls soccer was just beginning to get started. It wasn't anywhere near as popular as it is now.


Her pre-pro has always offered top-notch ballet training. Their dancers were getting contracts at ABT, Washington Ballet and many other ballet companies, although not NYC Ballet which takes its dancers from the high levels of SAB, which as we all know, is made up mostly of talented dancers from elsewhere, not their own ranks. Only a couple of dancers from this, at that time, small pre-pro school left to train at SAB or elsewhere during their teen years. What's notable is that nearly all of the few who did leave early ended up becoming professional dancers at the company they later trained with. They all rose to soloist and in one case, principal dancers. Their home training, before they entered those big-name schools mid-high school, was that good: they were getting contracts even though the bulk of their training had been Vaganova, not Balanchine.


But something interesting happened: Remember when I mentioned girls soccer? Well, it became so huge in the area where the small pre-pro is located that in the early 2000's, they started to lose many young girls to soccer. Fewer enrolled in the first place. Some quit early on, while still in the creative movement level, to take up soccer. So the school's home-grown ranks became smaller. By the time my daughter was a senior in high school, gymnastics and fencing had also become even more popular in the area, offering yet more competition for ballet schools and all requiring the same amount of dedication: GREAT choices finally available to girls, but not so great for ballet schools.


Also, during my daughter's years at her pre-pro, they got serious about having boarding students and they built a phenomenal ballet facility, housing state-of-the-art studios and dorm rooms. My daughter's high school contemporaries were a mix of home-grown and boarders from afar. Who were the best dancers? Hands down, the home-grown bunch. Who improved the most during the high school years? The boarding students, because they had the farthest to go in their training, but finally were at a school with excellent training.


Then came the economic crash. Many families tightened their belts and stopped sending their kids to expensive ballet lessons, preferring to stay within the public schools' extra-curricular offerings. MANY ballet companies opened SI's and/or year-round schools, thus competing with the SI's that had been in business for years. Right around that time, too, many ballet companies started requiring that dancers hoping to join their company enroll for their SI; that was a stroke of genius for them because it ensured a steady flow of dancers to their SI's. But it dug into the enrollment of the ballet schools with excellent training who were not attached to companies.


So, all these years later - a full 11 years after my daughter's graduation from high school - the ballet school she attended still has very high standards of ballet training. But their ratio of home-grown to boarders is much different; now they mostly have boarding students. Their boarding population doesn't have as many standout ballet students as it did in my daughter's day because those dancers want to attend the schools opened by the ballet companies. But this non-company-attached pre-pro in a small rural town is still turning out professional dancers, not as many as when my daughter attended, but it's even more remarkable because the early training of most of these boarding students was not anywhere near the caliber of the training received by the home-growns of my daughter's day and the job market is now weaker. That's how good the training is.


I used to say, back when my daughter was a dancing student, that you should look carefully at what happens to ballet school graduates: Do they go on to ballet contracts? How many? But I've been changing my thinking about it because the best training isn't necessarily at the schools who have the greatest number of dancers receiving contracts. The best training is also at the schools where the students improve phenomenally despite not necessarily having the "right body type" or early training.

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Vagansmom - you make some really good points. Most importantly at 11 it is difficult to tell whether or not a child will want to become a professional dancer and whether or not they will actually have the capability to become one. There are lots of "talented" children who never become professionals. So part of the decision about pre-pro vs. local school should include the quality of life for the child and the family. Is the dancer willing to spend hours in the car each week to attend the pre-pro school and miss out on many activities at school, with friends, etc? Is the family ready to change their lifestyle to accommodate the commute? Is the training really better or not? Can the dancer handle the requirements of school?


When a dancer is so young and chooses to attend a pre-pro school the family might think they can handle the commute two or three days a week. But the schedule starts to increase and pretty soon the commute is daily and at the same time the demands outside of ballet are increasing - more homework, friends, etc. If the dancer is lucky enough to be chosen for the child roles with NYC Ballet or ABT there may be rehearsals that conflict with school and trips into NYC in the evening.


On the flip side, it is very difficult to get into the famous three letter schools in NYC and the dancer might regret the decision down the road if they do decide that ballet is their passion and they want a career. Passing up the opportunity to attend SAB or JKO might come back to haunt them when they are older. A dancer might even be angry with a parent for making the decision to pass up this opportunity. I wonder how many dancers regret that they attended these schools even if they did not make it into the company? Or anyone out there who passed up the opportunity?


Anybody want to comment on these issues?

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Part of what has made the transition to a smaller, better studio is the fact that quite a few dancers from my DD's school in the upper levels roll the dice so to speak and hope for that apprentice spot (generally just 2 dancers) and lose. Many have no plan B. The school (although on it's website it's the contrary) does not stress academics. Many graduating have allowed academics to slip and although on paper they have been offered spots in companies the harsh fact is many are not dancing professionally in 18 months. Those are not good statistics for the sacrifices necessary for us to stay there. At 13 I have no magic ball to predict which path my DD will eventually choose, all I can do is give her the tools (good academics, good training and as much of a normal teenage life dance will allow) so that she can have choices. In my opinion, a "big name" will NOT give her that. It might work for someone else :nixweiss: I would also like to add, her particular "big name" has been in various articles (NY Times for one) for it's obvious policy of treating the children's division as a cash machine and other schools may not be quite like it.

