Tag Archives: Dance studio

Guide to Ballet Training, Part 1 (for novices)



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Part I

I think useful information on ballet schools is a bit hard to find on the Internet. Information about the process, what to do, expect, avoid. It’s not truthful when you do find it. You just jump in. But there is a process if your child wants a career in dance. There are many factors, but if you are starting out as we did, there are some things you should know, and if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always ask me what to do. I’ll try to help. That may not be the best recommendation, as I am certainly no expert-no one can be-but at least I am not politicking for anyone. Yes, my daughter is in ballet. I think this is her sixth year, maybe going on seven, I may have lost track.

According to my teachers eleven was a fine age to start then (9 or 10 being the youngest to begin seriously), but you are always hearing professional dancers (and non) stating they started nearer their birth. In my opinion, it is wrong for dancers to tell other dancers that, because they should know better. I think the Russian methodology is the best, for one thing, most of their dancers can concede to the age of around 10, because that is the earliest those schools take them and they begin, seriously, to study ballet. You have to wonder about the truth of other statements when the serious study of anything cannot begin much earlier, and certainly not ballet. They do say, and correctly, too, that they studied or took other dancing, gymnastics, etc., and this is probably true, but even they know it is not like ballet and is different. It might have helped them, but they do not feel the need to relate that usually because the training at those schools is so formidable as to put into the shadows any previous lesser instruction. There is really no comparison. Why? This will become apparent in a later section of the article.

I think there is a truly correct and comprehensive method to the study of ballet. I am always searching for that in schools, teachers, pictures, videos, performances. It is what you have to learn to look at first. I do not think my daughter would have known, starting out, what was good for her, and I am aggressive about what I desire and look for in any educational situation which affects my children. I have 3, and I went to my first audition, with my son, at SAB, about twenty-one years ago. He was not accepted, but continued to dance in Russian schools in NY until he was about 12 years old. He lost interest in it and the outside pressures of being a boy in ballet just became too much for him. He did learn some things about ballet, and sitting down to watch a ballet performance now, brings all of that back to him. He has always been a dancer, though, and never shies from performing. He is a ham. I have followed ballet for about 40 years.

I know how to go about looking, though I was not a professional dancer, I danced, and the choices were easier when I was growing up, and I was lucky to get good instruction. I had opportunities to dance professionally, but I finally realized in college that I did not want to become a dancer exclusively. In all ways, that decision is very personal to the dancer. Proper instruction, correct instruction is probably the most important piece of the ballet, or dancing, puzzle. I do not know how I was so lucky to have had the teachers I did, when I did, and where I did. Part of the reason this occurred, because although my mother did not accompany me at all, she had schooled me in the basics of ballet and dance knowledge, cautioning me extensively, prior to my going out and signing up for classes and because she bought me books, or gave them to me, and I read them. I was not averse to reading or listening. She also researched and made suggestions where I could go, and I went there and she turned out, and they turned out, to be right for me. After that, I found things on my own. It is cyclical. Things change in ballet schools sometimes as often as they do in public schools, and programs-one year it is good, the next, not so. It depends on who is teaching there at the time, the program, mission or philosophy, and some other factors. More variables affect parent and student over time, but initially, it should not be too difficult to find good training, despite the vast differences between schools. I think this constant “polishing” of the process, program, and elevator effect does not benefit every generation or level of dancers at the same school, for usually, in this country, in most cities and towns, there is nowhere to go for top ballet training you find. The problem is continuity, but it is also cost, change, greed, and outside influences. But when it gets to a point, you have to take it into your own hands and find what you are looking for-what your child needs.

You can go to the horse’s mouth in New York City, but what if you are not accepted at ABT or SAB? Well, because it is New York City, there are other good teachers and schools to go to. It is an international and cosmopolitan city and there is no dearth of dancers there.You can also find good ballet teachers in other places, but it is a crapshoot sometimes. You do not necessarily know. They can be in the strangest and most unlikely places, or they can be right around the corner-for the time being, anyway. That is why I look for Russian now. It is just so much easier. I do not have to look at French, American, or British systems, because my daughter now makes the decision on where she wants to study and what. As a parent, Russian just makes more sense, because Russia has a system of ballet training- the Vaganova method. It focuses on correct placement, the correct technique and levels, but most importantly, probably, to me, as a parent, it also is designed to reduce the possibility of injury in what is a very difficult art. I said art. Not sport. It is not athletic. It is discipline. It is part science of movement, part muscle training and part art, then mostly art.

Some parents do not always care about injury enough. Some parents do not realize the risk of injury. Some parents will not accept that their child might not have the facility required for the correct and plausible performance of ballet, or have children who have not had good training or training in time. Some parents were dancers and know exactly what to do! I think a lot of Russians have come to the U.S. and other places to teach ballet in the Vaganova style and for whatever reasons, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn ballet with them as they truly know more about it, are passionate about training, and knowledgeable. They have to start somewhere, and sometimes their options are not always the options extended to those teachers at the actual Vaganova schools where the children are handpicked, out of hundreds or thousands, for the opportunity to study ballet at a state funded school. Here, we bring our (often) faulty children, without any gymnastics, bad feet, poor attitude, inflexible backs or legs, poor posture, and even more frequently, our money, to ballet schools, without having had even a physical, or x-rays, to determine their capability for such a regimen, and demand them to make stars out of them. This is NOT how it is in Europe, and worse we bring our sense of  entitlement.

