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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career aspirations: when is it time to stop?


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In my case when the dance career was over so was being in the studio. It was very painful to know the level that I wanted to attain was not going to happen. I did dance professionally for a brief time but due to injury was forced to quit. I did try to return to the studio but worked too hard and injury kept returning and ofcourse the pain. Therefore I stayed away for quite awhile, finally returning to teach. :P

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I studied piano intensively through high school, and there was no expectation at all that only those who would wish to do it professionally would train seriously.


My daughter (nearly 12) does not aspire to be a professional, and I've always been sad to feel that it is hard to find a place for a person who simply enjoys ballet.


From my experiences, it appears that ballet tends to be a very "all or nothing" activity, and those offering serious training look for those who are willing to give it their all -- and that many young people feel that, if they cannot give it their all (a natural feeling in the school years), or if they do not have professional potential, they might as well quit.

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Victoria Leigh

I agree that that is sad, Fendrock, however, ballet is so incredibly demanding and difficult that it really cannot be accomplished on an advanced level without intensive and very serious training, and by students with a great deal of facility to start with. This kind of training is expensive and time consuming, and the schools that do it have to devote a major portion of their professional staff to these students. Most of the schools also have a "recreational track" for those students who want two or three classes a week, and when they outgrow that program they can do the Adult classes. Students who do not plan to dance professionally but who have the ability and also take all the classes should remain in the professional track programs, as long as they are willing to devote the amount of time necessary to remain at that level and progress with the class.

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Guest susan

My daughter is trying to decide whether to "go for it" (professional dance career) or "go for it" (keep up with her honors classes and try to get into a very competitive college). As a mother who opted for a teaching career because I wanted to be as available as possible for my children, I don't think you can have it all. Dancing hours every day and keeping up with rigorous academic work has been stressful for my daughter. As she finishes her SI (Boston Dance Lab) and gets ready to enter her junior year of high school, she is struggling to prioritize. I think her two SI experiences have helped her to evaluate a likely professional trajectory for herself. Now that she has a more informed picture of what her options would likely be (both in dance and in the academic world), I think she's in a better place to decide on her priorities. If she decides to focus on academics and let dance take a secondary place in her life, she'll always love dance! If she decides to take her chances with ballet, she can always pick up her academic life when she's older. As her mother, I think the important thing is that my daughter have a realistic sense of her options in order to make as informed a decision as possible. And then my job is to support and love her! :P

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Ms. Leigh -- I certainly can appreciate that, especially in ballet, "many are called, but few are chosen."


This is true of many things in life -- consider all the little boys who dream of becoming pro football or basketball players.


Most children, as they grow, will learn that they aren't REALLY cut out to be ball players (or whatever), and will turn to other things.


I believe that most dancers, given the chance, can come to their own conclusions about this as well.


But, in many sad cases, the dancers aren't permitted to come to their own conclusions. They are turned away from the pre-professional division at age 8. They get the message that, if they are in the recreational division, they aren't good enough or serious enough (even if they never were interested in competing to be "good" or "serious"!). They are physically too big for children's roles, but interpret that as meaning that they are not good enough dancers.


When they meet with the inevitable disappointments, their teachers do not give them words of comfort, but rather just expect them to deal with it, because "ballet is a difficult art."


In some cases, even gifted dancers are sometimes only given crumbs of encouragement, if any.


I don't think all this discouragement is necessary.


To end on a more positive note, I just spoke with my daughter, and her year-round teacher sent her a postcard at her SI. This really means a great deal to her, as it would to any child, whether she wants to be a professional or not.

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I have been giving some thought to this very topic since reading Ms. Leigh's article in the recent Ballet Alert!, "Facility, Moving Forward In Classical Training." I was particularly drawn to her conclusion where she speaks of a dancer as being someone who has to dance.


"When a student has questions or doubts about whether to pursue ballet as a career, my first thought will be that it's probably best to choose the options, because for a dancer there really is no choice. Sometimes I really think that dance chooses the dancer, as opposed to someone choosing dance."


If I had not witnessed this first-hand, I would not have understood what Ms. Leigh is conveying in her statement. I remember so well our daughter's statement to me when she was about 14. "I don't have a choice in this, it's who I am."


But, of course she had a choice, with many options, or so I thought back then. Academics, theater, visual arts and music all seemed suited to her as well. But, she was right afterall, ballet/dance is who she is and in retrospect we feel very lucky that she discovered it early. (We still think her other options will come later in her second or third career path--and perhaps we will find out to be wrong about that too!)


I do agree wholeheartedly with fendrock that young dance students should be allowed to come to their own conclusions about their futures in dance. Certainly classifying students at 8 years of age, based on facility, is totally off the mark, unless we are a Communist state with training provided by the government! Afterall, which teacher or parent knows which student has that self-talk going on inside them, "This is who I am!" And, know one knows how far that thinking will take them.


Our daughter attended a very serious, ballet only, program. As a result of this experience, I do, appreciate the dance schools which provide different "tracks" so more students can stay dancing once they decide if they want pre-pro or recreational training. At our program, it was sad to see dancers leave, stop dancing altogether, as there was no other venue for them to continue dancing at the same studio. We too experienced the, "this is hard" attitude. One day I was particularly struck by the head of the school commenting openly on why she did not give compliments. "I'm afraid if I compliment them, they will stop working."


