May is underway already and my daughter has been attending ________Ballet School for over one year now. She has had many ups and downs, working very hard, but she has definitely improved. I see a fine dancer emerging from her. She has grown in confidence and strength, although she needs more strength, I hope it will come. Strength is apparent in many things, not just ballet. I learned when growing up, and finding dance, that dancing is not only good for the soul, it is good for discipline, is character building and improves your ability to perform just about any other lesser sport, such as volley ball, etc. I found that after a few years of dance I was able to play sports with above average ability, that previously I just wasn’t into at all. Every year my grandfather used to buy me sporting equipment, baseball, bat and glove, badminton equipment and a net, ice skates, roller skates, and one year we even bought a tennis racket from someone in The Trading Post (where he spat in a dog’s eye), and all of these things I tried to eschew for him, and more, but to no avail-they just did not enthuse me. I swam every day in the summer, sometimes staying at the pool until after dark, but other sports I just didn’t excel at. I remember the other girls driving home other players in softball, and standing in the field letting the ball go by me-irritated, that is what I was. In volley ball I could not serve a ball over the net with any force or impetus. I could run. I climbed trees. I did roller skate, but not with any stability or verve, and not as well as my friends. I could ice skate pretty well but they closed the rink. No one I knew really played any of these different sports and surprisingly it was not kids from my local school that would go to the pool. But I did make friends. I walked and we danced to popular music a lot. We wanted to have a girl singing group, or my friends did, mostly I just liked the music and to dance. I was creative in many other ways though, drawing, I could build things, and I did go through long periods where I would just sit by a window and read books, until my mom had enough and kicked me out to go do something else, and “not be a house plant.” Maybe that is why I put my daughter in ballet. Because after ballet, I could do anything better than anyone else, practically. It just made me an athlete-confident, strong and focused. It is what I needed. When I had a teacher that said to go back and do something over, I didn’t complain, but just went and did it. We didn’t have much money, and I paid for classes myself.
The world today is different, but what ballet can do for you is not. I know I didn’t put my daughter into ballet thinking,”she is going to be a ballerina.” I put her into ballet so she could see what she could do with herself, to grow in confidence, to use all the muscles she wasn’t and to gain some discipline. Each day, she grows a little (almost two inches since August 2012) in stature, and is beginning to “know what she knows.” She is beautiful to me of course, but I can begin to see the woman she might become, all the more confident and lovely each day, and ballet helps-it works wonders! She knows that ballet makes her special, and that we cannot avoid in our children-why should we? But, todayI asked her why she did not ask her friend to join her in a modern class one day next month, and she said “no way.” I thought,”Well!” I said, to take _____wouldn’t be so bad for her, she might like dance, thinking, certainly she is not competition yet, and why would she say “no?” Well, I can remember wishing my friends wouldn’t take ballet, because I felt it was mine. I didn’t want to be competitive with them, I just wanted them as friends. As soon as one of them did take a contemporary class, by my example, I immediately left off that friendship, and now I feel remorse over it. Well, not exactly remorse, but rather I see now that it really doesn’t make a difference who takes ballet, and to have a friend in ballet does seem like an impossible thing sometimes, but it happens, when both parties are mature enough to realize everyone is different. I think that girls in ballet ought to have the same kind of trust exercises required of boys and girls in ballet in pas de deux classes. Girls should stick together-boys do! But do boys in ballet? But this has never been done, addressing these issues of petty competitiveness which actually serve to make us better dancers, strive harder, follow other examples, laugh and have fun, support each other when we fail, or fall, instead of smugly thinking, “it serves her right-good-she fell!” Wishing other dancers to fail is actually bad-not good, and we always think of other dancers as merely competitors, but we need to put this in the right perspective, for without other dancers, who would we have to be better than? Or better put, possibly, we are only as good as the best person in the class, and seek to be better than that person, whoever it is, and without them, our bar just went down to the next best person. How does that prepare us as dancers for the rest of the world?
One thing I noticed about my daughter when she was just starting ballet in I think, her second year (she was eleven or twelve), and that was that the teacher created a lot of competition between the girls by praising one or two, and my daughter was from that moment on, determined to be better than that one, or every one, at every thing, and I found myself using them to explain that while she was good at these things, this other dancer was good at these other things, but I did not have to-she knew. And she likewise talked about this, but mostly it served to try and make herself better. There were some things she knew this other dancer had, such as ridiculous feet, but she spoke with sympathy about the other faults the girl had, and it did not take me long to realize that my daughter did not really feel sorry for her faults, she was happy that she did not have those faults (at least). Subsequently, I have not tolerated (often) the talking down of other, better in some ways, dancers, who have been selected for summer programs, year-round programs, scholarships, etc., that my daughter coveted. In fact, when the teacher gets after these other dancers after competitions, too much, to try to instill some humility into that dancer, I pointed out to my daughter that the teacher was possibly only doing this to make the other dancers feel better about themselves and to spark competition between the dancers and this child, who is a good dancer. Who is? She has most of the physical qualities companies look for in their dancers, and she dances pretty well, I think. I said my daughter ought to substitute, in the phrase,” you only have good ________, something that she felt confident about in herself, her vanity-and apply the entire criticism, personally, for if she did not, she too would run the risk of thinking she was too good, better than everyone else, would not strive to become better in that area, other areas, or feel she was good enough, or better than everyone in her class/school.
