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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Why do teens quit ballet?


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I agree with ballet1310. I think it is similar to many other sports. Just because kids devote so much time into training, and truly enjoy it, doesn't mean they can (or even want to) make it a professional career. They start realizing during high school that if they aren't going to continue long term, they need to start devoting more time to an increasingly challenging academic schedule, as well as a desire to participate in the more traditional high school experience. I've seen many of dd's dance peers quit, just because they have realized that there are other priorities that may be more important to them in the long term. It doesn't mean they weren't serious about dance while they were doing it, and I'm sure for a lot of them it was a difficult choice. I'm sure they miss it too, but this time of life is full of hard choices. My dd has no professional dance aspirations, and I'm not even sure she will continue in college. For now, she loves it though, and is happy to miss other high school activities to be able to continue. For others, it is just not important enough for them to be worth the sacrifices. I would hate for any of those girls to finish high school with regrets about all they sacrificed. 

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Interesting topic. My dancer is 16 and I have seen a lot of kids fall by the wayside. At first, I was shocked that some of these dancers who had sacrificed so much and seemed so committed would quit. Now, 12 years into ballet, I realize that it is just such a tough road, not everybody wants to make the sacrifices. Even those who are willing to make the sacrifices, have to have some mighty thick skin to endure all of what the ballet world has to dish out. Honestly the kids who do make it must be a special breed because it is hard!

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I think the ones who stay never think they have made any “sacrifices”.  I know my DD didn’t and she still doesn’t think in those terms, even though she didn't make it to an actual contract due to career-ending injury at the threshold of realizing that goal.   She continues to not regret one thing and would do it all again.  (She just says she would not start her kids, if any, on that road.  :)  )

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I totally agree with dancemaven on the sacrifice thing.  Some of the dancers we know who quit in those middle-teen years did think in terms of the sacrifice - they went out of their way to be excused for school dances, and complained about missing football games or other "normal" high school activities.  They talked about wanting to join a sorority in college or go to the big football school.  For those dancers, ballet was a sacrifice and at some point, they weren't willing to give it up anymore.  My DDs are the complete opposite.  Not once have they ever said they wished they could have gone to prom or a big football college.  

By about 13 or 14, I had to let go of my experience of growing up as being THE way of growing up.  My DDs weren't going to have those same experiences.  Those were mine, right for me and more mainstream.  DDs have had their own experiences that fit them and so far there are no regrets.   

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Dancemaven and mom2two....I think that is precisely why some quit and some don't, it is all about how one views sacrifice. My dancer would rather be in the studio than anywhere else. I guess when a young person begins feeling that they are sacrificing things for ballet that is when the paradigm shift begins and, perhaps, may lead them to choose other things over ballet. I have seen it happen a lot in the high school years when young dancers begin to see all of the events and activities that their school peers are participating in, sometimes ballet just doesn't make the cut. Ballet an all or nothing endeavor! 


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I have also known girls who love ballet and training at a really high level (and who don’t seem to struggle with sacrificing what they miss at school) but have no interest in pursuing ballet as a career. Most of them leave ballet after junior year so they can have a more traditional senior year. I’m always impressed by the hard work and sacrifices they make just for the love and challenge of ballet. 

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I too am often surprised by the dancers who quit mid year or after getting into the pre pro company they worked so hard to get into. I saw one quit this year after the Christmas performance, even though she was made a trainee of the company.  Those are the ones who shock me.  

At our pre pro we often see dancers who dance until they graduate and move onto college with no plans of dancing.  That makes more sense to me. This year there are 4 seniors. Two are going to college and won’t continue to dance. Two are moving on as trainees with ballet companies. 

I have to agree with dancemaven, my daughter does not see dance as a sacrifice.  She says dance is woven into the fiber of her being and without it she would not be. She did not always make the easiest choices growing up but she is glad she made them.  She chose public school instead of homeschool even though she said for years she wanted to dance professionally and homeschooling was an option. She chose multiple AP and honors courses while dancing 5-6 days a week and getting out of dance around 8:30 each night.  Yet to her dance was never a sacrifice and every time she came to a crossroads she chose dance.  

I think many of the other posters are correct.  For some dancers, who have been dancing 5 days a week since they were 9, it is probably burnout.  Some don’t believe they have what it takes. Some physically can’t or shouldn’t continue.  Some wish for a life without commitment before they go off to college. Some lose their zest for dancing. No matter the reason it is always shocking and I’ve seen many of them regret the decision later in life. 

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  • 1 year later...

I think middle school seems to be the time this happens most often. The truth is if teens do not engage in the other social groups at their schools in 8th/9th grade their peers typically stop asking them to do things. So the combination of a more difficult academic load, ballet becoming more Tim consuming, and the pull to be a part of their peer group combine to entice many of them to decide to give up ballet, especially if they are not interested in a dance career.

