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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Moving On & Letting Go

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Guest maudebee

So ... a month ago my husband and I drove up to NYC to bring our 16-year-old DD back home after we determined that she was depressed and unhappy in the city and with the ballet program she was attending there. It was not a pleasant drive home, to say the least. She did not want to leave at the time.


She has attended ballet school away from home since she was 14 because we do not have a good option within a short drive of our home. When she decided to go to NYC last September, she left the residential program that she had attended for a little more than two years to go to a pretty new, but well-reviewed, professional training program in New York.


Well, she was unhappy almost from the start; and we probably dragged it out longer than we should have, hoping for a resolution. And now she is home, has auditioned for and been accepted into a professional training program about a 1-1/2 to 2 hour drive, one way, from our home ... and she is waffling.


She says now that she doesn't know if she even wants to dance anymore; that there is too much *stuff* in the ballet world and she is happy to be away from it.


My question/concern is this: Why does ballet have to be so cutthroat and even mean at times? For such a beautiful art form, the behind-the-scenes, in-class, backstage world can be very different than that portrayed on the stage.


I know that the standard answer it that she has to toughen up to make in the ballet world ... so I guess my question is, why does it have to be that way? What about those beautiful dancers who are sensitive by nature? Do they get left behind?


And, how can I help her move one way or the other? Back to dance, or on with her life???

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I'm so sorry to hear about her situation. It sounds like she needs some time to process some unhappy experiences before she can really make a decision. A positive training environment - which includes teachers as well as students - can really change the way one feels. I speak from experience on this. We saw one young lady leave ballet - determined to quit - because of everything ugly. She returned to regular school and her regular studio and found the joy of dance all over again. That might happen for your DD. Or maybe she is ready to move on. You can remind her that some places are better than others. But the truth is that there is a lot of ugliness out there. It's not just in ballet, though I think it gets magnified within this particular profession because of all the unique stressors - too many qualified dancers, fear of injuries, casting decisions, short career life, financial implications, etc.

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Guest coupe66
that there is too much *stuff* in the ballet world and she is happy to be away from it.


My question/concern is this: Why does ballet have to be so cutthroat and even mean at times? For such a beautiful art form, the behind-the-scenes, in-class, backstage world can be very different than that portrayed on the stage.


I know that the standard answer it that she has to toughen up to make in the ballet world ... so I guess my question is, why does it have to be that way? What about those beautiful dancers who are sensitive by nature? Do they get left behind?



I am so sorry to hear about your dd's unhappy situation with her (now former) school. I have to tell you, I have often thought about the very things that you wrote, and as naive as this may seem, the intensity of some of the "stuff" has really taken me by surprise. Even at our studio, where both my dk's have been pretty happy with their training, the overall cutthroat environment is definitely prevalent and I often think that it must be basically everywhere to some extent. I hope that is not the case, but I have seen enough of it now to think that it probably is. I understand about the "toughening up" part, but some of the behind the scenes stuff is really so absurd and unnecessary, period.


I wish your family and your dd the best. Hopefully, things will begin to fall back into place for you all over time.

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maudebee, I don't have a definite answer, but I have often wondered the same thing. DD is not a "cutthroat dancer" and much prefers to get along with her colleagues, but she has met a few over the years who operate in ways that she wouldn't. I would add that, when we met their parents at performances and such, the apples did not fall far from the trees. So, although they happened to be pursuing ballet, which is competitive due to limited jobs, I feel that these people would have acted similarly in any field that they chose, due to parental influence.

Also, we have met overly sensitive dancers who have a sort of "prima donna" mentality, who exaggerated everything, cried for seemingly no reason, were unhappy unless they were always the best and the most loved/featured. I'm assuming that your DD isn't like that, by your describing her as sensitive, but she might have been in a program with some who were, and that can make it miserable for classmates, too.

