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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Careers: Minorities

Guest April

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I am a mother of a very talented and dedicated young dancer. She really loves ballet and wants to become a professional dancer when she grows uo. However, I do not completely agree with her.

First of all, she does not have the typical "ballerina body." She has a medium-long torso and has short-medium legs(she got it from me) She also has a fairly long neck but an oval medium face. I am guessing that when she finishes growing, she will be no taller than 5'2 at he most probably 5'1. I have not seen any dancers that do not have long legs. She still wants to be a dancer and though she knows she does not have a typical "ballet body," she still is shooting for her dream.

Also, we are filipino. I know that is horrible to think that you can't be a dancer because of your race, it still comes to mind. I only know of two that are in companies but it is definantly a minority.

I also learned from one of her teachers that dancers do notmake a lot of money. I do want my child to be happy with her job when she is older but I also want her to have enough money to support herself. She always tells me that to her, money isn't the thing, its enjoying her job. I agree with her, money can't make you happy but when she gets older, what if she can't support herself. She is only 12 years old and I don't want her to be living a hard life when she is older.

She wants to go to college either majoring in dance(somewhere like Juilliard) or possibly physcology. She always puts educatiion first.

I want what's best for her but she really, really wants to become a ballerina and dance in a big company like NYCB or ABT like most young dancers. She knows how I feel but her10 year old sister(very nosy) read her diary and told me what she wrote. She still wants to become a dancer no matter what we say. My husband and I believe that she should just do dancing as a hobbie. What should I do? I will support her no matter what but to me, but with all these reasons(not just my thoughts) it seems as if it is impossible.

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Hi, I'm not a parent, but I hope you find wisdom in considering my point of view.


My parents wanted the same for me as a child that you want for your daughter. I loved to dance too. But it wasn't practical. So I studied hard, and went to college, and then went to graduate school.


Even then, I still wanted to dance; now I was 27 and really too old for professional training. But I found a crazy artistic director who was willing to train me, and I managed my way through the training anyhow (with great trials and tribulation), and now I am a professional dancer. This is what I dreamed of all along, but didn't think I was "allowed" to pursue, in part because I was "supposed" to follow a "practical" implicitly laid out by my parents.


I was lucky. Very rarely is someone of that age able to enter the profession. What should have been impossible turned out to be possible, in part due to my neurotic need to dance. It would have been a lot easier for me in some ways, if I'd had more support for this dream as a teenager and done it a decade earlier.


I must say that having a "useful" degree makes my life easier than that of my fellow dancers. I didn't really have a choice; I already had the degrees by the time I began professional training. I don't know what I would have done had I had the choice: attending college while trying to launch or train for a professional ballet career requires extreme focus and some corner-cutting as well.


I really have no idea what the "right" way is to do this, or if there is a right way. Many people forgo college until they retire from ballet. That was the case for one friend of mine, who entered MIT as a freshman at the age of 28.


I decided to be a professional dancer at the peak of the Internet boom, and I had tons of money at that point. Every year since I made that decision, I've made less money than the year before. I could change that decision any day I like, and get a high-paying job in just a couple of weeks. But I don't. Dancing was still the best decision I made for myself in a very long time.


Our company has three principle ballerinas right now. One of them weighs 95 pounds and is about 5'1" tall. She is a wonderful dancer, and also easy to lift high.


As a child, we all dream of fame bolstered by a major institution. But as we grow older, we develop a taste for excellence, wherever we may find opportunity to pursue it. Depending on one's situations and goals, the high-profile route is not always the most desireable. This is just as true for aspiring engineers as it is for aspiring dancers. If allowed to explore, your daughter will come to know what's right for her through a continuing process of self-discovery.

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Guest MegsMom

While I understand your concerns as a parent...and wanting what is best for your child...and being the parent you understand more the true life of a dancer...the hard work and comparatively low pay scales...I still must throw in my 2 cents worth...


I am a firm believer in providing realistic information, but at the same time not making judgements about whether or not a child has the ability to "make it" or not in the artistic world. I know of many cases, in various arts forms, where the child/person with the least "natural" ability, works hard and achieves his/her dream, despite the odds.


Ballet for our daughter started as a young child, she then tried other activities and sports, but came back to ballet and has focused on it for the past 10 years. She has struggled with scoliosis and various physical challenges because of it. Girls in her same level moved ahead a year before her because she was dealing with body challenges that they didn't have. Guess what? Out of a group of 6 girls...she and one other are the only ones left in the advanced/pre-professional level. Her hard work and dedication are paying off. She was offered a full scholarship to a boarding arts high school this summer...we chose to keep her home feeling if they wanted her that badly, she must be getting good training where she is now and we aren't ready to part with her yet either.


Supporting her in ballet to me was more immediate. I will not know, cannot know if she can or will dance in the professional world. What I do know, is that she is doing what she loves now, because she loves it, not for me. I know where she is, what she is doing and who she is with...that for me has been a wonderful peace of mind during the teen years. Even if she never dances professionally, she is learning skills that can never be taken away from her such as dedication, discipline, time management, working with people, and she knows her body better than anyone else I know!


