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Dancing, training and issues with body image, resilience, etc.


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5 hours ago, Motomum said:

You have taken what I have written completely out of context and jarringly so. 

You also make assumptions about me based on things I haven't even written in my post. 

 

Please be careful reversing the genders here it is completely skewing what I have written. Completely. I would have the same reaction to a woman ballet dancer with large muscles. 

 

 

Muscalature and body fat are not at all the same thing they are the complete opposite. Your implication is just a bit odd. 

 

A person can still be large with long lean muscles. 

 

 

 

Actual body SIZE makes absolutely no difference to me at all. aesthetically however for me in classical ballet, long leaner muscle lines matter, otherwise what is classical ballet all about if not the beautiful line? Regardless of size. 

 

Peoples social media is just that, a social platform that invites opinion positive or negative, neutral or otherwise. 

 

 

 

 

But this is exactly what the problem is. We are not talking about "fat", but kids who are being turned away because they have muscles or boobs. A friend of my DD is a brilliant dancer - lovely (and highly awarded in scholarship competitions etc) performer, high 90s in her vocational exams, awarded her solo seal - but can't get a school to take her because she has muscles and boobs (she would be maybe a B cup at most). She is very slender and has beautiful lines but schools will not look at her. People have tried to get her in their companies and junior companies (but she couldn't accept because she was too young, or the associated school knocked her back). She looks no different from some of the dancers in the Australian Ballet so it is not just about lines. This is just one example.

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2 hours ago, Kanangra said:

But this is exactly what the problem is. We are not talking about "fat", but kids who are being turned away because they have muscles or boobs. A friend of my DD is a brilliant dancer - lovely (and highly awarded in scholarship competitions etc) performer, high 90s in her vocational exams, awarded her solo seal - but can't get a school to take her because she has muscles and boobs (she would be maybe a B cup at most). She is very slender and has beautiful lines but schools will not look at her. People have tried to get her in their companies and junior companies (but she couldn't accept because she was too young, or the associated school knocked her back). She looks no different from some of the dancers in the Australian Ballet so it is not just about lines. This is just one example.

 

This is exactly the issue Kanangra.  Some of the students admitted into vocational schools are not gifted dancers.  Maybe they look like someone's ideal of a ballerina.  I want to see talented people on stage.  People who are beautiful in motion, showing musicality and artistry that moves me. 

 

I see too many gifted full time ballet students being rejected by vocational schools, PDL and YAGP because they do not fit the mould.  Meanwhile they win the local and national Eisteddfods and comps because of their stage presence.  They are chosen as soloists in their ballet school productions because anyone can see they have 'it'.  Frankly, many who are chosen by the vocational schools can't cut it with these performers.   I can't change any of that!  I'm just saying it is very obvious to all involved. Sigh.

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Oh just to mention a silver lining...some good things have come out of my DD not having the right 'look' for top vocational schools when she was 11, 12 and 13 years old.

 

She has stayed at home with her family.  We have made it clear that she should not consider her 'ballet' weight until she is maybe 16 or older, wanting to audition for an upper school or company.  This means she can protect her mental health and experience puberty.

 

She is at a ballet studio, dancing with a very talented cohort.  If the school is no longer right for her, she can move to another one. She does not have a sense of constantly auditioning and has no concerns of being 'assessed out'.  This means, for example, she has no pressure to dance when injured or 'please' her teachers beyond natural courtesy.  She is the client!  Finally, she can attend intensives, get performance & competition experience and audition when and where she likes.

