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Ballet Talk for Dancers

When it time to pull my kids out of a negative environment.


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I need help I'm seriously at my wits end. My children 12, & 10 have been at the same studio since they were both 4. We've been on the competition team for 8 years now and every year the struggles become harder and here to take.  My kids are good (I'm not just saying that because I'm the mom). The dances they are in score very well and every duo or trio they have been apart of win 1st overall more times then none. Both of my children have won 1st overall in their duos at nationals. Yet every year they are constantly looked over, forgotten about, left out of special parts,  dances with no valid explanation or reason.  Year after year the core favorites no matter how well they do the year before are constantly handed everything. They are praised over and over and I feel like mine are constantly yelled at for not trying hard enough and I'm mind blown at the complete difference in treatment. New kids come along and are quickly placed ahead of mine for specific spots, spots they would have gotten if the new person didn't join. I volunteer my time and even build all the props for the team and every year the hypocrisy gets worse. The new season is about to start and the biggest blow to date just happened.  After coming off a high at nationals where my little one was the only one at the studio to take home a 1st overall in her duo out of 30 duo's trios and solos we brought.  They beat 30 plus dances and got a special award. She also took home the most 1st places out of everyone in the studio because all the dances she was in did well. She was spread across petite and junior dances.  I was given a call saying she and her partner would not be getting another special this year because they didn't try hard enough and they wanted to give other kids a try, but my older one could have a solo.  (1st one she's ever been offered).  A few hours later i find out that really meant their core favorites were now getting 2 specials. Over 16 kids were awarded a solo plus a duo/trio. This seems to be a new thing this year where they all need 2. Also a kid that quit to try cheer for a year was also awarded a trio. And kids that quit during covid (we stuck by the studio and supported them and danced when we were allowed through all this). Were also awarded solos and specials. I can't seem to wrap my head around any of this.  My little one is devastated and doesn't understand why the teacher doesn't like her.  This is just one example of many where both my kids are constantly made to feel like there's something wrong with them.  When does a good healthy activity get to a point where its not good for them anymore. Where it causes more tears and rejection than positive things.  I asked the teachers why she was being singled out and i get bs answers to try to diffuse the situation. Answers that are actually a lie.  The politics have gotten so bad I don't want to write any more checks just for tears. I'm one of the very few that have 2 kids on comp, they make bank off me plus help for things they need.  I'm tired of it.  My kids are fearful I will pull them out and I'm at that point.  They love their friends and we have been doing this for so long this is all they know.  Help Im lost, They need to know the world doesn't revolve around one studio in one small town. I'm tired of watching them cry and be disappointed, I'm tired of them and me not being good enough and a 2nd thought even though they out score consistently.  The favoritism runs deep and we will always be just below the line....

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Sounds like you want to get out of there but your children's established friendships make it difficult.

Are you able to take them to other studios to meet the Directors and try a private lesson or class?  That might be an eye-opener for your children.  They might be pleasantly surprised.  There seems to be no downside in your current studio finding out, maybe some upside.

You are the paying customer.  I'd shop around.

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8 hours ago, JCmom11 said:

When does a good healthy activity get to a point where its not good for them anymore. Where it causes more tears and rejection than positive things. 

You have answered your own question within your question.  I'm not sure you are actually asking "when" so much as "why" and "how."  And those are much trickier questions and answers, because it will depend so much on your and your childrens' individual goals and desires.   You need to look FIRST at your "whys."

Why did you choose this studio?  Why are you in competitive dance?  Do your children want to continue competing? Do YOU (as the parent) want your children to continue competitive dance?  If so, why?  What goals/growth do you want for your children?  Can those goals/growth be accomplished elsewhere?  In a different activity?  In the same activity but a different environment? 

If you decide you DO want competitive dance (you answer your "why"), then you move onto your "how."  Is this studio the only competitive studio in your town?  Are you willing to drive in order to find another competitive studio? Is there a way to (in essence) bargain for more power at the current studio?  Once you decide your values, the questions of "how" become "logistics" -- merely a way of supporting your values, and therefore easier to "see" and implement.    

