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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Why do teens quit ballet?


Jennsnoopy

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My DD is almost 14. She loves ballet, even though it’s challenging she has no desire to quit. I have heard that in the early and mid teen years there can be a lot of attrition from ballet studios, especially during the high school years. Why is this? It’s hard for me to fathom dancers that have spent so many years working so hard just up an quit once they are in high school. I was speaking with a more experienced parent whose multiple daughters have danced through high school and beyond and she was saying that she has seen it time and time again. She told me not to be surprised if half of my daughter’s class drops out in the next few years. That surprises me because right now all my daughter’s classmates seem in it for the long haul.

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I think there are many good reasons teens and pre-teens quit ballet or other intense after school activities.  First, as ballet or other art forms or sports progress, kids have to dedicate more and more time to them.  At age 8 they might be spending a couple of days a week dancing an hour and a half a day.  By high school they are at the studio everyday attending multiple classes and sometimes rehearsals.  And the demands on their time in school increase.  Kids at 8 might have about 30 minutes or homework a night, but in high school it is more likely around 2 hours, sometimes more, a night.  High school also has more clubs, programs, and other opportunities for kids to explore their interests.  The "regular" students are able to participate in multiple clubs unlike most dance students who generally concentrate all of their time in dance.  Some kids like being able to explore, especially those who do not want to make dance their career. Also, those who don't want to have a career in dance sometimes have to dedicate more time toward the area that will further their career.  Something has to get eliminated, and sometimes that something is ballet.  Ballet also gets more difficult as time goes on.  So not only do they have to spend more time but also more effort.  And don't forget high school is also a key time for kids to socialize with friends, they will miss out on a lot when they are at the dance studio.  As the difficulty grows and time requirements increase, it requires a high degree of dedication to and enjoyment from dance to outweigh the time they will be missing with friends and other activities.  Not everyone has this dedication or gets this much enjoyment.  Another reason to quit happens when kids look around and realize they are not progressing as fast as their peers in ballet or feel that they just don't have what it takes to be a professional.  For whatever reason, when the decision is made to leave the pre-professional track, some kids are able to switch to a more recreational program that allows them to still enjoy dancing but also gives them the freedom to do other things  Others participate in school musicals, cheering, dance team, etc.  But other kids just need a break from dance or time away to recover from letting go of the dream of being a ballet dancer.  

I've had one DK who stayed in dance throughout high school and another that quit in 8th grade.  Of the kids who were dancing with the older DK at age 12, about 1/4-1/3 quit sometime between 13 and 18. Of the kids dancing with my younger DK, it was the opposite, only about 1/4 continued to dance (this was the DK that quit).  So sometimes it can depend on the group of kids.  One thing you should know is most of the time it is not easy for these kids to quit dance.  They are leaving behind friends, mentors, and a way of life.  It is a difficult decision for most and often they need more support from us parents (at least in the short term), if they decide to quit dance than if they decide to stay.

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iceberg*lover

My daughter quit at 17. Granted, she only trained properly for 3 years, so that contributed, she never really quite caught up. Other factors included lack of support in many areas,(it was a struggle for us financially to keep her at a proper pre pro far away so we only did that 1 year) a difficult commute to class daily, no same age peers in her small school and her strong desire to have more of a social life/boyfriend. 

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I think puberty also is a reason. Their nice tidy pre-teen body becomes awkward/ ungainly/uncoordinated/heavier/ bustier . .. the list goes on. DS found it challenging to grow and grow and grow. It took support and encouragement from his teachers for him to learn how to move again. He had to be patient. He wasnt able to bulk up like shorter guys and felt self conscious. He hung in there but many wouldnt have. All of the reasons discussed by others applied too. I think there are such a wide range of 'filters' which cause dancers to stop. Money. Teenage angst. Social isolation. Bullying. Frustration. Studio politics. Body image. We could write a book on this.

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In addition to all the other reasons listed, I've seen challenges such as physical injury derail dancers.  Even a relatively "small" injury (soft tissue) can throw off the training schedule and require a whole new set of coping skills (mental and physical) on top of the huge amount of time management and mental skills already required.  "Falling behind" and feeling the need to "catch up" or missing out on an opportunity feels quite different in the teen years than it does for the 13 and under crowd.

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threegirlpileup

I think the early teens are the time when many dancers start feeling the push-pull between dance and other activities/opportunities.  My dd (almost 18) and I were talking just the other day about this—one of the reason we knew dance was “her thing” was that she has always been ready and willing to put dance first, even when it has meant missing out on other things.  We have seen other dancers unable or unwilling to do this, and it can become a cycle—take August off, come back out of shape, get cast less well in Nutcracker, get less invested, miss more class here and there, stop progressing as quickly, etc etc.  But I think this is a normal and natural maturing process, since the truth is, serious pursuit of dance DOES require that you joyfully put it before all other things.

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Education.  DD has taken ballet classes every week since she was three years old, increasing days per week as she advanced through the levels. She continued her training through the summers, first in local programs and then, beginning at age 11, at various summer intensives both in and outside the U.S.  For the past few years, she has been in a six-days/week, 1/2 day ballet pre-pro program.  I say all this to emphasis that this is a girl who has not been a recreational dancer. She has always been recognized as a dancer "with potential" to become a professional.

But she has also been dually focused on school and has maintained a rigorous academic workload, and at the beginning of this year she decided she wanted to go straight to college next fall.  Although she has kept up in her full-time ballet program, she did so knowing she would likely leave at the end of the year.  She came to the conclusion that no matter how much she loves dancing, she is not willing to forgo her education to continue dancing full time.  So at 17 she will become a recreational dancer.

