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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Kids' psychic (or realistic?) prediction of future Nut casting


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My DKs go to a wonderful ballet school that produces working dancers. I am very happy with the school and the fact that there is little drama and they make an effort for individualized training. Placement levels seem to be based on ability, training, and maturity. As such there can be a range of ages in each group.


My DD's class this year is a nice group of kids who are working hard and progressing rapidly. There are no jealousies, and there is a lot of support. They had a great year: to quote a faculty member, "they took off like a rocket". The ranges in this class are 11-15, although most are about 13.


I am hearing that many of them telling are telling each other and their parents they are resigned to the fact they will never have Sugar Plum type roles in the school's Nutcracker production, or even corps pointe roles like Flowers or Snow. Some are saying they may have minimal roles for years and they are sad. I was thinking, how on earth do they know this? They are doing so well! Normally kids their age and ability will start having roles like this in year or so. But one mom told me her daughter actually did the math on a spreadsheet: there are simply too many kids in the levels ahead!


After years of fewer numbers, there school now has a very large pool of dancers who can dance senior and upper junior roles, and they are mostly quite young.


So yes the math does indicate that if the present levels stay as they are, the kids in DD's class won't dance the pointe roles they dream of for a very long time, if ever. But I also think this way of thinking is premature because a lot can happen in the ballet school in a couple of years.


Any words of wisdom or encouragement that I can give to DD and her friends? Or are they just being realistic and this is just life in ballet?


PS I would rather stick needles in my eyes than ever speak to faculty about casting, and I am sure the other parents feel the same.





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Generally speaking, the age range you describe is a tough one for kids. I am an administrator at a private school (preschool-high school) and the term "middle school" describes this group...truly stuck in the middle. They are just coming out of the little kid "dreamer" where anything and everything is possible. But they aren't quite yet the "realist" that older students become once they start receiving results from applications to colleges, etc. I use my oldest daughter as an example (my non dancing child). When she was young, she was sure she was going to be a doctor. She is now in middle school. And still is interested in medicine, but now speaks of things like standardized test scores, medical school acceptance percentages, etc. She's gone from being a dreamer, to a wonderer. She's on the verge of being immersed in the realistic stage...actually taking the tests, submitting the applications, and making decisions. But for now anxiety can kick in for highly driven and talented kids who just got a whiff that their childhood dreams might not always be realistic.


I think it's the same for dancers. These kids in the middle aren't actually "doing it" yet, but they are not just playing with dreams anymore either. So they are stuck in the middle trying to put something concrete to the intangible and unknown.


I think as parents we can acknowledge that the anxiety over the unknown is real. But that there is so very much unknown and out of our control that we have to actively push the anxiety aside to make room for the present. And putting time and energy into speculation is time and energy wasted. I know it's hard, but I think we have to help out kids to resist putting energy into things that truly have no bearing on a desired output...yes, it's good in the middle years to start to be realistic. I don't want my kids to be blindsighted by reality they weren't willing or able to face. But I also think there is only so much time and energy available and that it should be used for things that either further a goal or provide positive outcomes. Fretting over the future seems like an exercise in futility. And possibly even counterproductive.


I would tell your DD to keep dancing as long as she loves it and to make the most of every opportunity. That while yes, this is a tough and competitive world, giving time and thought to the potential "no's" should be limited. To me, just as long as my DD realizes that hearing "no" is as likely as hearing "yes," that's good enough at this age.

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They are assuming things will stay as they are. They are assuming there will never be multiple casts (if there are not already). They are assuming the studio won't buy more costumes for Spanish, Arabian, Marzipan or whatever pointe roles exist so that more dancers can have these roles. I have watched a studio grow like this and make those changes and then shrink back down so that younger dancers suddenly got the roles that only went to older dancers because there were no longer enough older advanced dancers. Pendulums swing that way and smart schools will adapt.

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Spencedance, thanks for the wise words. I didn't even think of the fact that they are in the truly "middle ground". Maybe this Nutcracker casting discussion (5 months before the cast list goes up!!!!) is also these kids - as you said - "getting that whiff" about the realities vs their dreams. I should clarify, my DD is actually very young compared to her class, so it's more like the middle schooler angst is getting to her 5th grade ignorant bliss :angelnot: I spoke to my DD after picking her up from ballet yesterday and we talked about how this worry is not helping anyone or the outcome, and she can remind her peers to think positive and stay in the present when the locker room chatter takes a worrywart turn.


And to MeslissaGA's excellent point, the school likely WILL do something about this and have more Marzipan, or b cast etc. So I am going to hang on to that thought that the school will handle this in the best way.


I think it's funny this is even a concern in Springtime! Who worries about Nutcracker casting 5 months before the cast list goes up ? :nixweiss:

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Kids always worry about their Nutcracker casting.... year-round. How they move through the various roles in the production is how they mark their progress. When different dancers go through puberty at different times (making them taller than the rest of their peers), or when some dancers have "ah ha" moments at different times, or when that the dancer destine for a certain role gets injured... a first thought for a young dancer is "what does that mean for Nutcracker next year?!?!"


