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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Pre Pro school - How do you decide?


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How do you go about deciding what Pre-Pro school to attend? There are 6-7 schools on our DD's short-list. If DD got into top 3 on list, then it would be a no-brainer (even though 1 would require a cross-country move). What gets hard is 4-7. Either school, would probably require a move for us. School A - I would have some relatives in the area. School B - would be 2 hours from DD Grandma. Cost of Living with School B, is slightly more but can still make it work. Both, schools are affiliated with Ballet companies that I would say are top 11-15.

Should we "visit" schools prior to audition (We've been at School A)? Do you wait until after audition and ask to attend classes for a day? How to approach this life changing decision?

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My DD's experience was a little different as we didn't look into schools then choose one - instead, my DD was invited to stay during an SI and moved in 3 weeks later for year-round. That said, here are some things that are important to her at her pre-pro school in addition to the high quality instruction: 1) performance opportunities; 2) dorm situation (if you need it) - nice and close to dance, meal plan with dining facility in the dorm; 3) proximity to family - grandma is 1.25 hours away; 4) academic school situation - she (OK, we) chose an online school that works well for her; 5) friendly, supportive atmosphere; 6) mix of types of dance; 7) enough boys for pas classes. I really like the idea of attending the SI first, wherever possible, to get a feel for the neighborhood, vibe from the staff, studios, and dorm. I'm not sure if I would've felt comfortable sending her across the country if we didn't have a really good understanding of what it would've been/felt like. Note that she was close to turning 15 when she moved in - I may have thought of things differently had she been a little older.

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I can appreciate that. And I can say that school A, my daughter was at the SI last summer and gave us enough info that we would be willing to relocate.

School B - we are applying for Summer. But, it is not my daughter's top choice for the summer. 

It is going to be hard to pickup and move end of august for classes to begin in September.

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Yeah, let me tell you - moving my daughter across the country that quickly, and finding an online high school, was TRICKY. Absolutely nuts. Plus we didn't think she'd be asked to stay so we had put zero thought into it. You have a good head start there, at least! 

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We went to online school this year to make room for Privates and Pilates during the day.

It was interesting when I asked DD about A or B and her answer was "whatever one will take me so that I can have better training". It's time for a bigger pond!

 

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The turnaround is very quick if it's a summer intensive invite that you need to wait for.  Those invites are usually mid-intensive or later and they want a commitment within weeks. For us it was home for three weeks or so then driving cross country.  But sounds like your DD might be younger if you feel the need to relocate your family as well.  Apartment hunting long distance can be a second job in and of itself.  We've done it sight unseen numerous times.  

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As someone with a slightly older dancer, who is currently in a second company, I'd add an important point to consider. If your DD has ambitions to dance professionally, you should look hard at placement rates. First, is this school affiliated with a company that she might want to dance with. Second, how many students from the school go into the company? Third, for those that do not go into the company, where do they go? Although there are always outliers, it is important to look at the general path that students in any given school take after they are done training there.

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For me what I have done in the past (I'm not sure if this is the best way but its what I did) was to apply to as many schools as I was able that I was willing to go to (don't apply if you aren't interested!) then waited to hear my results from all the schools (this narrowed down the list quite a bit). From there the first thing my parents and I looked at was the cost (most schools weren't able to give concrete info on costs until accepted) if we weren't able to afford it, it was off the list. I would also like to note here that I feel it is more cost effective to pay for room and board rather than worrying about finding an apartment, getting food, and transportation etc. From there we started to look at the actual program, classes, teachers, performing opportunities. (hopefully by this point the list is narrowed down a lot) My best advice at this point in the process is to think about what school will help you the most in getting a job/ having a career in this field (example school A has mentorship program or career/audition guidance but school B doesn't) 

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I'm going to swim against the current here.  On choosing a school, my advice would be to go where your DD seems to connect the most with the teaching and where she feels "seen" as a dancer.  It's hard to articulate, but I've found that most dancers seem to intuitively know how or whether or not they "fit" with the teachers.  I say this feeling is the most important because, at the end of the day, (IMO only), good training is good training. The IMPORTANT part of the successful training is whether or not your DD connects with that good training.

