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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career aspirations: when is it time to stop?


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As I've said elsewhere, sometimes you can tell right away which child is going to be a contender in the professional world; sometimes, you can't! Often the student who looks like the next Gelsey Kirkland will burn out at 12, and will take up some other study hammer-and-tongs. Sometimes, the kids who don't look like much suddenly catch fire when they're presented with professional-level corps work. They are truly inscrutable, these students, and the best answer anybody can have about a dancer's future is :wallbash: !

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Victoria Leigh

I agree with Mel on this, as I have also seen students blossom who did not seem to be that special earlier on. However, I have also seen a number of students where it is evident from very, very young. As you said, "something special", and often it is not even something you can describe, it's just there. And in those cases it continues, it does not change, they do not lose it. The body might change, and the burnout factor exists too, however most of those who show that special talent will become dancers if they continue to receive good training. Besides the physical facility, what one sees in the special ones is a certain focus, energy, musicality, enthusiasm, expressiveness, and dance intelligence, which ususally, but not always, goes along with other areas of intelligence. The higher percentage of these students are also exceptional in other things, including academics, and often musical studies. However, I have also had a few students who have had exceptional talent and dance intelligence who were not the best students academically. They are a minority, in my experience, though.

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Dancingdaughters asked:

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?
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-?

May I turn your questions around a bit and ask one, myself? I've also pondered about destiny and dance when I observe my daughter, as it's not clear where she "got it" in the family tree. But she clearly showed signs at a very young age that this was in her wiring. It was at my husband's suggestion, on seeing our then 3-year-old flit around the house, that I enrolled her in a pre-ballet class. A mere two months later, another parent at my daughter's pre-school asked, "Does she take ballet?" I said she did. The parent replied, "Oh, you can tell by the way she moves" and my thought was, "She always moves this way."


My daughter continues to move as well as sit differently and it's become common to hear folks say, "Oh, you can tell she's a dancer." We could be anywhere and total strangers will say this. All of the traits that Ms. Leigh described apply to her, along with amazing memorization skills and being able to pick up oral instructions quickly. I think this helps explain why she gets A+'s in French when I was so bad at it. But I was also amazed at how well she picked up driving skills last year. I was a basket case when I had to instruct my older son, but my daughter never made any of the usual first-time mistakes, such as rubbing the wheels against the curb or letting the car drift when checking her mirror. I had to wonder whether her spatial awareness carried over from dance.


Given all of this, when it comes to the issue of destiny and dance, wouldn't the answer lie in the role that dance plays in one's life - right now - rather than destiny only being fulfilled by a paycheck? Not to sound like I'm on a soapbox... What I'm struggling with is that in my interactions with other high school parents, teachers and administrators, the issue that my daughter "is a dancer" will come up and it's at that point when I realize that the other people can't really relate to my use of the present-tense, when I know that that is the only way that I can describe my daughter.


There are some other activities, such as swimming or gymnastics, where parents may find themselves saying, "My child is a swimmer/ gymnast." But it's not like those kids walk like a swimmer or dress like a gymnast. Most other parents can only say, "My child is an aspiring actor," or "He wants to be a writer" (picking activities that kids can do). But wouldn't folks agree that it would be awkward for us to say, "My child wants to be a dancer"? If this is their passion and they're planning to keep at it for the foreseeable future, aren't they already dancers?

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When complete strangers come up to my daughter and ask her if she is a dancer, she always replies yes. She doesn't plan on becoming a dancer in the future. In her eyes she is already there. When we are wandering through the mall after a class and she is still in tights and a leo (with something over) many times while standing in line to purchase something, a nice older lady will ask her if she wants to be a ballerina when she grows up. Her reply, which is always polite, is...I already am a ballerina, but I hope one day to be a professional. My daughter was blessed with the attributes of the ideal body that have been discussed on this board as well. She "looks" and "walks" like a dancer. In time we will see if this is her destiny.

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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?


You pose an interesting question and, in our case, one with two distinctly different answers.


Most of our daughter's early training was, quite by chance, under the direction of Russian (Vaganova & Kirov) trained instructors. They all, to a person, told us that she had all the "gifts". At the early ages when they began to tell us she was gifted, she was to the untrained eye nothing special. She has succeeded quite nicely and is now in her second year as a Corps member in the Stuttgart Ballet and seemingly on track to do very nicely.


From age six or seven until she was twelve years old, whenever she was under the direction of American trained instructors, she was just one of the gang. She was never identified to us as having any special abilities. I ascribe some of that to the fact that the level of expertise of the American instructors was not nearly that of the Russians and we did not have access to the better American instructors, but I was still surprised at the total difference in attitudes toward her abilities. Another observation which I am sure contributed to the above, is that the American instructors tended to identify young students that were very athletic and strong (as compared to others of the same age) whereas the Russians all immediately identified dd as having beautiful classical lines and movement.


