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Careers in Dance - are they worth it?


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Yes no surprises there!  (Except people's ability to still be surprised)

One of my teenagers is passionate about Fine Art.  She has been doing it for more than a decade through school and private courses.

She does not expect a career from it. She can express ideas in pictures - so maybe there is a profitable avenue in design and technology for her.

My DD is not as clear sighted yet😂

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This is mostly why I don't want my DD to have a career in dance. Also, the possibility than one injury can destroy your career at the drop of a hat.

 

She is naturally very talented and at the moment her dream is to be a ballet dancer and I'm not going to destroy those childhood dreams. But she is also academic and I am hoping that she ends up in a more mainstream career that would give her financial stability, with ballet as a serious hobby on the side. She is only 8(!) so plenty of time to think about careers but I have to resist the temptation to tell her that I don't actually want her to be a ballet dancer, to let her follow her dreams for now and hope that along the ways things become more clear. 

 

I suspect there will be some hard decisions on the way though, we have already turned down an elite ballet school that wanted her to join (she didn't audition but was spotted on an outreach event) and I dread when it gets to Y7 and she wants to audition for vocational schools as I don't want her to go! We'll just have to cross that bridge if and when we come to it...

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From another perspective ....

 

Careers in ballet are short - you have the rest of your life to pursue a more mainstream role.  But the skills and experiences learnt on the way are equipping you for that later life - and that includes being able to pursue multiple sources of income at one time, negotiating, self discipline, overcoming adversity, self sufficiency - I could go on.

 

Another consideration: is life really all about money?  As someone whose salary once went up and down by 50K in a year (sadly it's stayed down for the last 20+ years!) I was always a bit short of cash.  I suspect if I won the lottery I would be £10 short.   

 

 

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This is not a surprise to me but I think it misses the why. A lot of dancers are very academic or driven and could have their choice of careers. I could easily have chosen a career path with more financial stability, where a second job wasn’t necessary and unpaid hours didn’t account for the same amount of my time as the paid ones. But would I have the same level of job satisfaction? Would it genuinely make me happy? I doubt it. I have students who know they won’t ever be financially rich from dancing, that it will likely be a constant struggle, but they need to do it. It’s very hard to explain to someone who hasn’t performed what it feels like when you step out on stage to an audience or how freeing a studio can be. If lockdown has taught us anything it’s that we should spend more time doing what makes us happy and being with people who make us happy. 

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From the perspective of a parent whose child went from full-time dance to Oxford university (via an enforced year out following a training-ending injury that happened at the upper “school” she was at) all I’d say is that I’m hugely relieved that my dd is where she is.  

 

However, that’s not to say that I wish she had never gone down that route - Ballet, two good Associate Schemes, endless summer schools, aiming for a career in ballet, passing her RAD Advanced 2, even her injury, all gave her so much in terms of discipline, fun, independence, resilience, and most of all, some wonderful teachers and lifelong friends.   As much as I regret ignoring my gut feeling on more than one occasion, including letting her go to the “school” that almost broke her, we can’t go back in time 🤷🏻‍♀️ and overall I *think* ballet has given more to her than it took.   She’s still able to dance but purely for pleasure now and with the pressure off, she has regained her love of ballet. 

 

Although I would do things very differently now (isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing), I would let her follow her dreams again as far as she was able - and wanted - to go.  I never wanted her to say “you didn’t let me try”.  

What I would do again though, is insist on having a Plan B (and C, and D), particularly with regard to getting as many good academic qualifications as possible, especially if the child is academic.  A good clutch of GCSEs is invaluable.  A’Levels are even better.  

 

Academic (or vocational in terms of a trade) qualifications KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN and that is an absolute must, especially now, during and post-COVID.  Without her good GCSEs, dd wouldn’t have been able to rejoin her academic school after her recovery year.  She wouldn’t have been able to choose which A Levels to study.  She certainly wouldn’t have ended up at Oxford.  Oxbridge - and university in general - certainly isn’t for everyone, I’m in no doubt about that, but if you have a backup plan and some qualifications then you have options, should anything unexpected happen.  

