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logollady

The ballet industry's "elephant in the room"

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logollady

Hello parents, 

This could be considered a very controversial topic, but I am going to "go there" because this is the time of year parents are considering sending their child away for training (whether it be summer or year-round) and as one who has experience in this area, this issue weighs deeply on my mind and my heart. 

The issue I am speaking of is the use of illegal drugs and underage (illegal) drinking by those away from home training for a career in ballet. You may think this is not an issue where ever your child is training at (or where they are going, or where they went for SI) but it is a much more broad issue than many even realize.

I was personally shocked at the prevalence of this issue this past year having finally sent my child to be trained in a pre-professional program away from her home studio - and I have been truly perplexed as to why it is so "hidden" within the ballet community (why doesn't anyone talk about it?)... I come to the conclusion that is likely an "elephant" in the proverbial room in many cases. Not sure if it is because people are afraid to bring it up for fear of ruining the perception of innocence and "mystery" within the industry, or if because people have different family values on what they allow or don't allow (even though the issue, it itself, is illegal), or because parents don't really want to believe it is happening, or is it just ignorance all around, or maybe it isn't happening at the studio/school/company your dancer attends...? Whatever the case may be, as parents, I believe we really need to understand this issue so that we can make educated, wise decisions on how to prepare our children in what they may encounter away from home. 

My dancer and I have a very open relationship and I hear all the details of who is doing what and when (both within the program she attends as well as other programs nationally and internationally - dancer talk, a lot). It is happening nearly everywhere, and if you think your child isn't being exposed to it, you are likely mistaken. I have myself witnessed (and have personally overheard many stories) regarding kids who are away from home at 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 + and are using both legal and illegal drugs and finding ways to drink (in some cases, heavily drink to the point of hungover the next day and "missing class") as un-monitored minors (in some cases, company members are even supplying both drugs and alcohol!).  As this is an issue of a legal nature, I am hesitant for any of us to "call out" specific companies - I am even hesitant to share this information within the school itself... because I fear it would cause a black mark in an already struggling industry, or even a black mark on our own children for being vocal about it. However, as this is an issue of legality, I really feel it needs to be addressed  in some way and I am not quite sure how to do that safely and fairly (in the same vein as the ME TOO movement imo).  

I may be opening Pandora's box here, but I believe that parents should have all the information to be able to make wise, educated decisions about the health of a program that they send their child to. Currently there is no forum to be able to do this safely.  I would personally love a way to "rate" a program on Ballet Talk- as far if there are any known issues within the training program and how they are dealing with it. We currently rate a program for how their training is, what their floors are like, whether or not they have access to a grocery store nearby etc etc. But we don't talk about how the Me Too environment is like and whether or not the school is dealing appropriately with illegal use of drugs and alcohol.

So, all that said, the point of my post is to state that I believe we need a safe way for people to share what is going on and a safe way for parents to know how prevalent it is within a certain organization. I would love other's thoughts on this if you are willing to share. 

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MelissaGA

But is it hidden? Is it any different than what is going on in high schools around the country, public, private and boarding schools alike, especially boarding schools? I don't think it is. I've heard this issue raised in the past with specific year round programs.

Moderators do post anonymously in some forums when a poster requests. Perhaps asking a moderator to post the information in the appropriate forum where it will be seen by those looking for information on that program would accomplish your goal. 

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dancemaven

As MelissaGa said, this is a teenager/young adult problem, not a dance school program issue proper.  It happens whether the kids are at home or at residency.  It can happen in your own home even if you are vigilant and believe ‘oh no, my kid knows better than that.’  (Trust me on that—sure not every kid sneaks it by a parent, but way more do than expected.  Color my face red with my younger daughter! :o )

So the discussion of alcohol and drugs is pretty universal—be it residency or hometown school.  I can relate incidents of both, including all our local high schools and their reputations for such.

