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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Mixed messages =confusion, disappointment and hurt


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DD is a 16 year old Junior at a residential ballet program with academics. She loves the program and is doing well academically, socially, and artistically. DD would love to dance professionally, but is going the college dance route with options to major in other subjects. Her first two years at this program yielded several very nice Demi soloist roles in Nutcracker and the other productions throughout the year. This fall she was selected by the school to be featured in their ads in a national dance magazine. She was also asked to dance as a part of a selected group of 5 girls for a school fundraiser. Then Nutcracker casting happened-she was selected for two non dancing roles. Huh? DD was shocked, along with her dance friends and her academic advisor who is very supportive of her and thought it was some mistake.


DD's AD has an open door policy to discuss feelings about casting (DD was not questioning casting, she respects all casting decisions). We encouraged her to go in to talk with him and his assistant. Had it not been for DD arranging a meeting with them, they would have never realized their mistake--DD's name had been left off the casting list for dancing roles. They acknowledged that a big mistake was made on their end, apologized profusely to her, told her that they "loved" her and to keep doing what she was doing, and gave her a dancing role. But because casting was final, DD only danced this role twice. After Initially being devastated by the two non dancing roles, DD felt better after the pep talk, the new role, and made the best of it.


After this incident, hubby and I had regularly scheduled fall conferences with the AD and his assistant. We did not bring up the casting-they did and both told us that the casting snafu was their fault, should not have happened, again apologizing profusely. They then went on to sing DD's praises, indicating twice that an AD that scouts trainees at a regional ballet company had asked about DD, identifying opportunities and colleges with ballet majors for which she was a strong candidate, she could go anywhere, a rare talent and gift, and they are happy to place her/use their contacts to place her, et cetera. We asked how we could help DD with what she needed to improve, but they did not give us an answer to that, only all positives.


The conference left me hurt and confused. How could a dancer with an "intangible gift that can't be taught" (their words, not mine) be inadvertently left off a casting list? There are clearly other dancers in the program for whom they had in mind for key parts. We are all human and accidents happen. But this was an egregious mistake that has implications for future casting in this program. Juniors and Seniors that don't get dancing roles can't build dance resumes for the college process. What is also upsetting for me is the profound sense that this is the end for her. It is unfair for me to place limits on her based on one Nut season but this is an important time for dancers entering the college process.


I'm not sure how she actually feels because we haven't fully talked about it with her being away. I do know that her self-confidence has been undermined. But she seems to be going full steam ahead with the dancing dream and I don't want to bust her bubble.


I saw tonight's show and it took everything in me not to cry. That feeling when your DK did more dancing as a 7 year old toy soldier in an old Nut production than at their current school's production. Can anyone help me unpack this?

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Dear Julisha,


I am sorry to read of this casting "snafu". I actually am not sure of what to say. This must be a very large residential program for this to go unnoticed. Having participated in casting for more years than I choose to count, this is a difficult one to fathom. Our casting is planned but not finalized until the ballets are on the stage. The plan is tweaked when it needs to be tweaked. Dancers are replaced all the time in casting when it is necessary to do so.


My suggestion is move on. Do not look back as there is nothing that can be done about this disappointing past. Discussions with your daughter will occur over time. Help her to keep her dignity and confidence. In the college audition process, they will see her talent and make choices accordingly.


This one may take a while to "unpack" as you say. Time will heal the wounds.

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I can certainly understand the hurt and confusion. But this is one of those learning opportunities. Your DD seems to have taken it as such and is plowing forward with grace. Please try to do the same.


The AD and Assistant have apologized profusely, both to your DD and to you. They did find a dancing role for Nutcracker for her, albeit apparently not as premier a role or as frequently danced as you (and I'm sure your DD) would have preferred. Nonetheless, the AD did try to correct the mistake as best he felt he could. Would you rather he have bumped another dancer thrilled/surprised with their role from the casting? (DD and buddy once worked their butts off getting up at 4:30 a.m. to self-rehearse a role in Nutcracker they were understudies for at a residential school. They were rewarded with two performances in that role. Believe me, neither the original dancers cast nor their parents were the least bit gracious or encouraging about being bumped from two performances. So, it is a no-win situation for the AD of a residential school, really).


The AD and Assistant have declared your DD's potential and specialness. They have sung her praises and promised to do what they can to advance her interests in applying for college programs, or whatever she ultimately chooses.


