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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career: Unsure re profession for daughter

Guest dancermama

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Guest Watermill

Terrific discussion!


dancermama mentions that her daughter is talking about trying acting, and wonders if this is "even a worse" fate.


I happen to teach acting and direct plays in many schools.

I also had a somewhat successful career as an actor in NYC for 20 years.

I also have a 13 year old ballerina.


One of the clear, cold facts about a ballet career is that you are either making it and are in a company (perhaps in the corps, but you have a job) or you're not. And you find out pretty quickly if you have what it takes.


The problem with an acting career is that it tilts nauseatingly from too much work for weeks to no work for months; from fabulous reviews to "can't get arrested". This can go on for years, especially as young actors move from ingenue to lead to character roles.


I love the world of the theatre, but the money is in commercials, TV and film. And those worlds can be VERY slimey and to artistic types very unsatisfying.


I feel that involvement in school, community or college theatre is wonderful. But to those whose children are thinking of professional dance careers as opposed to acting careers, breathe a sigh of relief: you'll get the answer soon; the acting parents are in for years of suffering.


This said, I also believe that each of us has a destiny which cannot be denied by circumstance or parental "guidance".


As a parent this makes my heart sore; but as an artist it makes my heart soar.



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This uncertain and agonizing dilemma of "college vs. company" has forced me "out of the shadows." I have benefited from many of the discussions on this board. Maybe our experience can help those of you in the midst of this dilemma.


Our 19 year-old daughter is in her 2nd year of a 2-year apprenticeship with a ballet company. She deferred college for one year and then turned down her deferred admission this past August, since she was not yet ready to stop dancing. My husband and I never dreamed that she would actually become a ballet dancer, nor did we initially want her to. I was probably the antithesis of a "ballet mom." I'd enrolled her in a ballet class at age 5, because she had tagged along with her older brother's rough and tough activities, and I thought she needed a little gracefulness. I chose her particular ballet school because it had classes on Saturdays (little did I know we would one day be talking 6 days a week) and I was working full time. As fate would have it, it is a fine pre professional school.


Over the years she increased class time, made great friends, danced in The Nutcracker, etc. We thought it was wonderful for building discipline and focus, but regularly encouraged her to cut back so that she could pursue other interests. She didn't even audition for summer intensives away from home until her junior year in high school; we thought it would look good "for college." She talked about becoming a dancer, but so did all of her friends at the dance school, and we didn't take it seriously. It was a passion we respected, but we honestly didn't even know if she

was any good.


The summer intensive auditions started turning things around. She got acceptances and scholarships, and --it took on a life of its own. Her Russian ballet teacher spoke to me (through an interpreter), telling me that my daughter should do this, and that (none of which included college, of course). Though I nodded and smiled, I was thinking, "over my dead body." At her summer intensive, she was offered a trainee-ship with a company. This would have meant quitting high school, finding an alternate way to graduate and leaving home. We encouraged her to stay at home for her senior year (Eek! Who doesn't go to college?)and, after much thought, she tearfully agreed. (However, we began to consider some compromises).


Our strategy: We insisted that she visit colleges; she enrolled in an SAT prep course; she completed several college applications (not for early admission). She did not consider getting a degree in dance. Her philosophy was, "I want to dance now. Why should I get a college degree in dance and then have to go back to college for my next profession?" She had a terrific senior year, both academically and socially, and agrees that she did the right thing by staying home. In the meantime, she was receiving encouragement from dance quarters.


We finally "came around," as she describes it. I had always told my children that the worst failure is never having tried --that the result of not taking a risk is certain and predictable. How could I preach this, yet deny my daughter the opportunity to take her risk? She insisted that she must dance --that it was not even a decision. So...we went on the audition trail.


She went off to her summer intensive without any certain placement for the next year, though she had accepted admission at a college, been accepted into a ballet company's graduate program, and the AD of the company she had turned down the year before was calling her. The very last week of her summer intensive, an AD from another company called looking for an apprentice, she was recommended, and we were on an 8-hour drive to the audition. A week later, she had moved to that city. Only THEN did she ask the college for a deferral (we were keeping our options open). We also called her high school counselor, to make sure her file was complete, contained the necessary recommendations, etc., for when she applies to college again.