 

@Millicent, you sound very sensible.  If and when your dd is auditioning for *good, established, caring* vocational schools, personally I would let her take a Year 7 place as long as the school’s academics are good.  You will all need to go into it with your eyes wide open; do your research about the realities of the school’s care (not just the version of pastoral care that they “sell” you), the teaching (are the teachers *qualified*, what safety policies are in place, the school’s injury policies etc.), the possibility of being assessed out, your child’s ability to change her mind and go back to dancing for fun, etc.).  PM other parents, if you can, to get the reality of being at the school.  

 

I think we can get a bit blinkered here and forget that the chances of a child making it from Junior Associates, all the way through full-time ballet school and into a contract with good ballet company are miniscule.  It would probably be easier to become an Astronaut!  However, there are so many other dance and dance-related careers out there; commercial, musical theatre, cruise-ships (not right now, obviously!), choreographer, Benesh Notator, Teacher, Pilates Instructor, Examiner, even Dance Physio (definitely needs academics), there will undoubtedly be more I’ve forgotten. 

 

Is it worth letting your child try?  Yes, providing you’re realistic, do your research, don’t tolerate anything you wouldn’t tolerate at an academic state school, and make sure your child will have a backup. 

 

Am I glad my daughter left the full-time ballet path, though?  Absolutely.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lots of paths are unlikely to lead to financial security in the obvious jobs: studying for the bar and doing any sort of PhD spring to mind. Anything in the fine arts.

 

Given the pace of change these days, I'd say you're as well off trying to make a go of what you want to do rather than trying to fit into a "safe" model that may or may not exist by the time you've finished qualifying. Obviously, maintain your fallback plans. You can do degrees or professional qualifications later if you need/want them. 

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I think that the key thing is that the dancer, and to a degree the parents/rest of the family have to "enjoy the ride". The same goes for lots of other things - sports and music spring to my mind as that's what I have experience of, but I am sure there are lots of others. If the only acceptable goal is a "top flight"  professional career in any of those spheres and anything less is viewed as failure then there will almost certainly be huge disappointment looming. As Anna says, the chances of any individual child achieving a career in a classical company, or indeed playing in an orchestra, winning an Olympic medal or the FA cup are incredibly small. Obviously if you don't try you definitely won't achieve such goals, and *someone* has to be chosen, but it must be tempered by realism. Plans B, C and beyond are essential and the young person must be enjoying what they do. Even if they do have a professional performing career it will be short lived in most instances so they need other strings to their bows.

I think it is *really* hard as a parent to know what to do for the best. We all want to give our children every opportunity that we can, and we all want what is best for them. But sometimes allowing the relentless pursuit of a dream is *not* what is best for them. But that can be hard for us, and them to see. Finding the balance is very hard and we will all get it wrong at times.

I made *lots* of mistakes with DD, some big ones, but fortunately we all seem to have come out of it more or less unscathed. But I know others who haven't. I've seen people virtually bankrupt themselves, family relationships destroyed and individuals very damaged by the desire to support a child's dance/music/sports career at at all costs. I believe that is too high a price, though it can be very hard to get off the roller coaster once you are on it.

I am in a similar position with my sporty child at the moment. I've just said that they cannot go to the sporting equivalent of an associates scheme that would mean we would be out til midnight on a school night every week. I've done the thing where most meals are eaten in the car or gobbled down late at night and family life is ruled by one activity and I am not doing it (as much!) again.

Yet I don't regret our dance journey. We've had a lot of fun, met some fabulous people and DD is happy where she is now, having picked up a lot of transferable skills and resilience in bucket loads. I just wish I'd insisted on a bit more balance and I'm hoping I can do that with sporty child - but already I feel the pressure to do what "everyone else" is doing!

Edited by Pups_mum
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Bluebird phrases it beautifully.  

 

I remember seeing musical DD  sitting in a youth orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.  I knew it was absolutely where she belonged. She may never play in a UK orchestra but she has given it her best shot - at least she knows she will reach the limit of her ability. Similarly watching Stage Manager DS  climb up to fix some lights - it's something deep within your soul that others can sometimes glimpse.

