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Ballet Talk for Dancers
Momtomildandmeek

At what age?

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Momtomildandmeek

...is it time to choose a ballet-focus or else it’s too late?

 

I have an 8.5 year old who began dancing at 2. She was moved up early into ballet 1 at 6 instead of our studio’s usual 7, and that year took one hour each of ballet and jazz. At 7, she took ballet, jazz, tumbling, and a competition rehearsal hour. She progressed so much over that year and shows lovely alignment, feet, flexibility. She isn’t naturally the quickest at picking up choreo or translating corrections, as she is a very kinesthetic learner. Once she feels a correction and understands it on her body, she keeps it.

Over the summer at newly 8 she took three ballet classes (60 minutes) weekly, one hour of tap, tumbling, and three weeks each of twice weekly stretch/strengthen and leaps/turns. 
 

This year she is taking tumbling, tap, lyrical (mostly stretch and progressions) on Tuesdays, ballet 3 on Wednesdays, ballet 2/3, jazz, competition rehearsal on Thursdays, and every other week two hours with her team doing conditioning technique for one hour and rehearsal the second.

 

Her studio is a mix of recreational/competitive but with ballet teachers who are very passionate about proper training as well. They require dancers to be 11 and in ballet 4 or higher to be considered for pointe, preach “technique over tricks”, and encourage summer intensives and audition opportunities.

 

But, most dancers here do not focus on ballet primarily. My daughter is the youngest in both of her ballet classes, with 2/3 being mainly 9-11 year olds and 3 being a few 9-10 and more 11-13. The next level up doesn’t have anyone younger than 12, I don’t believe.

My daughter is very shy, and says she wants to stay with her friends at this studio and does not wish to audition or take extra classes elsewhere (unless maybe a friend goes with her.) She is undaunted by taking classes with older girls, so I would be okay with her adding a third class at the higher level next year if her teachers would allow it, or the lower level if not.

 

I guess my question is if I see passion and potential in her at 8, but not the confidence or desire from HER to go elsewhere, at what point is it time to push vs letting her be a kid? I don’t believe she is developing bad habits where she is, and I see progress, but I would hate for her to look back at 14 and wish she had been given more sooner.

 

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motherhem

There is a pinned thread in this forum that will answer your questions.  It is called, General Age-Appropriate Training Guidelines:


As a mom of an older dancer, I urge you to take a step back and breathe.  She is only 8. There is plenty of time before those important decisions needs to be made.  She will grow and change over time and her interests may intensify or even change.  Let her be a kid now.  IF she (and you) choose ballet as her path there will be a time in her teens where ballet will consume all her time and your money. It doesn’t have to start now. 

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Momtomildandmeek

I did read the post on guidelines and that reassured me that for now at 8 there really isn’t any requirement other than avoiding explicitly bad training, but, at our studio the older girls still only take one or two ballet classes per week and only the highest level is longer than 60 minutes. So, I know that she will not be following those guidelines by the time she is 11-12, so my question is whether I start looking to supplement/move her soon or wait until 10-11 and see if she is then able to understand the different paths enough to choose for herself.

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threegirlpileup

There’s nothing wrong with investigating the possibilities for more focused and ballet-centric training, but at 8 I wouldn’t move your dd against her wishes.

Just as a point of reference, my dd didn’t even take her first dance class until she was 9.  Although it took her a couple of years to fully catch up with her peers, by 11 she was indistinguishable from those that started at 3. I have seen this time and again with students at her studio—students start “late” or come to serious training on the late side, but those with drive and ability catch right up.

I know it’s hard, but the advice to breathe is good!  Absolutely educate yourself and figure out what resources are around you.  But also remember that (1) your dd is still so young and (2) it’s her journey, and it’s never too soon to be following her lead.

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dancemaven

It depends on what SHE wants to accomplish down the road.  She is a young girl with LOTS of physical growing to do.  Keeping the schedule she currently does, she risks either burn-out or overuse injuries, or both.

Ballet, itself, is a slow-boil endeavor.  There is a reason for that:  it takes many years to develop the muscle memory and strength and technique to make those inherently unnatural skills look so fluid and effortless.    A really good ballet program (and teacher) understand the physical muscle development along with the child development (mental and physical) and know when to move forward and when to back off to let muscles, tendons, and ligaments catch up with wishes and desires.  They are patient and focused on what and how they are developing the dancer.  Just because a child can muscle through and do a trick, doesn’t mean they should be doing it now.

Building ballet technique is much like building a paragraph.  The foundational skills of writing must first be learned and accomplished.  First come the learning of the individual letters (toe pointing, walking forwards, walking backwards, walking in a diagonal line, toe heel walking, tip-toeing, space inhabitation, working with non-verbal cues, etc), then come words (galloping, skipping, change of directions, working with others holding hands, etc), then come sentences (skipping, galloping, creating a pattern, etc).

 Then the REAL work of ballet starts, learning the alignment, how to work and which muscles  to work, developing nuanced strength, new unnatural body use, connecting the whole body, isolating certain parts moving while holding the other parts in alignment, coaxing muscles to do things precisely.  Then comes putting it all together in a paragraph with related sentences (putting multiple skills together in succession as go across the floor).  As the skill level develops, the “paragraph” becomes more difficult and more comprehensive and more nuanced.

