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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Quitting ballet career in middle school

David Malcolm

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David Malcolm

After following her dream of ballet dancing professionally for 4 years, DD is now talking about abandoning her dream.  She doesn't even know the exact reasons or trigger.  Maybe she started too late (age 9), not finding a good ballet academy, always thinking about her diet/what to eat/not eat.  She feels sad and empty when attending her current ballet school.

What advice to give her?

How does a middle school student trraining in ballet knows when ballet is a good fit as a career?


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David, we have lots of threads on this topic.  I’m sure it would be helpful if you read through them as they cover a lot of feelings, insights, experiences, understanding, and wisdom.  I’m headed out the door, so I can’t go in search of them.  But, it may be easiest to find them simply by scrolling through the index pages for both Parents Forums and dropping in on the threads.

Middle school age is a time when many kids decide their childhood vision of being a ‘ballerina’ just isn’t what they want to do.  And that’s perfectly okay.  Being held to something one thinks they want to do for the rest of their life at age 9 is really not the norm.  We don’t expect the kids who dream of being a firefighter or a doctor or an astronaut at age 9 to focus solely on that and never be given the room to change their mind.  We shouldn’t hold a child to a ‘career’ they ‘choose’ at age 9.  :D

I would encourage you to let her sort it out.  If she wants to take ballet classes, great.  If she decides she’d like to explore other interests and opportunities, great!  Let it be her choice without judgment, pressure, or subtle preferences by you.  At thirteen, the world of possibilities is open to her.  (And if she is worrying about her diet beyond good food choices, then it may not be a healthy profession for her to focus on anyway).

The kids that ultimately make a profession of ballet are the ones that simply cannot live without dancing.   But they know that as they are training.  We parents must let those that choose otherwise be allowed to do so.  Just because they once enjoyed it, doesn’t mean they have to continue narrowly down that road.  They are allowed to switch gears——and many, many do, at middle school, and again at high school, and again as graduates.

Best wishes.


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On ‎10‎/‎19‎/‎2018 at 8:07 AM, dancemaven said:

The kids that ultimately make a profession of ballet are the ones that simply cannot live without dancing.

I would agree with this, David.  And I can only speak based on my own DD's experiences, but my DD18 has to make this exact choice over and over again.... EVERY DAY, and then again several times a year.  The profession is NOT "romantic" or easy.  It's hard, difficult and sometimes nasty.  It's also beautiful, fulfilling and sometimes inspiring.  But -- ultimately -- it MUST be their individual choice to continue. 

But I also understand your confusion and worry over a 13/14 yo making choices that affect her life.  It's hard to sit on the sidelines and watch while they make decisions about their life.  But that's what parenting REALLY is... ultimately you give guidance, suggestions, ideas, thoughts, advice.... and then you let them decide.  And that "letting them go" starts during the teenage years.  So... I don't think it's a question of what advice to give HER.  I think it's about what advice to give YOU. 

I (personally) think it's a good idea to question your kids about the decisions.  From my selfish perspective -- I am more comfortable with allowing decisions and consequences to play out AS LONG AS I KNOW those consequences have been considered and acknowledged.  I tell my kids (all the time) that I don't care as much about the ultimate decision they make (although I am sometimes disappointed), but what I DO care the MOST about is their PROCESS of making it

So... I would advise you to continue asking her (in a non-confrontational or judgmental way) to explain to you how she feels and what her process is.  Explore that process.  Offer suggestions on a different process (i.e. "have you considered this?"  or "what about this?" or "would you feel differently if X or Y happened?").  And please, PLEASE, remind her -- outloud and often --  that this decision she makes DOES NOT CHANGE the respect or love or care you have for HER -- as a person. 

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I love what Eligus said!  It is a choice, every day and the sacrifices just get bigger and bigger and more and more.  A dream at 9 is very different from a dream at 13 or 14, and will be at 18 etc.  The kids I know who are now actually dancing pro now really didn't decide until they were older.  One, who just got her contract only got serious about a career at 16, but as she was well trained it wasn't hard to kick up her training a notch.  So maybe she just needs some space-- in that way I agree with Dancemaven very much.

I think at some point it IS worth looking for the trigger and making sure it was a healthy decision.  Was there something bad going on or inappropriate behavior ?  Or was it just time to move on?  She certainly shouldn't be staying somewhere that makes her sad.

I have a dancer around your DD's age, and I can say the school can really make the difference.  Now that we go to a new school, she is so much more joyful and happy, even though it is more challenging.  So the school could have been the trigger, absolutely.  In my DD's case, she did  not ever want to quit the dream, but we had no idea how much happier she could be at a new school.  She had some very sad and frustrating days at the old school and once we were out of the situation, we really could look back and see it more clearly.

Most kids DO stop pursuing the dream of dancing professionally at some point.   I love when I hear it being an empowered choice.  I've read on this board that 13 is like a peak year for kids giving up and moving on to other things too.


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Hi David Malcolm, if I remember your previous posts, you were looking for better training for your daughter in Korea to help her reach her dreams.  It could be that her training has left her feeling the way you describe.  I say this because of what you have shared about her current studio.  Perhaps a new studio is what will help.  One of my DD friends left the studio where they met (mine left at the same time for preprofessional school with major company) and is in a new environment thriving and advancing.  Previous studio did not inspire her friend.  Sometimes a change of space, students, and so forth can be what the dancer needs.  I hope you are still exploring other places in Korea and abroad for your daughter if it is her studio that is making her feel that way.  Best to you both.

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If every middle schooler's career aspiration came true, the world would be overrun with veterinarians and marine biologists. 

What I really mean here, lest my words be misinterpreted, is that MANY middle school dancers want to dance professionally. And that as their training progresses and they mature and develop -- and get exposed to more possible careers, etc., --their goals frequently change. I mean, how many of the adults you know decided on their career path at 9,11 or even 16? 


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