Reflections: I do not consider this a "success" story; it could as easily have gone the other way. I think that timing, luck and persistence are as important as talent in this game. For every dancer who gets a contract, there are probably 10 equally talented dancers who don't. I also want to stress that one doesn't breathe the ultimate sigh of relief after that first apprenticeship; there are no guarantees of future work. The company may not hire her/him. Future auditions may yield another apprenticeship, a company contract .....or nothing.


We have (sort of) come to terms with the uncertainty of this life. She might be dancing next year; she might be in school; she might be working, taking college courses and applying to colleges again. We KNOW that she has grown up a lot, has become more independent and has a very different view of what she wants/needs from a college experience (which makes me wish we had not embarked on such an agonizing college search). For example, dorm life at a small, liberal arts college is no longer for her.


The important thing is that she followed her heart and her instincts, spent at least 2 years doing what she loves and has left options open. She took a risk, and we are proud of her courage and hard work. Her decision will most definitely change the course of her life; you can't really have it both ways. However, it was HER decision --one of many she will make during her life.


(All right: I did recently ask her, "Have you thought about applying to college this year --as a back up?)

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Guest unsoccer-mom

always a mom,


I think when the time comes for your daughter to get on with the rest of her life she will not have any problems getting into college. Your story made me remember an article I once read about retired dancers attending Brown University.


Below is a link to the article:





Here is a small excerpt:


"For most of the dancers the invitation to attend Brown came through the Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE) program for applicants with unconventional academic backgrounds. The program represents diversity at its best: actresses have been RUE students alongside political refugees, single mothers, grandmothers, carpenters, and, of course, dancers. The program's link to ballet was first established by Rick Hood '88, whose career at the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Dutch National ballet companies ended with a collapsed metatarsal in his left foot. After a year at the University of Rochester, he was encouraged to apply to Brown by two relatives who had graduated from the School of Medicine relatively late in life. "I just kept banging on the door until they let me in," Hood recalls. "It was a big attraction to have a school making a conscious effort to recognize people who made decisions to do something different with their lives."




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Always a Mom,


Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. My daughter's right at the crossroads this year of college vs. dance career. And I want her to do both - apply to colleges AND audition. She's also stated adamantly that she won't go to college FOR dance. Her reasons are the same as your daughter's.


I do think that your insistence on her following through on a college search and applications is a wise one, even in the face of all the interest in her as a dancer. One never knows when an injury can sideline a dancer, permanently perhaps, even without getting to the point of auditioning. My motto's constantly been to have a backup plan. I agree that chance plays a large part in the lives of many prospective dancers. There are some who are so mightily talented and ready that it's obvious to everyone. That's not true for most dancers. So an alternate plan seems wise.


Mostly, though, I think that no matter what choice these young dancers make, they'll bounce back and switch gears if they need to and when they're ready. They're young enough to be able to make changes without too much trouble. If my daughter doesn't dance professionally, I HOPE she's not afraid to try out several fields of interest before deciding on one.


I took a long path towards a degree and I'm still, at the age of 48, making decisions on "what I want to be when I grow up". I didn't go straight to college; I went straight to volunteer work. (Talk about a vocation with little financial prospects!) I found bit jobs here and there to support what I really loved doing. I then married, had kids, took courses here and there before landing in my present career. I'm happy in my life.


Of course, as a parent, we often want for our children the security we might be willing to forsake for ourselves. I think that's natural. I really like Watermill's statement, "As a parent this makes my heart sore; but as an artist it makes my heart soar." That sums it all up so beautifully. Thank you, Watermill!

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Victoria Leigh

Always a mom, we are glad you have come out of the shadows and joined us here on Ballet Alert! Online, and especially the Moms and Dads forum :) Thank you for for the great story about your daughter, and I hope that she will have a full contract after this year! However, if not, the groundwork for other avenues of study has been done, and this is good.


Watermill, that was another great line you came up with! Thank you :P

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Always a mom, your post is a success story in the truest sense.



I had always told my children that the worst failure is never having tried --that the result on not taking a risk is certain and predictable.


Many thanks for coming out of "the shadows" - you've written about your ongoing experience so beautifully. Your post is an inspiration - for any avenue. :cool:

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I just want to thank all of you who have shared your experiences. There are alot of us who are just a year or two behind some of you and to read what you're going through helps to know others share the same feelings and concerns. My daughter and I have had many of the same discussions about dancing vs college.


Good luck to all of you.