In America, it is about the students you get whose parents can afford (or not) ballet training, the mentality is different, and until recently, due to so much promotion, and competitions, such as YAGP, ballet was not in the headlines. Only by promoting it, has it become more popular, for boys and for girls, or considered a career option. Respectable. A sport (to make it acceptable to some Americans). And a sense of it being far less demanding, complicated and fickle, than it really is. In America, until people become more aware of its difficult requirements, many people will continue to frown upon it, as they are basically uncultured and working-class people, who have considered for several decades, ballet as a starving art form, or dance as being “gay,” or not an intellectual pursuit, nor as having the prospect of wealth. In some cases, it is a middle class parent who aspires to have their child succeed as a team dancer, or competition dancer, who enrolls their child in ballet, gymnastics, and theatre, modelling, etc., and for ballet, this focus is not correct. It is not a good formula, not one based on knowledge of the art of ballet, what is required, the prospects, but only the early physical success and a trophy as proof. A ballet dancer’s career spans a lot longer time than most professional athletes, actually, and unlike sports, but as in theatre, maturity is required, and artistry. Artistry is not acquired in early stages of youth, such as the understanding of the emotions and stories involved in some mature ballets, or the sense of freedom required, by many years of practice, to express oneself uniquely in performance of mature subject matter, and to do so fluidly. It is this part of ballet, I believe, where most dancers with physical potential actually fail in ballet. They are not artists and perhaps never will be.

Ballet is competitive, but first it is discipline. As it was designed, it was discipline for the longest time and then possibly, much later, some success might be possible. Maybe. It is easy to forget, in the little ballet studio, that there are a world of other dancers out there, and that they might have several distinct advantages over Americans, in general. Training is number one. Ballet, of course, had its starting point, too, like all dancers, but then a Golden Age (occurring almost 200 years later), and more structure (another 100 years), then becoming almost scientific (50 years), and again a resurgence (50 years), again (20 years) and again now (20 years). There is a phenomenal (and interesting) history to the art of ballet, but it was never Shun Yen, or gymnastics, or jazz, or a sport- at anytime in its development. It never should be or will be really viewed as an art and a sport, or it will truly cease to be ballet. The movement to even discuss this is one to capitalize on the financial opportunities and promotion of it as a commodity and everyone seems to getting into that game, but the step to make it an Olympic sport, like discus throwing is absurd.  This might improve everyone’s physical health, increase advertising demand, create paycaps for “artists” or make it acceptable overall to men, and others, but it will do absolutely nothing for the art of ballet. Ballet like that is without art. It is without stories, music, entrepreneurs, shows,E and in that arena, no true art is possible. Just gladiators and lions.

Everybody dances (if you go to New York), but in many places in between the coastal cities, the only dancing done is at weddings or a folk ensemble at school, or not at all, depending on your sex, religion, persuasion and coolness factor. It was not until I went to New York, in college, that I had occasion to go to clubs in the city where all the men (almost) got up and danced. Where I grew up, all of the above applied. The only professional or aspiring dancers you saw were in local companies or at weddings. It was a physical impairment of men, that they “could not dance,” would claim they “had no rhythm,” and no one made an effort to persuade them. NO one challenged any of these false hoods. Even now, it is extreme to label a child as “trans” when it is normal to go through questions of individual sexuality. Dancing has nothing to do with that, except it is still seen, in the US, and other places, to be largely “feminine” to express oneself, and there is still a morbid (private) fear, in this country at least, to be considered feminine, or unmanly, in any regard, with young men. So ballet will probably always suffer due to the few boys who manage to find their way into it. It is no less athletic for girls, but in ballet, boys can excel more obviously in many areas where other boys, outside of ballet, just do not and cannot ever hope to reap the benefits from. So in one sense, I see a practicality of noting that ballet is the most athletic, and totally physically demanding of any physical activity they can do, in a sense. Only to encourage boys to try it because there are a lot of really bad male dancers out there, and people are always saying they are “really good” and they are not, and I think this leads to resentment by some females, who are, much better, really, and have to work much harder to get noticed. They have to be perfect, but a boy can definitely “have a career” if he is mediocre. A girl has to be beyond perfect.

In my time, or slightly before it, one dancer, Jaques D’Amboise, made the attempt, and temporarily succeeded, in making ballet a course option in New York City public schools, but that was not successful, unfortunately. He started a foundation, however, to educate inner-city (and all) children and their parents, the public, and everyone else, about how positively dance had helped him off the streets, gave him options to pursue a career in ballet, and the theatre, and how he learned to dance. He has tried, chiefly, all of his life, to share that information and knowledge about dance, and he has been somewhat successful in spreading the word, but mostly he has been successful at providing an afterschool environment that gives children the chance to try dance and to see if they like it. That’s all you can do. If they are successful, he helps them pursue it further. Lost momentum. NO. It was the beginning of change, which takes time. He is correct in all that he says about dance, and for this reason, if no other, dance should be available to study to anyone who wants to pursue it, free of charge, just like sports in most schools, but it is not.

In most countries, there is the respect for ballet that there is in Russia, and not just ballet, but arts. There is great funding to the arts in other countries, but as in so many other ways, we are behind in many of these areas. They are just more cultured and differently structured. Most foreign countries at were once aristocratic political systems. As such, the monarchies investiture in the arts, or their countries people, was to educate and make available to them entertainment, education and culture that otherwise they would not have the ability to underwrite-in fact his was one of the very large platforms of government, besides, security. It is a matter now of patriotism and history, especially as it relates to countries which had a formidable part in the creation or perpetuation of ballet. it is part of their iconoclasty-they cannot give it up, or be seen to, as people then say, “Why do we continue to have a monarchy?” And there is also a gradual uncovering of that, or change, such as in Russia, where the ballet has increasingly, or at least more purposefully, taken the backing of the highest bidder. But as a result of it having being made available to everyone, at least in the past, or the effort to continue its conference, everyone there at least understands its importance, artistic significance, or has some underlying understanding of it and accepts it, etc…and many more people pursue culture, are actually cultured, attend shows and are involved in the making of art on many different levels, not for the money, but for the art. It is seen as part of a good education, education at all and is underwritten or subsidized. It is getting increasingly harder for those countries to even afford to keep ballet companies together in this economy.