I realize you are quite disappointed for this Nutcracker, but please try to put it in perspective: it is one Nutcracker season. Her dance career does not depend on a single Nutcracker casting when she is 16, residential school or not. Colleges are looking for more; casting is interesting, of course, but given the overall pool of applicants, casting is not the be all, end all. They, like everyone else in dance, are looking for technique, skill, talent, and much more in terms of the personal attributes a potential student can bring to the cohort class as a whole.


This was a very unfortunate turn of event. But it is not a career-destroying incident.


Be disappointed. But after the performances, move on graciously. Your DD has a bright dance future in front of her. This is a learning opportunity and it will give her strength in bearing future casting.


And a big :clapping: for her going to talk to the AD and his assistant. That shows her maturity, as does her gracious acceptance of his apologies and mitigation attempts.

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Vrsfanatic and dancemaven-thank you for your encouraging responses. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all yesterday and I only want to continue to support DD as she moves into the college process. I'm so grateful to have BT4D as a sounding board. Today is the last performance and I look forward to having DD home and celebrating the holidays with family.


Dancemavenyou are absolutely correct about the AD carving out a space and another dancer's disappointment. DD told me as she was walking to meet with them, she had to wait outside their offices and the other dancer that had to be displaced came out the office crying as she was told that she was doing fewer shows. DD had no idea what had just happened and put it together after her meeting.


I am also proud of the way DD handled the situation-reaching out to her teachers and setting up the meeting on her own. When we had our conference, the AD and his assistant commented on how poised, gracious and humble DD was in the meeting.


Thank you!

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These things hit hard. .. and I find that I actually cope worse than my DD.


Big hugs.


I was struck by 4 things in the post that you made.


"What is also upsetting for me is the profound sense that this is the end for her." In all but a few cases, it's only the end if she wants it to be. People come back from major injuries with a yearlong recoveries. People labor away in 3rd tier co trainee programs to then get their 1st corp co contract 4 years later in a 1st tier company. People get out of shape and then get back into shape and find jobs. Teens get totally burned out (want to leave forever) and then a month later they are back at it. All careers have low, lows. There are always times of just holding your breathe and praying. But it just comes down to tenacity. So, if she wants it, it will happen and when she doesn't want it, it's not ever going to happen. Other people just can't hold that much sway, ever.


Second, I would look for other indicators of her talent. Perhaps seek another assessment. I am not sure. Frankly, the ADs apologized and dropped her into 2 shows but the situation would erode my trust in them.


Third, I really do concur that her being able to professionally talk to an AD, shows strong professional potential (It's not all dance.) :clapping:


Fourth, IMO in ballet words are cheap. People say all kinds of things, especially to paying students. So we say to DD, "You have what you have right now. Nothing more or less. Don't take anything for granted. Step A might not lead to the Step B that you are presuming. . . but it might lead to a pretty cool Step C, that you weren't expecting. "

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Hugs Julisha! I know this will be hard to "unpack" and you may be "unpacking" little feelings about this for a long time. The good thing is that they did try to rectify it as much as one can rectify it. It is hard to fathom how someone getting top roles can be forgotten off what I hope is a cast list. But it is possible that it simply was a mistake.


Do not worry, this will not affect her forward movement one bit. Your dancer will be rewarded for not her past roles, but her current auditioning potential. People are well aware of the wide variety of levels of student performances. One shows Sugar Plum is a company ready dancer while another is anything but. So they will look at the resume as a talking point, but not much else. What they will do is look at the dancer in front of them to see if that is what matches the paperwork in their eyes. So, from what your ADs are saying, your DD will back up her resume and much more.


I'm looking forward to more from her!

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Fourth, IMO in ballet words are cheap. People say all kinds of things, especially to paying students. So we say to DD, "You have what you have right now. Nothing more or less. Don't take anything for granted. Step A might not lead to the Step B that you are presuming. . . but it might lead to a pretty cool Step C, that you weren't expecting. "

This is exactly what I was thinking. It sounds like something that might have happened at our dd's first school. I used to think it was some mind game being played with different students at different times but in retrospect, it was probably a lack of ability and/or time to check details. When you are in the thick of it, it's hard to remember that it's just one student ballet and that her career will neither be made or broken from it. Your daughter is approaching the situation with maturity and showing resilience and compassion; good for her!


