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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career aspirations: when is it time to stop?


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The trouble with

you have talent, but your body shape will be an obstacle to pursuing a classical career - you may have to work harder to prove yourself or also consider other options/companies
is that it can trigger an eating disorder. Also, teachers are "d$#@ed if they do, d%$@ed if they don't." Many parents would be furious if a teacher made a body shape statement to a teenaged dancer. It puts a teacher in a very tough predicament.


Also, I really, truly believe that most dancers over the age of 16 know their own odds. Countless dancers stay with it through high school graduation just to complete a part of their lives that they love. With graduation, the vast majority move on to college. Those who don't will often take a year after high school to test the waters. Most of these kids go through this process with great aplomb; they handle it with admirable maturity. If they don't get good feedback, they go to college the next year. LOTS of non-dancing kids take a year off between high school and college these days to explore something they love. Colleges prefer those students because once they arrive on campus, they are more mature and more experienced being on their own.


Some - my daughter fits this category - find a way to stay in ballet AND dance in another genre. She gets calls from a contemp. company whenever they need a replacement. She loves dancing with them (she's performing in Russia in a few days!) but wants to stick with ballet a little longer. Contemporary companies usually prefer older dancers so she's not going to lose out on chances to audition and perform with them if she waits. Ballet's the opposite. She feels that right now, she has the best of both worlds; she's paid for her own apt. since Christmas through the income she receives from the contemp. company. She's toured Europe and much of the USA with them. Continuing with ballet now will make her a stronger contemporary dancer later.


My daughter is not the exception. This is equally true of many other dancers. Those who truly love the performing arts will find a way to stay in the field. I think there's nothing wrong with taking some time to see if one can mold a career for themselves. It's important to not assume that a 15 or 16 year old's maturity and thinking on these topics are the same as that of an 18 or 19 year old. It's only the very rare case where a dancer of this older age is deceiving themselves by continuing on without ever getting any bites or signs that they might have success. Most recognize their own possibilities with very clear eyes.

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is that it can trigger an eating disorder. Also, teachers are "d$#@ed if they do, d%$@ed if they don't." Many parents would be furious if a teacher made a body shape statement to a teenaged dancer. It puts a teacher in a very tough predicament.


The fact that a young dancer may not have the "classic" ballet body is not always because of a weight issue. It may be that they are overly muscular, have a long torso, lack a high instep, short limbs etc - things which they can do nothing about. The instrument of ballet is the body and there is no getting around that. Parents and students need to be very clear about this. I would not be furious at all if dd's teacher was honest about her body, but I would feel differently if it was her math teacher. It's a matter of context.


There IS a classic ballet body and the majority of classical ballet companies are looking for this. This is simply a fact. If their teacher knows that they simply don't have it and can't get it, they OWE it to the student to be honest. Being honest is not the same as being cruel or insensitive.


If your child had a dream of playing basketball in the NBA and spent six days a week training but had reached their full growth at 16 and was 5'6" - wouldn't you expect his coach, parents or whatever to point out the minimal chances of making it?


EDs are a whole different matter and occur across many sports, many arts and with very many otherwise normal children - including my own stepdaughter.

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What a fascinating discussion thread! It's esp. interesting bec. (at least) here in my neighborhood, Orange County, Calif., you see this sort of thing in other venues, not just ballet --- soccer, basketball, tennis, etc.


That is, OC is a hotbed of sports activities where kids as young as 9 or 10 start to get serious in a single year-round endeavor such as soccer or basketball by playing at the "club" level. (And club sports is not cheap --- about $1500 per year for coaching & club fees --- though probably cheaper than ballet.) And a no. of parents of these young players are rooting for the possibility that their child will get that college scholarship bec. their child is specializing in a single sport at a young age, which may be as elusive as many dd's out there hoping to get a contract with a professional company.


It's not uncommon for a number of these young players to get private lesssons or coaching. Just look in any OC yellow pages and you will see a number of basketball, baseball, tennis and other sports schools that specialize in (expensive) 1-on-1 coaching. But I have to note that I sometimes see this at my dd's ballet school too.


But I also think that the majority of kids are guided by parents in a healthy way toward sports, and other interests. It's just interesting to see how children pursue passions at an early age has changed from when I was growing up.


But it will be interesting to see this next generation grow up. How will many of these young players cope later in life? Will they be able to handle dissapointment in a healthy way? Will parenting be different when they grow up and have children of their own? I guess only time will tell!