In this country, frequently, it is the private contributions which make the performance of it or viewing of it possible to people without a lot of money, and it is nearly always a political nightmare to get funding or to make new art. The states do not support artists, art or the training up of artists. I think one of the reasons we have government is to decide what is good for everyone and necessary and if art is not, then very little else matters. Art is like the hyacinth for the soul. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and philistines. How can the parents of these people know where to take their child for ballet, when in today’s culture, what they want is a cheap afterschool program for its babysitting possibilities. It does not mean that if the child is exposed to dance, somehow, that they will not become enamored with it. Most likely they would respond to some form of art, and along with humanities, reading, other forms of culture, such as the making of other kinds of art, this exposure cause us to search within ourselves for deeper feelings and emotions, answers and humanity. These are requirements for people, and in art, all of the shared commonalities of people exist. It is a higher plane of functioning, not on an intellectual level, but on an emotional and expressive one. That is why, in our country, these independently run ballet schools are so very important. All together, whether they act accordingly, they are responsible for the education of our children, edifying them about the importance of art in society and life. They do a big part of the job with no subsidies, no review boards, networks, administration, doctors, child psychologists, theatres, funding or even newspapers or promotion. With no one willing to champion them. Some of them are frauds, some of them provide healthful physical activity and a needed outlet in a community, and some of them provide a basis from which to pursue art, but we cannot make those schools Sports Authorities in an effort to create a funding tunnel, because in the history of ballet, when the technique and art suffers, the ballet loses historical importance, great artists, and attendees. People come to expect more in viewing ballet-more acrobatics, more violence, more intensity, more stimuli, and this is not art.

But most of all, you take your daughters or sons to ballet to learn character, discipline, and whether you know it or not, etiquette, respect, music, following directions, beauty, grace, strength, work ethic, survival, and working as a group. Many of the same things you learn in karate or sports, school or church, theatre or art, you learn in ballet. It is important to know why you take them, to know what they need to learn, and when, and most importantly, it is important to know whom is doing the teaching, and if you do not know that you do not really know anything at all. I have heard of more than one famous dancer who was taken to ballet to use muscles after a debilitating illness or injury, and who became devotee. A brother who accompanied sisters, a YMCA after school programmer who got the bug, the late starter, the street dancer or troubled youth, and most times the student of the little local school whom has been accepted to a top program (frequently in another country) which ought to , in itself, exhibit the problem in a nutshell. It offers something you do not find in any other place. I do not mean teamwork or competitions, or glamour. In fact, ballet is not glamorous at all, particularly, unless you consider a sweaty, calloused, haggard, starving, and beat-up artist, glamorous. I feel it is mostly a discipline, first, and an art second, and possibly a profession, and somewhat glamorous, third. In the end, no one will probably remember you and most likely you will not ever be a household name, unless you are on Instagram, or model, are self-promoting, and then you are not really a dancer, are you?

Not all dancers become artists, but all dancers become more disciplined, somewhat. I think this depends largely on the training because part of it is ballet etiquette and philosophy, part of it is physiology, and another part is perseverance, determination, hunger, hard work, reaching the sublime art of ballet and mastering that, and it continually learning, working and training. It just never stops. It is frought with injury, if you start out wrong, and just gets worse as you try to correct those things that should have been nipped in the bud, all the time with the studio turning a blind eye and just continuing to take money, pushing and over training at a very early age. It starts out as non-competitive, though in many countries, I could not say that, because there, they expect it to lead to greatness, or not. But again, they have a system and if you are accepted into it, there are reasons that you were, and according to them you have the facility for ballet, and then they provide the training. As you get older, it is much harder to get a consensus, and in some ways, to professionals, more obvious to see who is possibly talented and who is not. Competitions, in a way, make this worse.

But no matter when you come away from ballet, as an aspiring professional or not, you keep what you learned for the rest of your life, whether you continue to dance or not. You will always be a dancer. If you have been dancing for at least a few years, you are already a dancer, no matter whether you are famous or not, and more and more people pursue dance, or parts of it, for exercise, and movement, as adults and as non-dancers, than before and in some ways this is good, some ways not so good, or misleading. Perhaps this is okay if you understand what it is not, but it also takes away from the whole purpose of ballet training, if only part of the form of it is followed, or part of the technique, such as in Barre classes is done (badly), but it is not proper ballet training, is bound to cause injury through repetition, so it is ballet, but without any or all of the safeguards involved, without experienced or knowledgeable teachers, taught en masse, like gym class. That is not ballet. NOT ballet. NOT BALLET. Why not go to one of the MANY adult ballet classes offered at studios for that purpose. There is nothing wrong with barre exercises, but it is a component of other parts which are important. It is dangerous to give it credence, even a foothold in the world of a fitness craze mentality. These people will have children and will say, “I know something”-a little knowledge is sometimes very dangerous.

I do not believe that doing barre makes you a dancer and to an actual ballet dancer it is hard to separate it, explain it, impossible to rationalize, or to even acknowledge it at all because it should go against everything they have ever learned or will learn. Ballet dancers are snobs, sometimes. This is good and part of ballet, but it is also a discredit to the world of people who could be supportive of ballet and whom for that very reason sometimes, are not. Ballet should be for everyone, to a point. These types of activities also send the false message to average people, “You, too, can look like a ballet dancer, have a “ballet” body, be a part of that, do pointe, etc.,” and they are selling an image, a club, as false a claim as any claim could be, marketed as a sport, unintentionally or not, and untruthfully, that barre makes you as good as a dancer, and worse that anyone can dance, any part of dance, and that they will be accepted (eventually) into a dance class and be able to do all of the movements required. I do not have a problem with saying “they can obtain a good body,” but I do have a problem with them saying “a ballet body.” They are just exploiting the word “ballet.”