When I've spent time with the company dancers in our local professional ballet, I've learned that while budgets can be tight, they are all dancing because they simply have to...it's what they do and who they are. They would be miserable in jobs that paid a lot more but doing something they hated. They are also very creative in finding ways to supplement their income. They certainly do deserve to be paid much more, but it doesn't stop them from pursuing their dreams.


I can't comment on a ballet body or the race issue you mention, but by the way we have a male company dancer from the Phillipines dancing here. I would simply (not so simply since this is so long) say...love your daughter, let her dance if you can and if she loves it...who knows where it will take her. If nothing else, she'll be an arts supporter in her adult life and we certainly need more of those! She may change her mind 6 times before college age...she may not...time will tell. Good luck!

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April, as a parent, I can certainly understand your worries and hopes for your daughter. I'm very glad you posted your thoughts here because I think it is helpful to hear what other parents of ballet students have gone through and are thinking. We all want the best for our children...and I think it's written in genetic stone that as mothers we must worry about their futures, even though we try not to!


Both citibob and Megsmom have given you their well thought out responses and I'm sure you'll get more helpful ones as the day goes on. I think that the concerns we share, whether we're parents of younger or older dancers, are the same and that's one of the benefits of this particular section of the board... You can voice them in a "safe" and understanding environment where as often those who are not involved in the arts don't always even understand why we are "letting" our kids do all these ballet classes! ;)


As to your concerns about the lack of Filipino dancers in ballet companies...I cannot comment specifically however I certainly do know that there are many dancers from different countries who are performing in the larger companies in the US - let alone in the world!


I think that citibob's point about "the continuing process of self-discovery" and MegsMom's last couple of sentences where she says "love your daughter, let her dance if you can and if she loves it...who knows where it will take her. If nothing else, she'll be an arts supporter in her adult life and we certainly need more of those! She may change her mind 6 times before college age...she may not...time will tell," are really good ones to hold on to during these years.


All this is not to say that we should just close our eyes to the "realities" of the profession and, as parents, it's our duty to try to educate ourselves as much as possible. There are many very helpful books on this subject - on what training is needed, the audition process, life in a professional company, etc. I know there's an old thread on here about these books...I'll try to find it for you. :D I've found it helpful to me try to educate myself - meanwhile "the dance" goes on!


Just remember she's only 12 and all her dancing is better than hanging out at the mall or Starbucks!


Here is that link about books that might be helpful and I'm sure there are more.

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Guest unsoccer-mom

My daughter spent years talking about nothing except her overwhelming desire to dance. We supported her every step along the way. She is in high school still dancing, but talks instead about going to college. I overhead her talking with a non-dancer friend who suggested that all these years spent dancing have been such a waste. "Not at all" was her answer. "I have had a great time. Met most of my best friends through ballet. It has given me a chance to travel and go places I would not have gone. I have performed in front of thousands of people. I would not trade away this experience for anything".


I would let her do what she wants. You never know what can happen in the future.

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Hi, April! Welcome. Many of us share these concerns.


If you follow this link to a thread called Being realistic? or quashing drive, you will see that my initial tendency followed your own. Some of us just want to protect our kids from falling too hard.


But, who are we to say they will fall? Besides, sometimes the fun is in the dreaming itself. My younger daughter's current ambition is to meet and hang out with Daniel Radcliffe (the actor who plays Harry Potter). This is a very visceral dream, and some days it feels very real to her. She thinks she just might get to meet him. When her dad told her point-blank that it just wasn't going to happen, she complained bitterly. "Dad takes all the fun out of life," she said. "Why can't he just let me have my dreams?"


It was then that I knew, as some of the wiser posters here have said, that in the backs of their minds the kids really know. They know whether their goals are realistic, or pipe dreams, or somewhere in between.


I say, let your daughter have her dreams for now. Don't discourage her. Believe in her, so she can believe in herself.

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Welcome aboard, April. You've articulated thoughts that many of us parents have experienced throughout our children's dance development. My own thoughts on the topic of my daughter's dance future run the gamut of wishing desperately she'd give it all up and go to college - to the opposite, wanting her to follow her dream for as long as she has it.


When she was 12, I probably felt more the way you do. Now that my child is 17, I want her to give herself the chance at a career in dance. I fully realize that ballet isn't a money-making career, but it's also a young one. There's time for everything else later. College can come later. Good pay can come later. The kind of passion and energy that these young people have carries them through low wages early in their independent lives. I was dirt-poor at that age but happy because I was doing what I wanted.


At 12, most ballet dancers want a career in ballet. At 15, they're looking hard at themselves. Many wean themselves out of consideration because they realize their limitations. Many shift to a peripheral area of dance or physical therapy, Pilates trainer, dance teacher, musical theater, etc. Some shift their interest and focus to contemporary dance which is much more embracing of body types and ethnicity. But at 12, most kids aren't yet thinking along these lines. Give her time to learn about herself, about her strengths and weaknesses. Give her time to explore all the possibilities - she may not have such a narrow focus of Ballet Or Nothing when she's 17 or 18 years old.