Good luck!

CAVEAT:  ***[I will admit to a STRONG bias here, so take my position and advice with a grain of salt.  I am and always have been NOT a fan of "competitive" dance... I consider dance an art, not a competition, so I struggle mightily with "judging" an art form.  Personally, I think introducing outside judgment into the pursuit of art can be quite damaging, especially to young artists.  However, I am aware that others strongly disagree with me, and find value in dance competition, so I do think my advice here can be applied to everyone, even those that find high value in competitive dance.  In short, I believe that in order to make your decisions, you need to re-focus on the VALUES that you seek.]***

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I can so relate to this scenario. I finally sat down with the directors and had a long talk. I was ready to walk if things didn't change, but things did change. In our case, it really was just that the directors had blinders on when it came to people other than their favorites. But if anyone had spoken to me like you have been spoken to (saying my child did not try hard enough), I would have walked right then and there. Schedule a private conference with the teachers and tell them your feelings and ask for what you think your kids deserve this year. If they don't agree, pull your kids out of company and start looking for another studio while keeping up their training with classes. Your kids will make friends at a new studio and maybe those friendships won't be tainted by favoritism.

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I know in the competition world you'll hear a lot of "oh well, that's par for the course" and normalizing of drama...but it really does not and should not have to be that way.

Your kids, whether they are better than most or worse than most, should be valued and nurtured and challenged in a positive way. Is it normal to occasionally wonder if a teacher isn't happy with them or wonder why they didn't get the special part...sure! But, if you're ALWAYS feeling like the teachers dislike your kids, don't want them, don't give them good opportunities, then something is wrong. Now, there is a chance your kids have a behavioral or work-ethic issue in class that you're not seeing, but it should be addressed and discussed in a productive manner vs punishment. 

I think if you feel like you want to stay at this studio, a conference about goals and how things are going would be wise. If you're iffy and there are other options, I would jump on it before it's too late. Do some soul searching for a minute first--are you getting too caught up in comparison to other kids? It sounds like a lot of tallying the scores and counting the victories, and that can become toxic if that takes over your focus. Your kids should be growing, improving, expanding constantly, so make sure that's the main thing you're looking for, wherever you go.

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It’s never worth having your children in a negative environment. 

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Do you children love their friends or love to dance?  What do you / your children want to gain from this activity? Is it a social activity or something they want to really excel at for their own goals/passions?  Most young dancers do not pursue a career, but they do learn lessons that can take them far in life... hard work, perseverance, commitment, the power of practice, fitness, goal setting, teamwork, etc..  What are your children learning outside of the competition routines?

Also, as a mother, I can say that I would not  keep financially supporting an organization that treated me this way. 

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I do not really understand the competition environment... while there are always exceptions, what I've seen seems to focus on rehearsals, flashy costumes, "conventions/competitions" and prizes, not technique and artistry. 

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If you choose to speak with the teachers/directors of your studio, I would be very careful to stick to facts.  They will not really hear your concerns if they perceive nothing but drama.  For example “the core favorites…constantly handed everything” no, not everything.  Your children have been given duos in the past, be sure to acknowledge this.  “Spots they would have gotten if the new person didn’t join” how do you know this?  Did they give your child that part then take it away when someone new joined?  If not, you have nothing to support this, leave it out of the conversation.  “My little one was the only one at the studio to take home a 1st overall for her duo” is the other child in this dance also from your studio?  If so, yours is not the ONLY one.  My advice is to carefully select your word choice if you want to be heard in this meeting.