In that sense, dance training needs to be begun properly, with the correct outlook and perspective. This is really true no matter the age it is started. Often students who have “danced” for many years find they are not right for ballet or not accepted into a serious ballet training environment or company. This happens for a few reasons. 1) The training for ballet has not been correct or prolonged 2) Other training has taken place which you cannot easily get rid of the effects or muscle memory of, without great effort, and 3) great effort is required for serious study of ballet, focus, observations and correction, over time, 4) Enough money is not available, and 5) Companies have many dancers applying and they can only take one, or a few. But, with that goal in mind, if that is the plan, private or not, it cannot be accomplished any other way than as above stated, for only then will you even be in the running, and very few people will succeed among the very best. Only a literal few have come from other backgrounds entirely and been successful in ballet. In that sense, alone, it is viewed as an art. If you cannot get past the guardians-you cannot get past them. So, what, at a local school, or primary school do you need to look for so as not to further reduce your chances? Good teachers and guardians, or choreographers.

End of Part 1

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My Writer Sylph


by Ava Brown
copyright © 2012 by Ava Brown

Leo Rosten said, “the only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.” I think that is true of any art. Someone else said, if you get up in the morning and you have to make music, dance, paint, draw, sing, dance or act, then you should. Why is this? We are best by an urge to express ourselves, physically and mentally, whether as an outlet for our experiences, feelings or just to do it. Can this become habit because it is rewarding, or even if not rewarding, or painful, or expensive, fraught with difficulties, learning experiences, dues, turmoil and other obstacles, something we MUST do? I am not what I would call a writer. I am a human with a drive to have questions answered, and I often ask myself, why???I continue to do certain things, what is personally gratifying about these experiences and I wonder why I continue to do some things, or love them, and why I do not continue to do them. I am afraid of not finishing, quitting, not living up to possibilities, not having those answers and dancing in the dark, so to speak. But of the many things I have started or given up, dance has continued to be the one that was most memorable to me. I felt that by not doing it I was being less than I could be. Even as I take my own daughter to dance, it is for her own good and nothing else, as in the end I know, that is all that matters. I give her the gift and the opportunity to grow and to have the basis of dance on which to measure herself all of her life and to thank not me, but it, for giving her so much that is within herself to accomplish. To be, to be healthy is everything, and dance is a path, not just to health, but to so many other positive feelings, states of mind, experiences, and memories, it just cannot be compared to any other outlet I have known or path to one’s own worth and ability. It is truly possible in dance to become the best that you can be. In writing, art, music or any other form of expression, I am not sure the positive aspects are so overwhelming or obvious and it occurs to me that for other people to be able to read and share those experiences, it might inspire people to take dance to find out what is so great about it. I feel that almost everyone who takes it will be hooked. Having so many answers from so many people might also answer, finally, some of the many questions dancers have about dance, themselves, and what makes dancers tick, common experiences, solutions to problems, similarities and differences. There is always the history of dance, but never a history of dancers and in the end, too few books about the subject and on the shelves at your local bookstore. I think this is a shame. For something so great and for so many people to have so little access or information on the wonders of dance, the issues, nutrition, medical advice, studios, teachers and other people who have been instruments of spreading this happy disease seems to tell the world it is not important and it is.

Suffer Thy Little Sylphs


Degas- Could be any other in ballet, but instead depicts a mother of upper middle class, waiting in a drawing room-again, could be Any Mother in Ballet Studio waiting....
Degas- Could be any other in ballet, but instead depicts a mother of upper middle class, waiting in a drawing room-again, could be Any Mother in Ballet Studio waiting….

I remember the first book my mother gave me about ballet. It was already a very old book. The illustrations were of a little girl in a leotard with ballet shoes. She wanted to learn to dance. Her parents took her to a ballet class. After the lesson her new teacher asked her if she would like to come back. Her parents put a mirror her room and a barre to support her first efforts. She practiced what she had learned that day-so did I. I read and re-read this book and committed to memory the first positions explained there long before I was ever able to take a dance class. I didn’t start dancing until much later. My mother was not able to afford ballet-even in those days-but I wanted to learn. It was not until much later that I was able to afford dance classes, but that little book, and those days, came to mind.

I was working in high school and I decided that if I wanted my body to be a temple I should start treating it like one. I needed a plan, an outlet, and a safe place, and suddenly the idea of taking dance classes (probably put into my head by my mother) was born. I went to the local ballet studio in Dayton, Ohio, where they had a company, a junior company and classes and I tried to register for the adult class on Friday evenings. They asked me about any experience I had and I had to admit I had none. They recommended that I take some ballet lessons from the local community college before enrolling in their class, which required some knowledge of ballet, so I did. I registered for modern dance and beginning ballet classes. These were held 4 evenings per week.

It didn’t start with a book with my daughter, although maybe it did, and I don’t remember. I bought a lot of books-books represent about half of me. She started dressing up in costumes with her brother when she was very little and they danced! I would have to thank Daffy’s for that, because I could not have afforded tutus and things like that if it were not for Daffy’s in New York. But, it was much later, when I moved from New York to California, that I actually registered her in ballet classes-just three years ago this month. As she remembers it, she wanted to take tap , then jazz, classes with her friends at the local dance studio in Laguna Beach. She was there for the year, but when she wanted to register for more in the Spring, I informed her that I took dance very seriously and I wanted her to learn ballet as a basis for every other kind of dance she was to learn (and modern). If only I had had this opportunity with my sons, who assiduously avoid anything I formerly did! Her friends were treating dance very cavalierly, as a hobby, something anyone could do, and their expectations were not realistic, but it was fun. She liked it. I thought dance was hard work and required formal training to understand and to be good at, not something you did down at the little local studio, putting on recitals and getting on your pointes too early. I told her that if she wanted to take these classes, I would also insist that she take ballet classes from a good ballet studio three days or four days per week. That was the deal. She agreed to try it, reluctantly.