 

But if you have doubts, and don't want her at vocational school please think carefully before letting her audition.  You are the adult  - at the end of the day it's your, not her, choice.  It's hard enough when you are a united group I would hate to be either party if it's not done with agreement on all sides.

 

 

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Money definitely isn't everything and I'm certainly not one for flash cars/homes/handbags. But I do think that a degree of financial stability is really important in life. It gives you choices and opportunities that you otherwise wouldn't have eg you can choose to live in an area with good schools or a safer community. 

 

My DS has serious medical issues that have been extremely poorly managed by the NHS so we have had to pay for private treatment which has changed his life. Without it he would be literally crippled. I know of others who simply can't afford this and their lifes are massively affected as a result. Sadly, it's things like this which make me long for my children to have a degree of financial stability in their future lives so they have these choices and opportunities, and the ability to respond when things go wrong.

 

Thankfully we are still far off having to make any big decisions and are certainly enjoying the journey so far. Long may that continue! 

 

 

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I had a reasonable dance career till my mid twenties then went back to study GCSE’s, A Levels and a degree in Psychology. I now work with dancers with Mental Health problems as it was something I was all too aware of during my own training. I’m still an avid watcher and dance myself twice a week for fun.
My own son now has a talent for dancing and I’d say let your kids follow their dreams. You’re a long time an adult and you’d be surprised how even the youngest can figure stuff out for themselves. Education doesn’t have to stop at 21, as far as I’m concerned I’m still learning, and I hope my children continue to learn into adulthood. I did a second degree at 37, and I wasn’t the oldest in the class! 😄😄😄😄

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At the end of the day it is probably a case of supply and demand.  In the best of times there are more dancers graduating from vocational schools than there are jobs, especially stable, salary paying jobs.

 

We can support the demand by going to watch live shows and not supporting ventures which expect professionally trained artists to work for nothing.

 

My dd was adamant when she graduated that she would not work for nothing, even for exposure, and I think this is an important stance to take if you want the work of the artist to be valued.

 

 

 

 

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I think it is down to the individual as to whether they think the career they can have is worth it for them as a person.

 

I remember what were, to me, really awful comments on Doing Dance about 6 or 7 years ago when a dancer was leaving BRB after about 6 years to train as a midwife.  Some people's attitude was that her parents had wasted an awful lot of money on her for her to retire after such a short career.

 

My response was that if I had been her parent then my heart would have been bursting with pride that she had achieved her dream to dance professionally and now had another dream to fulfil on a completely different but utterly wonderful path.

 

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Just now, glowlight said:

To add to @Jan McNulty's point - dance training is never wasted.  Dancers are disciplined, have a strong work ethic, have fantastic memories and are usually good at multi-tasking, all traits which are of value in any career.  

 

 

 

 

Absolutely agree with this

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1 hour ago, glowlight said:

To add to @Jan McNulty's point - dance training is never wasted.  Dancers are disciplined, have a strong work ethic, have fantastic memories and are usually good at multi-tasking, all traits which are of value in any career.  

 

 

 

 

 

Absolutely; any art, sport or skill studied to a high level make a well-rounded person with all the qualities glowlight mentions.  If I remember rightly, my dd was asked about her ballet at her Oxford interview.  I know of other Advanced dancers who have gone on to Oxbridge - some who did associates, LCB, EYB etc but who always intended to go to Uni, and the level of ballet they reached has always benefitted them.

 

There can be downsides to full-time training and we shouldn’t forget the longterm effects these can have; both physically and emotionally, not just injury but body image problems/eating disorders/mental health problems/bullying and all the issues associated with lack of inspection/accountability in schools, particularly upper schools which aren’t obliged to be inspected.   You don’t need to be at full-time training or even Associates to take ballet to a high level purely for pleasure, without the pressure of trying for a career, and this might be a better route for some students.  I certainly don’t regret the time and money spent on Associates, summer schools, EYB and so on - they all gave dd so much.   