Also, thank you for a wonderful website!!!!! Such valuable information shared by all!

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Guest dancermama

I do believe I struck a nerve! Sigh...all parents have concerns, many similar to mine. What a Godsend this website is! Liz'smom, if I didn't know better, I'd think your response was written by me! And Watermill, your comments about acting/commercials, etc. are the reason I feel a little weak at the knees when considering my daughter in an acting career. Dancing is incredibly tough, but at least the "successful" ones truly have awesome talent, even if the place, circumstances, etc. have to cooperate with them. But there are so many B-grade actors in the world (singers, too) come to think of it, who seem to make big money and even win the highest accolades in the acting profession! What's the tired saying? Life isn't fair. Nevertheless, reading everyone's responses has been heartwarming for me.

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Guest Liz'smom

Dancermama, I think that most of the opinions posted here are similar to ours. I want this to work for my daughter as much as she does. I don't know who will be more heart broken in the end if she doesn't dance, me or her. Probably me,we can't help it ..we want our kids to succeed. But this is more than success, it's a passion.

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  • 3 weeks later...

While looking around here and there I came upon an article:


Dancing With the Uncertain Future

By Anne Wennerstrand, CSW, DTR

Copyright Anne Wennerstrand

"Dancing With the Uncertain Future"

By Anne Wennerstrand, CSW, DTR

Copyright Anne Wennerstrand


...and thought you all might like to read it. Much of what she has written will be familiar but it may spark some new ways of considering the choices one can make... :) I'd say it is relevant to anyone's pursuing what they love.


So click away if you have the time:



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  • 1 month later...

always a mom's recent post on syr's "angst" thread reminded me of this earlier thread. It's good to see your cyber name again, always a mom, and it's also nice to have a bit of an update on your daughter's situation.


There are a number of really good posts on this old "uncertain" thread...and many relate to the "angst factor" - which seems to be a parental trait. ;)

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After reading "always a mom's" post I felt I also needed to write. We had a very similar experience to hers. I agree that SIs can take on a life of their own, you just never know what will happen. The only difference is that we allowed our dau to finish her senior year by correspondence. In her 2nd year @ PNB school she is having the time of her life, performing with the co., travelling, meeting lots of people in the arts, etc.


And dancermama...don't worry. Somehow when it actually comes time to make decisions it becomes more clear what will work for you and your child than worrying about it ahead of time. Enjoying the process of becoming a dancer is something the kids need to be aware of, not always worrying about the outcome.


P.S.-Thank you BW for the article recommended above. Very illuminating.

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I think that once the decision is made, everything gets easier. We drive ourselves (and our dancers) crazy, trying to weigh all options, and leave open as many doors as possible. We can actually overburden ourselves and our children with too many "what ifs."


Two years past the initial "college or go-for-it" decision, my husband and I are strangely relaxed. Our daughter always was; she KNEW what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it, and what she would do if it didn't work.


I think that we parents need to remind ourselves that the decision is theirs; the talent is theirs; the auditions are theirs. For our part, I think we have the responsibility to help them get a fair assessment of their talent/potential, which will help them to make their decision. We parents can become so invested in our children, their happiness and their success, that it all somehow becomes entangled with our own sense of accomplishment (and we sort of know that while we allow it to happen).


Once our children move away from home, these decisions and changes become easier and easier. As with many things, we get better at it with practice. We now have a 19-year-old dancer in her second year of a 2-year apprenticeship, and no guarantees for next year. Our son, newly graduated from college, has just moved (joblessly) across the continent to join friends and experience living in a new area. They are living the lives they have chosen, and there are lots of uncertainties. My husband and I cannot control every detail of their lives, and we are concentrating on OURS. All we can do is offer support and whatever advice they will accept. They are adults.


Accepting that has made life a whole lot easier.

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Victoria Leigh

A very wise and thoughtful post, always a mom! Some excellent points there :( I think we all forget sometimes just how intelligent, and usually self-sufficient, our young dancers are. When I have conferences with our students or the summer students at the end of the SI, I am always surprised by how many of them are totally on top of their situation and have very clear plans. Most, not all, but most, seem to be aware of their potential in terms of a career in dance and have very good ideas about where they are going following graduation. There are always a few with stars in their eyes who do not have a realistic potential, but I find this happening less and less. In fact, the stars are more often in the eyes of the parents ;)

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