If I had waited another year, or not had my convictions about ballet and dance, perhaps she would have fought me on it-and won-as my sons did. But she didn’t, so I (hurriedly-I have two older children-you have to strike while the iron is HOT) called the local studios and researched them on the Internet to find a class appropriate for her from a reputable school. I think it is very important to look very hard for a child’s first ballet studio. Their philosophy is crucial for your child’s positive outlook about dance and especially themselves. I did find one studio on the Internet which advertised and upon calling I found that they had a level class that was appropriate for her age. That’s about all that I can say positively about it. The good side was that we possessed this impulse to register, we had some money-my grandmother had given me-and she was willing to try. Beyond that, this world was very foreign to me, and this was a pre-professional school. Admittedly, she (and the other students there) had a lot of flaws, but they had been working on theirs, were approaching it from a level of professional preparation, and whether all of them had the design or facility to become professional dancers, the opportunity was there to try. This was more than a bit intimidating for us. For me. In all fairness my daughter did not have this perspective. She was naive.

When, over the telephone, the co-director from this school said to me, “You don’t expect your daughter to have a professional dance career, do you? She is starting very late”- I should have left it, left perhaps, but she must have gone on to say something else, sometimes words just popped out of her mouth, and I think she was saying that, if I did, and she knew I was, that we would have to work harder than everyone else, and we would have to see. She would have to take more classes, and this became an issue later. This person was very knowledgeable about what it takes (now) to become a ballet dancer, and a professional dancer, but their school typically did not force movement or extra classes on students because they burnt out. This came up in a later discussion, but at this point, I cannot lie, I took her meaning perhaps in the wrong way, or perhaps she stated it somewhat differently than she meant it. But we went anyway.

She enrolled her anyway, and the tuition was much higher than the little dance school in town, but not unimaginable to pay for quality ballet education. I waited to see what the teacher was like, and my daughter went to class. I will say that an unlikely pair, these two directors were actually very professional and delivered a really good dance program for students. Their productions were beautiful, and they provided many opportunities for advancement. There is the studio politics, which they try to keep at a minimum, I suppose. It is probably much more of an issue with families who have more serious intentions for their daughters, where the children may or may not have what is required to become professionals. Parents like that want a guarantee that their children are going to have the best chance, first pick of the roles and plenty of opportunity, before they make an investment or while they are doing it. It did not result in my daughter, at her level being denied prime parts, of course she was not ready. She had parts, she took class, she learned about the ballet studio from the ground up. She had a phenomenally nice and caring first teacher, Ms. _________.

We were definitely not in that market, either, and through sheer differences, are likely never to be. By hook and by crook, we have managed to avoid a lot of those arguments, and pitfalls. We have not become (as so many have wished us) carrion of ballet on the roadside. But, I did have a very difficult time making friends there. It was very cliquey. But the directors were not the ones controlling that, and after a while, the parents (sort of) lightened up and were a tiny bit nicer or at least took the attitude of, “Well, I do not want you here, but if you are staying, then help.” But it is not until much later that you even begin to understand this and can develop a sort of callous against it, or toward it. In many cases, they mean to make you leave, want you to leave, and the children (and parents) will sometimes actually say it. It is a very emotional environment. But still, you can talk, and make friends, watch your children grow, become involved, stay busy, if you can handle the heat. Some parents there were really nice from the start, and some were in a position, or trying very hard to get into a position, to help control their children’s careers and opportunities even further, and some were never around. Even though I like that type best, it is not conducive to running a ballet studio where so much is expected it would take a King’s ransom to afford and most ballet tuition just does not cover it, so putting up with parents, inviting them to volunteer and dealing with them is usually necessary. There is the argument as well, that you need to be there for your child.

I thought, who was she to say at that point what potential my child had, or what path she would take in dance? I literally kept this in my mind, did not tell my daughter until fairly recently, and it went on the list, rightly or wrongly, of reasons to find somewhere else to study, eventually. It was a decision-making factor, however she meant it or well-intentioned she was. In fairness to her, she never brought it up again and does not remember having said it now, so after all this time, I am forced to let it go, as she probably was just having a case of verbal diarrhea, thinking out-loud, and let’s face it, being truthful. We had no idea what we were coming into and she did start very late nowadays. Much has changed since I was a little girl, or even a big one. We were literally NEW. Some people say they are NEW when they come from another studio, switch forms of dance, some even lie about their age or training. Determination is a major factor for learning dance and any limitations taught or observed, in my opinion, are a harbinger for disaster of art and teaching dance education, once in the classroom. And you will find, left alone in the classroom, most of these political issues fall away, so you have to back off. Anyway, that was not the reason for our leaving almost 2 years later.

Perhaps if my daughter did not have the negative experiences that she did she would not have been challenged enough to keep dancing. At least that is how I see it now. She was a natural in many aspects and she loved it! She loved to dance. It was a new world to her. She really wants to be successful in dance, and has her own unfiltered vision of how that is going to be. Even then, she eventually developed her own critique of the school and the teachers-saw whatever they did and judged them. This had somewhat of an influence on me because of course, I was very naive about it, and yet, wanted her to be happy where she was, felt she could be taking more classes, and needed to have more performing experience or attention. If there were things that went wrong, or unfairness (in her mind) towards other people, she judged immediately those in the position to act as adults, keep their silences, and treat children decently and fairly. She made her own decisions about that. I was the driver of the car, but at a certain point you become just that and you guide your children, approve or disapprove, but they fill the sails!

She had just turned eleven at this point and the way I was taught-my mother had been a dancer and her mother before her, going en pointe much before 12 would mishape the feet, damage the bones and muscles, shortening the life of the dancer’s primary tools and career. There is much to learn before going onto pointe, however, and my daughter has had her share of problems. We bought the regulation white demi-skirt, ballet slippers and white leotard. I will always be glad we started there if only for Ms. ______  and the white outfit, but also because when I look back, it wasn’t as bad as all that. Maybe that was the moment of truth. A lot of the inspiration for parents to spend a good part of their lives driving their children to ballet, washing leotards and tights, attaching elastics and ribbons to shoes, buying shoes and the other accoutrement that attend ballet MUST be borne from the vision of our children actually in the dance class on the stage performing. I missed that class. I admittedly was more concerned with what could take place mentally in dance, as it had for me, forgetting that my own daughter was an entirely different animal and I did not have the perspective of say a grandparent, or mature dance practitioner. This is very important in ballet actually, and I believe has a tremendous amount to do with children quitting or not continuing ballet, not putting enough into it to succeed and parents being involved with certain aspects of ballet training that they shouldn’t thus slowing the development process. It took me a long while to adjust-I am still adjusting.