Another interesting fact along these same lines is that she had very hyperextended legs which several instructors tried to deal with by teaching her to force the leg straight when dancing....but once she got to the Kirov Academy, that was never even mentioned.


She spent four years as a scholarship student at the Kirov Academy and two years with all expenses paid at the John Cranko school in Stuttgart before entering the Stuttgart Ballet.


I guess in closing the moral of our experience is that there exist few absolutes as regards early identification of outstanding potential...there are many very different approaches to the subject.


I have tried to be as objective in these observations as possible given the pride all of us feel as parents for our own.



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I also kept hearing positive things from people about my dd's dancing. I just never took it seriously. People kept telling me that she should do something with "it". One of her ballet teachers before she left to move on, as they always did after their 2 year contract was over, called me and implored me to give her a chance to try. At her first SI, the AD asked me to look for better training. I talked about surrounding studio, he talked about pre-pro boarding schools like SAB. I didn't even know what SAB was. When he told me, I said "Yeah, right!" I didn't know any better. Now, we continue to wonder if "it" is enough, but we're trying.

I would like to believe that if it is meant to be, it will happen.

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mylildancer...we had some of the same "yea right". But we soon arrived at the conclusion that she obviously had enough talent that we never wanted to have to say to ourselves, "What if...???" From that point on, we supported her 100% with the stipulation that she could walk away from ballet at any time with no questions asked. We are still waiting for that call.



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This is not terribly related, as my daughter is still young. But when dancindaughters asked about early signs, it brings to mind a picture of my daughter and her two cousins, all sitting under the Christmas tree when they were all three 8 months old.


Everyone laughs about the picture today, because my dd is sitting in the middle, back perfectly straight, sternum lifted, chin up... looking as though she is preparing to dance. We didn't know at the time it was signs of things to come. :dry:

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Yes, we were told many times that our daughter was special. All those things mentioned above we heard many times. Early on we gave these observations little importance even when they came from professionals who obviously knew much more than we did. The first time we heard the "special talk," was when she was about 6. We were flattered by their observations, but she was just having fun doing something she enjoyed. Who knew where the road ahead would take us? It wasn't until she began auditioning for SI's at 14 that we began to take what they said to us more seriously. Even then we were realistic knowing the magnitude of difficulty, money, and chance it would take to get to the pro level.


She is one of the few who beat all the odds and went onto dance professionally. I would normally use the word luck here, but she would always admonish me for it's use when connected to ballet, since she felt so strongly her achievement was the direct result of her hard work, with luck having little to do with it. But, luck did enter into it too. We happened to move close to a great school; she happened to have the right facility and kept it; she happened into the right family; etc, etc. You know, there was planetary alignment!!


I completely agree with Victoria and Mel as well. I remember one of her former ballet teachers saying almost the same thing about the uncertainty of identifying future potential by early ability and facility. Particularly how the pre-adolescent body was not always a clear-cut sign of things to come and the opposite being true for some students who don't seem to have "it" prior to adolescence.


As for refering to our daughter as "a dancer," when she was still pre-pro? We would instead say, "our daughter is a serious ballet student." We even remember her back then saying, "I study ballet." To this day she does not refer to herself as a ballerina or a professional dancer. When asked, we have heard her respond, "I dance for ____________Ballet."


CDM, we too await the "call." We've been waiting 5 years now.

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Victoria Leigh

I think you will find VERY few, if any, dancers in professional companies who would call themselves ballerinas. Most will say they are dancers, or professional dancers, or ballet dancers, or that they dance with such and such a ocmpany. It's just not something one calls oneself when they are a dancer. And a student is certainly not a ballerina......yet. They might be some day. Hopefully. :)

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A point very well taken and one which leads me to ask how you would by deifinition differentiate between a dancer/professional dancer/etc and a ballerina. Or how would professional themselves make such a disctinction?


I agree with the statement but do not know enough to answer the above questions.


Thanks much and regards...Doug.

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Victoria Leigh

Dancer.....one who dances :wacko:

Professional dancer......one who makes a living dancing

Ballerina.......a Title in a professional company, a principal female dancer


However, I doubt that even those who have reached this rank would introduce themselves as a Ballerina. They would say dancer, or principal dancer, or soloist, etc. :)

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In the US, anyway, "ballerina" is a title usually conferred by writers and the audiences. She is usually a principal, although occasionally one sees a breakthrough from other ranks, and the "buzz" is "ballerina!" To paraphrase Alexandra Danilova, "Ballerina is like two-star general".

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