So, looking at the graduation rate and how successful the school seems in graduating professional dancers isn't super helpful.  I'm not saying its irrelevant, necessarily, but that  school or teacher "success rate" only tells you about those dancers in the past -- not your particular DD.  I know I've preached on here that ballet schools are a business - and they are.  But the actual profession of ballet requires an ARTIST.  I'll go out on a limb here and say "producing a professional dancer" can't actually be done.  It's more that the individual teachers "shape" a dancer... NOT the "school."  

As an analogy, think of painting.  Several of the amazing artists we know now "copied" paintings of the great masters before them.  Degas copied works by Ingres; Van Gogh copied Delacroix.  They even studied "styles" of painting.  But that learning did not require them to attend a particular SCHOOL.  In my opinion, I think ballet is similar.  The dancer must be inspired by the teacher they are "studying."

That means I ABSOLUTELY would try classes at schools to which you are thinking of applying.  If my DD hadn't taken at least an audition class with a school, we wouldn't apply to that school, no matter it's reputation.  There were, in fact, some schools that my DD ruled out as "not for her" when she finished either an SI or an audition class or a "drop in" class.  Perhaps my kid was just super sensitive, but there were some teachers -- who were "good" teachers, mind you, very reputable, very professional, excellent teachers -- that my DD just didn't "click" with, and so didn't enjoy the class and would not have enjoyed learning from them.  Similarly, there were teachers that my DD said she would follow wherever they taught, no matter the reputation or "success rate" of the particular school -- and she did exactly that.  If she "clicked" with a particular teacher, she took class with that teacher as much as she could.  She even followed one of her teachers to a much smaller ballet school (that had produced zero professional level dancers).  

Teacher-student relationship trumps school reputation.  Every time.

 

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Thank you for your insightful and a little different point of view Eligus. I have already shared it with my DD who is currently applying for college dance programs, as I believe your thoughts are just as important in that decision process.

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Good luck to you and your DD, Snowmom.  My DD is my eldest, so I was winging it with her (eldest children should receive some sort of prize for surviving their parents). 

But I was interested to note that the "selecting a college" process for my non-dancing second child felt eerily similar to "selecting a pre pro dance school" for my eldest.  In the end, the decision was based more on the "fit" (as interpreted by the kid), than the reputation of the school.

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And to answer one other question you asked, Dancedaddy -- don't wait to take classes somewhere.  If you can get into a school or with a teacher as a drop in, or exploratory class or audition class, do it. We did this throughout my DD's dance life.  If we took a family vacation somewhere, we checked out the dance schools there.  

At the VERY least, if your DD cannot take a class herself, go and observe their class and/or their performances.  Soak up as much information as you can, all the time.  Watch youtube videos, talk to people who have gone to the school, or just talk to people in general about their dance training/thoughts, research on here -- all of that information helps.

Although I can't quantify that process in exact terms, in our experience, I've found that all of that information swirls around and coalesces into thoughts about the school's atmosphere/vibe and helps your DD make a decision, particularly with the tier 4-7 schools that are not clear cut for one reason or another.  As I said in my post above to Snowmom, the process is QUITE similar to college hunting and I would insist on as many in-person visits as I could (even to the top 3 schools on your list - just to make sure).  

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Eligus expressed much better than I could exactly what I wanted to say. As soon as my DD auditioned at her current school she felt that it was where she needed to be. Fortunately they felt the same about her. The previous summer she did an SI at a very prestigious school known for nearly all of their dancers getting contracts, and she wasn’t overly impressed with the training, the vibe of the place, or the way current students felt about themselves. I’m relieved that they didn’t seem particularly interested in my DD because she might have been tempted by them based on their success rate with contracts for students. When the school she now attends offered her a place she accepted immediately without even waiting for other results. So far her gut has served her well. She feels like she is getting great training in a very supportive, healthy environment.

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