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What Do You Do? and How Do You Know?


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As a parent of a high achieving 15 almost 16 year old child (who is good at both ballet and academics), I am faced with the tough decision of, what do you do with a child that has done all the right things? I know that generally this shouldn't be a problem and should a cause for pride and celebration, however, with her success comes a hefty price tag and commitment. Do we allow her to continue down the uncertain path of pursuing a professional ballet career? or do we stress the importance of an academic career that may pay off more in the long run? From a dollars and cents point of view: lessons, summer intensives, coaching, competitions...Will ballet ever have a return on the time and money spent? On the other hand to drop a talent and passion, to pursue a more traditional academic approach really guarantee an assured future with monetary security? I can almost bet that many of you are struggling with the same dilemma. I mean, how do you know that, Anything is the "right" thing to do?

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  • learningdance


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Right there with you. And I can see multiple perspectives.

On one hand, and only half jokingly, all the money (and time) we've put into lessons, classes, SIs, pointe shoes and more, is less expensive than rehab!

And the skills acquired through the serious study of an art can be applied to many many other fields. On this board we've had lots of discussions on the positives of ballet.

Is there a financial payoff for continuing ballet? Only for that very rare student who will become the principal at a top-rated company who may find financial security. On the other hand, if financial security was our sole goal, we would all be orthodontists. :)


I have several ballet-mom friends who have put their children's education on the back-burner in exchange for pursuit of the elusive company contract. I worry since the odds are, the kids won't make it. What will happen then? But, on the other hand (third hand?) is there a better time to pursue a dream than when you are young and unencumbered by family, mortgage, etc. ?

Unfortunately, I have the same questions and no answers.

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jwolfenden, my DD14 is also an academically high achieving student, as well as a fully committed dancer enrolled in a strong pre-pro training program. She takes advanced academic classes (she wouldn't have it any other way), and is working towards admittance to a non-dance major program at a good college. She also has the dream of being a professional dancer. Our agreement is that in her senior year she will apply to colleges like any other HS senior, then take a gap year (if she still wants to) to dip her toes a little more firmly in the dance world. Regardless of what happens with dance, she is intent on working towards a non-dance degree whether full or part-time.

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For my dd, the turning point was broadening her view beyond ballet as the only real dance option. I realize that this is a site for ballet dancers, and it might not apply to your daughter, but as my dd started to get more involved in contemporary, choreography, and teaching, she can now envision a path that is less either academics OR dancing...getting a BA/BFA and beyond seems to be more common in the dance world outside of ballet.

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Our way of dealing with this situation is to lessen our grip on the reins. 18DS has decided to focus on dance at the expense of academics. He is completing a high school diploma designed for young apprentices or others who don't aim for university admission shortly after high school. DS could easily go to university, he has interests and aptitudes in that direction but his heart doesn't lie there right now. I come from a big family of university educated professionals so this path is new to me. His path caused me some anxiety but not for long.


We have no doubt that he will pursue more education one day but right now his body is young, his heart is in the studio, he is happy and stimulated. I cannot think of one reason to get in his way. I don't think he could keep one foot in both camps- study and dance trying to keep both doors open at the same time.


I have no doubt that when his money runs out (and or his body) he will be upgrading his high school diploma and heading back to class. Fine. This is his life, not ours.


I picked him up an application form at Starbucks this morning!! He will need it.


I should also edit this to add that we live in Canada where going to university at any time of life is considered normal and fine. I don't know for sure but I have the impression from the US contributors that perhaps this is not your situation. Once DS decides to go for higher education, there will be a solid pathway for him and he can get a student loan and pay his own tuition :yes:.

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Dancemom2, your summary about your daughter could be written exactly the same for mine. DD14 is adamant about taking the most challenging courses in her extremely academically rigorous school. Although I worry about the sleep deprivation from late nights studying after she returns from ballet, I know she would not have it any other way. She is quite aware that she could be weeded out of dance soon, since the competition is stiffer as she gets older. But, she takes comfort in the fact that she is discovering so many other interests and strengths at school. If she does continue to move forward in the dance world, we would also consider letting her take a gap year, but only after non-dance college admission was accomplished. Of course, that also depends on a reputable training opportunity being offered. So in my opinion, as long as we can afford to support both dance and rigorous academics, and she continues to excel in both, we will keep on keeping on! I really do believe that she has to be the driving force, however. I'm not going to nag her about homework or getting to ballet. I'm not going to push her to do both and would be fine with her dropping dance for academics. On the otherhand, dropping academics for dance is NOT something my husband or I could support. Education is our top priority in our family.