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17 minutes ago, Anna C said:

 

Absolutely; any art, sport or skill studied to a high level make a well-rounded person with all the qualities glowlight mentions.  If I remember rightly, my dd was asked about her ballet at her Oxford interview.  I know of other Advanced dancers who have gone on to Oxbridge - some who did associates, LCB, EYB etc but who always intended to go to Uni, and the level of ballet they reached has always benefitted them.

 

There can be downsides to full-time training and we shouldn’t forget the longterm effects these can have; both physically and emotionally, not just injury but body image problems/eating disorders/mental health problems/bullying and all the issues associated with lack of inspection/accountability in schools, particularly upper schools which aren’t obliged to be inspected.   You don’t need to be at full-time training or even Associates to take ballet to a high level purely for pleasure, without the pressure of trying for a career, and this might be a better route for some students.  I certainly don’t regret the time and money spent on Associates, summer schools, EYB and so on - they all gave dd so much.   

Yes - all of this. Separating high-level attainment from a vocational career in teenage years is def valuable. 

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16 hours ago, Millicent said:

This is mostly why I don't want my DD to have a career in dance. Also, the possibility than one injury can destroy your career at the drop of a hat.

One  Incident  can destroy many professional  careers  - something that is often forgotten about in such discussions  

 

11 hours ago, Colman said:

Lots of paths are unlikely to lead to financial security in the obvious jobs: studying for the bar and doing any sort of PhD spring to mind. Anything in the fine arts.

 

Given the pace of change these days, I'd say you're as well off trying to make a go of what you want to do rather than trying to fit into a "safe" model that may or may not exist by the time you've finished qualifying. Obviously, maintain your fallback plans. You can do degrees or professional qualifications later if you need/want them. 


Absolutely...  literally  one moment and one individual  can  kill stone dead  a  Professional career in any profession.  ( not going to elucidate too much  on this  as it's straying  well away from the topic of Dance  careers) but i speak  from personal experience here  and from  6 years wasted  trying to convince as system that is  biased against  those who are percived to have failed that  the failures  can and were addressed ... 

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I previously spent about 16 years in the recruitment industry and have worked with (and written CVs for) many people that have been looking for a complete change of career. One thing I would encourage people to think about is transferable skills. People often overlook these and get bogged down in the more obvious skills and experience but training in dance to such a high level will develop many skills and traits in someone that would be directly relevant to many careers outside of dance if/when a change of career happens. These include discipline, focus, working to deadlines (exams, performances etc), presentation (being on stage will help someone feel confident when presenting themselves in an interview, to a client etc), organisation, planning, managing schedules, mentoring (such as helping with younger students) - the list goes on! It is just a matter of thinking about all of the valuable skills and experience someone has gained that can be applied to a different career or job.

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4 hours ago, NeverTooOld said:

One thing I would encourage people to think about is transferable skills.

 

This is sooooooo true! I teach a BA degree, and people get bogged down in their subject knowledge - what they are, rather than what they can do. I try to emphasise the skills they acquire. And putting on a show - working in any aspect of performance - requires people to collaborate, in high intensity circumstances, to produce a very high quality product by an unmoveable deadline (no "Dog ate my homework" when the curtain goes up!)

 

Theatre productions (ballet, dance, musical theatre, drama) bring together teams of people who may not have any control over those they work with; each person has a specific role but is also responsible for contributing to the overall aesthetic achievement. If you look at the underlying dynamics & structure of the theatrical workplace, it is very like a lot of team working on project-based assignments that we find in the business world. The skills that are then slotted into that structure are often very different, but no more so than the difference between a team of engineers, and a team of medicos.

 

About 20 years ago I set up and ran an MA in Women's Studies. We ran it for part-time students mostly teaching in the evenings (teaching to 9pm, and then a 2 hour commute home was fun!) who were women returning to study & employment after establishing their families. We did several sessions on how to convert bearing & raising children, and organising a family & household, into concrete and demonstrable skills for their CVs. It was fascinating to teach, and I learnt a lot (rather more about the still-enduring inequalities & discriminations against women that my optimistic self liked to hear, but still). 

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8 years old is very young to plan ahead, loss of interest, body changes, no progress, injuries etc etc. I'd just let her enjoy what she does for now, at the moment it's dancing, but it can change overnight at that age.