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Thank you.  I appreciate all the feedback it does put things in to prospective on things. In honesty was just trying to give a perspective that my kiddos aren't bad or me being the blinded parent of children that should try something else.  They show up, they love their friends,  they do work hard and they have been dedicated to this team since they were tiny tots. Unfortunately things like that don't matter anymore.  Yes there are children that can do no wrong and no mine are not perfect.  If there was an issue with one of them you could a conversion with me WOULD have absolutely been the correct thing to do so I could try to correct the issue.  They love it because it's all they know, I'm simply tired of watching them get disappointed. 

As for a conversation,  I've had them, well some what. I'm not able to speak much.  if you even in the most kind way you ask why the response is don't tell us how to run our business.  They get very argumentative and go on the defense.  There is no listening to how something makes you feel. 

Also no one have ever stated to me they were not a fan of competitive dance and that it's actually an art. I REALLY Appreciate that actually. The past few days I have realized this is a huge world with so many opportunities and we have revolved around this one place their entire childhood. If anyone has any suggestions to branch out and expand their art please let me know. What do you do, where do you go? How to you find different things. We got in to this simply by signing up my oldest one for ballet classes at 3. (Pretty much what most of us do when we have little girls). And it morphed in to this beast of an expense.  I'm not a typical dance mom honestly never expected to be in this world it just happened.  The studio has become a competition within the competitions.  From the moms that push for everything to the ones that sit there all night ready to brown nose any chance they can. That's not me, I'm old fashioned,  show up be there, work hard but that's not how it goes anymore.  The parents compete as much as the children and thats a game I'm not interested in.  I gave statistics simply because anyway I look at it I don't understand.  Its poor business and I appreciate the feedback.  They have permanent bliners on and I will take much more then just us walking away for any change to happen.  It's just a small studio in a small town. IF anyone has any input on how to branch them out and find new things please keep up the conversation.  I always said I should have been the parent of boys.  This girl thing is hard.  

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😄 I would caution you that the parenting difficulties are not just a gender thing.  Your children are at the starting age of when everything gets more difficult to navigate (socially and emotionally).  Middle school years are very, very hard on everyone.  But, after raising three girls, I do know what you are feeling.

You are in the right place if you wish to find more information about ballet from serious-minded aficionados, fans, dancers and parents.  This forum has a wealth of information on finding "pre pro" schools (if your children want to continue ballet specifically).  I would search for a pre-professional ballet school in your area and have your children take a drop in class or two to get a feel for how different ballet training is from "dance" training.  Some kids love it, others can't stand it.  

I know you said you were in a small town, but there might be a more serious ballet studio near by.  My guess is that you may be unaware of the existence of more serious ballet training studios because they may not participate in the competitive dance world.  Go ahead and search through the forums for a pre pro school around your geographic area to see what may be near you.

If your children aren't interested in ballet, specifically, I would think about theater (which can include singing, acting and dancing) and satisfy the performance need.  If they like competition, but want more team participation, gymnastics or swimming are great sports.  I've also known some dancers who were figure skaters, and found the performance aspect of figure skating fulfilling.  My dancer (when she was younger) really enjoyed horseback riding (hunter-jumper).  

The good thing about the age your children are is that they are usually enthusiastic about trying new things!  Take advantage of that, and have fun exploring what else they might be interested in trying.  If you do choose to leave the current dance studio, I would try to do so with a fun/easy attitude of trying new and different activities, rather than an angry/frustrated one.  This is a great lesson to teach your kids by example... "We have outlived the fun/joy this activity used to bring, let's try something new and interesting."


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Our studio is very successful in competitions locally and internationally.  The students do however radically reduce their participation as they get older e.g. 12 up

They are fortunate in that they do have performance opportunities (well pre-Covid) but basically they buckle down and do the work  I also enjoy comps and believe that people in the Performing Arts should seek out performance opportunities - but it is also clear that the competition is yourself.  How to be better NOT how to get a place from some random adjudicator - who isn't even auditioning you for a real opportunity. 

I would also say that it is the teacher not the school.  In a small town there may be a great teacher that is ideal for your children at this point.