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At the schools "we" had direct experience with (yes, I was right, there, of course, with my daughter in class every day! :) ) , the program was so rigorous, the comments on the evaluations SO honest and rigorous, that truly, a student had to really want to be there quite badly for it to be worth it. And by 10th grade on, at the latest, there is a complete awareness of how the senior students are placing - where they are going next, who is dropping out, who is pursuing more dance studies, who has a job, who is going the college route - dance or academic. The student has a self-awareness based upon how they are being cast, scholarship'ed, accepted or not to summer programs ....


I think it is the exception rather than the rule if students and parent are somehow looking towards a dance career through "rose colored" glasses.


At the same time, this discussion could be about trying to make it an any of the arts.

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In none of the cases I mentioned above was weight the body issue of concern. So, as others have noted, body type can encompass a wide range of issues from length of torso, length of legs, size of chest, proportions, height (short or tall), etc. etc. etc.


Again, as I stated earlier, in these cases, the teachers were specific about the body issue and there was no ambiguity that might lead the dancer to think that it was related to weight. How this is handled and how skilled the teacher is at articulating their concerns in a specific, yet compassionate way is the key.


Syr, I second your comments about the fact that most students at the most competitive residency programs are well aware of where they fit in the ballet world and I think that generally speaking, their self assessments are very accurate, from about age 15-16 on. :)

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All we can do is try to help them decide which way they want to go, to guide them and advise them, to be honest with them, and inform them of the possible challenges or perhaps, lack of problems they may face, based upon the various things they have demonstrated to us. But I don't think anyone has a crystal ball, and can definitively point out " You, over there, you will become a ballerina!" You might be able to say "You have a greater chance of becoming a ballerina because you have A., B. & C."


To add to that, you might be able to say "You have a lesser chance because of A. B. & C."


I'm quoting myself here because it looks like some of you might've missed what I was saying a few posts up. :) I think we OWE it to our students to give them honest assessments of their limitations as well as fortes, but at the same time, none of us can or should play (fill in the Deity).


Imagine the pressure on the girl with the perfect body, when everyone's expecting her to become a ballerina with a top tier company, and deep inside, she just wants to paint the Seine dans Ete.

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We have a girl who is a gorgeous dancer. Two years ago, at age 15, she got really frustrated and nearly gave up. I managed to convince her that even if she isn't ideal material physically for a classical ballet company, she is a fabulous dancer and would be able to perform professionally. She continued with her ballet training and contemporary and jazz and has now been accepted by a professional company, which puts an emphasis on good classical training, but whose works are mainly modern or neo-classical. If she'd have given up her ballet, she wouldn't have been accepted there and she's thrilled at the opportunity. There would have been no point in sending her to the classical company here - she just doesn't have the "look" of a classical dancer, even though she's very slim and is really strong and flexible. Life is all about coming to terms with our own limitations and making the best of what we have got.

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Guest Annabel Lee

I wanted to refer to something Vagansmom said, but I can't figure out how to work the quote thing. In any case, I think she is right on the money here. It is exactly what I have observed through my own many years of being a dance parent. Of all the students my daughter trained with during her most serious years of training, I can't think of one who isn't in an arts field now. Some are dancers and some are not, but each seemed to parlay that ballet training/arts education into a career. I imagine that there are parents of 15 or 16 year olds who are thinking about the intensity of their particular child's passion, how badly they want ballet and how nothing else would measure up to that. But, it's not necessarily that they give up a dream when they go other routes. It could be that they discover something that captures their imagination equally. For my own daughter, it came about when someone recommended that she go to NY and train with a modern choreographer whose style they thought suited her particularly well. It turns out they were right and she has never regretted the decision. She wouldn't have even considered the possibility at 16 or 17. It took maturity, a deeper understanding of the arts/dance world, and a willingness to take a risk. Those things come with time.

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Guest balletandsynchro

At the res. school my daughter attends most of the girls are slim to very thin, with a few in the thin-side-of-average size. Of this year's graduates, most are going into classical ballet companies, including classical companies overseas, HOWEVER... there are two going into smaller regional classical ballet companies, and these girls do not have the 'traditional' ballet bodies. They are both AMAZING dancers. It would have been a shame had they quit because they didn't have the EXACT ballerina body that is discussed above. A third girl is going into musical theatre (she has a gorgeous voice), and has felt that the ballet training has enhanced her stage presence, and her ability to learn choreography quickly.


