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Repeating a level because of mindset, getting down on oneself


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Hi everyone. My ds (17) is at a big three letter school attached to a company.  We were told last year at our parent teacher conference that he was progressing well after one year in his level, and that was expected to progress to the next (and final) level, but that he would have to work on his mindset.  The biggest concern was that he gets down on himself when he is having difficulty, particularly with pirouettes, and that it was holding him back. But, they volunteered that they would move him ahead anyway. When the registration invitation came by email a couple of months later though it had him repeating his current level. I reached out and asked why, and they said they decided that it would be better for his confidence level if he repeated (which is not uncommon). It was a hard blow, but we adjusted. This year, he has been careful to work on his confidence in class. In a student-teacher conference he was told they were happy with his progress.  No mention of his confidence or being down on himself in class or in the conference. I was just brought in for a special conference where they told me that he is still down on himself, it's a major concern, but also they are concerned his flexibility is tight and so are his feet, and that they need him to be more proficient in his pirouettes.  They were very harsh, and it was a major surprise because all the feedback he was receiving directly was all positive.  For months he felt he was giving the teachers what they were looking for.  I was told that at this point it looks like he would have to most likely repeat the level AGAIN, and there is a chance that he may never make it to the advanced, final level.  This was shocking news and we are having a hard time processing it because all the opportunities that they had to communicate with my dancer they told us he was otherwise progressing very well.  He was so close to advancing LAST year, but now he might not ever?  Any advice on how to deal with confidence, self-esteem, showing more joy when dancing in class?  They said that there is still time, they won't be making their decision until May, and that he will definitely be invited back but that he may want to consider other options such as college if he doesn't want to repeat again. In order to give him the best chance at changing their minds, we are getting him into pilates and gyrotonics outside of the studio.  He also needs to stretch every day and work on his feet. It's so sad and discouraging. How to push through? There are other dancers in a similar predicament (except the mindset part) who seem to be giving up.  After 11 years at this school, and all that our family has sacrificed, I am trying not to give up hope. Advice? I'll take any and all you have. Thanks!

Edited to add: DS has a lot of really great things going for him; great musicality, amazing jumps, outstanding partner, great focus and work ethic  (to quote from teachers), and he has excellent technique.  He did better than anyone else in his class at summer auditions, getting great scholarship offers as well at the top three letter SI's.

Edited by balletteacherandmom
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Eligus - technically, no.  But, this is an option we are exploring anyway since it appears he is not getting what he needs in class!

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Right.  I (personally) would seriously consider this option, just to get a "second opinion" of sorts, and a fresh set of eyes looking at your DS.  It is my firm belief that the relationship between student and teacher is incredibly important, and the personal fit of THAT relationship is more vital to progression and knowledge retention and confidence in themselves as dancers than anything else.  

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And I didn't mean to ignore the emotional whirlwind you and your DS are experiencing.  I have deep empathy for that... I'm just ignoring it for a moment and trying to give you solid advice for actually tackling the logistical problem, rather than the emotional one.  

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My DD had a similar experience with confidence/anxiety at her studio.  From 13 on, she always went away for a few weeks to do an SI, she said it would inspire for the next year her and just shake things up a bit.  However, looking back I think part of the reason was the anxiety she was developing in some of her classes at home.  DD did not do very well with the teaching style of one teacher and it made her feel anxious and chipped away at her confidence.  (The teacher is very good, teaches the highest 3 levels, and has developed some excellent dancers, but she just wasn't a good match for DD). This anxiety and lack of confidence came out in DD's dancing, it especially caused her to tense up at barre, but even throughout the whole class.  While this didn't necessarily hold her back in levels at her studio, it did affect her dancing and could be seen in other classes, including auditions.  When she moved on to a conservatory style college...her new teachers spent most of the first year helping her relax and not tense up in class.  The good news is, she is doing much better now in her second year and the new confidence/relaxed attitude has allowed her to excel and accomplish things she didn't know she could.  The difficult thing is she isn't completely over it because she avoids things that will trigger those feelings again, like she WILL NOT take class with that teacher when she returns home and there are certain shoes she avoids wearing because they remind her of those times.  One day she may get past this, just not quite yet.  It is difficult, even now, for her to talk about, especially as she adores and respects this teacher - perhaps that was/is part of the problem in that she SO wanted(s) to please this teacher.  (One of her current teachers did say, DD needed to concentrate on dancing for herself and not to please her teachers.)