Our DD is not overly sensitive and is not cutthroat. I'm sure that she has lost out on some opportunities/ attention/casting at times, by not being the squeaky wheel. We have always told her that she has to earn things by her dancing itself, and to just be a pleasant, easy-to-work-with human being. There are some places where that is just not a good fit, and we have just decided to keep trying and waiting for a place where she could be valued as the dancer and person that she is. Along with that came the realization that she might, in fact, end up with nothing. We were okay with that, because we feel that ballet is second to being a good person. But, there are programs that are more nurturing than others, so I hope that your DD can find her perfect fit and rediscover her love of dance there. Ballet is more competitive than many other fields, so it is important to develop a thick skin in relation to one's own dancing, but there are other nice dancers out there who also want to dance for the love of it and the beauty of it, and would be fine colleagues with whom to work. I hope that your DD can find those dancers and surround herself with them. She might have to visit a few programs, but we find that the atmosphere is set largely by the artistic and administrative staff, and depends upon what they will and will not tolerate.

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maudebee, I'm so sorry you, your DD, and your family are going through this. It is always so sad when the rose-colored glasses are broken. Although one may be able to 'see' the dance world again in a more positive light, I don't believe the view is ever quite the same. How can it be when the DK now knows the 'beast' does, in fact, exist and is not a mere fairy tale hiding under a bed?


I do believe that in the right environment your DD may very well regain her joy in dancing. The question, of course, becomes: What does she really want to do with that joy? If she is content to move away from the all-consuming 'jealous mistress' that is dance-on-a-professional-track and to enjoy dancing for herself while pursuing/discovering other interests. Please do let her ask herself (and you yourself), is that a bad thing?-----Especially given the practicalities of the scarcity of jobs, with pay often below self-supporting levels, constant self-doubting, constant dosages of rejection, lack of control over one's destiny, etc. Just reading the experiences of those dancers out auditioning for companies should give one pause as to the sanity of questioning a child's leanings toward 'moving on'.


I know first-hand the pain that comes from having a DK contemplating such a move when the precipitating event(s) is someone's callow, inhumane treatment or emotional abuse. It is sooooo much easier to accept the DK's decision to 'turn the page' and 'move on with their life', when their choice appears to come from within themselves, an assessment of the lay of the land and the practicalities of continuing to pursue such an elusive (and at times, mocking) goal rather than from some external force acted upon them.


I am coming to the conclusion that, yes, although a DK pursuing a professional career in dance does indeed need to 'toughen up' and be strong enough to weather unbelievable amounts of rejections, belittlements, invisibility, etc., I do NOT think that a DK who makes the decision that 'enough is enough' is somehow 'not tough enough' or 'not strong enough' or somehow 'just not cut out to be a dancer' or 'doesn't want it enough'. I've come to realize that at some point, those DKs that walk away are every bit as strong, tough, dedicated, and wanting----however, they have decided they what they aren't willing to do is give up their soul and their total being to satisfy what is often a rather masochistic system. (which is NOT to say that those that do continue on to pursue their dream do give up their souls.)


Not all DKs' journeys go down these type roads. Bless them! But, unfortunately, many many of the roads our DKs travel do, in fact, have these very destructive elements----and they are NOT things the DKs bring on themselves. I think it would behoove us to recognize that the kids that encounter these roads are very strong characters indeed to survive them at all and to come out with the clarity of thought to 'get the hell out now!' before they are destroyed.


So, yes, your DK may very well be able to regain her joy and IF she is able to find a better road to Rome, she will be fine. But, I do think there is so much 'ugliness' that is associated with this profession that the chances of her not running into it again in some form will be very slim. So, if after weighing all the practicalities of success rate for this elusive contract search versus the value of the 'brass ring' , she decides it just isn't what she wants, she will have made a wise decision. And there is absolutely nothing to be sad about. And in many ways, the earlier such a realization/decision is made, the better off she may be.



I wish your DK and your family the best and do hope she recovers her joy. But if she does decide 'enough is enough', please don't think for a minute that she is running away, fearful, or otherwise 'not tough enough' or 'strong enough. Because she is a very strong cookie! It is very hard to walk away and takes courage on her part to move on.

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My heart goes out to you and your daughter. I am so sorry that she has had a painful experience in her training environment. Human insecurity is probably the origin of the problem; but that is little comfort. There is really never an excuse for meanness. And, NO, I don't believe it HAS to be that way. And yes, sensitive people are more vulnerable to these situations, but there are many beautiful, kind, caring people in the professional dance world (and in the training world!)