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From what I have seen personally, I agree with dancemom02 that education can be a big reason. My son's friends who left as teenagers (both a little older than him, he is just finishing middle school this year)- they wanted to do other things, and ballet was going to require they really cut corners in academics, and give up doing anything else while in high school. It was hard for my son to understand the choice, but as a parent, I get it. And if my kid wasn't completely committed to studying ballet, I expect I would encourage him to do the same. We have a brick and mortar school option that will allow him to still get a regular high school degree, and even pursue some AP/college credit if he wants, but neither the education nor the peer group are the same as they would be at a more academically rigorous school. 

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Parents. One thing I have learned on this board is that parents who are not happy with their DK becoming a professional ballet dancer can require the dancer to change their goal and pursue a more conventional path. It is fine for our young children to dance and excel or simply love it. As our children become teenagers and their future occupations are discussed I think many parents (and grandparents) are not happy with dance as a career. This is of course to do with financial security as well as (I think) the lesser social standing of being a dancer than say an accountant. We all worry for our kids and it isnt easy to think of them in an occupation that is riddled with the unknown. 5uptown and dancemom02 outlined the process of the dancer electing to pursue formal education but this is often expressed the other way- where the parents insist on this path.

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I mean no disrespect to those choosing something else in their teen years, I was just curious. We made the switch to online school and that has really opened up things for my DD to continue to pursue dance and her academic area of interest to a greater degree. I suspect if DD was in a brick and mortar school things would start to get tighter in terms of schedule, etc. 

I honestly don’t see any of her current classmates quitting any time soon which is why I asked this question. 

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I think it is an interesting question jennsnoopy!

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On 3/28/2019 at 7:07 PM, Jennsnoopy said:

It’s hard for me to fathom dancers that have spent so many years working so hard just up an quit once they are in high school.

They also quit right before becoming professional as well as once they become professionals.  

Also it's the same with any sport/activity - kids play soccer for years, it doesn't mean they want or can be professional soccer players.  Most of the dancers dd has known over the year do not dance any more - even the ones that  could have been professionals, you must love ballet, not just the "idea" of it .... not everyone wants that life !

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There are as many reasons as there are dancers!

I'll throw in one that hasn't been talked about.  Some teens quit because they were labeled as a "prodigy" by their parents or their local studio at a young age and either peak early and don't reach the potential that others thought or they burn-out when they don't handle the transition to a bigger pond.  I think the doors that are opened for those that have amazing potential young can then swing back on them by the time they are in their mid to late teens.  

Some dancers can't or don't want to pursue a professional career.  Our experience is that many of these dancers leave dance altogether at 15 or 16 so they can fully engage in other high school activities.  In our experience, it was rare for someone to continue non-recreational dance training through high school if they knew they weren't going to pursue it professionally.  I actually can only think of one of DDs contemporaries who danced all the way through her senior year and knew she was going straight to a non-dance college program.  Most leave dance earlier than that.   

I also think some of this has to do with the environment of the studio/school.  I would say DDs home school was very demanding and did not leave much room for the dancers to be normal high school kids.  If the home environment is more conducive to that maybe dancers will stay longer.  

Jennsnoopy - you say your DD is almost 14.  As I look back at the time my DDs were 13, I never would have guessed some of the dancers who quit during the high school years.  These were some of the stronger dancers, nice facilities, well cast, great summer intensives, financially and emotionally supportive parents.  You might be surprised over the next few years.  

 

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I have seen a couple of talented kids quit over poor audition results for SI's or YAGP.  Meaning, ballet was a huge part of their lives but they were getting pulled in other directions and questioning if it was worth it.  Not doing well at SI auditions or YAGP made them rethink priorities and ultimately quit.

Eligus,  I agree, I have seen others quit due to injury.  Those are the saddest cases of all.

Mom2two, I completely agree with your statement.  I think a lot has to do with the pressure from parents of the prodigies.  The prodigies who fizzle out seem to have parents put WAY too much pressure on them.  We know some amazing kids who have been or are being put on very calorie restricting diets by parents and have to sneak food.  Also, the kids who made to be so keenly aware of the financial sacrifices their families make and they need to live up to their end.  This is sometimes coupled with outrages parental behavior in the studio (our studio just going through some mega drama this week in fact thanks to one overzealous parent).  In all cases these were or are kids who are twelve and under. For the ones who are now 15 and 16 now, they do not dance anymore.  It's just too much pressure!

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HarfordDanceMom

There are SO many different reasons. My daughter almost quit going into 7th grade because none of her friends at school could relate to her dance life. They did sports and other things that were more "accepted" as cool at that age. At 9th Grade, some kids at her studio got accepted to special high school programs and they cut back or stopped. Now at 10th and 11th we are seeing some pressure and frustration to get into studio companies (yes already) or the next opportunity to springboard from, whether it be top 10 at YAGP or something else. The girls are frustrated because they work so hard and I know at least 2 who are only 16 and 17 that are ready to give up if they don't get into a certain program this year. Studio life has a lot of pressure to be good enough for the coveted roles, get into the best summer program you can, then trying to figure out whether you want to go to college or try to push it to professional right away. To top it off, parents who want the best, but also want them to succeed and sometimes push academic programs over dance, because let's face it, how many of them will make it pro? So, in short, it is a lot of pressure in the dance world from 15 on.

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