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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Has this ever happened to your DD


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Hi everyone,

I am posting this because, after 6 months, I still wake up in the middle of the night grieving over the year my DD had last year, over the person she used to be, analyzing every moment, searching in vain for the point in time when everything started going wrong.


The year before last, my now 15 year old DD was doing great, was one of the "favorites" in her level. She auditioned for summer intensives and was accepted to some selective ones, then was invited to attend an intensive with only 11 students by a nationally renowned teacher. She spent the summer loving it - all her communication to me was highly positive. Back home in the Fall, she started coming home from the studio down on herself, crying because "nothing was working". She said she would work so hard but nothing about her body would fall into place. I told her she was probably just going through a difficult phase, give it some time, her body was probably growing (indeed - she grew about 4 inches last year), etc.... I checked in with her teacher over the summer, asking if she was struggling during the intensive and the teacher said she did great and worked hard. Now basically the only progress report you receive on your DD during the year from her studio is the casting list which, when it came out, told me that indeed - my DD was not exaggerating - she was really not doing well.


I contacted the director via email, asking what was going on and her response was a short note saying my DD was struggling. I set up a conference to discuss what was going on exactly and to find out if there was anything we could do to help, etc... Unfortunately, at the conference, the director reversed herself and said everything was completely fine. I asked her to talk to my daughter because she didn't feel like everything was fine and apparently, they did - telling her she was not trying. This message absolutely devastated my daughter because she was working SO HARD and absolutely nothing was working and she had no idea how to fix it. She was so completely shocked by the message that all she could say was "ok". Of course she didn't share this with me until much later because she was so ashamed of herself. Next thing I know, my daughter is miserable, is being ignored in classes, her friends have taken the cue from her teachers and have rejected her completely. She is coming home in tears after most classes. She begins to hate herself and her dancing and to believe the teachers that it must be all her fault, that she is not trying that she is a bad dancer with no hope.


All during this time, I am trying to communicate with her teachers to find out their perspective or if there was something my DD did... or anything! ... to absolutely no avail. It was an extremely upsetting, emotional time for all of us as we were watching my daughter lose her spirit completely. I still have no idea what happened and feel like our family has been run over by a hit and run.


Fast forward to today and she is no longer at that studio, dancing at a more recreational studio with a modern dance bent. She loves her classes and her teachers but she has, to this day, not regained her confidence in her dance or even in her ability to make dancer friends. Her new teachers have told her she is a beautiful dancer and is doing well but she doesn't entirely believe them - she thinks they are "just being nice". Her spirit is still damaged which breaks my heart completely.


I am posting this to see if this kind of thing has ever happened to any of your DDs?? Just in case your experience can shed some light on what I am missing as to what happened last year??? Also as a possible cautionary tale, I guess.


Thanks for listening

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SCB, I didnt want to read and not post. Something similar happened to my dd as well, not the exact same situation, but the loss of confidence. She quit dance, but I have convinced her to take 1 (!) class a week. Different circumstances, but same result. After several months I still struggle with her decision, especially after I am told by one of her old teachers that she had too much potential to quit.


This may be a case that our DKs do not have the required resiliency to "make it". I dont know I dont think there are any easy answers. Its not any easier though.

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Hugs to you and your daughter. Yes, things like this happened to DD a couple of times during her journey. I don't have much time right now to go into it all (and not sure I really want to repeat it all as both incidents--one more serious than the other---were discussed way back when). It is tricky and different approaches are needed for different circumstances.


You tried to talk it through with the teacher, which is the first thing I would have done (and did). When that didn't work, you changed schools to give her a more positive environment, which is the second thing I would have done (and did). That is still not getting her back on her feet, so the next thing I would do is have her see a child psychologist who specializes in sports psychology. (did that for non-dancing D who was elite athlete hampered by her own perfectionism).


At the age your DD is, there is a lot brewing and it may be helpful to her to have someone other than mom to hash it out with. The child psychologist will have a handle on ALL the issues that may feed into it at that age and the sports psych aspect will come in handy for the serious ballet training aspect.

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Let it go!! There is nothing more you can do. Yes she could see a therapist. But it could be that your daughter is not so much into dance anymore, and that would be alright.


My daughter quit dance 4 months ago. I have had insomnias about this, trying, like you, to understand what happened. Once she was a lovely dancer, praised by her ballet teacher at her new pro school. Then she became the "weakest" of her class, got ostracized, became depressed, was injured thus unable to lift her left leg properly, lost energy, didn't get chosen for the end of the year show, etc.. Then she was told that she wasn't at the right level to come back this year.


On May 22, I saw her with a bun for the last time. :ermm:


She is now trying to redefine her identity, after years spent at the barre.. She is going through all kinds of states, exploring, discovering. She is more beautiful and healthier than she was last year (and no she didn't gain weight). She is happy.