The more important thing to know is how an administration deals with the issue when presented and how the parents deal with both the child breaking the rules and with an administration trying to deal with it. 

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logollady
2 hours ago, dancemaven said:

The more important thing to know is how an administration deals with the issue when presented and how the parents deal with both the child breaking the rules and with an administration trying to deal with it. 

Yes. I understand that drug and alcohol use happens everywhere there are teenagers and young adults present. :) 

So, to speak to this point, yes- my thoughts are just as we evaluate all other aspects of a school or training program, it seems legitimate to also evaluate this issue (as well as the ME TOO environment) in order to develop some sort of accountability to this issue as much as is possible given the type of training and housing situation exists. However, if it were ever done, it would need to be executed safely and with the option of anonymity as it is such a sensitive topic which could potentially harm a program's reputation or the career of adults who are complicit, and the dancer who "told" on others might also get ostracized (I have seen this happen this past year). 

In our situation, I truly admire the company, the teachers and the administrators of the program my dancer is in, and I want to believe that they don't realize how much is happening right under their nose - and they aren't aware just how many of the students are breaking the contract they signed when they started the program (or perhaps they know, but are looking the other way?).  I do know that there is at least one instance where they did indeed "look the other way", and did little follow up, appearing to hope for the best. In our case, I want to believe that they are more ignorant than they are complicit. One would hope. :shrug:

I also don't think it is wise for nothing to be done because we all acknowledge the presence of the elephant.  It is sort of a rock and a hard place type of a situation. 

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clara99

I have strong feelings about this too because we witnessed this sort of thing at our school as well. My post high school DD has a very open relationship with me, and I probably know more about her roommates than their parents do. My DD is very serious about her training and has avoided any situations that could compromise her training physically or ethically. She is one of the rare students (graduated) who makes good decisions and has no problem saying "no". However, she often was held hostage to the lifestyles of her roommates, and had to deal with their "activities" as they sometimes came back to her only home and safe place. There was no consideration for her feelings. Its been very difficult living with girls who are underage and make poor choices. Its very unfair to her, who does not want any of that stuff around, but cannot go anywhere. It is very much like college.

With unsupervised high school age dancers, there are no rules, no parents, no supervision. It is sad for me to see these girls making poor choices, and possibly hurting their training and health (plus the financial commitment of their parents). We just shake our heads and wonder if the parents really know what's going on. Kids under 18 need supervision. Our school provides housing for high schoolers, but often it fills up quickly, so they have to choose to live unsupervised. It is the parents' decision if this ok for their child. The school does not make that decision. I know our school does get involved when they find out about this sort of thing. It is a good topic of discussion.

 

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mom2two

Maybe not a popular opinion but honestly, I don't find it the program's responsibility to police what their students do in their private time.  Now, this would be totally different if it were a supervised housing situation but most programs do not have this type of a situation.  You referenced "happening right under their noses" so maybe you are talking about a truly residential program with under-18 students. 

An SI would be different as well, with dorm living because that is supervised by the program.  I did see DDs' current year-round program take a pretty hard line in this regard with two incidents over the four years they attended the SI.  I believe I mentioned both in my reviews, without specific details as that would only be hearsay through my DDs so I think the current process does allow for this type of reporting.  Even when DDs were younger, I noted that another program might not be best for those whose DK tends to get in trouble with little or no supervision.  So now that I think about it, I have included comments to this end three times over the years.

I'm not sure I would even know what to say regarding a year-round program without supervised housing?  Do some in the program engage in illegal activities and make poor life choices?  Of course they do.  Find me a group of teenagers and young adults who do not!  This isn't a ballet thing.  Personally, we didn't send our DDs off until they were 18 because I've seen many local dancers go off younger and it usually doesn't end up as well as the parents or the dancer expects, both dance-wise and life-experience wise.  And I know that we are fortunate to have good enough local training to be able to have made this decision.          