I suppose I am too jealous of the corrections. I wanted them ALL as a dancer, and every dancer is aware of whom the teacher is giving corrections (mostly) to, and envies or pities that person, but any correction can and must be applied to oneself if there is to be improvement of a substantial nature and understanding of ballet. Yet, professional dancers can almost never broach criticism, particularly when they turn to teaching or the direction of a school. They automatically think they know everything and must be respected above all other parties for their expertise, by their students and parents. When opening up communication between parents and teachers might result in improvement in not only the dancers, teaching but teach these children that as a group they are strong. If students witness their own teachers vanity and those at other schools, are we not grooming htem to be vain peacocks, like their teachers, instead of artists and dancers? It is an art. It is not simply put, being someone people want to watch dance because you are pretty, otherwise why would we say of Plisetskaya that she was “beautiful when she danced?” It is not just gymnastics, otherwise why would Pavlova’s teacher said, “cease these gymnastic routines! They are not for your delicate frame! I shudder when I see you try to compete with the gymnastic didoes of other dancers, for delicacy shall be your mien, your strength.” It is not the early starter who can burn out or be injured, for otherwise we would not have had Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Gene Kelly, Suzanne Farrell, Misty Copeland and many others in many countries at many times (I am so tired of reading you can’t when you can-if only you will!). It is not merely technique, or Vaganova would not have been compelled to create a science of movement and training, and there would be no great Russian dancers. Without Isadora Duncan there would be no history of contemporary dance, exercises by her, or any dances, ballet or otherwise in a tunic, and all dancers would probably wear scarves! There would be no modern dance. It is not likely that there would be just one ballet, one choreographer, and no variety of music to choose from, but there is, and there are many varieties of dancers, including many types of ballet dancers. Students of dance need to realize they are not the only ones, and they should be taught to accept challenges, open invitations to other people to dance, prepare to perform, dance, and that this does not change their ability at all. In fact, it makes them grow. It is hypocritical to say, ” I love dance, and I want to see dance continue and ballet, in particular, to be popular”, if you shut out competition, other dancers, others schools, choreographers-you do nothing for the art. Watch “Chocolat.” If no one tries it, they may not ever be advocates of it, may not seek to see it performed, understand it, and may only enter their children in it as competitors, to be better than everyone else at gymnastics, or prettier, or at technique, or performing-it is all inclusive. Ballet needs to open its doors to adults, all children (rich and poor), all kinds, in order to survive.
I told my daughter that if her friend attended a dance class, perhaps she would invest in my daughter’s dance company one day, her grandmother is very wealthy. Perhaps they would have more to share-not less. The focus should not be on the end result, but the process. The process should be an enjoyable one, and the experiences at our dance studio suffer because of the competitions, the parts which everyone fights over, the parents sitting in their cars because of the perceptions that 1) Their children are not that good, 2) Are overlooked, and 3) The competitiveness between the parents-which is passed on to the children in most cases-not all-to the point that these dancers are not NICE. My daughter, is always nice, congratulates everyone, and genuinely cares for them and they do not like her one bit. Funny. Jealous and her teacher just quit giving her privates because we had a fight and he said she would never get into a really good ballet company. This is just ridiculous-who cares? She does, but it is ME he got into the fight with. He likes her, and even though it was awkward, she says, at first, now he looks at her when she isn’t looking, comes over to correct her (like he used to), and she is recovering from her latest injury (in the hip) so is able to do more each day. For us, everything is looking UP. She decided not to go to ABT (more about that later), not to go to The Rock, not to go to Dance Master Class (Italy, this year-see my Pinterest), and not to go to English National Ballet in Ohio. Instead, she is taking the summer session with her favorite dance teacher and the one at her school. She will also go to Desmond Richardson’s Master Class at LBHS on June 19th. She will be in the recital and is doing a Hungarian (marriage) dance for recital, and is a dancer of the Winter pas de trois in Cinderella for recital here, and is doing a variation from Don Quixote at another school recital. As well as her regular classes, that seems enough. Maybe her teacher will try to teach some pas de deux. That would be nice. Never know.
Sh is busting herself to complete her school work and is doing a semester with Geometry and Algebra (she failed first quarter algebra) and she is doing it! She also has French, Honors English, Biology and a Juilliard-music class online-as well as gym! She walks with me and will soon begin swimming and doing yoga (for healing and stretching). Now, if I can just find volleyball…..
As for my daughter being accepted into the world of ballet, getting into a major company, being able to do the contortions required by ballet dancers the world over these days, I do not know. But, she is certainly going to be a lover of ballet. Perhaps she will be a great artist, anything is possible if you work hard enough and long enough. Dance is fickle. Directors are fickle. But one must be prepared in life to set out one’s goals and to plan an attack. If the first attempt does not work, you hit again, and each time you set out to achieve new goals, reach a new plateau, it is important to look back at what you did the year before, pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished and to move forward with certainty that this year will produce as exceptional results, catastrophe withstanding! Everyone also has a different path. She had three injuries this year to contend with (one was a carryover from last year)and I wish more than ever there were doctors of dance in every county, as there are more dancers today than ever and nothing is worse than a dancer with a misdiagnosis. The harder you dance, the more injuries you are likely to sustain. I wish there were a school for dancers in this state which offered dance to all students who wanted to learn and which provided the essentials of training for great dancers to emerge. It would make so much more sense than 500 little schools able to teach only the minimum and not to offer other courses and training which is so important-mime, acting, makeup, hair, stretching, yoga and other therapies, modern and ballet, jazz and character, and wherever there are dancers there should be healing tools for dancers, dance doctors, etc….Instead, schools are set up to make money for themselves, all claiming a not-for-profit status, not dancers, and their directors are usually motivated by their paychecks, their fine cars, paying for their houses, their own companies, themselves-not the art, the student, not scholarships, and if those schools banded together, they could support a company in our area and a school worthy of the name. Somehow, it could be done. This would lower the costs to all, thought it would equalize the payment of teachers, it would be able to support itself and would lead to these dancers being able to stay in their own area and dance.
My daughter stands in class everyday and her teacher looks at her to remind him of the combination, everyone seems to forget it.
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.