It's really important to not dissuade her from her dreams now. I think that you'll only set yourselves up into an antagonistic relationship that'll last throughout her teens. You may incite rebellious behavior from her if she believes that you distrust her instincts or dislike her goals. Trust the process of developing maturity. She WILL figure out where she belongs in this dance world and you may be very surprised to see that she'll be deciding this from a mature perspective if you allow it to flower independent of your fears or your hopes for her.


She could very well defy the stereotype of a ballet dancer. There are always exceptions within the ballet world, people whose appearance or technique defies the conventions. They usually have some significant strength that overrides the standard evaluation. Your daughter's so young there's no way to know now whether she'll be one of those dancers.


I look at my daughter now and I marvel at how clearly she sees herself. I used to worry that she might arrive at this age (17) with her head in the clouds. She knows her ballet strengths, she knows her weaknesses, she knows the odds of having a ballet career. She's looked at the whole picture of her life in dance, both the past and the future. She's made very reasonable, mature plans for herself and they include giving herself a good deal of time to chase her dream. She has backup plans. She's figured all of this out on her own.


I surprised myself this week in a conversation with her when I adamantly stated that I believed the best thing she could do for herself was to give herself the chance to follow her dreams. For the first time I felt fully confident in that belief. In the past, I've made that same statement but never felt the conviction behind it. I always knew it was something she had to do, but I worried about it. I don't anymore. I really do trust her instincts.

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Thank you Vagansmom. Your advice is wise and very comforting to me and I am sure to others who have younger dancers. It is good to hear the perspective of those who have "past this way before us." :D

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April: Each person here has had wonderful things to say. I agree wholeheartedly. I would just like to add to this. My daughter, age 16, is a Filipino-American. My husband is from the Philippines and she looks just like him. This has not been a problem in the dance world. She has been accepted to most major company schools around the country on scholarship and many have expressed an interest in her. Do not allow the fact that your daughter is a minority squelch any dream she has of dancing. My daughter keeps a picture of Maria Tallchief (American Indian descent) in her room. I would also point to the numerous Asians and Hispanics in some of the major companies around the country. In fact, Stella Abrera from the Philippines is a soloist at ABT.

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  • 3 years later...

I feel like writing something about this.


I'm 20, my parents supported me for ballet only when I was 7 but back then it was me who wanted to do ballet anyway; noone offered that, I had to persuade them. But when I grew older and became more and more serious about ballet my parents started to annoy me by showing ballerina's payrolls, frequently telling that dancers are starving, and even by not letting me to continue my education apart from my health issues.


So, college time has arrived, I've entered Economy department and you know what, I sometimes think that my parents were right about it. Except that I hate every minute of my college life and economy itself, I guess being both academically qualified and a dancer is a great thing. But it's not pretty much possible.


This summer I was an internee for the biggest bank in Turkey, and I hated every second of it, I hated to work in the field of economy, I hated to count the minutes for the day to end, I hated the atmosphere, I hated being a business woman in suits; and although economy was "my" choice (I thought that "Ok if I'm not going pro, then I will study Economy, I may like it") this summer was the most critical part of my life because I've decided to dance again (inspite of the plate in my leg); this time I certainly know that I have to dance and that I will not be happy in any other field.


But... if I were to go ahead and become a pro I wouldn't be speaking English this good (is it good =P), I wouldn't make money enough to pay for my own ballet lessons (recently =P), I would probably be desperate after my 30's when I cannot dance anymore because I do not want to be a ballet teacher, I want to be a "dancer" only; and I don't want to be unemployed.


So, I'm not angry with my parents anymore for not supporting me. Things could be really different but I'm pretty pleased with the way it is now; it's something like "fate". And I sometimes think; I'm planning to have a child and if she/he wants to be become a pro dancer what will I do? I guess I would make her/him certainly graduate from a different field in college and support him/her to continue dancing part-time, after he/she get the diploma she/he may do whatever he/she wants to do.

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Dear April,


This note is just to add that I danced with a girl who was Filipino. As it was, she didn't seem to care for ballet at all, but she was very good at it, and had she wanted to pursue it, any number of companies would have taken her. Also, there are dancers with shorter legs out there. Trinidad Sevillano was one...and she's not alone. NYCB may not be interested in the short girls with short legs, but several companies including ABT, the Joffrey, and Boston Ballet have all been open to different body types over the years. Finally, time will tell, and schools and companies will let your daughter know if a career is meant to be or not. If she goes on to have one, it will make her that much more interesting to colleges.



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She is only 12! There will be many changes during the coming years. Her body will change as she matures and perhaps her passion for ballet will change. One cannot predict what the future will bring as there are so many factors which will come into play. My advice to you is to support your daughter. See to it that she keeps up her academics and be sure she has good training at home. You cannot change her dreams even if you wanted to. By the time she is 16 she will have a better understanding of how realistic her goals are whatever they may be. If she decides not to pursue dance, I do not think that her love of the art will ever be something she will regret.

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The orignal post dates back to December 2002 when April's daughter was 12. I wonder if April's daughter is still dancing towards her dream at 17?

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