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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Does your son have a mentor (or someone who fulfills that role)?


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I've been thinking about this for a while now, and I'm curious how this has been for other male students. I don't come from a dance background, so all I know is the school where my son attends. It is an excellent school, with a thriving boys program, and trains top-notch dancers at the upper levels. But I notice that the students are kept very much at "arms length". The teachers, while perfectly pleasant to the boys, don't seem to have any kind of personal stake in training them as individuals. It all seems like it's about how they fit into the program.


My son is still young, so I am not sure if this changes as he gets older (assuming he is retained in the program, which is never automatic, though we have no reason at this time to think he wouldn't be). But I also wonder-- how essential is it to have a teacher or a trusted "elder" dancer (though they are so young!) to provide that help-- not just in dance technique but in how to be a performer, and also how to navigate this whole world of ballet. If your son found someone like that, when did he? And how?


We can't afford private training, nor is it permitted by the school my son attends. I am not looking to change schools, for a variety of reasons, though that could happen. I am thinking perhaps this is something that comes with time as the students are older? Maybe through certain summer programs? Are there boys who become successful professionals without a strong mentor relationship, just based on their training, work ethic and talent?


I realize this isn't a male specific question, but the situation for boys is quite different given their much smaller numbers in most ballet schools.

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I have also been in situations where I wanted my ds to have a mentor and he didn't, or I thought he didn't. I think my desire for him to have a mentor stemmed from my own worries that I couldn't help him develop in ballet and also from a kind of mythical celebration of the mentor in ballet biographies, at ballet competitions, and even in studio waiting rooms.


But I also chose not to try too hard to find him a mentor, because I had seen mentoring that was not productive, that was too possessive, that was just name dropping and platitudes, and even mentoring that was falsely encouraging. He is focused now on simply finding good teaching (near and far, alas), and I suspect that this goal will garner him more real mentoring than he might have gotten from a designated guru.

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Our residential program requires the faculty to mentor their class. We have bi-annual meetings and daily contact with our classes.

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Our 17yo DS has two male mentors who have been pivotal to him. One is a previous studio head who remains close and the other is a teacher from a SI from 2 years ago. Both men are retired professionals who are kind and supportive. They write references for scholarships, give honest advice and want to stay involved. I feel that true mentoring (as compared to kindly male role models) is needed more at this later stage when a career is forming. I had no hand in organizing these relationships other than to recognize them and encourage. I am extremely grateful for both.

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Just a thought as a teacher. Have you ever thought that your son having former teachers as mentors might interfere with his teacher's ability to train him. The student teacher relationship should be one of trust, mentorship and respect. How can a teacher give all there is to give if someone who does not have daily contact with him is considered the mentor. Students need to keep eyes,ears and minds open to the teacher.

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vrsfanatic- I am not sure if that was directed to me (the OP) or to the responder Thyme. My son is still young, and has only trained at one school. He has never had a teacher be openly involved in his training or development in a special or individual way, though they are always very positive about his work ethic and potential, and have given him a couple of nice opportunities to perform (certainly not as many as some kids, but a good range, and he has grown tremendously in those times, something we have made sure to explicitly thank them for). Even though I am not a dancer, I am an educator and I do understand that teachers give so much of their time and energy to the kids, but I also see that the careful arms-length relationship they maintain with the students can make it hard for the boys (and for the families). I guess I just am hoping that at some point my son will develop a relationship with someone more knowledgable than we (his parents) are about the profession of dance and about his training. I am truly interested in how and when--and whether-- other boys have found that kind of relationship in their training.


Perhaps my son is still just too young, and that will be something that he gets more of when (if) he moves into the pre-professional stage of his training. He is right on the cusp, and I do already see that dance is beginning to push out other things in his life (his choice) so also, as a parent, it would be nice to see him getting some sort of encouragement, feedback about his progress, his potential, and so forth. I am not convinced that a little bit of encouragement and support from knowledgable "elders" would take his mind and attention away from his teachers, and I would imagine that a positive mentor relationship such as Thyme describes wouldn't be at all about undermining his training but more about helping him to see the big picture, chart a course in a very confusing profession, etc. In any case, so far what he has is his own rock solid conviction that he can do this, and at his age, that could be plenty.

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My post was directed to Thyme's response. My lifetime involvement in ballet has taught me, there are many who like to connect themselves to talented young people. I call them opportunists. If a family cannot find a mentor within an arts educational organization, it may be time for a new school.


If my students and their families do not turn to me as their number 1 resource, I know I am not the teacher for them. Students and their families must trust their schools and faculty. At least give the teacher the opportunity to mentor before turning elsewhere. Attitude is 90 per cent of learning.

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This has made me pause and reflect more on my previous comments. Our current studio is certainly the one steering this ship. The mentors I described before never comment upon training or direction. I will mull over this more but I see them more like supporters, encouragers and periodic sounding boards for me to check my thoughts with. DS has little direct contact with them but knows they believe in him and that they are there. The letters I referred to were also written by his current AD but more were needed. They all know of each other. His current AD said the same- that when he moves on from this studio, the relationship continues. I see it as a web of support that allows for both stronger and more distant voices. I do appreciate the other thoughts though vrsfanatic. It has given me pause to check boundaries!

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I guess it depends on how one defines "mentor". I would say my son (now 17) has had three mentors, but none of them were any kind of "official" mentor relationship. Rather, they were all teachers with whom he developed a close bond.