The one thing that that I would take very seriously from this is that the director has proven that he is capable of letting details slip through the cracks. I would be very vigilant and make sure that the school is completing their requirements for the college apps and also, following through on the offer to make phone calls and use contacts for your daughter. If the school is like our dd's first school, you and your daughter may have to be persistent to get these things done on time. Our dd didn't go through the college application process with that school but her friends did and it did take parental oversight and persistence to get transcripts, recommendations and other required information to the schools on time. Your daughter can ask her friends if this is or has been an issue for them.


Since your dd is choosing the college route, your goal will be to help her focus on getting to the next step. Celebrate the adversity and use it to show her character! Maybe she could even use the experience as an example in an application showing how she is able to recognize organizational error, assertively address it and show her compassion for all those affected. It could actually help your dd stand out in a unique way from other ballet dancers.

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Thanks so much Momofthreedarlings and swanchat for your comforting words! I am feeling more hopeful about the larger future post HS for DD. I will need time to feel more hopeful about the rest of the school year and next year in relation to future casting, but I am keeping that in perspective and not letting that guide what the post HS future holds. There has been a small erosion of trust for me about the school, but I, for the sake of DD, will move forward positively. Again these are my feelings as a parent and not the feelings of DD, who is loving her environment and her friends, making great academic grades, and dancing well.


Swanchat, you have voiced a concern I initially had about this snafu in relation to the college application process, I will say that I do have confidence in the college application process because of the school's college counselling office, which is very organized and has considerable points of accountability, because of the academic portion (SAT/ACT, essays, transcripts, etc.), which the AD does not handle. I know that DD will ask for artistic and academic recommendations, which will certainly require our watchful eye on all of DD's college team (AD and academic teachers) in terms of deadlines. WE WILL REMAIN VIGILANT. I also like your idea about using this experience as a potential application essay/short answer question as I believe there is a book to be written about the ballet journey. LOL!

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I feel that the private dance studios and residential programs have an obligation to keep their paying customers happy. Every girls should be given good dance roles even if they are in an ensemble. We pay a ton for pointe shoes, leotards, tuition, do fundraising and volunteering. Ballet careers are short. High may be the last chance for these roles.


My girls (now 12,17) were in a dance studio that would let a couple girls dance and the others would just flap their arms or hold a scarf or something, yet they had to be in rehearsals and class constantly. I switched both girls to different studios a couple years ago and they are getting so much choreography at the new places. I see every girl get "something". My older daughter's studio also takes age into account and makes sure juniors and seniors get a good role. They do multiple shows with multiple casts if necessary.


I can understand if companies don't promote women and don't give roles to certain people in the corps. These are paid positions and life isn't fair.

However, when a family is paying tuition and involved more heavily in a studio, I believe that is a different situation. Every girls should be dancing at least for a few minutes - not seconds.


I also agree it's not a career ending incident - but I feel this studio was in the wrong.

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Julisha, it seems that your DD was given positive feedback during her meeting with the AD! Kudos to her for setting up the meeting and putting herself out there! They will help place her; there are people interested in her. For whatever reason her casting in Nut this year was not what she had hoped for, but they stepped up and found casting for her. Though, as casting was not rearranged significantly differently after they admitted the "mistake", unfortunately, I think that there is a chance are you are correct to assume it was not entirely an oversight.


If the residential program is associated with a company, I would, unfortunately, also have to wonder if there is a chance that that there is a possibility that your DD could be in that group of talented dancers that is "not what the director of the company is looking for right now" (too tall, too short, too something and not enough something else, who knows what) as it seems casting is one of the ways that message is delivered during the last years of a company school's training ("you are doing well; you are a talented dancer; there are several interested in you; we will help place you" is how meetings regarding this question usually are couched). Not a "for sure", but I would not be honest if I did not advise that this is something that might be considered as your DD plans her course over these next years and upcoming audition seasons. Of course, you said she was a junior-did they choose to give parts to those students a year ahead who needed these for their resumes/ placement during the soon to be held auditions in January-March?


Regardless, looks like your DD has already been exploring options, and other options are always out there! Many in my DD's residential school class who were not kept at the company associated with the school are now enjoying traineeships elsewhere (several in her class are currently at 1st tier programs) and several others are highly scholarshipped students to competitive university ballet programs!