Also I have heard of a situation that is EXACTLY what Balletpop asked but it is secondhand info.....

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Buzz and Moo - I understand your frustration right now and many of your comments are very valid. It is really true that it is difficult to keep up with the school work for some dancers. It also is difficult to transition from these schools but leaving SAB or JKO certainly does not mean that your career aspirations are over.


However, most of the dancers at these schools are highly driven and many attend Professional Children's School which enables them to balance their academics and dance training. If they choose to go to college the dance experience often helps them get scholarships and into very prestigious schools, including Harvard. We know of several cases of dancers deferring Harvard to accept an apprenticeship and many current and former NYCBallet dancers are studying at Fordham and Columbia. While it is true that very few make it to NYC Ballet or ABT, they do get jobs. The JKO and SAB websites keep alumni lists posting where there dancers end up.


The dilemma is whether it is wiser to enter these schools at a young age in the children's division or whether it is better to get the best training you can get and audition at an older age, ( remembering that it gets more difficult to get in as you get older because the competition comes from a wider geographical area.) Once you have made it to the advanced division your chances of finding a job with a company are improved. You get much more exposure to opportunities. Directors from other companies even come to the school to look at the advanced students. These schools have a lot of connections around the world and they can help their students get looked at by company directors. They don't usually have to attend open auditions to get looked at by many companies.

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NOTE....my comments are specific to my DIRECT experience with the other three letter school (not ABT) only.


Just saying that the published lists do not tell the real story, but the one that the school would like the world to see. It is marketing plain and simple. All marketing and advertising is BASED on fact. The other sad and extremely true FACT is virtually NONE of those graduating students (I believe currently at NYCB there is 1 corps member who started in the children's division) were there in the children's division. By the advanced levels (C1, C2 and D) almost the entire class is made up of non-Balanchine trained dancers who go there to get the "style" and potentially a job. Like Degasgirl said, it is a harsh reality to discover that the "big name" is really only mediocre in the lower levels.


As for the connections, it's like any performing art.....you must be one of the chosen ones (money, politics and nepotism) to really benefit from the "connections". At the school we are tacitly discussing, in the lower levels, talent has very little to do with anything. Talent does count, but later....15,16,17. Not (unfortunately) at 11,12,13.


In my opinion, if you have a motivated aspiring dancer, you need to seek out the best for them NOW. Gambling at age 11 for hopes at 17 is like hoping your trip to Vegas will make you a millionaire! LOL


Having never had a taste for KoolAid, I did not partake of the beverage while at that school for 5 LONG years! LOL Bitter....not really, just harshly realistic, and for that I apologize.

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I think there are actually several dancers currently in NYCB who started at age 12 or earlier, Jenny Somogyi (Principal), Lydia Wellington, Mary Elizabeth Sell, Jenelle Manzi, Ralph Ippolito, Ghaleb Kayali, Gwyneth Mulller, Austin Bachman, Ashley Hod, Cameron Dieck, Tiler Peck (Principal), Megan Mann, Amar Ramasar (Principal). From skimming over the bios of NYCB, these are the only ones that I could spot who started in the Children's DIvision, but there might be more. So this does show that some of the dancers from the Children's Division do make it to the company.




The other question is what happens to the dancers who are asked to leave. Do dancers who were asked to leave go on to join companies? Would anyone like to share their success story?

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I think the distinguishing factor that buzzandmoo is making is that there are very few SAB "homegrown" NYCB dancers. For example, Tiler Peck was trained by Russians as a child and did not enter SAB until age 12-13. Technically she is not from the Children's Division of SAB.

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Thank you....also to further clarify, if you remove the boys (because we all know the rules in the ballet world are VERY different for boys) that list goes down dramatically. Also NYCB keeps dancers on the roster even if they haven't danced in recent memory...some might be injured but many are just "lost" LOL Also, to fine tune the point I was attempting to make (and not well! LOL) the dancers who are picked to come to the school in the upper levels usually have a meteoric rise to Principal, whereas the dancers who started from the beginning tend to take longer if never make it beyond soloist.


Please do not misinterpret....as a business model it works REALLY well. SAB has one of the best "reputations" in the world. I even understand and respect the need to bring in the best talent to maintain a world class company. What I personally have issue with is the factory approach to the children's division. Considering the conservatory style audition process that the children are given, one would expect the school to invest an equal amount of care and attention in developing those children that they profess to screen so carefully. Instead they cut every year as the levels go up to accommodate a new influx of dancers that have had more consistent training and hands on teaching. For the best interests of my DD, a smaller setting with teachers who are actually trained to teach means all the world for her dance future. If I could "time-machine" back, I would have gone with my gut and kept her small and local and brought her to SAB as an older student....ces't la vie! LOL She is happy now, and excited for her future.


FYI, none of the newer instructors do any actual training, they simply watch a few classes then start teaching. These same instructors......do not teach beyond Girls 5.....coincidence? I think not.

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