oops - I put this on the Lower School forum when really it probably should be on this forum.
This is my first post on BalletcoForum but I have been a silent observer (ie over my wife’s shoulder) for some time as DD navigates the world of ballet.
DD is in year 11 and at ballet vocational school, wanting to pursue a classical ballet career. Little did I think when we ventured into this world of ballet what the future would hold. I want to do everything I can for DD to develop a talent she has and enable her to fulfil her dreams. I think it’s fantastic to know exactly what you want to do as a career and be completely focused on it.
However, it does come at a price not for just for parents but the rest of the family but that it what I supposed we have signed up for.
Having successfully negotiated the world of lower schools (rejections, offers, injuries and recoveries) I find myself staring into the abyss that is ‘Upper Schools’. I naively thought this would be straight forward – oh how wrong was I!
I wanted to share my experience so that it may help others as their DD’s and DS’s pursue their dreams. However, before I start, can I just say this is my opinion only (my lovely wife and DD don’t know I am doing this) and it relates to classical ballet only as that is all I have experience of.
My advice to anyone looking at Upper Schools is as follows:
Start looking early. When I say early I mean when they are coming to the end of year 9. I say this because its all about trying to get yourself seen well in advance of ‘audition year’ so schools are familiar with your DD’s/DS’s name and their abilities.
Every DD/DS has weakness’. Know what they are and work on them. Trying to get schools/teachers to have open, honest and frank conversations is very hard but do push for it. That way you know exactly what DD/DS has got to do. Of course, there are things like turn out that you can do little about, however compensating work can be done to help.
If possible, do not limit yourselves to the UK for summer schools/Upper schools. This does depend on how independent DD/DS is but there is a whole world out there with schools as good as the UK. It will broaden your DD’s/DS’s repertoire not to mention the life experience it brings.
One of the reasons my first comment say’s start looking towards the end of year 9 (at the latest) is really important, is if you’re thinking of international schools.
American Schools – there are some great schools in America which should be considered but to do that you should be trying to get on their summer intensives in Year 9 and Year 10 (if not earlier). This way the schools see you and are likely to have a place lined up for you (if good enough) for their 'Upper School' equivalent. Scholarships are also available. If you leave it until ‘normal’ UK auditioning time, it’s likely to be too late (not impossible) but you won’t have any experience of the school you are applying for, which makes it nerve racking and the position my DD finds herself in. The downside to American summer intensives is that they start before the UK summer holiday begins so you will either need to take them out of school early and join the intensive late. In my opinion, if they want to pursue a career in ballet, then take the risk and take them out of school early in the summer (I can’t believe I’m actually saying that as it goes against everything my natural instinct is telling me but for a DD so focused on classical ballet, it would have been the right thing to do if only someone had told me).
European Schools – Like America there are some great schools in Europe which should be considered. Ballet classes in the more well known schools (apart from the odd exception) are taught in English so that’s not a problem. Summer schools in European (timing wise) are more like the UK so that’s not an issue. If affordable, it is good to give them exposure to other styles/methods of teaching and meeting other similarly mind ballerinas from around the world. This is the important bit - If you believe DD/DS can turn ballet into a career and they are good enough, then consider taking them to one of the top European schools early and do GCSE’s through online schooling. That way they are well placed to join the Upper Schools when the time comes. As with the American schools, I didn’t knew about this at the time but subsequently noticed what other people who are ‘in the know’ had done successfully.
UK Schools – Yes there are some great UK schools and if your DD can get into one they want then that’s fantastic. However, if they don’t and they want options then these are limited outside of remaining UK schools if you have not already considered what I said above re American and European schools.
Private Lessons – wow, now that takes expense to a whole new level. DD has had privates with some great teachers who have really helped her over and above the school she attends. Being in the middle of UK audition season right now I think it has been worth it as there were areas DD needed to improve on. Are they absolutely necessary – no they are not, as I have seen quite a few DD’s get great schools without the need for privates.
Body Shapes – as I am even typing this I nervous about saying the wrong thing but here are my views for what they are worth. European and Far Eastern DD’s tend to be thin, flexible with great on-stage presence from years of competitions and show performances. That is what the world stage looks like and what a lot of International Upper Schools are looking for. There I’ve said it. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, that’s just the way it is (or at least what I have seen). There is a school for everyone, it’s a matter of trying the find the right one for them
Audition by DVD – DD’s/DS’s will never look as good on DVD as they do in person. Whoever is reviewing the DVD has the time to replay over and over again so all DD’s/DS’s blemishes are visible. Don’t take the making of these lightly. Whilst they are only there to get DD/DS in the door to be seen face to face, they have to be done properly. As painful as it might be, keep doing it over and over again until its right. Also, don’t do the audition DVD to early, try and get the timing right when DD/DS looks in good shape (physically and mentally) as it will come across on the DVD.
I am sorry this has been such a long opening post on the forum but it has been playing on my mind for some time to air what my experience has been so hopefully it can help others.