The first mentor was when my son was 14-15 years old. At YAGP my son took a class that he taught, and he and my son seemed to really "click". He offered my son a scholarship to attend the SI that he was associated with, and my son ended up going to that SI two years in a row specifically so he could work with this teacher. This teacher was a really great guy-- we had his cell phone number and I'm facebook friends with him, so we were able to reach out to him for advice on many occasions. We even went out to lunch a few times to talk about my son's potential and future. I was very appreciative of all the advice this wonderful teacher gave us, and he really helped put my son on a road to success.


The first mentor strongly encouraged my son to audition for a well known professional ballet training program. My son did so, was accepted, and began attending this training program at age 15. At that point, my son naturally began to wean away from the first mentor as his new men's teacher took on the role of his new mentor. My son and this new teacher developed a strong bond that extended out beyond the walls of the studio as the two of them had shared interests and hobbies. My son still occasionally reached out to the first mentor, but the first mentor would always defer to my son's current teacher as was appropriate. My son trained with this second mentor for two years and grew tremendously as a dancer during this time.


At age 17, my son felt like it was time to move on to a new program. So, he now attends a different residential training program. He made the decision to attend this new school in large part because he greatly admired this program's men's teacher and felt he would make a wonderful new mentor. My son has been at this new school for a month now, and he is still getting to know this new teacher. But, he does consider this new teacher to be a mentor and feels he is thriving under his guidance.


I guess my point to this is that none of these three teachers have been officially designated as a "mentor". But, they were trusted teachers and advisors, and they served the role of mentor to my son. For that, I am extremely grateful to all three of them. :)

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I have had 2 mentors in my training life. Both "my" teachers, different schools. As a teacher, I have had 2 mentors as well. Mentors are important. Mentors need to be involved in the daily training life of a student/teacher otherwise there is no way to monitor progress except as a fan.


As for cell phone numbers and Facebook, neither existed while I was training as a student nor as a teacher. I never spoke to "my" teacher on the phone until I was over 18. Our school prohibits contact with our students outside of our daily schedule. No exchanged cell phone numbers nor being Facebook friends with student nor parent. We are only permitted to correspond through our email server which happens more often with parents than students. We are a residential program and rarely meet the parents face to face. It is important for students, teachers/mentors to realize we all need to have private lives outside of the ballet.

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My DS has always looked to his main teacher to be his mentor; when this has not worked out (e.g. he didn't really trust the teacher's opinion or have faith in their training) he has been quite unhappy, so I can see that this has always been the key relationship for him.


As an older dancer he now has had teachers (often ex company principals) who might 'mentor' him through a specific role and he has found this truly inspiring, but it is still quite definitely the daily teacher whom he looks to first.


He is is still in touch with key teachers from his past (one is his first proper teacher in the UK, the other his first teacher in the USA) but more in a friendly 'exchange of news' way, I don't think he would really look to them for career advice etc.


I think on the basis of our experience I would agree with vrs. If the main teacher isn't providing inspiration, career advice, support and encouragement and your DS doesn't have total faith in them, it's time to find another teacher. Not always logistically possible of course, it depends on their age and stage, but I have seen myself the damage caused by being with the wrong teacher (at one point it was touch and go whether our DS would give up ballet for good; having transferred elsewhere he is the happiest he's ever been in his life).

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My lifetime involvement in ballet has taught me, there are many who like to connect themselves to talented young people. I call them opportunists.

Interesting. This is actually something a teacher said to me when my son was very, very young (it was not a ballet class, but a circus aerial class)-- she said to be careful because people can be very drawn to children with physical "potential", for their own reasons. I hadn't really thought about that vis a vis dance because our experience so far has been so much formality and remove.


It's hard to see my son's developmentally normal hunger for approval or for nurturing just not be something he gets in his ballet training, I suppose. Every teacher he has says lovely things about him-- it's not like it's been negative. But he's too tall to be cute (for performing), and he's for too young to be of any "utility" in partnering or performing. So he doesn't get any feedback from those things.


Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on this. I appreciate it. It's very hard for me to consider moving my son to a new school for several reasons (practical, financial, and also that the potential this school has for professional training and opportunity going forward is much greater than the other options). But the thoughtful responses are really helpful.

Edited by 5uptown
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Our son had a mentor who gave him his first class at the age of 13. For a year and a half, he nurtured our son's interest in ballet. Sadly, the relationship became very possessive to the point of a big blow up. (he didn't want him to dance in a professional production and tried to block him). At the professional production, he found another mentor who was appalled with the way he was treated which was lovely with no strings attached. He hasn't had a chance to nurture this mentor relationship like I would have liked because he went away to a residential school - but I'm hoping he will in the future.


As we all know - mentorships play an important role in life and careers - and I would think particularly in the environment of a very competitive professional ballet world and diminishing number of jobs.


Our son found his mentors at Master Classes and performing a professional company's Nutcracker. Just some suggestions on where to find them. I've heard of other dancers that have found them at SI's or at YAGP. Good luck!

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Are we using the term "mentor" to mean someone who advises or someone who trains? When I use the word, I am referring to someone who does both.

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I think to be a real mentor in something as specialist as ballet it has to be both. If you advise but don't train then how can you truly understand the particular strengths of the person you are advising and do so appropriately? If you train but don't advise it seems to me you aren't fulfilling your proper role as a teacher - what are you training the person for if you are doing it in a vacuum with no consideration of what they are wanting to achieve with that training?

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