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How long does a parent feed the dream (or fantasy)? Seeing other older dancers go through the decision, usually in their senior year, fate and genetics and opportunity do play a big part. Granted no career is a "straight line" ballet or otherwise. One thing I've been mulling over in the last couple of day is the argument of Fantasy vs. The Dream. Fantasy is when a persons does not match the requirements of reality. Hopefully somewhere down the line shortcomings are revealed (by a teacher or audition) and if accepted, a person can move on to something more real and attainable. The dream is the more difficult of the two because there is just enough of what is required for a person to believe they have a credible shot at what they want to achieve. "Chasing the Dream" is where I see a fair amount of dancers. Just good enough to keep at it but uncertain as to whether the outcome will meet what their dream might be. Their talent is both a blessing and a curse! As parent we want to support our child but we are just as susceptible to the dream and do what we can, sometime at the detriment and neglect of other siblings, spouses and bank accounts! Thoughtful parenting is hard, but decisions ultimately cost money (ballet or academics) and shouldn't be made lightly.

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We are going through this exact scenario. My DD is gifted physically and mentally in ballet, and we have seen her hone her gifts over the years. Currently, she is a senior in HS and we have already resolved to let her go for the profession and put off college for now, with the understanding she needs a "plan B" for education in her back pocket. As far as dancing in college, we know in her soul, she doesn't mix academics and ballet very well. She has a hard time focusing on schoolwork when performances come up. She pours all her mental energy into her ballet "job". For her, turning ballet classes into graded academic work is not what is right for her soul. She just can't do it. It would be a mess for her to try to juggle college work with rehearsals and performances. Actually, we know her and if she doesn't give this a try right now, it will haunt her for the rest of her life. She needs to do this now, and maybe later she will be focused to take on college after she finds another topic to study. It's very scary, but we pray it will work out. We believe in her and her determination. We keep her grounded and tell her she can call it quits whenever she's ready and we are here to support her. No regrets. We have sacrificed, and most likely financially it won't balance out even if she gets a contract. But we would rather spend the money on our kids' passions and gifts. What a reward for us. Thank you to all who share their stories because we parents are all feeling the same way!

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Okay, former professional dancer and very long time teacher speaking here. First, I have found that over many years of teaching top level ballet students, the extreme majority are also gifted academically. This of course makes it very difficult for parents to totally support a passion that is not one that promises definite rewards. However, if you have a dancer who, by the last year or two of high school, who has the facility, talent, training, encouragement from teachers, directors, choreographers, who has been given major roles in productions, and, most importantly, is a young dancer who HAS to dance.....not one who just thinks she/he might like to, then forcing them into an academic world they do not want is not a good thing. If they have the kind of drive, focus, commitment, and passion, along with the elements listed above, then they deserve a chance. College can wait, ballet cannot. These students will ultimately succeed in whatever they do, but moving on into something that is not their decision for their life is not the way that happens. They will most likely continue their academic education at some point, but hopefully it will be their own choice to do that.


As parents you need to know they have a realistic chance, but that is all anyone can know. That is where the teachers/directors/coaches come in. But also, your knowledge of your own child and how important continuing to dance is. A dancer has to dance, and they will find a way, with your help, hopefully. :)

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jwolfenden, I probably viewed DDs connection to ballet as a student mostly a fantasy (as you define it) throughout her high school years, but occasionally I questioned that notion when she sometimes stumbled upon unexpected external affirmation. So in the end, and in consultation with great minds on these forums, I decided to let go, and see what happened - to a certain extent, at least.


First of all, I would have been loathe to let high school academics take a back seat to dancing. To me, even for someone who seems to be clearly cut out for a professional classical ballet career, nothing is certain. On top of that, a good education can deepen artistry. I also felt it very important that my daughter explore and connect with different aspects of herself, experience different opportunities, so that on the day she does stop dancing, she retains dimensionality and a sense of future purpose. So, we made sure that we found a program that offered good ballet training in tandem with a solid high school education. She managed to not only do well in the dance program, but also graduated first in her high school class and receive offers from extremely selective universities.


