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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Private lessons only?


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My son started dancing when he was 5 for about 6 months, but due to several moves (military family), he was unable to continue until we settled down for a few years when he turned 11. He has been dancing at this current studio for a close to two years now and I'm just not thrilled with it. The owner is always complaining about the lack of money that the studio is bringing in, but at just about every recital, she publicly gives the volunteers and their families free classes for life. She usually asks for donations and what-not to pay for bills and such. Anyway, it gets old after a while. The instructors are not paid and therefore, after a semester or so, the teachers get overwhelmed and burned out and then they quit, which means there is a huge turn-over of instructors, some as young as 11 years old, but many of them in the 16-19 age range. He has had a different teacher for each 4 month block of classes.


This past February, a new instructor was brought in for a few classes. He has danced professionally all over Europe and currently teachers many of the professional dancers all over Germany. This was the first male instructor my son has had and he LOVED him! The instructor was very strict and very focused on technique. Many of the students were left in tears because he told them things they didn't want to hear and after years of them being told how wonderful they are, it hurt when he told them that they had problems that he was trying to help them fix. My son liked the fact that he was very focused on helping the students get better.

In true fashion, this instructor is also leaving the studio at the end of this month. Many of the parents are taking their children out of this studio due to so many issues with the owner. My son's instructor has offered to take him on as a private student, which thrills my son (but not my bank account). My concern is that due to the lack of schools in this area, he will only be taking the private lessons. Is this wise or should we look for another school even though it may mean that we have to drive 1-2 hours away?

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While I am not a big fan of private lessons, it does sound as if you may have to give this a try, at least for a while. Have you Googled this fellow to check on his background? Are you certain of his references? Isn't there a way you might find another young man your son's age who might have an interest to take the classes as well. In this way your son would not be a lone and he would have another student to see and learn a bit. If there is not another young man, maybe a young lady. This is not perfect, but again, better than solely private lessons.

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Thank you vrsfanatic for your comment/suggestion. While I say "private lessons", either myself or my husband would be there. Over the past few years, my son has made little cards inviting his friends to class with him and at one point, the owner said that if she had a minimum of 8 boys, she would create a special class for them. As of now, there are only 3-4 boys, with my son being the oldest and the others being in the pre-ballet programs. And yes, the instructor he is currently taking from is highly known and well regarded in this area.

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Being highly known and well regarded in your area does not necessarily mean his credentials are true. I still suggest, do research.

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You mentioned that you could potentially drive quite a distance to another studio. Is that a good pre-pro studio? Many parents I have known have had to drive over an hour each way to get to a good pre-pro studio - while it isn't the best scenario sometimes it might be the best option at a certain point in their child's training. For the first 4 years of my son's training our studio was 40 minutes away in good traffic but an hour or more away in bad traffic, so I understand how difficult all that driving can be!! In the end however, I am glad we decided to have him attend that studio and get good, solid technical training early on.


While I don't think private lessons are necessarily bad, I think that when kids are still young they learn so much from being in a class setting and hearing other students receiving corrections. That way they are incorporating their own corrections as well as those that other students receive. Plus, from my own son's experience, ballet became such an enormous part of his life that he ended up not being able to relate as well to the kids at his academic school so the kids at his ballet school all became his very best friends. His primary place of socialization was the ballet studio.


I would also wonder whether your son would have opportunities to perform if he is only going to take private lessons? I know my son would have missed out on so much had he not had the opportunity to perform in the annual Nutcracker production and Spring ballet as well as the other performances some of the students did in the community. Those types of things are also very important for a ballet education. Your son might have opportunities to audition for other studio or company productions so that might not be an issue.


You could always have him try out a class or two at the studio that is farther away and see what he thinks. If there isn't a male teacher there and the studio is open to the idea, you could always supplement his training at that studio with one or two private lessons with this male teacher as long as the training styles won't conflict and confuse him.

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I completely agree that you need to check the male teacher's credentials. We had a very bad experience with a 'well known super duper' teacher who my DS initially liked. She was v focused on technique, told us about her impressive credentials and was well known in town. As time went by, I realised yes she was well known but not in a good way. None of these people offered to warn me because they didn't want problems with her. A few of us checked her credentials and to say she was a fraud would be an understatement. My alarm bells go off now when a teacher brags about their background and is offering a whole lot of private attention to a dancer. I hope none of this is true in your situation but if a teacher doesn't have photos and certificates on the wall of themselves in performances, I do my own research now.


I think that there is also a risk of a dancer being exposed to negative emotional stuff when they are alone with a teacher like this all or most of the time. This teacher I have told you of almost cost my DS his future career (or at least the potential of having one). All I am saying is to check it all out. Without their peers around to bounce ideas off of, our dancers are vulnerable. Most have been taught to be obedient and not question their mentors.


Personally I wouldn't sign up for only private classes unless it was a very temporary arrangement. I would rather drive as a temporary arrangement until something better came along.

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