Learning is taking place, and even though it is not traditional learning, it should be traditional ballet discipline and movements. For me, I was in rapture at her in her first class. She could have been Pavlova, Margot Fonteyn or Cynthia Gregory standing there in her first class. She seemed to have their natural deportment and grace. Compare it to when you first lay eyes on your child and that wet baby is the most beautiful treasure you have ever seen in your life. This was right up there, as an experience, for me, and I had not seen or felt that, to that degree, before. I never thought about it much at all. I have a feeling this happens to a lot of mothers-maybe all the hopes of what they can become lie in ballet, discipline and it is though we say, “there,” is where she will be safe, where young ladies belong, the best environment for her growth, development, comportment-as a women-where she will find her strength. It is OUR imagination that sees ballet as their calling and possibly, their savior. We want all the attributes that we fantasize about projected onto our children: the grace, beauty, sylph-like litheness, slender bodies, costumes, roles….it is how we are sucked in, moved. But in the end, although no one else really ever understands us, it is just about the best thing you can do for your child-in my opinion. Whether I am in that league, and there is of course, a lot more to it, it dawned on me, that competition and jealousy are your enemies in ballet, and now I realize they may be your only friends. That is not what I foresaw for my daughter, and I did not see her flaws at first, how much hard work she would need to put in, and how that hard work would have to be held up continually with no breaks, how expensive it would become, or that it was exclusive. In may ways, the co-director should have said more, a lot more, but that only proves that either she wanted my money, or she had hope. Hope, in the end, is all you may be left with.

Although there is nothing at all wrong with this, we often have to ask ourselves if they have it in them to succeed and their pains are our pains, making it, I am finding out very difficult for us to watch as they learn, and yet making us prouder than we have ever been if they do just one thing right. This becomes each and everything as they follow a syllabus, graded or not, for each achievement mirrors the other obstacles in life they have to take down, and day by day, we grow ever more confident of their abilities to be successful in life, if they continue to do so. Ms. ________ was the primary ballet mistress and how kind and wonderfully encouraging she was! We also project onto the teachers the values we espouse, imagining we have a clue as to what makes the dancer tick, binds us with the studio or its directors, the teaching process, or our child for that matter, and I often see parents butting in, trying to tell the teachers what to do, “helping” out, and how often these efforts by the parents anger other parents, and how petty jealousies ebb and flow, how much drama the parents bring into the studio, themselves. This must be very frustrating for the teachers as teaching ballet is no less an art than dancing it, and it requires much more patience, concentration, communication and a special, unbreakable bond between the teacher and the child-one that I warn should not be undermined by the helpful or protective parent. If there is something you cannot tolerate, tell the teacher about it privately and NEVER communicate this with your child unless it is to assist them-and think this over very thoroughly before doing so. Sometimes we pass on to our children our own fears and protectiveness and this can hurt them understandably as they need to form their own opinions and experiences. This, however, in ballet, is pretty much impossible as we are so selfish.

Putting up my daughter’s very long, thick hair was an exercise in itself, but like all the disciplines of dance, this becomes easier and then the dancer takes over, adding this skill to her ballet accomplishments. A good bun is remarked upon even by teachers (I remember mine was pronounced “beautiful” by Ms. Schwartz and I was very proud). A sloppy bun-sloppy dancer! It sounds priggish and judgmental, but this basic discipline serves the dancer well, and to support the teacher in their role as leader does your child no disservice. Command attention and respect for the teacher! Focus. Straighten your seams. Sew your own ribbons. One by one, these “exercises” add to the installation of discipline and direction, taking the young girl and leading her into womanhood, responsibility and grace. They also learn dance etiquette from all of the other students, so I am really for a firm hand by teachers in fraternity and humanity. I really do not like slovenly teachers for beginners, professionals or no. They seem to have no self respect. How can you teach that without it? No matter the parents, the children are what is important. Respect for the teacher, timeliness, cleanliness and a host of other things that you could not teach them at home easily. So why come into the dance studio at all? You have to trust them, right? In all, a dance studio is a very nice home away from home. It becomes like another family for them, and as they grow, they realize, it is a small world, which the outside world has hidden from them, and which if you are not careful, your child feels more comfortable in than the real world. This can be a good place to be these days, though, and it does protect them from some of the experiences associated with youth today, but not all. It is important that they have outside friends and social activities and experiences. They should be encouraged to continue school, no matter how ‘serious’ they become.

There was much made of the brand BunHeads in the stores, so I bought a lot of other little things like pins and sewing kits, etc..that were not available when I was young. I may have spoiled her just a little bit by buying things I wish I had when I was a child-this is probably a mistake, but I enjoyed it much more than she did. She only loved dancing, and accessories decorate her person, but she is just as happy sweating away in her favorite torn leotard, failing to be able to locate a new one like it. I only had two or three leotards the whole time I studied dance and although I recommend a stoic dance ritual, focusing on the technique and not the costumery, there does come a time when “dressing up” is part of the social environment, and preparation as a dancer, a sort of “coming out” which the dancer learns from her peers. Humorously, this might result in periods of awkward hairdoes, too much make-up, and bizarre colors and styles of leotard, but it is a phase and a sign, that the dancer wants to be an individual, a sort of rite of passage for female dancers and get pictures because chances are this elementary phase disappears eventually and there burgeons a young woman, replete in her formality and seriousness, bound for eventual maturity and grownup qualities and the little girl is put far behind her. You will want to remember these days.

