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RonddeMom

Importance of instructor for a very young dancer

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RonddeMom

My older daughter, 7 (2nd grade), has been dancing at our suburban home studio since she was 3.    The school has a warm, inclusive, body positive environment, they do a ton of inclusive dance work with differently abled dancers, and even if it may not be the best ballet school, it is a wonderful place with involved and approachable teachers.

DD loves to dance.  She hates sports (other than swimming), but generally speaking is willing to dance endlessly, and so, because she tends toward being otherwise sedentary, I encourage her dance interest.  This past summer (when she was turning 7), she expressed interest in a dance summer camp which didn't exist at our home studio, so I enrolled her in a 2-week junior intensive downtown (we live in an inner ring suburb near the train).  She had fun, and to me (and her dance teachers at home) her dancing visibly improved, but it was a bit much (9am-4:30pm even for just two weeks was a LOT of dance for a little one).  This summer, she's asking again for dance camp, but specifically asked me if there's something like what she did last summer but with shorter days.  There are two such half-day 2-week junior intensives, again downtown, but both are audition-based. 

She auditioned for the first yesterday, which prompts this post.  The dance studio where she auditioned is only a few years old but highly regarded, and its artistic directors are well-known and respected (with many positive accolades even on this forum). I had imagined the audition to be a group class, but instead, DD (who was the first) was taken into a studio by herself with one of the directors (the other one arrived late, but went back there a few minutes later).  After about 10min, the first director called me into the room (I had my two younger kids in tow too 😂).  He immediately started gushing about DD's physique - especially her legs and feet and how they are supposedly "rarer than 1%" and that she has tremendous potential, but apparently she needs the right training.  And then he told me that "she has no training; none at all."  Basically, they want me to enroll her at their school and initially suggested 2x/week.  In particular he said that he wants to have DD in Ballet I for just a few classes to correct certain "mistakes" (arching back and alignment were mentioned), and he then plans to "almost immediately" bump her up to Ballet II.  After a few months of Ballet II and the summer intensive, he envisions her in Ballet III after she turns 8.  He pushed me to bring her even once a week, which I suppose I can do.  The thing is, when I looked these levels up online on the school's website Ballet I is for 7-8 year olds (so her perfect target age, and it's offered 1x/wk); Ballet II is for (9-10 year olds and is offered 2x/wk); and Ballet III is part of their pre-professional division and is for 10+ year olds (3x/wk).  Right now bringing her twice a week is impossible for us given the commute and our other commitments, and, of course, my other children.  However, he kept pushing and asked if I could bring her even once a week and offered both the Ballet I, Ballet II, and Jazz I time slots as options. 

As someone with ZERO dance experience (but lots of googling experience 😉 ), I have a number of questions:

1) Is childhood physique really something that's correlated with anything in this day and age?  I will admit that my daughter does have, even at age 7, a somewhat extreme and stereotypical ballet body - she's very long and lean with disproportionately long legs (wears size 3T and 4 tops and would wear size 8 length pants except that her waist is a 2T, so she can't wear untailored pants at all) and she has super flexible feet with high arches.  We get comments in the street all the time about her looking like a ballerina, but I didn't think it was of any relevance to actual dance though...  I'm not curvy and am naturally lean, so I don't anticipate her body type changing a whole lot either...  But still, she's 7!!!

2) The director who was saying this is Russian trained (as a dancer and as a teacher) and very highly regarded (as both dancer and teacher), and his partner, from a similar background, was also echoing his comments, although she was continuing to work with my daughter at the barre during the conversation.  I'm a mom like any other, so obviously it's hard to remain objective when my child is being flattered, but can "potential" really be assessed during a 15min audition at such a young age?  It's more likely that this was just a marketing ploy for me to enroll her at their school and make them money off of tuition, right?

3) If DD is "essentially untrained" despite dancing since the age of 3, doesn't that basically mean she's terrible*?  How does he envision her jumping through these levels like what he described if she hasn't learned "anything" in 4.5 years?  Or am I to understand that she hasn't been getting the right corrections at her home studio and so she's developed some bad habits that they want to disabuse her of quickly with "better" training?  (If so, does that mean she did, in fact, learn quickly and take corrections well during the audition?) I wish I'd had the wherewithal to ask him this right there in the audition, but at the time, I had no idea what the levels were and thought he was describing the processing of catching her up to her age-appropriate class level not springing her ahead!