Edited by DD Driver
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I’m just reading this thread, so so many true comments being said. BUT so many critical judgements being said too, the skinny dancer this and the skinny dancer that, she’s weak because she’s too skinny, she makes mistakes, she’s slow to pick up etc etc. 
let me just point something out, not only is that poor child being mentally tortured by her school, but also some of you parents are also watching her and criticising her too. These parents are saying ‘but she is so thin’,  NO you go on to point out this poor child faults too. 
as my daughter said to me, and unfortunately I have to use a swear word to quote what she said,

’To survive the ballet word we all end up being a little’fu***d up’. 
Even now in her professional life, as part of her contract dancers have to line up in a sports bra and either knickers or high shorts, to prove that they are the same visual shape they were when they started their contract. A photo will then be sent to the directors to view. 
The dance world must and needs to change, but parents and spectators need to look closer at themselves as they openly criticise these young children during their training. These poor students are going through absolute hell, they hate letting you all see them in leotards, they torture themselves when they make a mistake in front of your waiting critical eyes. 

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Thankyou @Tulip.  Some of the language in this thread was starting to make me feel uncomfortable.

 

Just as we shouldn't generalise about dancers who don't fit the 'classic' ballet aesthetic, it is just as harmful to generalise about those who do.  

 

This too is body shaming.

 

Slim dancers (I don't want to use the term 'skinny' as I wouldn't use the term 'fat' to describe a larger dancer) may be slim for many reasons - some may be to do with over dieting, but some people are genetically made that way.  And they still have to be talented and dedicated to get a place at vocational school and to succeed in their careers.

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33 minutes ago, Tulip said:

 

Even now in her professional life, as part of her contract dancers have to line up in a sports bra and either knickers or high shorts, to prove that they are the same visual shape they were when they started their contract. A photo will then be sent to the directors to view. 
 


I agree with what you’ve said.

this is deeply disturbing to me, what justification can there be for this? They spend most the day in leotard and tights anyway! I did boycott one of the uk companies a few years ago (until they changed AD) because what I saw made me so uncomfortable. It’s a fine line, we shouldn’t be criticising individuals but we do need to hold these schools and companies to account. 16 year olds living away from home and burning high numbers of calories each day must be at a significant risk of becoming undernourished through lack of money, time, illness, cooking knowledge etc. 

I think most of us accept that by nature of their age and what they do ballet dancers are going to be slender. However, it makes me uncomfortable to suggest that the extremes are genetically ‘natural’. As children grow and bodies change there may be periods when they look really slim and that’s normal. If they’re not getting sufficient nutrition growth will slow down or stop. Rather than constant weighing etc there are other ways to assess whether the kids are healthy or not. I just don’t think that all schools and companies put sufficient resource into this and in some cases I just don’t think they see it as being a bad thing. 

it’s difficult to discuss selection criteria for vocational schools in a detached way, as it has an inference to those that have got a place. I’m not sure we have got it quite right but some things like passion, motivation, dedication are pretty hard to assess. Perhaps what we should be doing is expanding the numbers but accepting that a large proportion will not be successful at continuing training or getting into companies 

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59 minutes ago, glowlight said:

Thankyou @Tulip.  Some of the language in this thread was starting to make me feel uncomfortable.

 

Just as we shouldn't generalise about dancers who don't fit the 'classic' ballet aesthetic, it is just as harmful to generalise about those who do.  

 

This too is body shaming.

 

Slim dancers (I don't want to use the term 'skinny' as I wouldn't use the term 'fat' to describe a larger dancer) may be slim for many reasons - some may be to do with over dieting, but some people are genetically made that way.  And they still have to be talented and dedicated to get a place at vocational school and to succeed in their careers.

My daughter (13) is a vocational student and naturally very, very slim and we had a slightly alarming experience at a recent hospital visit as a result. DD had chest pains, the cause of which was discovered and not serious, however her BMI of 13.7 threw the medical team into overdrive. I explained she was naturally very slim (her dad weighed 10 stone until he was 30!) had started her periods and ate well but they still wanted to analyse her bloods before they would let her be discharged. We were both cross questioned about her diet/health/lifestyle. The bloods  all came back showing she was at the peak of health. I completely understood why the doctors were initially concerned and I know they have to follow procedure when things are flagged, but the lasting result is that now my DD is now painfully aware  of her size and stature. Which was never an issue before. 

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12 hours ago, DD Driver said:

Some of the students admitted into vocational schools are not gifted dancers. 