I could not resist-but this did result in my daughter asking for many things she did not need. Black is the true color of your beginning dancer’s wardrobe, and until it is deemed that he/she has reached a level to merit some other color (or the studio has designated levels by color), they must get used to it. Usually, some studios relent and give the dancer’s one day a week to wear a colored leotard. You must think of this as you would of uniforms in private school-the emphasis is on the learning, not the wardrobe. As you must also remember it is easier and less distracting for teachers to view the girls in identical wardrobe and clothes for correction of mistakes and proper use and development of muscles. For me, now, important in considering a school, would be the deportment of the other students, the professional attitude of its directors, and knowledge, but perhaps most importantly, that the children are not injured and that there are proper corrections going on constantly.

There is much more flexibility in balletwear than when I or her teachers studied, you can imagine and we cannot help but to compare our own experiences with what is going on around us. I have even had the professional dancer, and even those with children, who are also dancers, expressly tell me that things have changed drastically in formalism, training and the world of dance since they were in school. It has become much  more competitive. There is certainly an emphasis on gymnastic training and innate flexibility. Even of different parts of the body, not just splits, but say, back, and or feet, curvy and not straight. These aspects are hugely controversial, too, and despite these judging points, dancers continue to be successful who do not possess all of these traits, and injuries continue which cause some dancers, who would never have a chance, to be the replacement for one who had all of them. Just life and chance, persistence and dedication, and teachers. Not Descartes, but I dance, therefore I am a dancer even before I began to study the art form known as dance, I was a dancer. Dance to me is the study of ones self, the limits and abilities of the body and the mind. This I reinforce with my daughter daily, so believe me she doesn’t ask for much anymore! Sad in a way. I feel this is very important….really. As she gets older, I realize that perhaps it will come, and perhaps she is a bit of a different kind of dancer, and I am glad, either way, that she takes joy in ballet, whatever her reasons.

Likewise, practicing what they learn in ballet is very important. It is a fact that the more you dance, the better you get. You cannot expect to become something if you take a class and leave. Dancers think about dancing 24 hours per day. Some people work very hard in class and then do nothing in between. Some work more outside class. Some take privates, study other forms of dance, gymnastics and a myriad of other disciplines, too. Some are not sure about ballet. Everything changes all the time and it is common for the parent to be in one mind and the student to be typically of another with respect to their training and wishes. Who knows more is very difficult to say, but you can rarely separate the two ideologies until the dancer matures, comes into her own, progresses. I believe ballet is its own discipline and a strict and jealous master. She believes that, too, perhaps more than I do. Once asked how she prepared for surfing, what exercises she did to strengthen for surfing, a champion surfer said, “surf.”We have discussed what made me dance, why my daughter took a ballet class, but what kept her there? She did, and I did by taking her. But her happiness and zeal for learning drove me to it, forced me to endure it, and then, only begrudgingly, did I take a sort of pride or happiness in it, when I happened to catch an improvement in a step, a jump, an expression or a force-then I was truly pleased.

These two elements are key-and I know a few mothers who take their daughters to dance and the daughters do not apply themselves. They do want to be there, but they do not want to work and they do not want to become professional dancers! You cannot make someone a prima ballerina. They have to do that, they have to have it all, not you, so stop kidding yourself that when they are 14-15 they will not quit, get a boyfriend, do something else, and it can happen anytime, maybe unwittingly. All that work and labor and emotion down the toilet so you say, but it becomes part of them forever, and no matter your broken heart, they may find another career more realistic, or they may just decide that they are not really interested in working against their flaws anymore, or they are moved to do something else. Whatever the case, I think you will find they are improved as a person by the experience of ballet school. You might be best advised to find another pastime and let them do their thing, see what comes of it and not take it so seriously, for you will not matter in their or the world’s final assessment and decision. Letting go is hard, but I recommend it, eventually. I think that my friends are right in bringing their daughters regardless of the outcome, because children test you in so many ways, even threatening to hurt themselves with actions that they are aware will hurt you, too. But, if you hang in there, you send your child more positive messages than negative ones by your example and different kinds of positive reinforcement.

What makes people dance? I mean study dance, be drawn to it everyday, choose it as a way of life, a vocation, an avocation? What is it that calls to so many people on so many levels from so many walks of life and backgrounds, to know more, learn the language of dance? It is the only art I have ever known that encompassed all of me. It is usually because they are good at it. I have never known anyone to like anything that they were doing poorly in: math, sports, music, even socializing-you name it. Students who are good at it always find someone who is better. This is important because we learn, from those better than us, by watching. Also, if we are good at something, we feel rewarded by our efforts in it. If something is continually disappointing, then we lose interest. This is very self-evident in ballet. Perhaps parents getting involved in it and pushing their children into it, keep the rest of us, and our children from finding out that it is , not for them, as we are forced to wait to see if our own children have what it takes, aside from the politics, the same children getting the roles, and we would or they would realize more quickly how hard they need to work and exactly what they DO need to succeed. If you hang around enough though, your child does gets better, those children will sometimes drop out, body types change, interests do, too. So much can happen, just like real life, that you have to see it through,persevere. Much of this is up to teachers who interact with us in class and do not criticize too much, but rather give us things to work on regularly and pay attention to us as in, “You can do better!” and not, “You are hopeless.” But do not expect this to work-sometimes the tough tact is required for certain children to succeed and they like it. Other children do not like to be told they are wrong, cannot bear failure, and must be cajoled into liking it. No child is hopeless, in my opinion, but I am sure a lot of good dance teachers would disagree with me. There are many snobs, but be thankful, in a way, for the schools who take only certain students, protecting you from a too-submerged technique, because they could also be saving you a lot of money, and if your child still continues to dance, one day, they will be in the same classes with many of those students, and finally, they may exceed those students in some abilities or in their career. It’s all about the dancing and Keeping on Dancing! It’s funny, but there is definitely something to not quitting and continually working toward your goal. More about that in another post.

