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Residential School: choosing & how to decide??


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Hi. I'm fairly new to this board, although I've been reading posts here for quite some time! I know there are many parents out there wrestling with the same issues that I am, and I'm hoping to get some valuable ideas/opinions from you guys!


My 15-year-old daughter (10th grade) is not a child prodigy and I honestly don't think she will ever be a prima ballerina in NY (based partially on her personality – she doesn't have a lot of "presence" but is naturally a quiet, reserved person), but she is a very good dancer and she is also dedicated, determined to dance, reliable and a very hard worker. She is lucky to have a good 'ballet body' w/ good turnout and flexibility. She was accepted but decided against going to our state's residential dance program this year. It was a very hard decision for her as she is willing to make that kind of commitment to dance but feels like she is actually getting better training at her home studio. She went to CPYB this past summer (she was accepted at the two places she auditioned - Walnut Hill and NCSA but decided to try CPYB). This year she is taking all the available ballet classes for her level and also taking some classes at the level below and taking jazz and modern too (11 hours a week) plus taking class at school every day (7.5 hours/week but much lower than her level) plus a private and a pas private each week. I also take her to the nearest pre-pro school (2 hours away) for a class each Saturday. She also has several hours of rehearsals each week (Nutcracker, ballet co., jazz co., etc.) Her concerns are that she is perhaps not getting enough classes to properly prepare her to become a pro and that she needs to start 'getting her name out there'.


My question: The pre-pro school accepted her into their middle level out of 3 levels, knowing she was only coming on Saturdays, and has stated that they want her full time next year. We live in the south so this isn't one of the big schools, although I think it has a good reputation and is attached to a company. But it is not a residential program, I would either have to move or find a host family. My daughter wants to audition for summer programs for places like SAB and ABT and is hoping they will ask her to stay year-round next year. She has never auditioned for them so I have no idea what the outcome may be. One of my concerns is the talk going around about how SAB is not taking older dancers since they are worried about job opportunities, etc. For a dancer like her, who is not one of those amazing prodigies, but who is a very good, technically correct dancer (one of thousands I guess), is it better to try for the big places in NY, Boston, etc. or stay with a smaller program with a co. attached where she could hopefully work her way into that company and then maybe look at moving on to bigger places after some experience? As you can probably tell, I am thinking that it would be wiser to start small, where there is hopefully more chances of her actually getting a job as a dancer, and she is wanting to 'go for the big time'. Or maybe she should stay home, where she is getting good technical training but not as much opportunity for pas and variations classes and just the sheer number of hours dancing? She is putting in so much time and hard work and I want to do what is best for her, to give her the best chance to make it as a dancer against all the odds since that is what she really wants to do. But there is no guidebook on what to do and I don't want to make the wrong decisions. I know every dancer is different and there are many different routes one can take, but how does one decide which is the best route? Thanks for any help and sorry this is so long!

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  • BW


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Hello MomOfDancer, welcome to the Moms and Dads forum on Ballet Talk! :)


We have a lot of parents here who have gone through some of the same choices, so I'm sure you will get a lot of help. The most important thing for your daughter at this point is the quality of the training. Big schools or big names are not the only means to an end, and are not always necessary if there is quality in a smaller setting. It sounds like she is getting a lot of hours, but of course the question is the quality of the hours versus what she might get at a more professional school.


Of the options you listed, some are not available, such as ABT, which does not have a year round program. But if there is a way to stay at home, or to move closer to the professional school so that she would be at home, I always find that preferable to sending them away. If it's not possible, then investigating the residential/academic programs, such as Kirov, Harid, NCSA, Walnut Hill, SC, VSA, and Rock would be the next thing to do.


Just my opinion, of course. Many students and their families are fine with the student leaving home to train, but I just feel that it's always better to be at home through high school if at all possible.

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Thanks for your quick reply Ms. Leigh! As you can tell, I don't know much about all these programs! Finding out info sometimes feels like pulling teeth!


My daughter's studio owner is very adamant that residential programs usually do more harm (emotionally speaking) than good for many kids, esp. ones like my daughter who are very attached to their family. She feels this way due to the experiences of many of her dancers who have gone on to residential programs and come back, talked to her, etc. Based on her comments (I know she's not saying it just to keep my child there) and many things I have heard personally and read on boards, I do feel like keeping her at home is the best choice. But she really is concerned that she's not getting enough. If she were my only child, I'd move to the city w/ the pre-pro school in a minute, but my other two are very happy here and reluctant to move and I don't know if it's fair to them to move. It's very confusing!! :) I welcome all thoughts....