In my opinion, if a dancer is making poor choices in their private life, it will show up in the classroom and onstage, much like a college student's decisions will impact their grades.  That impact can be addressed by the program - repeatedly late to class, not giving 100% because they are obviously hungover, lack of motivation in general because they are stoned all the time, etc.  If the dancer's behavior doesn't improve, they will not be promoted further in the organization and perhaps not given good referrals to move on to another program.  That's life.  I'm not sure what other role the organization has in this.          

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Monet

High schools even public ones police what their students do even during non school hours and summer breaks.  Students caught using any substances have consequences from the school so I don't know why dance programs can't operate the same way.

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logollady

That is a good point Monet. Additionally, most reputable programs have contracts of abstinence which they have dancers sign. So, I guess my issue isn't (as much) whether or not the schools are "responsible" to police the students during their downtime (especially in a non-housing program)- but rather, by virtue of issuing a contract itself, they are responsible to hold the dancers accountable to said contract... which would include monitoring (policing?) them on the issues described therein.

Additionally, if a parent knows that a dancer is signing a contract with a reputable school or company, they may believe that the school has policies and procedures in place which hold dancers accountable to what they signed. I, myself, thought that was the case, but now understand that the topic itself is largely an elephant in this industry. This is VERY concerning to me, given the nature of the issue (the fact that it is illegal and that adults are often complicit).

Outside of the issue itself, my biggest concern is that the environment at *many* dance schools is not conducive to "report" if there is a situation (or several situations) because the school itself (and many of the dancers) are simply ok with the elephant. I fail to see much accountability to schools in this area, and am wondering if it would be good to figure out a way to change that. :)

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dancemaven

In high schools, it is really only the athletes and those students participating in an extra-curricular activity being chaperoned that have their behaviors outside of class “policed”.  The athletes, by virtue of their submission to the training and coaching expectations and the extra-curricular activity students by virtue of the parens in loco doctrine (literally, parent in place).   Regular students are not restricted in their activities when they are off school grounds.  There is simply no legal relationship that would require the school to provide that kind of (parental) supervision or any requirement that a student would have to do as a school personnel decreed.  That time is the student’s time.  It would encroach upon the parental rights and duties for it to be otherwise.

A true residential dance school, i.e., one that provides supervised housing, would fall within the parens in loco doctrine.  The school, by virtue of its housing contract with the student and family, has agreed amongst themselves that the school will provide the necessary supervision—in and out of class—and the child (and parent) will agree to follow that supervision.

So, a non-residential school would have the same responsibilities —-and limits—that any other organization, including an academic school (public or private) would have:  to set rules and boundaries for the students while in class and on campus and to enforce those as they see fit.  Once out of class or off the grounds, the school has no legal authority over the student.   Would you really want them to???

If a dance student comes to dance class snockered, then, yes, the school would have the authority to deal with the situation as presented to them on their turf.  Boot the kid from that day’s class, out for the semester, out of the production piece,  call the student’s parent (“Who?? My kid?! No Way!  My kid would NEVER do that!!!! How dare you!), whatever the school deemed appropriate under the circumstances.  If the kid was actually drinking on the premises of the dance school, absolutely the administration could step in.

As far as contracts that students sign, well . . . . That is a nice piece of paper, but no minor can sign a legally binding contract.  The age of majority is 18.  A minor can ratify a contract once they turn 18, but up until that age, that paper signed by a minor is just that:  a paper signed by a minor.  It has as much force as the two party choose to give it.  Yes, the school can absolutely mean it that there is zero tolerance for drinking, drugs, sexual encounters, etc.  And Yes, it can expel students per the agreement, which is really just a student handbook that the student has acknowledged understanding the rules, conditions, and parameters of their attendance at the school. (Which is also why the parents sign the contract (and are legally bound by the terms)—so the school can enforce the contract through the parents’ agreement to bind themselves and their child to the terms).