4) DD LOVED it there (they have brand new studios that opened literally last week, so I get it).  Also, I made the mistake of pointing the directors out in the lobby when we entered and telling her that they used to be the directors of her favorite dance company (I had no idea that THEY would be auditioning a 7 year old!).  So in her reading of the situation, some famous ballet dancers told her they can help her become a famous ballerina (and yes, all she has ever wanted to be when she grows up are "ballerina" and "ballet teacher"), so she's begging me to take her back there.  (He did literally say multiple times within earshot that she could be "great" under the right tutelage.)  Ohhh the flattery...

5) I'm considering taking her once a week with the idea that perhaps if their corrections are good and she can take them well, then perhaps those lessons will trickle down into whatever she's doing in her home ballet class too.  Come April, when a bunch of her current commitments wrap-up, if she's happy and thriving I could up it to twice a week in the city for the remaining two months of the school year (at that point both Jazz and Performance would be over, so she wouldn't be overscheduled or anything).  Then she could do the junior intensive, and if she's still happy and the class trajectory is as the director described, she could enroll in 3x/wk Ballet III from the fall (the MWF schedule would actually work really well for us, and given that she'd be in that level til at least age 11 because the next level is Pointe, it would give much needed schedule stability to a family with 3 kids!).  And of course, if at any point any of this seems like too much for DD or she loses interest, we'd pull back at the end of a term.  Does this seem like a reasonable course of action or does it seem like too much for age 7/8?

6) Honestly, at her home studio, she doesn't look like anything special.  Last year, she was one of 3 first graders chosen to dance in the studio's junior company performance, and she continues to be one of only a select group chosen for that, but during my observations, all the kids look mostly the same.  There aren't a lot of corrections given, and nobody looks particularly amazing, but I figured it's because they're only in 2nd grade! (I want to be crystal clear that we are 100% not dealing with any prodigious talent or anything REMOTELY in that vein).  That being said, given that she dances a lot but she and her peers are at best mediocre, perhaps those energies she spends dancing would be better spent if she was actually working towards getting better and dancing with better dancers... Is there a case against this?

7) Another thing that struck me in the conversation was that the director said that at age 7 she is still young and that they can "fix" her issues.  Is there really anything that can't be fixed at age 9 or 10??  I'm just so worried that I'm falling for a marketing ploy because someone "famous" flattered my kid?  (Essentially the same thing she is falling for!)  I had always envisioned letting DD dance at the home studio at least until age 10/11 (middle school), at which point if she was serious and showing both serious commitment and aptitude, that perhaps I'd consider taking her to a more serious school.  But is it possible that she'd never get into a pre-pro program at that age if she continues at this school?

Would love some context from this group is anyone still reads posts here!!  If you've made it this far, THANK YOU!

*Just to give some context of her "essentially no training" and the studio where she received it.  DD started with 45min/week pre-ballet class at ages 3 and 4, then 1hr/week pre-ballet at age 5, and then at age 6 started what they call their formal ballet program - last year she was doing 1hr/wk of ballet, 1hr of jazz, 45min modern, and then once per week a performance group she was selected for.  This year she's doing 1.25hrs/wk ballet and then same jazz/modern/performance as last year.  Starting at age 8/3rd grade, they have ballet 2x/wk for 1.25hrs (and she'd presumably continue the jazz/modern/performance).  While this studio is at least nominally recreational, the founder/director (who no longer teaches but is there almost every day, and most of the teachers are her former students) is/was a renowned dancer and locally known pedagogue in her own right, and there generally a couple high school seniors each year who enter college dance programs every year, including some top ones (Julliard, Tisch, etc).  That said, the ballet is far from top high calibre - there are definitely some hardworking ballet dancers at the school, but the middle/high schoolers look (to my untrained eye) far from professional or even pre-professional.  Moreover, when I look at this group's "General AGE-APPROPRIATE TRAINING GUIDELINES," I think our current school will eventually be "less than," in that it tracks at age 9, but it's still only 1.25hrs 2x/wk at age 10, only goes to 1.25 hrs 3x/wk at age 11 (plus 2x/wk pre-pointe),  and at age 12 the schedule is the same as 11 except that pre-pointe become pointe.

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dancemaven

Rondedemom, Welcome to BT4D!  We are so glad you found us!  There is a lot of wisdom and experience contained and shared by our members on this Board.  I would encourage you to take some time and just nose around the Board to see what all is available here.  I highly recommend pulling up a comfortable chair, your favorite drink, and spending time just scrolling through some of the forums, dropping in on threads that interest you and asking questions on appropriate threads.  You will find that doing this will give you a nice general and broad overview of our collective philosophy here and a good overview of what to expect in ballet training, and the overall journey.

I am heading out the door at the moment, so don’t have time to delve into your questions too deep, but in short, let me say that I would be VERY hesitant to follow this director’s request for your DD.