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Thank you autumnrose! DD's program is not affiliated with a company so I would imagine that the AD is looking to graduate and place as many talented ones in traineeships and college dance programs, for ballet and contemporary/modern. 99% of the dancing Seniors will go to college (most as non-dance majors) and one or two might get trainee spots (not many and mostly boys). They do give preference in parts to graduating Seniors for the very reasons you mentioned. DD is looking at many options and hoping that 2017 brings new opportunities for dancing, growth and maturity.

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Julisha, I find that your DD already has a lot of maturity exhibited by her behavior to move on as you have stated, and her ability to talk to the staff on her own. If she intends to pursue a career in ballet, these are tools that she absolutely must have in order to succeed. IMO I would say you should encourage both of these attributes to the fullest and let her continue to do her thing. I agree with learningdance and swanchat that talk is cheap. Please don't get caught up in the ADs assessment, no matter what the school is attached to or what is said about her abilitities. Also do believe that their oversight was a mistake and you should move on, because as was said, they cannot really correct the mistake done, but perhaps will award her something in the future.


It has been my experience with both my dancers that many a role has been passed over them for reasons, and many a role has been given. In their years before a career, these were great opportunities, but did not overwhelmingly contribute to their ability to succeed in one way or the other. It has been the sum of their experiences - good and bad - that has taught them. It has been their necessity to dance and continue that has helped them find their way. It has been my experience that each dancer needs to find their own way; there are many twists and turns in this life, and some will seem not to make sense, or, as a parent, will make us feel they have suffered an injustice. Since we are not in their 'shoes', I don't think we can understand really what they go through in order to succeed. It is indeed hard to stand by and watch, but it must be this way if they are to make it, in my opinion. My DDs have suffered injuries at the wrong time, not being hired for lack of given reasons, being used by one choreographer and not another, yet they still continue to insist that they need to do this. I know it seems unfair to you that she did not get a better part although the AD insisted there was no reason, but that is the way it goes so many times. I do not agree that everyone should be given a 'chance' if they are paying customers either. There are plenty of reasons why this does not happen, and only the instructors and staff truly understand that decision. It's best never to try and understand why other dancers do or do not get parts and best to focus on your own individual ability. It is good to constantly ask 'is my dancer able?' and in your case it does sound like she is. Honestly, I don't know how anyone can even tell you much more than that. They cannot promise her success in the future, unless they have a company and plan to hire her. So IMO, she is doing the right thing by moving on and accepting what has happened. By showing she is capable of dancing beyond this will be what motivates her.


Also, you mentioned you were concerned that she wouldn't have audition material for college? It has also been my experience so far with all the colleges my DD has applied to that she did not need any audition videos as they are all live auditions. There is one that she will submit a video for but they do not ask for performance video, only class work and I think a solo of some sort. I think you will find that colleges are seeking to teach and contribute and are not concerned with how many roles the student has had so far, but more with their ability to be refined for a career. At least that's what I have found so far. I hope this eases your angst in some way. I for one have gone through similar thoughts many times, and only want to assure you that this is not uncommon by any stretch.

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Excellent advice and observations Mobadt,


Our experience with audition videos is exactly the same as yours. The school should help your dk choreograph, rehearse and record a video. Julisha, this is where you may need to prepare your dd to be assertive in making this happen. This task will be under the AD's umbrella and the timing of the recording for college applications may mean that his attention is focused on other performances. I know that our dd's friends at her old school had difficulty with the video submission portion because the AD didn't behave as if this was a priority. If you find this to be that case next year, you may need to help assert with your daughter or even hire someone who knows your dd and her dancing strengths well to do the job.


Our dd prepared a video for company auditions (not university but it is the same process) The video was choreographed by her teacher that included work at the barre, center work (adagio and allegro), a solo and finally excerpts from a contemporary piece that the class was learning. This was filmed over a few days and the raw video was given to our daughter for assimilation into the different requirements of each company.


As Mobadt alluded to, ballet world isn't always fair or concerned with the needs of one individual and ballet world extends to paying customers in schools. Talk is cheap and compliments fleeting. It takes a tough skin and an intense focus on personal goals and growth to survive. It's great that your dd knows her goal after pre-pro school, help her focus on that and lay out a step by step "to do" list with deadlines included to help her know when she needs to ramp up pressure on those who should be helping her with those tasks (but may be thinking of other things at the time)



Oops! Sorry, just realized that this is off topic.. moderators delete if necessary.

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