 But, does that mean the school folks have an obligation to go snooping around the kid’s private lives, looking for trouble, keeping spy tabs on them, administering breathalyzer or drug tests?  No, that’s not what they signed up for.  If they come across an issue, they will surely address it in some manner.  The resident staff has most likely been keyed in on teenagers if they are in that position (and were ever a teenager themselves).  As any parent, a parens in loco one probably will try to deal with the situation without going nuclear at the first incident.  And then go from there . . . . Parents are typically called early on if it is not a one-off situation.

DD did go to a residential ballet school just before she turned 16.  There were three dorm staff that actually lived in the housing with the students (all in their later 20’s with appropriate credentials) plus a residential supervisor who was in charge of those three plus ALL the kids, who dealt with absolutely every problem a kid could possibly have—from runny nose colds to medical appointments, to diagnostic appointments, to curfew violations, to drinking/drug use, to sneaking out, to cutting, to bulemia/anorexia, etc.  You name, she (and the dorm assistants) handled it all—-and  relevant parents were always in the loop. (The kids knew who was having what issues; the rest of us parents were not informed about other kids’ problems—as it should be).  I thought they all did a fabulous job and I was very impressed.  I felt very comfortable having my daughter in their care because I felt confident they were all operating with her best interests at heart and were very accessible to me (and any parent).

I also worried terribly about letting her go at that age.  But once I met with all these staff people, I was very reassured and remained that way throughout that whole dorm experience.  DD learned A LOT that year about so many things growing up.  But she did it seeing a wonderful support system in place for the dancers.  She learned about things she most probably would not have learned if she’d stayed at home that year.  It prepared her very well for the next year when she went to train at a release-time program that did not have a supervised housing situation (whole ‘nuther story).  But she and I both realized how very much she had learned that year in the dorm with those wonderful residential staff people (several of whom she is still in touch with these 13 years later!)

So, I guess my point is:   IF you are going to let your dancer go off to an away program, make sure you are comfortable with the nature and extent of the support and supervision that will be available to them (and you)—-both during class hours and outside of class hours.  Talk to the administration and find out what your boundaries and non-negotiables.  You cannot expect that schools will be substitute parents for your dancers.  That is not their job, nor is it their responsibility just because your kid dances there.  Find out IF the school does provide supervised housing and then talk to the people that will be doing the supervision. Find out if you are comfortable with what they can and cannot provide.  You can’t expect them to do everything exactly as you might do it.  Find out what kind of background and experience the supervisors have.  Ask questions. Ask how they handle situations.  Keep in mind, they have most likely seen it all—if they have been doing it for any length of time.

I don’t see this so much as an ‘elephant in the room’, but rather an area that parents/dancers don’t think to ask about when they are making their heady decisions to train away from home.

 

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learningdance

Logo

I don't agree at all that drugs and drinking are "the elephant in the room," where residential ballet programs are concerned.  That's just one.  And like other posters said these things are at other high schools as well. Here are the "other elephants"

-ED

-Promiscuity/inappropriate sexual relationships

-shoplifting

-drugs

I completely agree with Dancemaven. . . it all comes down to how the administration deals with it.  A few questions to ask yourself:

1. Where is the policy for the school around these issues? What is done when something occurs?  Is it printed and available?

2. Do they follow the policy? 

3. What is the training and background of the people who are managing a residency? There are actually masters degrees in student affairs that people who manage residence life in colleges have. There is a professional content to know. 

4. What is the level of supervision? 

DD is at a residential program but actually she attended an SI last year where 1 kid was kicked out for skipping class and going back to the dorm and smoking weed.. . stupid kid and where 2 girls were kicked out for shoplifting 1000s of dollars of items over the summer.  Another summer one kid had clothing destroyed by another kid. In her residential program 1 kid was kicked out last year for doing drugs.  Kids have been kicked out for having sex in the dorm.  Kids are sent home for ED that goes unchanged. It's all there in spades. 