It was DD who decided she did not want to combine college with ballet. Because she had the time and opportunity to develop a love of learning, she felt that when her time for college came, she wanted to savor the opportunities it offered, rather than squeeze them in around the edges of dance. She also knew that she would graduate from a BFA program with some debt, and did not feel that becoming an unpaid/lowpaid trainee for 2-4 additional years following college was a viable path for her to take. So, she accepted a place at a prestigious university, and has deferred attendance there for 2 years now, while she experiences being a trainee in a professional company. She herself agrees with us, her parents, that unless an actual professional, paying contract was forthcoming this year, then it was unwise for her to delay attendance at the university any longer. She has known for these past two years that as a young adult, she is free to follow any path she chooses at the conclusion of this season, but that her parents would not be financing any opportunity other than college at that point. Now, since some have suggested to us that 4 years unpaid post-grad work is often what it can take to secure a company contract in the US, then yes, she, and we, have possibly limited her options of achieving her dream. It is an imperfect trade-off, but to us, at least, seems the most sensible approach to take under the circumstances.

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LovesLabor, thank you for sharing this experience. Your DD sounds amazing. I wish her the best and would love to hear more as her journey continues.

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Just one more thing. My above post sounds very cold and clinical - just the facts, ma'am. But there is definitely an emotional risk to all this, I believe, and I didn't want to gloss over it. That's the part that has kept me (and no doubt my dd) awake at night, for the past 6 years, in my case. I can't speak for what it feels like for any dancer to stop dancing. I sense that for my DD, it will be like experiencing a death. At the same time, when I talk to her about this possibility, I'm amazed at the resilience, the sheer strength of character that all these years of dance have built up in her - taught her how to focus on the positive, and on the joy of the moment. I'm sure whenever she is forced to stop dancing, it will not be easy, and the threat of depression will be very real. However, ironically, I feel that these years of dance have equipped her with the strength, grace, poise and determination to deal with that situation when it comes. Her life - any life- is more than likely going to be filled with moments, perhaps years of disappointment. At least dance has taught her how to face them.

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Based on the assumption that my daughter continues down the academic (coursework and grades) she is currently following, I am told she will likely receive a free ride to a decent college; ballet is expensive and I make many sacrifices to support my DD in her endeavor. But my support has an expiration date. If my DD graduates from high school with "the drive, focus, commitment, and passion," to succeed in ballet, she will have one more year of said support (ballet tuition, pointe shoes, etc.). If she wishes to continue down an artistic path after that, she will have to get a paying gig or learn how to make lattes and bankroll it herself.

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Perhaps some of you who have had children apply for colleges can share some insight. My DD is in the same boat as several of you have described, academic high achiever, but completely driven by her love of dance. My conundrum has been that we will be reliant on her hopefully pulling in some big scholarships, as well as financial aid, so that she can afford go to college. I have been told by more than one academic advisor that the bulk of scholarships/aid is usually awarded to kids coming right out of high school. That is not so say academic scholarships and aid are not available to kids to take alternative paths and then eventually head to college, but basically the best chance for this kind of help is for those coming right out of high school. Have any of you found that this is indeed the case? And if a student does get into college and defers, do schools hold scholarship offers? I wish I could afford for my DD to pursue her dream, whatever the end result, but the weight of where to finally draw the line has been keeping me up at night.

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Wow! Fantastic discussion! So important to think ahead on such matters because kids grow up so fast. Ballet as a career is so much more than tutus, pointe shoes and summer intensives. I mean it's great to receive an acceptance but financing that opportunity and dream is another story. The other point I would like to contribute is the value of an honest assessment of talent. When I was a dancer I attended the Banff School in Canada and at the end of the session they sat down with each person to give an assessment of their talent. This was the most revealing and honest assessment of my talent that I ever received. No I didn't stop dancing because of this but I felt better directed in my pursuit of a dance career. I danced until I was 32 years old as a principal dancer. I feel that's the part that is missing in most dance schools. Somehow economics plays a part in the evaluation and some students are left with false expectations of their talent and job potential. Maybe up in Canada they treat dance more of a vocation rather than a rite of passage activity. Dancers are forever looking for that external validation and clues from summer intensive audition, parts in Nutcracker, Demos to determine if they are actually making progress. It's too much of a guessing game. Anyway just another thought...

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