 

This is quite an extreme statement to make. Unless you're an expert ballet teacher,  I'm not sure how anyone can know this, really. We don't see their auditions, not their daily classes & training. 

 

Surely part of the problem is that it's in these years that human bodies change enormously? Puberty is the point at which the adult body is formed via the specific actions of sex hormones to enable reproduction (we're mammals after all) - so girls ' increased oestrogen & progesterone promote the body's storing of fat to enable ovulation, while boys' high production of testosterone increases bone density, lung capacity, height, and muscle development. These things don't go away, and can fluctuate but by 21 or so the adult body settles down (sort of) - which is why working dancers mostly have that wonderful combination of strength and leanness. So for girls whose bodies store "too much" fat or boys who don't grow to an "acceptable" height there are issues.  (Note I put those words in scare quote marks)

 

But .... there are harsh truths to face. We know that for the rigours of any elite athletic endeavour, the body needs to be suited. No matter how much someone might love dancing classical ballet, if they don't have the biomechanical facility (eg adequate natural turnout) they run the risk of becoming injured. Not a problem for a recreational dancer, but a real problem for a professional. This is the same for ballet as it is for high jumping, or running, or shotput or whatever.

 

I wonder if part of the issue here (in my personal observation anyway) is that there's an emotional investment, particularly around the way our culture perpetuates the images of "ballerinas" and pink sparkly stuff to little girls (while telling little boys ballet is for girls - it's mad!). So there's often a "dream" which sometimes just isn't achievable in terms of dancing Swan Lake on the Covent Garden stage ... I do think (and I can imagine this might be an unpopular opinion) that some of the criticisms of ballet & the ballet establishment in this thread are because of the sadness of these sorts of dreams not being realised for teen girls. 

 

I work with older students, many of whom have similar dreams or ambitions as star performers. I have the sad knowledge that 90% of them - although clearly talented - do not have the extraordinary talent needed for success in the theatre. I think there are parallels here ...

 

Edited by Kate_N
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3 hours ago, margarite said:

My daughter (13) is a vocational student and naturally very, very slim and we had a slightly alarming experience at a recent hospital visit as a result. DD had chest pains, the cause of which was discovered and not serious, however her BMI of 13.7 threw the medical team into overdrive. I explained she was naturally very slim (her dad weighed 10 stone until he was 30!) had started her periods and ate well but they still wanted to analyse her bloods before they would let her be discharged. We were both cross questioned about her diet/health/lifestyle. The bloods  all came back showing she was at the peak of health. I completely understood why the doctors were initially concerned and I know they have to follow procedure when things are flagged, but the lasting result is that now my DD is now painfully aware  of her size and stature. Which was never an issue before. 


I do think it’s important to keep in mind that healthy BMI is much lower for teens than it is for adults though. If you look at the WHO charts she’s probably not vastly under the lower limit, whereas for an adult the lower limit would be 18.5. It’s not so much her weight they will have worried about but nutritional deficits like iron deficiency anaemia which can cause palpitations and chest pain. Such a shame she has become aware of her size, do the school have a dietitian involved who could reassure her?

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I  would like to expand on what Kate said about girls storing fat for ovulation. Fat transports hormones, and if there is not enough for menstruation, then there are not enough hormones to build up bone density in young women.  If they have not laid down enough bone density in teens/early twenties, then it increases risk of osteoporosis in later life.

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5 hours ago, Kate_N said:

 

This is quite an extreme statement to make. Unless you're an expert ballet teacher,  I'm not sure how anyone can know this, really. We don't see their auditions, not their daily classes & training. 

 

 

Hi Kate_N, I certainly understand why you question my statement: "some of the students chosen for vocational school are not gifted dancers"  It may sound like sour grapes to you!  No, I am definitely not an expert ballet teacher.

 

I said this because I have asked for honest thoughts and feedback from some of the top ballet teachers in Australia and 2 AD's from top overseas vocational schools (US/Europe).  These people have seen my DD for weeks in class through to many years.  They have given me their appraisal of my daughters facility and dancing ability.  They have told me of their thoughts on how selections have been made for vocational schools.