What definition of dance do you want for your children? Do you have a past affinity for dance, or rue lost opportunities or dreams? Do you want them to dance to be the best or to most enjoy the experience of dancing and learning and discipline? Do you want them to compete? Do YOU feel competition is the key to being noticed and being successful in dance or does your CHILD? Or do you feel the expression of dance is most important, the vitality and slow transformation of the body into an instrument capable of responding to directions to express beauty, emotion and strength or are you of the opinion that your child can do anything you MAKE them do? Children aim to please, but to demand too much of them, even if successful can mar them for other things in life, as in “parenting.” It is one thing to believe in your child’s best abilities, but it is another to hound them about things you perhaps want for yourself, as a justification of yourself as a parent, as in having the BEST children, better than anyone else. I believe a lot of people think like this and they send their children to dance, trying to find the perfect place for their children to succeed, but I have also seen the work of ballet take over and transform those parents into believers of ballet in general, and to sort it out. And if you kept the parents completely OUT of the studio, politics and business it would be a possibly better place-usually, but dance and ballet would not rise to level of importance in your community or the world, this way, in the ways that it has. Dance needs communicators and instigators, and activists or advocates. Agitators. There is a useful place for everyone in the art, I believe. Sometimes it comes down to finding your own best use. When we realize that we are all doing the same things it is laughable, really, but some people don’t like to be laughed at either. After all, the children aren’t bothered, why should we be?

This is how I found the dance studio environment, thirty years after giving up dancing, with my then eleven-year-old daughter and the answer is I was (completely) out of it, on the wrong foot, so to speak, and she was in it, trying to get on the right foot.  Shame on anyone hindering her. But, what to do is puzzling, how to help them the best you can, parent etiquette, how many classes to take, what path, what supporting classes, what schools or teachers, what physical issues are there, what injuries, and a lot of other coverable topics that would clearly help parents to refocus some of that energy in a positive way. A no hands policy is just as bad as one of driving the car of your child’s life completely. A balance is sometimes hard to find and maintain. Her experience seems to be very very different than mine as I remember it. Can you separate the two parts of your own effectually? She has come farther than I did in a fewer number of years. She is solely dedicated to dance. I was not. Is this what I want for her, really? Is that, or should that be, my choice? The answer to that might be the key to everything. What about the rest of the family, financial circumstances, time? Could I have been mistaken? Was I in denial about what I needed to do and what is required of me as a parent? Am I still useful? How can you help and not be a hindrance to your child and to everyone else?

In many places ballet has become a competition-based pursuit, like gymnastics and ice skating were and continue to be. Sometimes the competition has become the basis for everything a studio does and that goes to the training as well. But you will be very hard put, in an advanced arena of teaching, to find one that does not do some competitions or tolerate students who have that desire. It has been a way for good teachers with good students to get noticed in the competitive selection process of higher education institutions like the Bolshoi or the Royal Ballet School, and helped to provide their students the consideration of companies and the world at large. A way to help students of ballet. A resort, or last resort. Also a response to parents who have demanded those guarantees, how will my child succeed if no opportunities exist for them in the field of dance without training at one of the elite schools, or from those who do not wish their children to have to leave home, give up education, etc. Jazz dance competitions have always been this way, but what about ballet? Are there two kinds and if so, is one better than the other? Has dancing changed or are dance classes at a lower level school always so political and performance selection focused? Competitions provide a student with an opportunity to show off their particular performance skills.

My mother always warned me against “performance” studios. Why? Are there some bastions left of excellence in the art of dance? Yes, many, in fact, now is probably the best it has ever been in this country, or the world, to find a reputable and caring place to study ballet, to have the best training, and the best possibility of achieving your goals in dance. Whatever may be said about the studios we have been involved with, they took my daughter and began or continued her in her path of excellence in dance, so there I did not err in my judgment or choices. They have all been exemplary in their way. They did care about her, but I may not have handled the situation correctly, or they may have left off communication misinterpreting our departure, etc. It takes work on both sides. Some studios may not be willing to go that far to keep your child, so my motivation, and hers, is to find someone who is willing to work with you. Some parents do not have that problem for many different reasons. You do have to guess and factor and plot and try, for your child.

 

In this environment, how do I communicate to my daughter the art of dance over scholarships, competition and “winning?” It is possible that this has been futile, because in the end, if she continues, this will inevitably be a required part of her training and to dissuade her entirely would be to her great disadvantage and she might even be missing an important part to her components as a dancer. The point is, I do not believe there is just one way. Successful studios continue to both promote competition and others to deny certain forms of it. These attributes are widely variable, not mutually exclusive and complex-each studio is different, and may change. I think to take a position one way or the other, without regard to waiting until your child’s future in dance is commenced, would be a mistake. Some considerations will not apply to you then and more questions will arise to ponder, make no mistakes! Keep your eyes wide open and your ears. Judge less, do more. Wait and see. Be proactive.

There are many other issues to discuss about ballet and I hope that this first post of our continuing saga in ballet will be helpful to those starting out. I mean to set the environment for an open communication for individuals to comment with their opinions, advice, and to share their own experiences and insight at length. I will not condone and do not mean to expiate against the virtues of one studio over another, for each has their place and merits consideration. While I might say things about the studios my daughter has been involved with, I intend to give no names, and to protect them from unverified slander, even from mysylph. While each of us may have our own experiences, they are personal, highly emotional and there are two sides (at least) to every story. They have helped my daughter on her path in ballet. Hers is not an easy one, for them, for me, or most importantly, for her and our situation is very particular-so is yours. So, let us rest in giving them the benefit of the doubt and let our own experiences and goals be the guide. They are all hard-working and provide good training.

Keep on Dancing!