I agree that not every dancer will make ABT, or NYCB, or Royal Ballet, etc..., but I do believe in my heart that there is a place for these dancers in the dance world, whether a neo-classical or contemporary ballet company, possibly a smaller regional classical company, or modern etc... I think too, there are some teachers who are not impressed with the non-classical companies, and aren't as impressed when their students get a job in such a company. And, I too agree it is all in the method of presentation - telling a student "you'll never make it as a ballet dancer" isn't the way to go. I don't want to go over ploughed ground, but, as I mentioned above, (and many of you know through your own experiences), people can, and do get jobs even without the "ideal" ballet body. Being told that having A or B physical characteristic may make it very difficult, if not impossible, to join company #X, is certainly more productive when talking to a student, than telling her she will never become a pro.


Balletbooster, thank you for your postings above - they are absolutely right-on!

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Thanks Ballet and Synchro! I suspect we have been studying from the same 'textbook' although our girls are in different residencies. :lol: I've learned a lot, as I'm sure you have, from watching and listening to all that goes on at school! :innocent:

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After reading my own post and the interesting assortment of replies and thinking about it all for a few days...I have the following to add:


It could be that our (parental) overconsideration of this entire process...dk's wanting to be dancers and following a specific path to this goal, is more a reflection of our generations involvement with our kids. In my day (how I love using that phrase now!) my parents did little more than feed and clothe us. Mine occasionally asked about homework and grades. It was expected that I proceed onto college but no activities were furnished for me other than short stints at those I personally requested. These activities were eventually restricted or cut off due to lack of funds. I don't recall any of my friends lives being any different. Most activities, sports etc were done through the schools. Somehow, most of us made it into college despite our general lack of focus and then we had a grand time in college, graduated and went on with our respective lives.


Now it seems that there is much more parental focus or concentration on their children...agonizing about their day to day, from the minute they are born until whenever any of us tire at it (this occurs at different times for different people, but many parents become worn out in the high school years). Some parents, do manage to maintain that superfocus on their kids until they make it into college.


We, on this board, as dance parents, place our focus on dance as we have supported our dk's in this area to a fantastic degree(but no less fantastic than say a soccer parent supports their dk...thanks gogators). Perhaps it is only natural for us to step back from time to time and question what it is we are doing, how our kids are doing and how to proceed from point A to point B and then on to C.


The most any of us can hope for is happy and healthy kids and that we ourselves maintain a healthy perspective to counsel and guide our dk's as they journey into adulthood.

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Asleep at the Wheel,

Your description of your upbringing sounds vastly familiar! :) My sister and I were talking about just this topic the other day and commenting upon how little our mom was involved in what we were doing on a day-to-day basis as we grew up. She was considered a fantastic mom, by all her kids and her neighbors and friends. She was actually more involved than most of my peers' moms were! But, it was a different time and a different way of parenting.


I think you have hit the nail on the head regarding our own generation's over-involvement in our kids lives and the 'super achiever' kids that we (as a generation) have created.


It is always good to take a reality check and remind ourselves that what we want most for our children is for them to be happy, healthy and well-equipped for an abundant life. :blushing:

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Such great points you make. It is so true that parents are involved in their children's lives at a higher level than ever before. I sometimes think that our over-involvement and over-reactions rob kids of important learning experiences and interupt the necessary parts of the process of growing.


Here's a little story that I love:


A little boy enjoyed frequent visits with a wise old man, a guru, in fact. One day the boy saw the guru had a catepillar and asked if he could take the catepillar home. "Yes," said the guru, "if you promise that when he becomes a butterfly and comes out of his cocoon, you won't help him." The boy promised, and happily went on his way with the catepillar.


The boy watched the catepillar grow and watched him spin his cocoon. He then watched, excitedly, as the cocoon began to break open. His catepillar had turned into a butterfly that began making his way out of the cocoon. Just as he was almost out, the butterfly became stuck and flapped his wings vigorously, as if trying, in desperation, to break himself free. The boy watched in frustration, then carefully widen the opening of the hole to free the butterfly. The beautiful butterfly flew into the air, then dropped to the ground and died.


In tears the boy carried his dead butterfly back to the guru, who looked at him sadly and said, "you helped him." The boy tearfully replied, "he got stuck." So lovingly the guru explained, "when a butterfly is almost free from the cocoon, he must flap his wings extra hard to make his way out. This strengthens his wings so that he can fly on his own. "When you helped him, you made him weak and he couldn't survive."

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I love the story as well!! I think it is worth taping on top of the phone or in the car or on whatever is a means of enabling a parent to be over-involved (initially I put meddlesome :) ) It is probably the hardest thing I have had to learn so far. :blushing: I listen always of course and then I have to ask my dancer what she wants to do about a situation or issue and then I have to trust that everyone who is truly involved will be able to work things out.

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