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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How important are performances and competitions for a teenage boy?


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Let me tell you that I think that the performing experience is very crucial for a future dancer.


But recently DS (15) started to refuse any possibility of being on stage. He is not shy and looks very confident while participating in his school's year-end concerts. Yet, when he was offered to participate in the local staging of the Nutcracker (on his conditions, with the solo of his choosing, etc.) he has refused. He is also very much opposing to the offers of his teacher to be prepared and compete as the local or not so local ballet competitions.

He is very passionate about ballet and loves his classes just as much if not more than before. He used to love being on stage and perform. Yet, these days, when his teacher feels like it's time for DS to show himself, he is refusing any possibility of doing so.

I am guessing that this is just a stage and it should go away if he stays true to his desire to dance professionally. I also think that he should not be pushed to much. Yet, our finances are pretty limited, and for DS to be seeing by great school representatives the competition route is the best one. This worries me somewhat.

What do you think?



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This is puzzling. Is he worn out, and the performances mean more rehearsals and time? Or is the choreography more challenging than it has been before? It sounds like some of the opportunities he is turning down are very high pressure. How long has he been hesitant to perform? Will he still do the studio year-end show, or is he reluctant to perform in that, too? I hope you can figure this out!

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I can tell you mine at 15 went through huge confidence issues where he previously had never had them. Never feeling he was good enough. It was hard to get him to talk about it. He turned down doing YAGP even though he got a sponsor for all costs as well. He was worried about doing a difficult pas in the spring ballet and ended up having some wonderful advice from an older male professional dancer who came to understudy an injured dancer. "Do you think anyone in that audience can do what you can do?" He went out and danced the best of his life. It was definitely a "turning point"!

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He is completely confident to go on stage as part of his year-end show. He wishes they would allowed to do more challenging steps then they usually do. He used to dream to learn complex variations, he would learn them from YouTube and rehearse by himself. He used to love performing solo and in groups. This year he finally has this opportunity to work with a very good male teacher and prepare his solo, yet he is very hesitant...

He is probably questioning himself, comparing himself to much stronger boys of his age. he watched our local YAGP semi-finals and saw the difference between good and bad dancing on stage. Could that be it? And what to do about it?

He is surely not worn out, we have had this a few years ago, and he looks nothing like that. He is looking forward to his classes and is happy when they get to do more challenging stuff.

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I think part of it is that at this age (older teen), they have a sense of what they are aiming to look like. For the first time, they now have the maturity to realize how far they have to go before they look the way they know they should look.


I had an experience somewhat similar to what you describe: My son is 17, and he decided to change ballet schools. He had been at a company-affiliated academy, and he participated in many professional Nutcracker performances in the lowly role of a soldier (the only role available to teen boys; every other role was danced by a professional in the company). Several months ago, my son began looking looking at a new ballet school (a ballet conservatory not affiliated with a company). When he saw their performance calendar, he was appalled that this school performed Nutcracker in the winter and a story ballet in the spring. He was appalled because he didn't see how these roles could be performed well by students. He went on to say he was uncomfortable with the idea of performing a role that in his mind should be performed by a professional soloist or principal.


It's not that he was stage shy-- he's actually always very confident on stage. It's just that he knows his limitations, and he knows he is not yet as good a dancer and a professional. He knew he wasn't capable of dancing it as well as he'd seen it danced, and it just felt *wrong* to be on stage knowing that his dancing was inevitably sub-par to the way the role should be danced.


In the end, he decided to go to that conservatory anyway (he's there now), so I guess he got over the feeling. But, I did find it odd that he was initially very opposed to the idea.

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Our residential program, not connected to a professional company has an excellent track record for providing appropriate performing experiences for our students, both male and female. We have never brought in professionals, although we have many famous principal dancers with top rated companies as alumni.