Spencedance & MelissaGA are correct. There are no crystal b a l l s in ballet. Enjoy the journey.

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They do get stuck on things at this age don't they? Many of our kids live in worlds where if they can't be at the top (wherever that is) they begin to rectify that in their minds so that they are disappointed later. I believe we have sort of groomed them toward this in the world we have brought them up in. What this has caused is that sometimes the kids get stuck on what they can't see happening instead of seeing the possibility of all that could. I used to coach high school dance team and I can't tell you how many years our tryouts would be full the first 3-4 days and how many would walk away the day of auditions. Not because they no longer aspired to be on the team, but because they felt it was easier to walk away than to not see their name on the list. My husband still currently sees this in his school activities where auditioning and proving your worth are needed to get to the next step. Sad thing is, not being Sugar Plum isn't losing out, it's simply not being Sugar Plum. In the 10 year old set, that equates to not getting cast as Clara and this means what in the road of a dancer? Not all it's thought to be for sure.


There is some reality in their eyesight depending on how their school runs things. If there is only one cast and only one Sugar Plum per year, then yes, only one person will get it that year and maybe even for several years. But say the same things to them you'd say if you heard a group of 20 AP/IB (over 4.0 GPA) students saying they might not be Valedictorian and acting like this was the end of the world. Or if you heard 20+ high level Gymnasts lamenting not making the Olympic Team. Or even a young man attempting to be the Quarterback of the team and lamenting his chances as either that or drop the team totally. Value is not defined by where you end up. But by what you take with you from the journey.


And when you're done with that, find that girl that did the math and let her know that an Actuary will make a whole lot more money than a dancer will. If it's important enough to get stuck in the numbers, she has a viable career in another field waiting on her.

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GTLS Designs, THANK YOU for making me understand it's not so unusual they are concerned about Nutcracker casting now! LOL, so funny!


Momof3darlings, Yes I agree, this kid ought to consider a numbers career, so funny! But you have a great point. There is a core group of spectacular kids within that massive group. They are outstanding and keep raising the bar on themselves. Of this core group, one often feels bad because she is the "lowest" of this stellar group. But she's amazing! I think the gymnastic team analogy is spot on. Our school just has a very very deep bench for kids in that particular age level.


It's interesting that you have experienced kids dropping out of the school programs at audition time- because that is easier than not seeing the names on the list. One of our level kids did skip Nut last year, and maybe it was a "why bother" type of thing. or as you say the fear of not seeing ones name on the list. That's a shame because the whole Nut experience is fun I would think.

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I'm a parent of a 14-year-old, but we have experienced this so I will be glad to share our experience if the mods will allow it. My DD is also on the young end of the "talent group" at her studio. The studio is attached to a company, so the principal roles (including Sugar Plum and a whole lot more) go to principal dancers. Many of the older dancers became discouraged because, at one time, students had more demi-soloist roles. Here's what has happened as the kids have reached high-school age:


1 - Some kids have decided dance isn't for them and have quit

2 - Some kids have decided to still dance, but because Nut tends to be at the same time as winter exams, they don't do Nut anymore

3 - Some kids have asked to share a role to cut down on the time commitment

4 - Some kids audition but quit if they don't get the role they want

5 - The studio has expanded some roles


So, in the end, it has pretty much worked itself out.

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This is timely. I just had a conversation about Nutcracker casting with my 11yo. The gist of our conversation is how nice and relaxing it is going to be this year. She is too old/high level to be considered for Clara, and too young/low level to be considered for any of the solo roles, so while there are some things she'd really like to do, she realistically knows that she's in for a couple of years of corps roles and can just enjoy the season.


On the other hand, our DD5 is decidedly less relaxed, as this will be her first year being old enough to perform in the Nut, and as such she knows she'll be an angel. Heaven help us if they shuffle how they do things and the little ones are something different. :wink:

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The company attached to DD's school has grown a little each year as have the ranks of trainees. This isn't a temporary thing, it is success at an ongoing mission to develop a full-time ballet company in our city. Consequently, roles that 4 years ago were done by girls my daughter's age (12/13) are now done by trainees and my daughter is looking at her fifth year as live scenery, in the exact same role, doing the exact same choreography.


I wonder if our experiences over the next couple years will be similar to Pensive's.


In the meantime, my daughter is considering joining a student ballet company some distance away that will allow her to attend performance classes on Saturdays and we are looking into the traveling Moscow Nutcracker that performs nearby each year. Their student pointe roles are actually better than those available with her school.


My daughter has a wonderful confidence that her time will come if she continues to work hard. I have some confidence in the training she's being provided at her current school, and she wants to stay there.

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