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Being pushed too hard is something I have seen especially for the boys. If you are a boy at a smaller studio, the amount of roles they can be asked to do once they actually have technique can really burn them out. My son was cast as Nutcracker Prince / Cavalier and trepak soloist all for the same shows. He was completely exhausted and that played into him wanting to quit. He said, "I don't want to have that kind of pressure put on me." It was really ridiculous, because in a professional company, that would never happen. They rotate the casting to prevent injuries to their principle dancers.  Teachers can also have a big input on late teens quitting. My son experienced a teacher puling him aside after class during a summer intensive and after that encounter and the mean, discouraging comments quit ballet and wouldn't set foot in a class for nearly a year. Eventually went back, but since, his interest has been very hot and cold. Covid has definitely not helped. Now kids who have trained their whole life and are on the verge of auditioning for company contracts are realizing, the sacrifice, hard work, pain and injuries are not worth it for something that is no longer allowed. They are seeing companies not being allowed to perform any more. What kind of a message is that sending???? Some companies like Ballet West are still willing to perform and are doing a great job. But unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule. There are only so many contracts to go around. Just my opinion, but I think students that were on the verge of a career will be dropping like flies due to the lack of opportunities within the art form. It is a real mess.

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I am confused by what you mean about seeing companies not be allowed to perform anymore.

 BalletWest had their Nutcracker cancelled just as have many companies around the US because of a public health crisis, a temporary public health crisis. If public health guidelines can control the pandemic (and it has happened elsewhere), this is only one year, maybe two, a relative blip in time. It's not forever. 

I agree that students may drop this as a career choice but I also believe all of those dropping simply because of the pandemic would likely have dropped it anyway. This is just expediting that choice.  This career requires resilience. A dancer, as they move from student to professional, absolutely must be resilient. I don't expect all teens to have developed that yet but they should be on their way.  I expect them to experience the ups and downs, just as in any year, recognizing they may be more exaggerated now. I do think it is part of our job to help them learn to get over these humps... which may very well be a mountain this year. 

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The “hump” for my daughter has been that her studio has been closed for all but 8 weeks since March 12, and during the 8 weeks it was open it was only allowed to be open at 10% capacity, so she was not in the studio for very many hours. Meanwhile nearly every other studio has just decided to violate state mandates and stay open, so she has to witness everyone else moving forward while she feels stuck or that she is sliding backwards. She has not quit ballet, nor has she given up on the dream, but she is extremely worried about what this long period of limited training means. Her mental health is really suffering not just from the isolation of trying to do limited ballet alone in a room via Zoom, but also because she is missing the combination of physical and mental exhaustion that ballet gives her. She is 15, she is hormonal and she is sad. You can’t teach resilience to depression. You can’t reason away the very real emotional toll this takes on developing brains. It would be easier on her if she did want to quit—it’s the love of ballet and the need for ballet that is causing so much anguish.

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My 16 year old student is on the verge of quitting. This year was supposed to be the critical make-or-break year, with friends going off to trainee positions at companies and other friends considering colleges with ballet programs with a fresh eye. For everyone, a future of drastically reduced hiring into companies seems likely. Online class is a poor substitute for in-person training and every day it feels like you're falling further behind where you would have been in ordinary times.


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Our school just announced its not going back until January.  It’s been very strict and “safe” since September. DD has already had to decline her level promotion this year due to covid related schedule changes, spent the summer rehabbing a back injury, despises online ballet and at 16 is now looking at academic boarding schools for next year instead of her dream of the full time highest level pre-pro she had to decline this year.  I feel that Covid will cause many teens to quit ballet who otherwise would not have.

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  • 2 weeks later...

All of these responses are very thoughtful.  My DD just turned 15 this fall.  I feel really strongly about this topic, because several of DD's friends have quit in the last 2 -3 years.  These are girls who have been doing summer intensives since they were 10 or 12 and have been all-in since we have known them.  The parents supported them in every way possible, but they still quit.  The reasons are as diverse as teenagers, many of which have been discussed here already.  Some quit because they were not being cast well (or, in their opinions, fairly), others quit due to injury and the  seemingly insurmountable task of trying to get back into shape and "back where they were".  But one big reason that has not been discussed...some quit because they began to have negative feelings - that, perhaps, they were not good enough, skinny enough, tall enough to meet the very limited constricts of the "perfect ballerina."  This issue, it seems to me, cuts through the very fabric of what is happening in the ballet world, and teenage girls are often not emotionally secure, mature or strong enough to handle rejection based on things that they cannot control.  The unfortunate reality is that, after puberty, once you reach a certain age, programs that would have invited you in or even given you a scholarship at 12 or 13 may no longer accept you.  They would rather take a very tall, slender girl with mediocre technique, no muscle definition and long legs than a much better dancer who does not fall into the very narrow definition of what it means to be perfect in ballet.  Perhaps she has a bust or she's short, or very visibly muscular (even if not remotely overweight).  Part of the problem is that studios place too much emphasis on which programs girls attend in the summers, and use that as part of the decisions on casting within the studio.  In truth, some of the most amazing and beneficial programs are not related to the most prestigious companies, but there is no validation for the dancer if she cannot get accepted into MCB or SAB, for instance.  Those rejected dancers start to question themselves and wonder if they are ever going to make it or why they bother working so hard - giving up a social life and school friends, boyfriends, etc.  After all, they can work as hard as possible and not change certain fundamental things about their bodies, which are so harshly judged, not just by evaluators and instructors, but by the girls, themselves, every time they go to class and stare at themselves in the mirror... in a leotard.  This daily grinding away of the self-esteem gets to be too much for some girls, so self-preservation kicks in, and they quit.

I fear that this problem will be exacerbated this year, as summer programs will likely be accepting even fewer students due to COVID and physical space issues.  Whatever the reason for quitting, it is incumbent on us, as parents, to keep lifting up our dancers and giving them the support that they need to weather this latest storm.  Good luck to all.  


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