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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Studio and Teacher related problems

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My 11 soon to be 12 year old daughter has been dancing since the age of 5. She enjoys ballet a lot and was put on pointe last August. Before Covid she had a few personal classes with her teacher. She was also lucky enough to have an in person summer intensive in 2020 with the Los Angeles ballet. Now due to Covid we got all in person classes this year but as a parent were only able to drop off and pick up carpool style. I only knew what my daughter would tell me. A few weeks ago I got a call before conferences from the studio teacher asking me if I knew that my daughter hadn't been wearing her pointe shoes for almost the entire year. I am not sure why it took so long to tell me that. My daughter then told me her feet would be hurting so bad and she couldn't go on top of her box. So we went to get her fitted again and meet with a dance therapist who was also present during the fitting. Turns out her ankles don't have the full range of motion yet hence why she can't get on top of the box. She is now working on it as well as her flexibility and makes great progress. During conferences my daughter was told by her teacher that she would be held back because of her feet and a lack of strength in her arms. I meet with both owners who are also her teachers today again and was basically told she would never be able to dance professionally. It was suggest she find a sport like soccer or golf or concentrate in her academics. The way this conversation went surprised me a lot as neither her PT nor teachers during auditions or her intensive said anything like that. I had many conversations during her years at that particular studio asking for advice on her split or jumps and turns which I always was told she was fine and she would not need to do anything. Again my daughter is 11. She is not the strongest dancer in her class but she is working hard and is getting where she needs to. We are thinking of going to a different studio since it seems the teacher is not willing to teach her at this point. She seems to have completely given up on my daughter already. The conversation felt like a hint for us to leave their studio. Has anyone had a similar experience with their studio or a teacher? Any advise would be greatly appreciated. 

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Welcome jessyS! It sounds like our dancers are at similar stages. My DD11 (soon to be 12) went on pointe last year as well.

It is concerning that so much time went by without any communication from the teachers about your DD's shoes. The studio may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for the lack of communication but it doesn't work for your dancer or for you. Also the fact that at such a young age the studio is saying she should not dance anymore is a huge red flag. That alone would cause me to look for a new school. I personally don't like the idea that students are "held back" rather that as they progress in strength and technique they move forward. It would not upset me if my DD's teachers felt she needed more time in her current level to work on identified areas. But overall if I was in your position and I was told my DD should give up dance, I would find a new studio that wants my DD as a student. 

My DD is very similar in not sharing much about her dance classes. I did learn to ask specific questions on the drive home like, "What did you learn today?" "What was a correction you will work on?" "Do your shoes feel okay?" "Does anything hurt?"  That way I get some information about how things are going in between the official semester evaluations.

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I would be ticked that a teacher waited a year (!) to reach out to me!  That is all the reason I need to find a new school! 
Also concerning... if your dancer doesn't have the range of motion and strength that she needs for pointe, then SHAME on the school for letting her get pointe shoes. While most dancers do not (for a million reasons) pursue professional careers, it is not the place of the teachers to say that to or about an 11 year old.  Children can change dramatically between 11 and 14/15.  

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I would definitely leave a ballet studio that told me at age 11 my child should stop dancing.  I offer that what they could have more reasonably said was - we don't want to train your daughter because she doesn't match our idea of how an 11 year old on a pre-professoinal course should look/dance/behave/progress and we only want to train students that do.  It's their right to have that approach at their school, but I'm sorry they presented it to you as: your child should quit dancing.

I wouldn't need another minute to make the decision to find a different studio if the current studio told me my dancer should quit dancing at age 11.  I would hear it as "my dancer should quit dancing at this studio."

Good luck!

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JessyS -

I'm not a parent of an under13 dancer, so I am not generally supposed to post in this forum.  But I'm reaching out to provide a slightly alternative view from a much older dancer's parent.  I know how shocking and upsetting it is to hear the need for some additional time in a level.  But please take some time and space to allow yourself to analyze this situation without too many feelings getting in the way.  I do not know you or this studio, so your interpretation about the director telling you your DD would "never dance professionally" was what the director actually MEANT to say.  You might be correct at what you are hearing, in which case, you should leave the studio.

However, I need to offer another possible, potential perspective, just in case the studio director was clumsy in the use of her words/intention.  As you and your DD know by now, ballet is particularly challenging, and there are very difficult training periods within the journey.  Your DD has just reached one of her biggest and what you do now is important.  It might be time to seek a new studio.  But it also might be time to buckle down and figure out whether or not your DD wants to work through this challenge.  Because it MIGHT be the case that your director was indicating that your DD would not be able to dance professionally if she wasn't able to conquer the challenges of pointe work, and that doing so would take some additional work on your DD's part, and your director was actually indicating that the director wasn't sure your DD wanted to face that challenge head on.  That is a legitimate observation, and one you need to talk over with your DD in a non-judgmental way.  Ballet is hard work, and if a child doesn't love the work, the road ahead is going to be painful and long and may not be worth the effort when she is young enough to discover some other activity which brings her more joy with the work.

I am NOT a teacher, so I would love one to chime in, here, but from my own parental experience, I do know that pointe work has some amount of psychology to it.  My own DD (now a professional dancer) struggled to get over her box when she started (also because of weak ankles and shoes that didn't meet her needs/development stage), and - more importantly - she was SCARED when she danced on pointe in these shoes that didn't work for her.  It was uncomfortable, and unstable, and the feeling of being up there was quite uncomfortable physically and mentally.  It took her at least two years of work (trying different shoes, strengthening her ankles, going to PT and some private classes) to slow down, readjust her body and her mind in order to use the shoes as extensions of her body.  It wasn't until she was in her mid-teens that her confidence finally matched her ballet ability.

Finally, this last year has been exhausting and stressful for EVERYONE.  Personally, I wouldn't be making huge decisions like leaving a studio (or ballet) for such a young dancer at this point in time, unless you are really, really sure.  It just feels as if last year was odd and difficult and many, many people (both kids and studio directors) were just trying to survive, so the decisions they made last year may not be well reasoned.  In addition to the help you have already provided to your DD, my advice would be to observe and talk with your DD, ask her questions -- many, many questions -- and just listen and observe for awhile.  I'm sure you have been stressed this last year, as well, and taking some time to tune back in to what is going on with her will do no harm, and might help her gain confidence in herself both mentally and physically.  There is a huge life lesson here.  You can teach your DD that SOME problems and challenges can be solved, if you take the time to figure them out and work on them incrementally, but that some problems (like bias or severe, negative judgment) you need to walk away from.  I don't know which problem this is you and your DD are facing.  But there is a valuable life lesson in helping your DD figure that out.  I wish you luck and patience.  


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