The foundational blocks for each level skill takes time to imprint.  Without a good solid technique underlying those skills, they become wobbly and unsupportive of the higher level skills.  Adding more “skills” upon a wobbly or missing foundation isn’t the answer.  That just eventually leads to either a messy end-result or it collapses because the foundation is insufficient.

So, with all that said, the question is really a matter of goals.  IF she wants to be a professional ballet dancer (or you want to preserve the opportunity for that), then yes, she needs to begin ballet classes sooner than later that conform to the Guidelines set out in the Pinned Post linked above.  However, not everyone wants that—-and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.  IF she is happy (as she seems to be) with a competition studio and less focus on ballet and building a technique foundation, then there is no reason she has to change her classes.

IF she wants an opportunity down the road for a ballet career possibility, it is important now to start building the proper muscle memory and foundational skills—-which is a slow boil.  Many of the classes she is currently taking may interfere with the proper muscle memory and will lead to bad habits (for ballet purposes) that are more difficult to correct the farther one gets down the road.

BUT again, there is no reason she has to follow a pre-professional ballet training curriculum at this point UNLESS that is in her heart’s desire.  Just because she shows an aptitude for it does not mean it has to be her focus.  That road is long, hard, and few make it all the way to professional contract and even fewer to a living wage with such a contract.  Only those young dancers that simply can’t live without ballet are the ones that end up there. 

Actual ballet training doesn’t really start until age 8.  Classes prior to that are pre-ballet (letters, words) and young girls come in anywhere from 8-11 (and some later) and depending on aptitude and work ethic, catch-up.  If they’ve been training in other genres and recreational studios, it also depends on the nature and extent of bad habits that have been ingrained and require re-training.

 

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Amie

Dancemaven made some important points about goals and having solid ballet foundation. At 8 years old I am not sure if your DD has specific goals for ballet/dance or is just enjoying dance in general and making friends (which is completely normal).  Many kids don't get serious until later.  The issue is making sure they have a good foundation to be able to make that choice later at 10, 11 or 12.  At 8 I wouldn't be terribly concerned, especially as you seem to feel her current teachers are giving her proper instruction with a good foundation.  However, since I'm a big planner and hate sudden change....I would suggest you just start looking around at other potential places.  You can get a feel for what is out there.  You might also let your DD do a workshop, junior intensive, summer camp, etc. at one of these other locations.  It will give her and you a chance to explore.  She might decide she adores ballet, or she could realize her heart lies in another direction.  The experience will also allow her to start meeting other dancers and teachers, so if you and she do decide to move studios in the next couple of years, the transition won't be as difficult. 

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Ballerinamom2girls

I'll just give my two cents having had a child at a competition studio doing tons of different styles when she was young.  I think you need to know your own kid...for mine, she's extremely shy and would never push herself to try anything new.  I would set up classes at other studios for her to try and make her go despite her being nervous.  Me pushing her to try something new has opened amazing opportunities for her.  This might not be good for ever child.  It was for mine.  She's extremely grateful for where she is now and she never would be here if I hadn't set everything up and made her go try new classes.  Now I'm not saying force her if she's having a crazy breakdown, but it doesn't hurt to try a ballet class at a ballet school and see what she thinks.

Also I will just say as someone who didn't quite understand ballet in the beginning- read the bios of the ballet teachers at the competition studio.  If they didn't do any training to become a ballet teacher and/or were never professional ballet dancers, I would question whether they're actually teaching ballet properly.  We were told all the right things at her former studio and when she got to the ballet school it was incredible how many little details were wrong and how much she had to fix.  She was only 8 years old and had already developed bad habits.

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Momtomildandmeek

Thankfully the ballet teachers are highly trained and either danced professionally themselves or danced through college and then have dedicated themselves to becoming wonderful instructors. Our highest level class gets one of the principal dancers from the local company to come teach them once a week and he is phenomenal.

 

But yes I am thinking what you are saying—not drag her kicking and screaming to something she doesn’t want, but maybe encouraging her to try a few drop-in classes over the summer to get a feel for the other environment and see how she feels.

She is a very self-motivated kid who isn’t really concerned with what her peers are doing or who is at what level, which is mostly a good thing at this age. I’ve carefully let her know that it is a compliment that her teacher thought she was ready for level 3 and she was excited by that. She really does love ballet most of all styles and knows that it is her strength, but she could change so much in the coming years.

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AnastasiaBeav

I am another dance mom whose DD10 started at a competition based studio. She danced for five years and competed for two. The studio's strength was lyrical but ballet was definitely something that lacked. A tradition is every January I ask her what her goals are and I tell her I will work to help her achieve them. Last year after realizing she would never be proficient on pointe if she stayed at the comp studio, she asked me to help her find better ballet instruction. She started taking an extra ballet lesson at a ballet academy and she wanted to quit a number of times because it was a lot stricter and harder than she was used to. She didn't have friends in her class and she was the new kid. But she stuck it out over the summer and decided to go all in on ballet this fall. I felt confident in her decision because she had experience trying different things. I am glad she got instruction in various styles like tap, jazz, lyrical, contemporary etc. Maybe in January when I ask her what her goals are she will say she wants to go into theater or singing or rock climbing and I will help her find a place to study.
 

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DanceDaddy

13, and only if SHE wants it. Basing it on talent/potential, won't be enough. "Hard Work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard".

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