As to how to help your daughter: You already are! It sounds like you have taken the best action possible, and are concerned with her choosing the best path for herself, and supporting her where she is. That is fundamental. The group dynamic in her new school may be quite different from where she has been. If you feel that you can discuss issues of concern with the faculty of her new school, and get a flavor of the group dynamics there, you may have a better sense of how she will feel in that setting; whether it will be a good fit. Granted, she may be wary, and that is appropriate. However, she may not be able to sort out her feelings about dance in general from her last experience yet, without trying out a new place, or at least after having some time to process this whole business.


Just a little word of hope: my son says that once in a company, much of the competition dissipates, as everyone knows everyone else's style and strengths, and there is a lot of bonding in the performing and touring experiences. Maybe hearing that it is not always dark in the dance world out there, will be a helpful perspective for your daughter. :unsure:

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I am sure I can not say it any better than the previous posters - and I send our best wishes along for your daughter as she finds her way.


I have often pondered similar thoughts - and almost in reverse had thought perhaps our dd was too sheltered - she trains at a small but well thought of prepro - has been lucky to have wonderful, caring teachers who take their role as mentors in "life" training as seriously as the ballet training - and while there has of course been drama and the exit of dancers who wanted something different, it has really been quite lovely - I wondered if she wouldn't be "tough" enough out in the real world so to speak.


We likely won't know how she would have handled the professional dance world (see previous posts - lol), but I can say that despite being "sheltered" as described above - she has quite successfully and happily navigated her SI experiences at large, competitve programs. I think the poise and confidence she has gained thru her years of training - including the disappointments and the small triumphs - has really benefited her. DD is very intense about her dance and hard on herself - but very laid back and open-minded about everyone else. She intentionally steers clear of drama and while she is sensitve in some ways, she does not complain or "stir the pot" although will on occasion stand up for what she thinks is right. She is by nature a reserved person and while she has friends she isn't overly social or outgoing - I wondered how she would fare at SI - not really knowing anyone - for 5 weeks on her own. She did so much better than I even dreamed. Here's how she put it - "well mom, everyone is kind of in the same boat - we all want to make friends and hang out with people we'd like to be around - so I just look around for people that seem nice and fun and laid back and see if they want to sit with me at lunch or walk to class...She made some great friends, had a blast, and found a nice group of kind, fun, laid-back & interesting kids to spend the summer with. (This gives me much hope for college :unsure: ) I guess my point is that at these SIs there were plenty of mean, competitive, drama queens - whom my dd managed to for the most part avoid - but also plenty of nice, fun, encouraging folks as well. I hope this would be the case in lots of other dance settings as well - and I would imagine that there are companies or groups of dancers where there is a preponderance of each - so one might avoid or not be interested in a group filled with the former while specifically look for companies, training programs, groups that have more of a friendly, nurturing, cooperative ethos...Of course than you have to hope that's where you'll get an offer?!


I have rambled on... :blushing:


treefrog, 2marzipans, taradriver, dancemaven - thanks for your wonderful encouragements and ways to think about this all. I have benefitted from all of your posts over the last few years and the love continues :unsure: Love the idea of her "going out on top", definitely value the college essay material!!


btownmom - thanks for sharing your story - makes me wonder waht our next 2 years will bring and what updates I'll have to share about dd's roller coaster - whew - hang on for the ride!!

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I at one point walked away from it all. My parents begged me to try another school, but I was completely disheartened and I thought that they would all be the same.


Later in life, I wished I had listened to my parents and at least discovered for myself whether or not they would all be the same.


Maybe by having an honest talk with her about the *stuff* that is bothering her, you can help her navigate her way through what she wants to do.

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Maudebe, cyber hugs to you and yours ((( :blushing: )))


With respect to your question about 'why does it have to be that way', I heartily agree with pointeprovider's comments. The apple does not fall far from the tree, and most instances of cutthroat or mean behavior my DDs have encountered fit that model perfectly. It was rarely an unexpected child who engaged in that type of behavior. While that doesn't make it any better, I think pointeprovider is right that those children will behave that way in any context, not just ballet. And yes, the tone starts at the top--both with the parents and the school.