She is 7.  It is perfectly normal for 7-year olds (and older) to have “teddy-bear bellies” and swayed backs.  Their muscle development and strength is still developing.  Actual ballet training really starts about 8 years old.  Anything prior to that is considered pre-ballet and is preparatory.  Of course she has “essentially no training”!  The pre-ballet years are spent learning and developing co-ordination, some muscle control and strength, learning to follow non-verbal commands, being able to reverse directions, working in conjunction with others spatially, working with partner skipping, etc.

In addition, there is no way I would want my 7-year old being in class with 10-year olds.  She would most likely be left out socially and that is an important aspect of development for young children.  Being in the same level for 3 years or so would also become very boring and unsatisfying for her.  The temptation to put her on pointe early would grow and there is no benefit to that.

I would advise that ballet is a “slow-boil” art form.  There is no reason to speed it up.  Young children’s muscles develop at different rates.  Skill levels will wax and wane with plateaus in-between.  Those growing years are very erratic and make children very susceptible to over-use injuries.  Pushing a child forward without laying a strong skill level foundation of both technique AND muscle development sets them up for injuries—-which may not even be realized until years in the future.  Your DD sounds like a long, lean colt.  Those children often take a little longer to develop requisite strength for some of the higher skills as they go along because of their long and flexible ligaments.  They, particularly, benefit from a slow, watchful progression of development. 

Please do take some time and read various threads that are available.  Many parents have faced issues such as yours, both the flattery, and marketing push.  In addition, it may help you understand the challenges your DD will face as she grows if you drop in and read the many threads we have in which discussions have been had about the coltish young dancers, their trials and tribulations, and review the recommendations and observations of our very esteemed Teacher-Moderators in those threads.

Best Wishes!  And we look forward to getting to know you via your participation in our discussions!

 

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JKK

Leaving forum.

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RaisingBallerina

My DD started at a nurturing studio like yours, and moved in her teens to a much more rigorous Russian studio so I relate to your situation. 

I will just add... if she's in a very positive and fun environment now she may think that the new studio will be the same way, just with better training.  That may not be the case.  It's possible the "fun" atmosphere and shows are part of the appeal to your DD.  In my humble opinion, there is benefit to providing young kids a nurturing place to explore their performing skills without all the pressure that will come with trying to achieve perfect lines.

I believe some natural facility for ballet really can be immediately spotted by a teacher, your home studio teacher should be able to confirm that (seek out the owner, not her proteges - although depending on the studio culture she might find the question annoying!)  But the key is it's natural, she's not going to lose it, at least not any time soon.  (also on this board you will hear about the 1% , and then the 1% of those who make it to the next level, and so on.  So even if she has amazing gifts, no one should be promising fame and fortune).

I echo JKK, it seems REALLY young to be making lifestyle sacrifices for a budding ballerina.  She could just as easily start the serious studio at 9 or 10.  You could just do the summer program there for a couple of years.  Regardless, I wouldn't succumb to his accelerated timeline because, as dancemaven pointed out, there is no benefit to rushing and plenty of downside.  My DD might have benefitted immensely if she made the move little sooner (like 12 or 13).  However I have no regrets of how she spent the years 7-13 -- when I did finally start that grueling commute I had a lot of gratitude for all the years we had kept our life simple!

By the way I have never heard of an audition for a 7-year old for a half day summer program!

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Redbookish
12 hours ago, RonddeMom said:

If DD is "essentially untrained" despite dancing since the age of 3, doesn't that basically mean she's terrible

Can I be a bit frank? "training" at age 3 isn't training in the way that this AD is speaking about. It is creative movement and laying down some fundamentals both physical and social (eg "good toes, naughty toes", learning to skip, learning to work in a group, learning to take turns, learning to listen to the teacher, and so on). It should be joyful and creative, so the child learns the joy & pleasure of expressing him/herself through bodily movement. But it isn't (and can't be) serious ballet training. So don't worry about that. She's clearly not terrible!

Pre-professional training of the sort that this AD is speaking to you about generally starts at around age 8 or 9. As others say, a good nurturing studio will do wonders, and then you can reassess whether to move to more ballet-focused & intense training at age 9/10/11. The only issue about leaving it until say, age 11, is that the current studio may be ingraining "bad" habit. But as Dancemaven says, at age 7, most children have what ballet teachers might call "issues." THat's why serious training doesn't tend to start until age 8/9.

One test might be as your DD starts to move to more structured and repetitive and technical work in her ballet classes. How does she respond to doing the basics (which some children find boring ...) such as repeating pliés and tendus and going slowly to break down the technical aspects of the more "showy" steps such as pirouettes? Does she want more and respond well to repetition and attention to tiny details? 