I have to grieve alone.


May be it is time for your daughter to discover something else, more rewarding, more empowering than dance. Only a break from it all could tell.


Be brave!

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I guess the thing I am struggling with most is how her teachers who had loved and shaped her since she was 5 years old, spent almost as much time with her as I had, could turn their backs on her so absolutely completely without explanation to her or to me.


But it sounds like it is not actually that uncommon a thing to happen in this world which is a shame.


You are right, I do need to move on and let her find her own way out of this. Outside of dance, she is doing just fine so I don't think she needs a psychologist but that is definitely something to keep in mind.


Isadora - "I have to grieve alone" - so true!

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I hear where you are coming from.


I am not going to share the full story because I am not as anonymous as I'd like. Let's just say that there were some strong similarities in your story. Dd was getting one message from the home school and completely different messages from her SIs. Dd was a little older though. We went on quite the search for a new environment, looking at schools that we previously never would have considered. For dd, changing to a different ballet school with different voices made all the difference. To be in a place where they just did not assume that you couldn't turn or couldn't jump because you couldn't when you were 12 was almost earth shattering. She came home one of the first weeks and said "This is so strange. They think I am a turner here!"

DD wonders what would have been had she stayed. I think she would have needed therapy and she thinks she would have ended up leaving ballet. She did not really want to leave ballet. She knew from her SIs that other possibilities existed (obviously other schools, more the possibility that others had more of a belief in her capabilities). I think I did not see the effects on her until she returned from her SI. I saw one dancer perform at 2 different programs. Came home, saw the very end of a class and saw a completely different dancer. I also saw a different child when she left those classes. That was the kicker. In the new environment, her passion blossomed even further than I would have thought possible. This is who she is and she did not let one individual take that from her. I think, perhaps, it helped that she was a little older when this occurred.

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You are not alone. A move was needed for my DDs this year as well. Fortunately, they are thriving in a new environment. They are a little older than your DD, having just turned 17, so are probably a little more wise and self assured in their decision. They didn't want to leave ballet at all but knew that the program they were in was not working for them for numerous reasons to which I don't want to be too public.


I will also say that those negative experiences at the vulnerable tween/early teen years seem to stick around more than we, as parents, may realize. We will occasionally talk about events from several years ago and it's surprising how deep those feelings run and how much those times still shape their confidence.


It sounds like being "at the top" and experiencing a fall from grace at her age has had a huge impact on your DD. It might not be a bad idea for her to be able to talk with someone else about it. My DDs can look back now and say they are stronger for never having been "the favorite" at their old studio but those years of dealing with the favoritism that existed still influence them.

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Does your DD's new studio know what her previous teacher said to her? The reason I'm asking is because at ages 13 and 14 (which seem to be the ages when this was going on with your DD), kids' bodies go through awkward changes. My own DD is experiencing this right now as she has grown 6 inches in the past 10 months. The changes started happening right around the time DD was set to compete at YAGP so that didn't go as well as hoped. Her double pirouettes became singles. At her SI she was doing five. Now she's back to two. Her progress ebbed and flowed and there were many times when we thought she was going three steps forward, two steps back. Currently, she's ebbing again. It's hard to watch her struggle with many of the same issues that your DD seems to be going through. However, DD has a wonderful teacher, who is amazingly supportive, and who tells her to soldier on and that she'll get it after her body stops fighting her. A dance teacher should be well aware of the changes that happen in these young kids, and to blame a child for not working hard just because she isn't "getting it" right then and there is inexcusable. It's a good thing you found a more supportive environment for your DD. At this point, I would have a talk with her new teacher to see if the teacher could say something like "Miss So-and-so was wrong to tell you __________. This is her problem, not yours. You are a beautiful dancer, you are working hard, and you will get this - you just have to be patient." It may take a lot of building up, because building up is a lot harder than tearing down. There are some great examples of posts about how dancers struggled with puberty and came out stronger on the other side. I would print some of them out and share them with your DD.

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This is such a tough age and so many things play into the DKs ability to cope. Physical growth is terribly difficult to deal with as you are finding your new normal. Growing that much throws everything off from turning to balancing to flexibility. Things that were once easy are a real struggle to maintain. Hormones - oh my goodness this is probably the biggest negative factor and affects EVERYTHING. Depression/anxiety seriously affects focus and personality even if they/you are not consciously aware of it. I went through this with my DK as well. Being on the other side of this very dark time, I can say focusing on the mental aspect of this situation was the tipping point to resolution. Sometimes a new environment is enough to remedy the situation, but if it has escalated enough, it could not hurt to seek professional help to work through the issues.

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My DD has never had issues with her dance teachers, although she did suffer from a real lack of self confidence as she went through her first real growth spurt at around age 11 1/2. I understand what that looks and feels like. To add into the mix, the feeling that her teachers don't think she is working hard enough, is really adding insult to injury. I just wanted to say that I am so sorry your poor DD has to go though this!