With respect to your question about how to help her move on (in whichever direction that may be), I can say that for my younger daughter who waffled about continuing in dance for almost two years the answer was to open up the possibilities for her. She was younger than your DD at the time (13-14). She has natural ability at almost anything she tries, didn't have to work very hard to be successful, but at some point figured out that she didn't have the passion her sister (who was singularly focused on ballet from age 4) and some of her peers did. One day, in about autumn of seventh grade, she announced she would quit at the end of the school year. I was surprised, but let her know I was in no way disappointed, and immediately began discussing what she might do with her summer. She promptly signed up for an arts and sciences camp to study photography and journalism. During SI audition season, she did no auditions until the very last couple auditions of the season--then she panicked. She attended with the understanding that an acceptance would buy her a few more weeks to decide "for sure". She was accepted, and decided to attend an SI. For her eighth grade year she made a complete turnaround and announced she wanted to attend the full time ballet program (as a commuter) at our local residential program. She auditioned and was accepted. Off to arts school she went. About mid-way through eighth grade, she knew--she would stop dancing at the end of eighth grade. That year of trying it for real solidified her decision--she liked it a lot and wouldn't trade the experience, but she didn't love it.


Then came the next stage--would she regret it? We both wondered for a long time. But the fact that I so comfortably helped her explore other things the previous summer without pressure either way made the transition easier for her. I know she has missed performing, but she has no regrets and feels the time was right. I backed off other than helping with research of things she expressed an interest in, and she found things to try in her new academic school. So much of what "helps" them move on (either way) is letting it be their decision and that act of choosing something else. It was not an easy one for her to make, and she was by no means miserable in that "transition" year. She just couldn't quite let go without some time to process it all, and I hope your DD will find her direction after she has had some time as well.

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Lovemydaughters, what a lovely post! :blushing:

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My DD sounds so much like your DD! And trains at a studio that sounds so much the same as your DD's as well. She is going to her first "away" SI this summer. I went with her and rented a condo for the past two summer SIs but this year I think she is ready to do it on her own. Your words gave me encouragement that she will be ok navigating her way through friends and the social, or not so social, part of the SI. Thanks!

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Glad you were encouraged oceanperiwinkle. DD was 14 that first SI - it was both her first away from home SI and her first time staying in the dorms "on her own". Believe me it was so hard to just drive away and leave her there in that dorm room not really knowing anyone etc...Took about 3 days for her to settle and "find" those friends, but then she really did have the time of her life - still refers to that summer as "the best ever". She dances with a few girls who have attended SIs but so far have always stayed with their parent in hotel or rental and she muses that they have really missed out on the fun parts of the dorm, or having to figure out the washing machine, hanging out with friends, and being on her own (albiet in such a well structured environment). Kudos to you for letting her go and have this experience - I am sure she will also have "the time of her life" :)

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Guest maudebee

Wow. I am just overwhelmed with the wonderful responses to my questions!


Every one has been helpful in some way, and I am grateful that you took the time to read my post and add some encouragement and stories.


I know that we have to leave this mostly up to her, it is her life and her choice. But I feel so badly sometimes at how she is struggling to come to a resolution. We have the added "benefit" that she has not lived in our home for most of the last three years because of the residential program she attended and summer intensives. So she does not have a network of friends and community to fall back on here.


It's a hard place for a mom to be! I so want to fix it for her, and I can't do anything but be supportive and encouraging .... which I know is a lot, but still ...

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Yes, being a parent is the toughest--and most rewarding job! We carry their hearts, in our heart.

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  • 5 months later...

My daughter had a very difficult year in her current school and after several attempts to talk to her teacher she decided to quit ballet all together.I hope this will not appear to be the wrong choice in the long run,but she seems to be very sure about her decission.My main concern is that she's running away from this situation and since she's rather shy,she doesn't want to start again in a different school,where at her age,the girls will have been together for a few years.But I guess there's nothing I can do about it but just hope for the best.

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