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Ballet Talk for Dancers
redvelvetcake

Boys, ballet and flexibility

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redvelvetcake

DS9 recently auditioned for a place in a well known pre-professional ballet school’s interstate training program.  If successful he will be able to attend boys intensives and masterclasses during the year while continuing to train at his regular ballet school.

This was his second time auditioning for this program.  Last year he felt he was unsuccessful because he was not able to complete some of the flexibility tests during the audition, for example, he was nowhere near achieving his middle or front splits and could just touch his toes.  We included more stretching into his weekly training.  He started attending his ballet school’s stretch classes and also PBT (Progressing Ballet Technique-a program developed by Marie Walton Mahon).

He has been working steadily on his flexibility and now almost has his middle splits.  He is not as close to the front splits.  We have been taking a very conservative approach with stretching (under the guidance of teachers)and not doing anything like oversplits type stretches.

He feels that he did not do well in some of the flexibility tests at this year’s audition, for example, they were all asked to lie down on the ground and then raise one (straight)leg up past a 90-degree angle and “see if they could touch their knee to their nose”.  DS could go past 90 degrees but not to his nose.  No surprises there!

DS said some of the girls could do this and only one of the boys.  Is this type of flexibility the expectation at this age?  It seems very advanced to me.  For those with sons at pre-professional schools did they need this type of flexibility prior to acceptance at these schools and also how did they improve their flexibility (if not naturally flexible).

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mln

Hi, redvelvetcake,

I am not an expert on flexibility, but this is what I have seen by observing my own son and other boys he dances with.

Boys change a lot as they grow, and 9 is too early to be making predictions about a future in ballet.  A lot of boys get their flexibility later, sometime even after their adolescent growth spurts.  I think your son sounds very normal and there's no reason to feel discouraged as long as he loves to dance.

Yes, there will be very flexible kids his age.  And you will hear parents and teachers tout this flexibility as the foundation for ballet success.  But, as kids grow and other skills and attributes are added to the repertoire of a promising dancer--stature, strength, musicality, ability to learn choreography and take corrections, stage presence, and self-discipline--flexibility becomes just one of many things a dancer needs (and not always the most important one).  Many male dancer achieve just adequate flexibility, excel in some of these other areas, and have wonderful careers.

I also think flexibility is a two-edged sword.  My son is now at the age where strength matters a lot, and some of his more flexible friends have trouble with lifting and are more prone to certain injuries.  Also, flexibility seems to come more easily to petite guys, and yet companies only have so many spots for the petite male dancers.  They hire more guys who are tall enough to partner.

So, why do pre-professional programs test flexibility at the age of 9?  I have no idea.  Maybe one of the teachers can tell us! 

By way of encouragement, let me say that I have seen many, many boy dancers who at 9, 11, 13, and even 15 were nothing remarkable.  Then, around 16, something clicks, and they are able to catch up to and even surpass the kids who showed very early ballet facility.  Take heart, and find a ballet program that is patient with the boys.  There are fine programs out there that understand that boys develop later.  And there are wonderful, experienced teachers out there who have seen the tortoises win the race many times, and who will not be quick to dismiss an enthusiastic 9-year-old who does not have his middle splits.

 

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5uptown

My son is a young teen, at a large boys program in a large ballet school, and what mln describes is just what I have seen. There is a huge range of flexiblity amongst the dancers, and it doesn’t seem to be a huge priority at his school (control, stability, strength, mental focus, precision of movement, ability to learn and remember combinations all seem more important to progress). My son has been told by many teachers (and some adult male dancers) that the flexibility will come with time, and that it is typically difficult for boys when they are rapidly growing in adolescence. Your son should not be discouraged if flexiblity isn’t where he excels right now, and that while he should keep working on it, it is only one small part of the work that goes into training in ballet. My son cannot do a split, and though he would like to do it, he know that its something that will come with consistent practice— and most likely not before he stops growing. 

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Thyme

Mother of 19yoDS here. I cannot tell you how often I wondered about this issue as DS was growing up.  He had alot of great attributes but flexibility was never one of them.  His nemesis for years was incredibly flexible- could do soooooooooooo many tricks and would wow the judges every time (or at least that was how it seemed).  It really played with DSs confidence when he was about 12.  Then one day the nemesis didn't win the regional competition and I overheard the Lighting Guy standing next to me chuckle.  He nudged me and said 'its about time. We have all seen the tricks a million times'.  Anyways that was very heartening at the time.  So fast track 10 years and DS informs me that he can do 'pretty good' front and back splits (meaning they are 'good enough') but side splits elude him and he doesn't care.  It is hard for many or most the boys who see the girls (some of them anyways) throwing splits around so casually. I really don't think the average male pelvis is built for this but they still want it. So far it hasn't stopped him from doing exactly what he wants in dance. I am pretty sure that any serious discussion of his 'splits status' would be now met with an eye roll and serve as proof that I just don't get it! Funny how the wheel turns. B)

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redvelvetcake

Thanks everyone, it is reassuring to hear about your sons’ experiences and to know that DS has time to develop his flexibility.  He is one of those tall boys so it sounds like it will take him a while.  I will talk to him about this possibility so that he does not get discouraged if results don’t come as quickly as he would like.

The audition results will be out in September.  If unsuccessful, I will keep trying to find DS other opportunities to attend boys classes.  Not so easy in Sydney, especially for his age group.

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