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MomOfDancer, I appreciate the feelings behind your post. I'm sure Victoria Leigh is right that there are many who will offer their advice...and if you've been reading there's a great deal of information on this site if you do a search on residential programs, etc.


One thing we all have to remember is that hearsay is not always true.;) SAB accepted at least one young woman of 11th grade age this year, so there you go...and although I am not an SAB mother, I have met this particular young lady and her mother.:) I have no idea if there were others either male or female who were accepted into the school this year.


Maybe it's my heritage showing through: my father was a lawyer...so I've always been taught to question and read the fine print;) and my mother always used to say "You can't believe everything you hear.":)


Hang in there MomOfDancer!

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BW is correct about SAB. Although they didn't invite as many dancers to stay as in previous years, they still will always make room for a dancer they want. A 16-year-old dancer from our school did one of those 20 minute auditions very late in July (she was not attending the summer program) and they accepted her as a residency student on the spot.

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Thanks for the info on SAB. Just about everything I think I know ;) about the ballet world is hearsay - so I take everything with a grain of salt! My daughter plans on auditioning for many places for the summer (Boy, what a difference from two years ago when I couldn't even get her to go to one audition!) so a lot will depend on where she is accepted. Last summer I had to make decisions on programs and I knew nothing about them except what I heard - like everyone else I guess - I'm really looking forward to the survey results! I guess my main question is not really directly about SAB, or anyplace else, but whether my dau. MUST go away next year to have the best chances, and if so, whether it's better to think big or think smaller....

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Guest unsoccer-mom

You mentioned that your daughter was accepted into the summer programs at NCSA and Walnut Hill. I feel if a child is seriously thinking about boarding at one of these programs, that they should attend the program's summer intensive. This should give them a good feel for the year-round as well. Often a good measure of a program's interest in a given dancer is the offer of a scholarship to the summer program.


There are a few more programs that offer boarding and academics including Nutmeg and Bossov. My daughter attends Walnut Hill year-round and I have posted in detail about the program. Just do a search for my posts.


There is no right answer on the "which program is better" question. It is a very individual thing. One needs to find out as much as they can about a program to try to determine the fit. One thing to remember is that most of the larger programs accept post-grads into their programs. For instance, I would say that a significant number of the students in Boston's 7i(their top level) have already graduated from high school.


I agree with what Victoria always says about there being no reason to send a young dancer away that is getting adequate training at their home school.

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There are a couple of suggestions that come to mind. We were in this spot three years ago. I didn't, and still don't know much about dancing. This message board has done wonders for my ballet education....Anyway, the suggestions--


1. We tried to find objective ballet teachers in more than one setting (studio) to evaluate our dancer's potential.


After having two fairly objective opinions given (one was a former professional ballet dancer and one was the director of a small city company in another town) we started looking for the best training we could find.


2. We believed,as you do, that home was the best place for our dancer, then 13. We went to another studio with better instruction. Or so we thought. Like I said, I knew nothing about ballet. We interviewed the director of the school, their teaching and performing experience, and told them what we wanted out of the school. After a year, the school loved our dancer but we were not getting what we needed out of the school, which was enough hours of ballet each day. We found this out, again, by asking the former dancer, and by reading this message board. We wanted at least 2 ballet classes 6 days a week. Most local studios in our STATE didn't do that.


We decided to find the best possible training for the best possible chances for my dancer to reach her goal--which is my second suggestion. And crazy as some people think we are, we did decide to move the whole family to the town of the school we chose.


(BTW--is it possible to move halfway between the pre-pro school and your current home? That might be a compromise that your other children could deal with--just a thought.)


I hope this helps some. I really understand the dilemma you have here. We have five kids and one dancer. It takes a family decision to pull something like this off. Its been two years now at our new location, 500 miles away from our old one. It has, at least, been an adventure that, I think, has made our family closer.

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unsoccer-mom, thanks for your response - I will search for your posts on Walnut Hill and read them! :)


busymomof5, how did your other kids feel about moving for the sake of your dancer? My serious dancer is the oldest. My middle child is a freshman in high school this year. She had to transition from a middle school in a different area and while she knew a few kids from dance, she basically was in a totally new environment and had to go thru all the leaving friends, making new friends, getting settled issues. She REALLY does not want to go through all of that again next year! My youngest is in 5th grade and looking forward to going to middle school with his friends next year. I was a military brat and HAD to make new friends every three years. Growing up, I always swore to myself that I would never make my kids move, that they would live in the same town until they were grown! I've moved them once but none had started school yet so it wasn't as bad. I am just not sure if it's fair to ask them to change their life, leave their friends, etc.