Performance is part of a student's education. In Vaganova Academy, the students begin with the children's role with Mariinsky and some of the highest level students are already performing corps de ballet roles with The Mariinsky. Vaganova Academy also has a full length Nutcracker and a year end graduation performance, including a 3rd act excerpt of a classical ballet with only students of VA.


I must say, our audience is the same who attends the regional professional company performances and all touring ballet company performances in the 3 regional theatres in our area. Often one hears the audience members leaving the performances commenting, " I cannot believe they are students. They look better than ___ (a big name professional ballet company in our area).


It is important to learn a bit of classical repertoire before entering a company. Those who know it are already ahead of those who do not. Always gaining experience in contemporary performance is also a step forward. If quality is of the utmost importance, students need to get out there and perform.


Our alumni do well in professional companies because they are already seasoned performers, not only technically strong.


As a student, I learned and performed the Balanchine and classical repertoire alongside professional dancers in the company. I thank my lucky stars for this good fortune to this very day.

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I personally think it's awesome to have students perform in classical ballets. That's why I was surprised when my son (when deciding if he was going to change schools) was initially opposed to it.

He'd seen these roles performed so many times by soloists and principals, and he'd watched hundreds of YouTube videos of professionals from around the world. I think the idea of him trying to meet that very high standard seemed intimidating. He's a realistic guy-- he knows his strengths and weaknesses, and he knows he's not as good as a professional soloist or principal.

But, I will say that he did get over his initial hesitation. Now that he's enrolled in this new school that does a lot of student performances, he's now excited to participate and see how he is cast.

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My DS commented recently that one difference he notices at Vaganova is the extent to which the students leave the academy 'company ready' because of the amount of performance experience they have.


He's only been there for 5 months last year and a month this term. Last term he took part in the graduation performances on Mariinsky stage and in Moscow with 3 different pieces and had rotating solo and corps roles in all 3 and he also learned Bluebird PDD for the international graduation performance (this alongside preparing for exams in classical, character, PDD and acting which he had to learn in only 3 months).


Since he started back at the beginning of Sept he is learning the principal solo role from Fairy Doll (a ballet he did for graduation but in a different solo role), 2 pieces for Vaganova Prix (they entered him without consultation- very Russian!), principal role from Nutcracker and in class the intention is that they all learn the corps roles for every major classical ballet.


From what I can tell at least 50-80% of their time in these 2 final years seems to involve rehearsing pieces as they would be danced on stage. They are of course also lucky to have guest teachers come in to teach them the roles- often ex Mariinsky stars famous for performing those specific roles. He has said to me he feels the emphasis on performance is completely invaluable.

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Thank you everybody.


I really do agree that it is very important to have the performance experience, hence my uneasiness with DS's decision of not to do so in the near future.


I talked to him however. He said that he feels like he has a great deal to catch up still with the boys of his age and where he would like to be at this point. He said that if he could, he would love to spend extra hours of training not on rehearsals but on perfecting his technique. That he only wants to compete when he feels he can stand a chance compared to the rest of the boys of his age. The idea of competing for the experience and to be seeing is still somewhat foreign to him as he is a perfectionist.


His arguments were so logical and well thought-through that I had nothing else to do but to agree with them. As much as I would love to see him on stage I'd have to wait until he is ready according to his standards.

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My late reply to the topic: I have two DSs. The oldest did compete and the experience was not good (for many reasons) and he came away saying he would not compete again. His younger brother never competed--his choice, but I think his view was influenced by his brother's experience. I did prod a little, but in the end I'm glad I respected their opinions and decisions. Ultimately it is their career. Both performed roles at their home studio, but the studio is small and performance opportunities were limited. The oldest went on to a large company affiliated school and now has a contract with a different company. The youngest recently went to a different company affiliated school. We will see where that journey goes. There are lots of professional dancers who never competed. I'm still a big fan of summer intensive auditions and a good summer intensive to be seen by school representatives. I think you are wise to listen to what your DS says. Best to you and your son!

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