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To add further to my previous post, my daughter applied for Liverpool university to study physics, she was accepted, but now she had deferred it because she isn’t ready to give up on her dance career just yet. 

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When I left my grammar school to go to a performing arts day school with an emphasis on ballet and dance, my headmistress tried to dissuade me by telling me that I wouldn't be able to go on to university from there.  Maybe not, but when I was 50 I got a first class honours degree in Ballet and Contextual Studies through the RAD, which rather proves that it's never too late!  Many people have told me that they envy me for having spent my working life in a field that I love.   Too many get stuck in jobs they hate.  Of course it's important to make a living, but job satisfaction is also very important!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sorry to jump on an old thread. My daughter has a few hobbies and I get asked this quite a lot. The mouth drops when they even think of how much I spend on hobbies, but every penny is worth it. For many reasons.

while my daughter is busy she is constantly meeting people, she is learning schedules, she is getting a sense of urgency, learning the value of time. Some days she wants to go, some days she doesn’t. Some days it is painful and other days it is not. The dancers career may be short lived, but there are many many other paths in life to take and none are too late. Some completely unrelated to any of her hobbies. And that is ok for me too. As long as she is happy, healthy and treating herself and others with respect. Growing up to have an open mind, to make decisions from an early age, being on stage in front of thousands of people. There is so much more in the list. The other thing is what she does now and later can shape her future family, for the better. When those great great great grandkids aspire to be like her. So without realising it our children are inspiring others and we don’t see it. They are making history, they are someone to someone. It’s priceless. The career maybe short lived, but the memories and wise words are forever. 

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Hello everyone,

I totally understand this thread in the current climate and haven't read everyone's posts i must confess.  But I wanted to say, as an ex dancer myself, that there is something in the very soul of a child that 'needs' to dance (this is not all of them but in a good few) i would have felt literally suffocated if I hadn't been able to pursue my passion. 

So whilst we can be sensible and wise, we must also be true to the spirit of the young dancer. Even if its to be shortlived - sometimes a person can only be happy if they know they tried. To be in a mainstream, safe job living a life where you just wish you had tried or wonder what if - leaves a person half empty.

So whilst it's costly, hard and can often be upsetting to be honest- it does give back in spades in terms of fulfilment petsonally plus the so very many skills that dancers possess for life afterwards. 

I would be miserable without having had my career, and 2/3 of that time I was unhappy!!!! Yet it was totally necessary......I feel fulfilled and at peace with myself for having tried my best and achieved it.

Even for those who don't get there in the end- I feel the opportunity to give it their best shot shouldn't be cut short just so that adults they had no regrets.

We cant replace that true desire with a more sensible option unfortunately.

Just a thought.........

Always a tricky one. Best of luck to everyone. I hope you are surviving these strange times as best you can x

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On 08/09/2020 at 10:22, Bluebird22 said:

This is not a surprise to me but I think it misses the why. A lot of dancers are very academic or driven and could have their choice of careers. I could easily have chosen a career path with more financial stability, where a second job wasn’t necessary and unpaid hours didn’t account for the same amount of my time as the paid ones. But would I have the same level of job satisfaction? Would it genuinely make me happy? I doubt it. I have students who know they won’t ever be financially rich from dancing, that it will likely be a constant struggle, but they need to do it. It’s very hard to explain to someone who hasn’t performed what it feels like when you step out on stage to an audience or how freeing a studio can be. If lockdown has taught us anything it’s that we should spend more time doing what makes us happy and being with people who make us happy. 

Exactly Bluebird22!  I have spent my whole life so far doing something I love, that fulfills me in a way that no other field could give me.  I could have gone to university and chosen a different career, but everyone who knows me knows that then I wouldn't be me!  I had a performing career and am still teaching after 40 years and loving it (even on the dreaded Zoom).  And people often teĺl me how lucky I am for that.  To be honest, I'm also lucky to have a wonderfully understanding husband, who can support our family financially!  However, in spite of knowing that I was entering a poorly paid profession, I would not have chosen otherwise!

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