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Perhaps the wisest approach to take would be to consider biding your time while you see which summer programs accept your daughter this year... Meanwhile you and your daughter can continue to research the residential programs by reading and visiting the schools themselves. Some of these programs, such as Harid I believe, require a dancer to attend their summer program first - before they decide whether or not the dancer will be accepted.


Testing the waters by auditioning or seeing if you can take a class with an unvested professional and reputable ballet teacher can be quite useful - it's a way to get some feedback from a source that is not going to tell you what you want just to make you and your daughter happy and comfortable staying where she is...and keeping a student enrolled in a studio. Sorry to sound so jaded!:eek:


Just some random thoughts.:)

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My daughter's at Nutmeg and I'd be happy to answer any of your questions about them. If you do a search, I think you'll find where I've posted some details about them.


I DON'T think you should move the whole family for the dancer's sake. I think that's a burden for the dancer. Should she not find a dance job, and frankly very few of our kids will - that's the law of supply and demand in the ballet industry - she may just carry around some guilt about it. Your other kids may resent her too. I just wouldn't do it. I also think that a move just an hour away is nearly as difficult for the other kids as a move 12 hours away. You're still uprooting them from their schools, friends, after-school programs in favor of a change that will benefit only one of your kids. I really think that holds the possibility of an emotional time bomb for any of your kids.


I like Busymomof5's suggestion about getting an impartial ballet professional to evaluate your daughter - someone not connected to any school's program. Believe it or not, they DO exist ;) Essentially, you're asking for a professional consultation with this person. S/he can give your daughter a private class, then they can speak together about your daughter's strengths and weaknesses, your daughter can detail her present schedule, and the teacher can make recommendations. It's done all the time.


Your mention about your daughter being more of a homebody also gives me a little pause as far as her leaving for a residential program. How was her summer at CPYB? Was she homesick? How much? It's not easy for even very outgoing kids to live year-round at a residential program. Most endure an adjustment period. But, in your daughter's case, that wouldn't be for a year anyhow, and there's always a lot of maturing that happens from 15 to 16 years old (thankfully).


I realize I'm not being terribly helpful here. If you were going to consider a residential program for a reserved type of kid, esp. if you had any qualms about her adjustment (it sounds to me like you do), then I'd look into one of the smaller, cozier places. SAB's wonderful but it's not for the faint-hearted. There's a LOT of competition going on among the students there; I'd worry about anyone who's not really comfortable in such an atmosphere. There are many other possibilities.

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Guest MommaJambe

Hi MomOfDancer!


We went through the process of looking for a residential program last year. My 15 year old daughter [sounds very similar to your's] felt she wasn't getting enough training. And the training she was getting wasn't at the intensity she knew she needed to pursue a career. So we started looking at some of the residential programs -- Harid, VSA, Nutmeg, Kirov, and the Rock.


And don't worry about if she'll make it as a ballet dancer. It's my opinion that there's a company out there for every type of dancer. For now, just focus on the smaller goals she needs to reach along the way.

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Ms Leigh


Your advice about the dancer staying at home if at all possible is very welcome! I would be very interested to know how a dancer, who is coming from a small pre professional school with good training, goes about getting a professional job. If you don't have that big professional school on your resume' and you don't have the exposure of an SAB or other big school showcase, how do you go about getting an audition for a major company? Do they really ever hire these dancers that stayed at home? Do these residential programs have contacts that help their dancers find that first job? Thank you so much for helping us sort through all of this!!!! :D

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AFAMom, they get jobs by auditioning, just like everyone else! What is on their resumé when they are first starting out is not very important. Many people don't even look at them, especially with young dancers with no professional experience. Sometimes they come from SI programs where they are invited to remain for the year as a trainee or even apprentice. Sometimes from the open company auditions. In the last year or two of high school the student needs to start choosing the SI in terms of potential for that company in the future. After graduation from high school, hopefully she will be invited to stay and train for the company. If not, then she will need to look for another company school and try there. I don't think that students in the residential programs have any particular advantage over those in other professional programs. The training and the dancer are what matters in the long run, and if the dancer is good enough she will have a good chance of getting work.

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AFAMom...I certainly agree with the thought of keeping your child home if at all possible during their school years. If training at home is good I can't see any reason to send your child away. If your child is talented enough there will be no mistaking it and if she has a passion as well for the art form she will continue to improve even if there might be something lacking in her training at the moment. I struggled with the same problem for years and in the end we kept our son home. He trained for 8 years and is now an apprentice with our local(professional) company. He's a senior in high school and is gaining so much experience and is now making up for some of the things that lacked in his training before. His SI experiences for the past 3 summers have also led to possible connections to other companies for the future. I agree with Ms. Leigh in that these SI's are important during those last years of high school. Good Luck with your decision which I know isn't an easy one for any mother.

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