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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Levels in training boys


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Now that it's audition season, I have a question about levels. In my DS's (15) current pre-professional school, there are 3 levels and they are color coded. They used to be numbered 1-3, with level 1 being the highest level, but they were concerned about students feeling badly, so they changed the numbers to colors. The levels are based on skill and a little on age. My DS is the middle level. A year ago, he auditioned for SI's in Houston and Washington and was placed in Level 5. He was 14 at the time.


I'm curious what ages your sons are/were in and what level they were at. Did it change based on ability, or did they grow? I ask this because my DS is a late bloomer and has finally gotten taller (and developed muscles!) this year. Also, how quickly did your sons change levels. Do some boys move a level each year, every other year, or move up two levels in a year? I know there is not one "norm," but I would be interested to hear everyone's particular story.

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I find it varies quite a bit. My guys have stayed in a level twice and also moved up mid year. It just depends when it comes together for them. They got split off from the other boys with a bunch of them moving up this year. That was hard because of how few boys there are. I think it was accurate though as I think in the past they tried to keep the boys together (other teachers) and it was too high a level for them last year. Most parents yell and scream, but I trust the teachers to do the right thing by them. I don't want them pushed too hard and injured.

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It would be hard to say since levels are so different from studio to studio. For example - there are 3 levels at your studio whereas there were 8 at my son's old pre-pro studio. So I'm guessing there is a much higher likelihood that students at your studio must repeat levels or in 3 years they would be expected to have completed their entire pre-professional ballet training. Unless your studio doesn't start "pre-professional" levels until the kids are around high school age? If that's the case, again, that makes it even harder to compare since our old studio started kids in the "pre-pro" track at 8 and pulled them out as they weren't progressing as necessary for a professional career.


My son both skipped levels and repeated a level. The year he repeated a level was the year he made the most progress both technically, artistically, and motivationally. He knew he was not ready to move up and was fine with repeating the level and he agrees it was the best thing that ever happened for his training.


I have always trusted where the teachers have placed my son and have tried not to compare. Especially with boys whose body development can affect so much of their training. Not just "holding back" a late bloomer but affecting an extremely talented dancer when he goes through a sudden growth spurt and has to get used to dancing in his "new" body - sometimes it seems like they have to learn things all over again.

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Yes, to clarify - my son's pre-professional school includes only high school students. There are three levels and the oldest students are never in the lowest level.

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My son dances in a performing arts high school which is extended day and includes 15 hours of dance at school per week. There are 5 levels currently (with talk of adding a 6th level). When he tested at the beginning of this school year after attending a solid SI program he was pleased that he was able to skip a level....so good progress.

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Just a teacher reaction...it might be that an older student may not have been placed in a lower level recently however as a lower level teacher in a prominent residential program, I would like to say, never say never.

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I havent given this much consideration because we have changed studios a couple times and each seem to handle it differently. Our last couple of studios have emphasised that the students can learn something from every class they attend, regardless of the level. I am guessing you might also be asking about generic rates of improvement though? What i have learned is that boys afe limited by their rate of gaining strength and physical maturity- something uncontrollable. DS is 16, tall and lean. Muscles are there but only just recently. His male teacher has said that DS wont be physically mature in ballet terms for another 4 or 5 years. This means that that there will be choreography he wont be resdy to do until then- the big lifts and jumps. Other guys are already strong but perhaps not as tall. DS has to get a handle on his long limbs too! So it is complicated and individual i guess.

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Thyme - such a great point about learning something in all levels! My son now goes to a very well known full time ballet program but because he has just turned 13 he is still required to take a few VERY basic technique classes each week - so basic there are actually kids as young as 7 and 8 in the class. But it was explained to him that because his body is still growing he NEEDS that slower, basic class to really focus on basic technique and give his growing body a break from all the new, intense things it is doing that it has never done before and the teacher for those classes is excellent! And one of his old teachers used to remind him that it is not uncommon to see company dancers take class with the more advanced students at the associates school when they feel they need to work on something - sometimes if their dancing feels "off" they decide to take some easier classes to focus on the basics for awhile.

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Well that has certainly been the message my DS has been given. Going 'back' a few steps makes it possible to really focus on elements like your porte bras or single pirouettes. DS has grown so much in the last few years that he has had to relearn where is body is in space. This hasnt 'set him back' so much as forced him to slow down and go back to some first principles. His male teacher says that this will keep happening if he keeps growing. In addition his musculature can't fill out that body at the same rate he grows in height so these classes are invaluable. I think it is also humbling to take the more introductory classes and battle along with much younger dancers. Word is that Margot Fonteyn used to take classes which were in some way more 'basic' to work on her technique or something like that (I say this with some caution as I am sure I dont have it quite right but you get the idea). To me, this type of ballet wisdom is really out of step with modern culture- the push to get better as fast as possible. Very old world. I love how it builds character and depth.

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Our studio has 5 levels of ballet. My son started in Level 3 a year ago - and now takes classes in Level 3, 4 and 5. I think it's good to push yourself at times and other times, it's best to slow down and focus on the basics. Interesting comments about how boys may need to "relearn" things as they bodies go through growth spurts. Our son hasn't gone through a real growth spurt yet (his triplet sisters tower over him) - his AD is watching and waiting (he turns 14 this week). I learn so much from this board - very grateful.

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It has been so interesting and reassuring to hear your comments! When I last visited my DS's school (he boards, so I am far away), all the teachers made it a point to stress to me that girls mature faster than boys and that we cannot expect our boys to be able to do some of the same things as their female counterparts. Knowing that my son is a late bloomer, doesn't seem to help with the anxiety that other boys his age can do things my DS cannot. However, as many of you have indicated, their technique work is so important during this stage, and if they can work to perfect their steps, eventually everything will come together. My DS's ballet master told me that his muscles will come and when they do, he will be able to do all the big "manly" stuff.

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Levels are pretty interesting. My son was in "Level 3" for three summers in a row, despite the fact that he was a much better dancer each summer.


At age 13, he was in Level 3 at Ballet Austin's SI. Level 3 was their lowest summer level and had 12-13 year old boys.


At age 14, he had improved tremendously. He was placed in Level 3 at Ballet West. This was the 2nd highest level (there were Levels 1-4), and his studio-mates were mainly around 16 years old.


At age 15, he returned to Ballet West. He had improved a lot during that year, so he had wondered if he might be moved up to Level 4. However, BW's summer program had become more popular and the general talent level had increased a lot. He was in Level 3 again, but found the Level 3 dancers to be a higher caliber than the previous years' Level 3.


So, he spent 3 years in a row in Level 3 during the summer.


For year-round, he has done a combination of Houston Ballet Academy and a small local school that follows the R.A.D. syllabus. I have found that HBA's leveling is quite similar to to the RAD leveling, so it's been a smooth transition. Here's his ages & levels--


Age 8-- Level 1 (HBA)

Age 9-- Level 2 (HBA)

Age 10-- Level 2, again (Local)

Age 11-- Level 3 (Local)

Age 12-- Level 4 (Local)

Age 13-- Level 5 (Local)

Age 14-- RAD Intermediate (Local)

Age 15-- Level 7 (HBA)


He is pretty sure that next year (age 16) he will be in HBA's Level 7 again, and then it will probably be on to HBA's Level 8, their highest academy level.

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