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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Looking younger than actual age


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Curious, is having a small stature and looking younger an advantage for young dancers (as it is for actors) ?

An experienced actor can play a role of someone much younger...Rachel McAdams factor!

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I think the answer would depend on what setting is being discussed. For regular ballet classes, I cannot imagine that physically looking younger would make much difference, all else being the same as peers(attitude, emotional maturity, technique). If you are speaking of auditions for roles, it depends on what the AD has in mind. For professional-company shows, such as the Nutcracker, there are existing costumes that must be fit, so height/size could matter more than looks. For larger roles, such as the probably over-discussed Clara, once the AD has the final group of similar-height/size/skill-level girls, it may NOT be the younger-looking ones that are picked: in our school this year, the girls picked for that particular role look their age. Other years when the role has been danced by slightly older girls chronologically, they have indeed had a younger look.

So, I just do not think there is any way to make general statements regarding the benefit of youthful appearance.


Now being short for age when it comes to professional productions is a different story and indeed seems to "help" a lot, but that is off topic....

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In addition to the not fitting into costumes for higher level roles problem (which is very real), another issue is if the director wants more uniformity. In previous years she considered leaving my daughter out of group dances at her level because she's the only short one (fortunately we have a relationship where I could tell her how I felt about that and talk her out of it). But a couple years ago when she was the only dancer her age at her level, she was paired with a dancer 2 years younger for a plum role (solely due to height) and the dance of course had to be made easier (I argued to no avail that the same-age dancer a hair lower in level should have been her partner...she is now though).


This year DD did every Nutcracker dance her class did, which included 2 with the advanced dancers (with lessor participation for her class). She was the youngest by 2 years (except for the girl mentioned above) and shortest by a head and a half. One of the costumes was big on her and she had one segment where they were all running across the stage and she lagged a bit, but otherwise she kept up and looked good. The height difference was very obvious though and, while the director has not said a peep about it, I know if this were a more professional-style school, she probably wouldn't have gotten those roles.


I'm not sure if DD looks young for her age because height is what most people focus on. I think her face looks average for her age and her body development is perhaps on the lower end of average for her age. She's just short. I keep hoping that this will be an advantage for summer intensive auditions (that adjudicators will mentally compare her with younger girls) but so far that's not the case, and she's far from the only short dancer out there.

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I don't know about it being a benefit or not, but I will say that looking several years older than her actual age is hard for my daughter, not just because of the issues the others have brought up with casting, but also because of teacher expectations. My daughter is usually young for her level since she's a summer birthday, but new teachers often think she's one of the oldest with all the expectations that go along with that!


I would say "ideal" is probably looking their age or slightly younger, but I don't think it's THAT big of a deal either. Everything changes with puberty anyway!

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As the parent of a tall-for-age (preteen) ballet boy, it seems to me that being small-for-age is a big advantage for casting, at least in professional productions. My son outgrew performing opportunities by the time he was 11. I expect in a few years being a tall boy will no longer be a disadvantage. It has not hurt him in class, except perhaps for when people don't know him and expect him to be as physically and technically capable as boys several years older.

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I suppose it can go both ways. One of the "stars" in our studio has always been advanced for her age, yet is very small and appears easily 3 years younger than she is. She has made a fantastic Clara for the last 2 years, and was perfect as Tinkerbell in the summer Peter Pan production. Yet at the same time, she couldn't be a flower when her peers were, because she didn't fit into any of the costumes, and I don't know how she will ever be big enough to take the roles of Snow Queen or Sugar Plum, even though she is technically quite capable. I think if I had to choose, though, smaller than typical is probably easier to work with than taller. Not that you get to choose, lol. ;)

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Being smaller and younger is challenging for roles. My DD has been excluded from parts due to size, but the bonus is when she IS included she is right in front :) It has been very frustrating for her, and for our wardrobe mistress. This year was the first Nut where she was cast at her level, but it's clear she's younger and smaller. For DS 13, it's worse. He is also on the short side and is doing more cutesy parts vs what he can actually do. Being too tall is also hard, as i have a friend in that situation. Her DD looks like the teacher in the dances her group does, but she is not ready to dance with girls her size. Either way it's good character building!

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My youngest daughter is on the shorter side due to her ethnic background. One year she was an understudy for a scene in our local nut. She attended every rehearsal and danced most of the positions in this scene due to people being out. She knew the scene inside and out and danced it well. Last performance and one of the girls is worshipping the porcelain throne. All the dancers in the scene tell my daughter she has to fill in. She starts getting the costume on and the rehearsal director comes flying up with one of her students who wasn't even in the scene that year. Tells my DD to get out of the costume, this other girl is going in because DD is too short for that spot in the formation and it looking right is more important than the kid actually knowing the choreography well. It was a very hard pill to swallow.

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Dinkalina perhaps the ballet mistress might have handled the situation a bit more diplomatically, but students are not the one to decide who is doing a role. That is best left up to the ballet professionals.


To be honest with you, size does matter in the "look" of a ballet. Emergency rehearsals are held all the time to teach someone a role simply because they are the right size. Throwing someone out there who has not had a rehearsal is another thing. I hope the child did well.

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My daughter is extremely petite and looks at least a couple of years younger than she actually is. Is this a long-term advantage? Hard to say. In terms of Nutcracker, it has absolutely worked for her. She got the lead role and is handling it with a lot of poise and composure due to her age but yet looks very childlike. That said, it'll be hard to transition to more adult roles unless she grows and starts to look more mature. I guess you just take what comes to you.

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The students didn't make the decision - they were told by other adults in charge of the production to find DD and hook her up since they were mere minutes away from going on stage. I totally get the scene's rehearsal director's has the final decision. I also totally get, as a 12 year old child, it's pretty humiliating to be told, even though you are the designated understudy, someone who does not know the scene is preferable to you because you are short.

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My daughter was an understudy for Clara last year, but they never even did costume fittings for her because she was much smaller than the Claras who were cast. (She was also younger--my daughter is average in height). The purpose of understudy for our Nutcracker is more to prepare the kids for possibly being cast the following year. This year my daughter was cast as one of the Claras, a shorter girl was understudy, and it was clearly stated that the emergency back-up was last year's Clara, who was technically too tall for the role.


Children at our studio dance in a professional production of Nutcracker. I know some smaller girls get frustrated by being cast as fairies for a year longer than they would like before being moved up to party girl, etc,, but it is preferable during Nutcracker season to being the girl that is too tall at twelve to be cast at all. After the final show this year, some girls knew it would be their last because they were already at the top of the height limit. For others a growth spurt this year may put it out of reach for next year. I try to encourage my daughter to enjoy what she has while she has it, because you never know what the future holds. How well you handle disappointment is noted by the people in charge of casting and running the show, so a good attitude is important.

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