Where does that method fit into sound educational theory and practice? Once again, fendrock, I agree, I too have often thought that all this discouragement in the achievement of the highest standard of dance is unnecessary. As for the "crumbs" given even the most gifted dancers. How true!!! We did not even know our dancer was gifted or talented, until she began to audition for SIs at 14 and received scholarships everywhere she went. Even with that there were still no "crumbs" from the home studio. I even wondered what I did wrong that my daughter would put up with this kind of neglect.


Yes, we all appeciate the difficulty of mastering the art of classical ballet, requiring great commitment and the ability to accept disappointments on the neverending road to self-perfection. That said, we have all seen in the eyes and souls of "our dancers," ballet's extraordinary beauty and that wonderful, joyful feeling each possesses when doing "it." This must be what motivates them beyond the day to day difficulties. Perhaps this is why dance chooses the dancer and not the other way around.


Thanks all for your wonderful comments which have helped me to revisit some of my unfinished thoughts about this topic.

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Victoria Leigh

I really cannot remember ever having a dancer stop working because she was complimented! Quite the contrary. Encouragement is essential to the very fragile egos of these young people, as long as the compliments are honest and deserved. They are very bright, these dancers, and they know if you are not sincere. When something is well done, it should be recognized, just as often as correction when there is something to be improved. :D

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Guest Ozzie Oz

When my parents split, our family fell apart and so did my drive for everything including and especially including my ballet. I had the chance to go all the way but being so young and having to go through all that 'family baggage' I just quit completely. Nearly 13 years later I began teaching and now couldn't think of anything more rewarding (for myself anyway). I love to see the smiles on the faces of every student. I do have regrets every now and then, particularly when I watch a beautiful ballet on the ABC tv, but I try to look forward than living in the past. Each person is different, but the one thing that will never go away, die or quit is the love and passion of dance.

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Guest monkeysdriver

While I understand that if a dancer has questions or doubts about persuing ballet she should perhaps look at other options, I wonder about our situation. Daughter was on professional track until about a year ago when, due to injuries, she missed several months of dancing. She also lost her confidence about her abilities. She was not accepted back at SI's where she previously went. She started questioning whether she really wants to do this. She gradually built up her dance schedule in the spring. She has been at a local summer program the past 5 weeks. Her progress has been amazing. Her teacher has been wonderful for her and her technique has improved so much. Having seen a demonstration, I think it is obvious she has what it takes and her teacher agrees. Problem is, she is still suffering from the loss of confidence and still thinks she is not good, so she is questioning her dance future. Should I just let time take its course and she will realize for herself what she should do?

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Mel Johnson

Hi, monkeysdriver, and welcome to Ballet Talk here at Ballet Alert! Online! :wub:


It sounds to me as though she has observed a sensible "return-to-ballet" regimen, and now she's suffering a minor case of post-traumatic stress ("shell-shock"). I think the best thing for her would be to hear from others outside her customary frame of reference that she's good. Her teacher is good to hear from, but a guest teacher, or someone knowlegeable of ballet saying so would weight the comments more heavily in her mind.

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Well, this has certainly turned out to be an interesting discussion. I guess I can see why dancers would stop dancing for a little while if they weren't able to reach their prefessional goals, and I'm especially glad to hear that many or most of them return to dance after a time.

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Monkeysdriver: Your daughter's situation seems a lot like mine. She was on the professional track for a few years, then last fall (just before she turned 17) she started getting horrible cramps in her calves and was in such pain that she couldn't even point her foot. We saw numerous doctors, had PT , massage therapy, you name it. She could not even audition for SI's due to the injury. By February, one doctor suggested that maybe she had a potassium deficiency. Sure enough, after a few weeks of supplements the cramping stopped and hasn't returned! She went back to dance slowly, and to lower level classes. She didn't even attempt pointe until May! She just returned from a summer program (it was a non audition type) and had a wonderful experience. She was placed in the highest level, the teachers complemented her beautiful technique, and she experienced no injuries there. It really boosted her morale, since over that 6 month peroid when she wasn't able to dance, she was getting rather depressed and anxious about how she could ever return to level she had been at. She's still up in the air about what to do in the fall, having missed basically the whole year of the professional training program, the director is making her re-audition for it if she wants to come back. This being Senior year, she has a few hard decisions to make. Hopefully things will work out!

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Guest monkeysdriver

Amethyst, thanks for the post. It really is hard for these girls to know what to do. I wish your daughter the best, and please let us know what she decides. Going back to the original point of this thread, my daughter wouldn't quit ballet completely, at least not this year, even though she thinks she isn't good. Mel, although it is a local program for the summer, it is not at her year round studio and the teacher is a working professional that she doesn't have during the year, that might make a difference.

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Mel Johnson

That's good! :D If she gets encouragement from a teacher other than her regular, that could just be enough to break the blues, especially if they're accompanied by anxiety about working full-out after injuries.

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  • 3 months later...

Right off the bat I would like to note that I'm not asking this question in regards to my own daughters; it is just something I have been wondering about.


OK, for those of you who have children who have gone on to dance professionally, (or for teachers): was your child "special" right from the start? Did they stand out on the first day of pre-ballet as being different from the other children? Or perhaps it became apparent when they were a bit older, but after that, they stood out from their peers? Maybe they were unusually musical, or fluid in their movements, or maybe they conveyed more feeling while they danced? Or maybe they were just more determined than the others? In any case, was there a sense the this child was destined to dance?


Maybe these seem like naive questions. My daughters are not in a pro school, so I wonder if things might be very different in a school that requires auditions for entry. But from my perspective, it almost seems like if your child is gifted, you will know quite early on. Of course, one would still need to search for the best training opportunities, etc. but at least one would know that they have a chance-? :wallbash:

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