At this point is it possible to meet with the old school just so that you can gain some insight and find a way to give your DD closure on this chapter?

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I, too, agree with Pensive that building up is a lot harder than tearing down.


DD's first studio change was, in part, because of a "fall from grace" after having an overuse injury--she felt like she was tossed aside and permanently labeled as "the one with the ankle issue." She changed studios a second time a year ago because again, in part, the second studio's static evaluation of her not only compartmentalized her but really deteriorated her psyche. The last year she was there was just miserable, and the director flat out told us that she was "waiting for her [DD] to quit." They believed she had an insurmountable physical limitation, so they stopped correcting her, and she spiraled downward as the lack of corrections and attention made her not want to try, and at times, not to want to go at all. Much to her surprise, she was offered multiple SI scholarships that summer, had an offer to stay at a program away from home and has not looked back.


It took all of last year just to get her mental focus back, and this year she is finally working on correcting technique flaws that were exacerbating her physical issues. She has realized recently that her port de bras deteriorated as her mental state did and is working on that as well. So it will easily take two years to regain the two years she "lost."


This is a tough endeavor our children have chosen and not for the weak of heart or mind. Ultimately, the goal is to develop independent happy PEOPLE, whether they are dancers or not. If they can move forward from the types of obstacles they face in the sometimes capricious dance world, they should be well-equipped for the rest of it.

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Progress in dance is not a smooth bell curve. Parents have a hard time learning that, as do kids. But I would expect a teacher to understand that!


DD, now in college advanced very quickly, skipping a level when she was 8, starting pointe at 9 (too early) and playing Clara at age 11. Being the youngest in her level was her identity, and she had to deal with jealously from other girls her age who were in lower levels, as well as some older girls who, perhaps resented that DD was getting rewarded so much.


In my mind it was just a matter of time before she was dancing lead roles. But that's not the way she progressed. She had a physical limitation, which began to effect her technique. Dancers who had been in the lower levels began to surpass her. She had surgery, and that corrected her physical issue. But then her confidence was low. She had to recover and build strength. For two years, the girls who had at one time been in the levels below her, and played Clara a year, or even two, after her, were all promoted above her. But then DD got stronger, a summer at a non-traditional SI really boosted her confidence, and she started to really respond and apply the corrections that an excellent teacher provided. Then once again it was her turn to be cast in roles.


Parents think that once a dancer is "ahead" of another, that it will always be so. It is not true. There are strengths and weaknesses in every dancer, and some of those strengths and weakness factor into casting and class placement. One dancer improving her weaknesses can lift her above a dancer who had other strengths but was not able to strengthen them. I remember the feeling as a mom, worrying for my daughter and for all the work and money put into this art form, thinking that she was being passed over and it was not right, and would never get better. And then when it did get better, when DD for once earned a part that was considered "higher" than the girls who had once passed her, I could read the feeling on the faces of the other moms, as well as the dancers. They had the same thoughts, that they were being passed over. Congratulations did not come in. But DD never was deterred, she pushed through two more years of some incredible successes and some really awful disappointments, and she is still dancing.


All of this is just to say, that I think we can help our children to understand that their progress is not a straight line and it is not in relation to any other dancers. Each dancer has her own growth rate and her own path. Parents and dancers need to understand this, and I really think TEACHERS and DIRECTORS should lead the way in helping with this understanding. They have lived it themselves, and they see it over and over in their experiences. "Work Harder" is never a sufficient correction.

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Everyone seems to have weighed in with wonderful help. I am running off to work so can't respond but will. Just know that I have much :wub: for you and your daughter. And many, many, hugs.

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You all are giving me so much to reflect on for which I am eternally grateful. I will re-read your comments again and again. I am realizing I need to stop asking why this has happened and start asking "what next"? (and hopefully end the late-night obsessing).


The "what next" starts with the hardest question for me to ask which should be the easiest: to ask my daughter if she is still dancing for herself or for me.


I can see she is exhilarated and happy when she comes out of classes now but she has not completely connected with her new studio. After 4 months, she still doesn't have any friends there which is very upsetting to her. But she walks in shy and hangs in the back of the crowd which is so not the way she used to be and is not the way she is at school. :( Ok, I am beginning to think if she does stay with dance, a psychologist might be a good idea. After all, how in the world is a sensitive teenager supposed to recover after their second family of adults and girlfriends reject them for a year?!

When we first started discussing her departure from her old studio and possibly dance all together, my husband and I said she could choose whatever felt right for her but she had to have a plan for her to do something active. But maybe, if she does want to quit dance, she doesn't necessarily need to have a plan – maybe she should be open to what the universe shows her as her next path…


So much fodder for a deep discussion with her tonight!

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