Even at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy students seek out external coaches!   The elite coach in this student's blog said: Do not choose a school, you should choose a teacher


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I have a lot of empathy for the original poster on this thread. My DD (just about to turn 13!) went through some very similar experiences. We didn't know a thing about dance, so we took her to the closest local studio when she was 3 and asking for ballet classes. We ended up on a merry-go-round of competitions & conventions where there seemed to be no real breaks and constant pressure to win meaningless titles. It was okay for awhile in spite of the same issues described regarding studio darlings who seemed to operate on a different set of rules & resources than the rest of us. 

The reason it worked for awhile was that my DD and I spent countless hours before and after competitions talking about what did and didn't actually matter to her. She learned to set her own goals, work towards them, and evaluate her progress without reference to others or to scores. She learned how to pick a space in a crowded class where she could work comfortably, and she grew fearless in the face of auditions and judges. 

Right around the time that she turned 11 she decided that she really wanted to pursue a potential career in dance and that the training she was getting wouldn't cut it. We went directly to the studio owner and her main teacher to let them know she was thinking about a change. We honored all of her commitments, did a lot of research, started to take her for master classes and auditions for pre-pros, and finally made a full switch at the end of that comp season with the full support of her long-time teachers (I think it really helped that they were not blindsided.) Many previous conversations with these teachers had resulted in the kind of defensive replies the OP describes above. It turned out to be much easier to just state that DD needed something completely different and that we would like their help to find it.

Now my DD is immersed in the world of classical ballet. She is doing her first away SI right now! She has never been happier with dance. The biggest lesson we've taken away from her experience is to recognize and be grateful for the lessons she's learned along the way. She has a growth mindset and resilience from her years of competing, and rather than regretting that she started out on that path we are just glad for the positive takeaways and grateful we were able to make a change when she was ready for it.

Wishing you and your dancer all the very best, @JCmom11!

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@AlwaysMore2Learn sounds exactly like my daughter who is now 17 and is in the process of applying to colleges for ballet. She turned hip hopper to ballet dancer at age 13.  

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Now is the time. It is really clear to me, someone many years past where you are, that now is the time. We did leave our non-competition, serious pre-pro ballet school for 2 years and my daughter only did ballet 3 days a week from age 12-14. It was a glorious time during which her confidence improved and she became a sparkling, joyous child again. Then she wanted to go back. I should have never allowed her to subject herself and by proxy, me to those toxic, damaged, and harmful teachers, kids, and parents again. If I had to do it over again, I would have run the other way but you only know what you know when you know it. So be warned that switching to a serious pre-pro ballet school will likely be just as toxic.

I can tell you this, my youngest is a very talented baseball player and my experience with my eldest in ballet makes navigating the world of rec, school, and travel ball very easy for me. This time around, I approach every single decision with only one outcome in mind… will this experience contribute to or enhance my child’s self-esteem, life experience, and/or growth without harm? If the answer is no, we don’t do it. 

Many people will tell you, “That’s just life.” “That’s part of growing up.” “You (or your kid) are too sensitive.” “Life isn’t fair.” “It’s not good to coddle your kid.” “Quitting doesn’t teach your child anything.” “You (or your child) need to develop resilience/have thicker skin/not take things personally.” Or they will try to make you doubt yourself as though you have some kind of severely warped perception and are misreading the situation or they will use some other version of this garbage they tell themselves to make themselves feel better about their decisions and victim shame you and/or your child.

I do not believe that suffering, pain, and exposure to toxic people (let’s be clear here… toxic is just a word we use because we are afraid to say abuse/abusive) are necessary for growth and development. In fact, constant exposure to these kinds of people and this kind of environment creates trauma. Let me say that again, it creates trauma… Real and enduring wounds and damage to one’s soul. Nothing is worth that. Find a place that is a healthy and has an encouraging environment that celebrates each child’s gifts. If that isn’t possible, find an activity that isn’t filled with narcissistic and abusive people. But whatever you do, don’t stay there and pay people to harm your children. There is no need to twist yourself into knots trying to figure out a way to endure this. There is nothing your children can gain from this environment that is worth the harm they will be exposed to.

i agree with redirecting your kids, with a let’s try something new/fun/exciting/different approach and make leaving a positive thing for them. Trust me when I say that leaving WILL be a positive thing for all of you. 