Edited to add: the professional dancers in my family both started serious training (5 days a week, and then full-time vocational training) at relatively "old" ages: 11 and 13. They both had the physical attributes for classical ballet dancers, and were also gifted with musicality, kinaesthetic intelligence, and an artistry through movement - it's a whole package, of which legs, feet etc are a part.

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RonddeMom

I'm so glad I posted here, thank you all for the feedback!  dancemaven, such a good point about the social aspect.  In fact that's one of the reasons we love our home studio.  It's local, so most of the kids will at least eventually go to the school together, and it's such a good and non-competitive group of kids - as they grow, they're too busy dancing to get into trouble, and the studio really emphasizes character, diversity, tolerance and respect.  JKK, great points about not burning out as a family!  I definitely want to make sure, as we move forward, that I also consider my other kids' interests/time.  Redbbookish, that is totally how I perceived training at these baby stages too, and I assumed the director at the new place would know this too, especially having taught in the US for many years now, so I was surprised by his comments and thought that meant she really was learning very basic fundamentals badly.  But that wouldn't make sense given that she was accepted and into a higher level too. ( RaisingBallerina, there are actually a bunch of local "junior intensives" that run from about age 7-11 that are audition based!)

I think I'll keep her at the home studio primarily, but we'll try out a once week Ballet class at the new studio just to see whether she likes it and how she responds to detail and stricter instruction.  I'll also send her to the summer intensive (unless she gets into the other one she's auditioning for), and take it from there.  If she prefers the more disciplined approach, I will consider the new studio for just ballet, but only at age appropriate levels to preserve peer dynamics (and prevent injury) as well as to maintain my sanity/commute.  We'll stick to the home studio for Jazz/Modern if she wants to keep doing those.  Thank you!

 

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Amie

I will echo the previous voices and also add that you don't even have to switch studios at 9 or 10.  So much depends on what your DD wants to do.  Serious ballet training like you described can be a great gift for dancers who want a professional career or those who merely enjoy ballet.  However, it is still not for everyone, not even for every dancer.  If the studio your DD is currently at produces dancers that go on to well respected college programs like Julliard and and Tisch, then they are probably getting good training.  DD went to a studio similar to yours, though at her studio students start in ballet, jazz is introduced later and finally modern.  The dancers that chose to continue dancing after high school went to college programs.  After college, most have ended up in contemporary ballet or modern/contemporary dance companies, with the exception of one dancer who spent a few years in a regional ballet company and later moved to a modern company.  So again, it all depends on your DD's goals (and yours).  Of course as parents, we are continuously reevaluating those goals and checking to see if we are doing the right thing.  Which is probably why you are asking so many questions.  But remember to pay attention to your DD's own goals and don't get thrown off by other people's goals for her. 

Looks like we were typing at the same time.  So glad you made your decision and it sound like you've got a great path forward.

 

 

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Ballet2101

If she loves Dance and you belive that Ballet may be a direction that she eventually chooses, maybe staying where you are makes sense.  If she is only/primarily interested in Ballet, then maybe adding some additional technique classes may make sense to see if it feeds her interest and helps build her technique.  Having been through multiple schools with our kids, we are extra wary of anyone who sells too hard.  Especially if they are charting her path based on a few minutes at the Barre. Level Hysteria is a real thing and clouds the technical and social development of the kids.  IMHO the carrots should be great training not levels or fame.

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Eligus

Ronddemom -- 

I'm not a parent of under 13 dancer, where you posted the original question, so forgive my intrusion.  It sounds like you have a great plan, anyway.

I'm only intruding enough to suggest you do some research on the whole idea of "levels" between (and even in the same) school.  What one studio calls "level 2"  or "level 3" may or may not be focusing on the same fundamentals as your school.  And -- this might be my own bias coming in here because my DD trained at a studio that leveled according to technique, not age -- but "age" of the level also may not be the "best" indicator of what the level is supposed to focus on, although age can indicate intensity/hours of training. 

Obviously, it can get confusing and muddy to the non dance-trained.  To my non dance trained brain, the "leveling" of kids is more than an art than a science... there are many, many factors that go into deciding levels.  Therefore, don't get too caught up in the "level" -- look at the hours and the relationship/experience your DD has with the main teacher expected to teach her level.  

So, for your DD, for example (who sounds like she has a great physical facility for ballet), the new school might want to put her in a class with the teacher who teaches Level 3, rather than Level 1 because the kids (and the teacher) in Level 3 are focusing more on alignment, rather than turn out... (I'm making that up, but you get the idea that there are many more factors than age that go into leveling of students).  

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