So that being said, this was a great example of what Eligus said about the importance of the relationship of the teacher and student and how that relationship is vital to the progression, retention and confidence of the student.  Therefore, I would urge you to get a second set of eyes on your DS and also a new approach for him.

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Thank you Amie and Eligus. We are reaching out to our network of experts and they are all saying the same. Meanwhile, I’m trying to work with him on replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. It’s surprising how quickly and easily teens can develop a low self esteem even though they might be incredibly talented!  I wish I could wave a magic wand in order to get his teachers to be more helpful with this issue, but they spend so much time correcting technique in other students in class that they never address confidence, artistry, etc. 

The school has gone through many changes throughout ds’ tenure there. Faculty, leadership, curriculum, and now they have a new 12-point evaluation criteria. The criteria is a good thing, as it’s less subjective now, but it’s also putting a lot of talented students on the chopping block unfortunately. 

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I can feel your frustration through your words! And hugs to you!  It is so hard to watch our children struggle!

Your email reads as if this is "your" dream, and not as much his. Your son is 17. Does HE want to continue this journey?  This is an age when many very talented dancers determine that they don't want to continue -- they want to explore other interests or just take a step back. If he sees the sacrifices the family has made for him, maybe he feels obligated to continue?  Is he self-motivated?  At this age, he should be. You mentioned flexibility... and that is something he can work on...it is a tangible skill. Does he do it on his own? 

I'm not saying this is the case, but would your son feel comfortable telling you this if it IS the case?  A lack of confidence can be shown in many ways... including diminished drive.  Is he seeing other classmates pass him?  By being held back he is not getting affirmation from teachers... and that can be very discouraging... and it takes extreme internal "GRIT" to overcome those obstacles.  

Maybe a change of school would be appropriate?  It is possible that his teachers are seeing him through one lens and someone else would have an entirely different perspective? 


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Mdballetmom - thank you. I understand how you would read that it seems more my dream than his.  I am an empath, so I feel what he is feeling very deeply. The teachers say he is extremely motivated and hard working, very focused.  The drive is definitely there, and I do believe it is self-motivated, but yes, I often worry about that, and the pressure of the family's sacrifice and how he internalizes it.  He often says that he wishes he could just dance full time and not go to school, and he absolutely loves performing.  When he has to sit out because of any injury, he gets antsy about not being able to dance to his full potential.  He gets affirmation from his teachers on many things, and not so much constructive criticism, which led him to believe he was doing well. I have explained to him that this is his life, and what he chooses to do with this new information is 100% up to him.  It's his choice to continue, put in the extra work, and not give up.  He claims that he works so hard and he loves it (personally I think he loves the working hard part in the studio, and the performing separately), but he gets down on himself when he doesn't do something perfectly. He knows there are irrational negative thoughts in his head working against him, and he's trying to be more self aware.  It's hard to watch from the sidelines knowing he might not reach his goals, but he and I both know that this is something that he has to do (or not) on his own.   We talked about asking his summer program to consider him for winter term, but it is really far away. He much prefer to put in as much work as he can now to see if he can improve in all areas as much as possible the next few months, than to resign himself to the idea of switching schools.  I do feel he knows he has my support no matter what he decides to do. Today he felt empowered after having his first private gyrotonic session in about 5 years.  I hope, and expect, he will gain more empowerment when he is back in pilates this Saturday, and also once he has a private lesson or two to work on pirouettes.  

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