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On 7/22/2021 at 1:24 AM, mykidsmom said:

switching to a serious pre-pro ballet school will likely be just as toxic.

I agree with just about everything Mykidsmom has said, except for the statement that any other school "will likely be just as toxic" conclusion.

Mykidsmom is correct that toxicity is prevalent in the dance world, including the pre pro dance school world.  But - regardless of that belief of mine -  I cannot, in good conscience, paint ALL serious pre-pro ballet schools with the same broad brush, nor do I feel comfortable giving you a percentage of likelihood on the matter.  I do believe, however, that the dance world itself (like the acting world and the modeling world) has more than it's fair share of toxicity within it.  

I think I struggle with the broad brush of all dancing schools being toxic because "toxicity" is (at least somewhat in my opinion only) a matter of degrees and personal tolerance and personal experience.  What is "toxic" for your DD might not be "toxic" for another.  Of course, there are extremes, where environments are bad and toxic for everyone.  But I believe that in real life -- as in most things -- "it depends," and I see the label of "toxicity" as more of a complicated sliding scale that depends on the individual.  I am NOT trying to take anything away from Mykidsmom's DD's experience by saying that.  Clearly, the experience of that pre pro school was toxic to her DD.

What I am trying to differentiate here is why it can become difficult to leave a studio.  First, the environment can change over time.  It might start out okay when your DD is 6, but change when your DD is 10, or 13, or some other age.  The environment can also change according to your own DD's relationship with it.  For example, your DD's tolerance for manipulation -- overt or implicit -- might change, or her relationships with the class group, or her vision of herself all might change, and with it, her relationship with her peers, the teachers and the studio.

It is, therefore, quite easy to "fall into" the building toxicity without realizing what is happening and how bad it has become for your DD.  It is also extremely difficult to gauge how your particular DD will handle various environments until your DD is IN them.  It is also difficult to truly understand the inner workings of a studio from the outside.  

But one thing we can all agree on is that when your child's joy has turned to long-term stress and worry, THAT is the time to leave.

I agree whole-heartedly with Mykidsmom's warning to be very careful with people "justifying" the environment.  The quotes about the need to "toughen" kids, and "this is how it is in the professional world, so if they can't hack it here, they need to leave dance altogether" are real.  I've heard them myself, and those are the more egregious examples of "in your face" justifications.  Keep in mind, however, that there is at least a grain of truth in the argument that the world is unfair, and your DD will need to learn how to navigate that unfairness and all the emotional reactions that come with it.  That grain of truth is why those "in your face" justifications are so powerful.  This is where the difficulty in judgment for parents comes in.  Is the strain and worry your DD is experiencing temporary?  If it is temporary, what is the frequency?  If its temporary but infrequent, then maybe these are life lessons your DD needs to learn?  If, however, it's temporary but frequent, then perhaps this environment is more dangerous to your DD's mental health than you are willing to risk.  These are not things anyone but the parent and the child can decide.

Finally, I would warn you against one other issue... it can be difficult to ask about the "toxicity" with other people, even those who are experiencing the same environment you and your DD are experiencing.  There are people AT THE SCHOOL who have experienced the same behavior at the school, but see it differently than you or your DD have, and therefore literally have experienced a different environment than your DD has, and will simply not understand why your DD is struggling.   As a parent, you must carefully weigh what others are telling you and also look with a critical eye at what their own experience has been because (in my opinion) "toxicity" is personal to the child.  Again, whether or not an environment is "toxic" may depend so much on the individual, that it can be difficult for anyone else but you to decide.


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