And in terms of reporting, if something is going on in YOUR room, you have to get it out or report it  or else, if caught, administrators will actually have to assume that you were complicit. 

What I do thank you for is reminding me to revisit this stuff with DD now that she is no longer the little 14 year old we sent away. So thanks.  

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Ballerinamom2girls

I honestly didn't know any of this was happening and prevelent; just never occurred to me.  I grew up as the kid who followed the rules.  Never even in a situation where I was offered alcohol or drugs.

So much to consider now; thank you for bringing this up!

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learningdance

Anything that you hear of going on in your local high school will take place in a residential ballet program. What will mitigate the impact of these issues on your DD or DS will be the degree to which the administrations of programs are willing, able, and ready to address them AS WELL AS your clear and consistent communication with your kid about where you stand and what your consequences are.

We have essentially told our DD, "This is the program that we can afford and if you lose your scholarship or dorm spot, you  will be back in our small town with the resources that you had when you left. This is simply reality and the natural consequence of rule breaking and getting kicked out." 

She has SEEN kids get kicked out and she knows that is absolutely a reality.  So, to some extent, we are on the same page with the program. She is there to train to become a professional dancer and acquire the life skills that she needs for that. 

This post has ignitied in me the reminder to revisit this again with DD and to provide her with possible scenarios, what to do, how to handle them.  Just saying DON'T is  probably step one but talking about how to effectively extract one's self from the situation is another step. DD has good friends and a great roommate but kids change and make mistakes and they have differing levels of resistance to peer pressure and differing parental support/input/guidance.

I guess the other thing that can help is trying to keep lines of communication open.  Teens will not tell you everything and often will even lie but the more you can honestly talk to them the better. 

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5uptown

I agree that it is a serious problem if adults associated with the school (such as company members, if it is a company school) are providing alcohol and drugs to underage students, and it would be very concerning to me as a parent if this was happening openly. I do think the school has a responsibility to maintain a safe environment whether or not the students live in supervised housing, though the extent to which a school can be involved is limited if they are not providing residential facilities.

It is also concerning to me that many reputable/elite (and expensive!) training programs seem not to have sufficient housing or educational arrangements for their minor students. Supervised housing, well run, would not eliminate these normal issues with a group of teenagers, but it would give the school the ability to set enforceable limits and to guide young students who are far away from their parents. Yes, kids in normal high schools obviously get in trouble with this too-- but they have their own family there to monitor and guide them, and to help pick up the pieces when they make bad decisions. Access to education and to educators outside of dance is valuable on its own, but can also provide adolescents with some other adults in their lives.

My son is a little young for this to have come up for him yet, though he is increasingly aware that it may be going on with older students. I like the list of questions that learningdance suggests we ask ourselves about any program we are sending our children to. I am trying to talk openly with my son about what may be going on, what my own expectations are for him, and also about the clear policy at his school (and the possible consequences!). He lives at home (for now) so of course that helps. I absolutely would expect a school to be accountable for following their own policies, and I hope that people would share, in as open a way as possible, if programs have persistent problems at the level of school culture or unenforced policies regarding anything that impacts the safety of our children!

 

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learningdance

5uptown

As your son ages you will be completely floored by the situations that people will allow their 14, 15, and 16 year old kids to live and study in. People kind of throw their own good sense out the window in pursuit of "the dream." I think that there are some very good well-managed schools in this country but many more are just kind of "pieced together."  And even the best run places have all of these problems and more. 

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Temps de cuisse

Learningdance

Oh how I so agree! It always amazes me that parents are so gullible when year-round study options are offered. I have had students that have been thru good situations and disastrous ones when leaving home early...and also have students whose parents insisted they stay 'home' until they were older. Many years ago an offer usually meant a pro career was in the works but it seems that there are so many heavy duty training options for young dancers that there is no way there are enough opportunities after they graduate. They have given up those last important years when parents/families/community can influence growth and maturity and the possibility of dancing would have been just the same.

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