 

Frankly, I am very very open to being told about shortcoming she may have (other than puppy fat)!  🤷‍♂️ She has been offered training opportunities overseas but we said she was too young.  In Australia, I have been advised to just wait and see what puberty brings her.

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6 hours ago, Kate_N said:

 

This is quite an extreme statement to make. Unless you're an expert ballet teacher,  I'm not sure how anyone can know this, really. We don't see their auditions, not their daily classes & training. 

 

Surely part of the problem is that it's in these years that human bodies change enormously? Puberty is the point at which the adult body is formed via the specific actions of sex hormones to enable reproduction (we're mammals after all) - so girls ' increased oestrogen & progesterone promote the body's storing of fat to enable ovulation, while boys' high production of testosterone increases bone density, lung capacity, height, and muscle development. These things don't go away, and can fluctuate but by 21 or so the adult body settles down (sort of) - which is why working dancers mostly have that wonderful combination of strength and leanness. So for girls whose bodies store "too much" fat or boys who don't grow to an "acceptable" height there are issues.  (Note I put those words in scare quote marks)

 

But .... there are harsh truths to face. We know that for the rigours of any elite athletic endeavour, the body needs to be suited. No matter how much someone might love dancing classical ballet, if they don't have the biomechanical facility (eg adequate natural turnout) they run the risk of becoming injured. Not a problem for a recreational dancer, but a real problem for a professional. This is the same for ballet as it is for high jumping, or running, or shotput or whatever.

 

I wonder if part of the issue here (in my personal observation anyway) is that there's an emotional investment, particularly around the way our culture perpetuates the images of "ballerinas" and pink sparkly stuff to little girls (while telling little boys ballet is for girls - it's mad!). So there's often a "dream" which sometimes just isn't achievable in terms of dancing Swan Lake on the Covent Garden stage ... I do think (and I can imagine this might be an unpopular opinion) that some of the criticisms of ballet & the ballet establishment in this thread are because of the sadness of these sorts of dreams not being realised for teen girls. 

 

I work with older students, many of whom have similar dreams or ambitions as star performers. I have the sad knowledge that 90% of them - although clearly talented - do not have the extraordinary talent needed for success in the theatre. I think there are parallels here ...

 

Kate I am talking about girls who do have turnout, flexibility, beautiful feet, every aspect of physical facility you could wish - except that they have muscular legs and visible boobs. Then other girls who also had good facility but could not dance (either quickly or in time to the music), forgot choreography, made mistakes etc but were leaner got all the offers. Very happy for them but the fact remains that it was obvious that body shape was being valued over talent. Yes it is hard for all of them to put themselves out there in a leotard and tights to be judged by audition panels, teachers, adjudicators, audiences etc. It is not uncommon here for parents to watch the class section of competitions, for parents to watch classes during open week etc so we do see them all dance. Of course the holy grail is the rare dancer who combines the facility with the shape and the artistry. I'm a little concerned that ballet is evolving to the point where normal female development rules many girls out of being a ballet dancer. When you look back at pictures of ballet dancers from times gone by that has not always been the case.  

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4 minutes ago, Kanangra said:

Kate I am talking about girls who do have turnout, flexibility, beautiful feet, every aspect of physical facility you could wish - except that they have muscular legs and visible boobs. Then other girls who also had good facility but could not dance (either quickly or in time to the music), forgot choreography, made mistakes etc but were leaner got all the offers. Very happy for them but the fact remains that it was obvious that body shape was being valued over talent. Yes it is hard for all of them to put themselves out there in a leotard and tights to be judged by audition panels, teachers, adjudicators, audiences etc. It is not uncommon here for parents to watch the class section of competitions, for parents to watch classes during open week etc so we do see them all dance. Of course the holy grail is the rare dancer who combines the facility with the shape and the artistry. I'm a little concerned that ballet is evolving to the point where normal female development rules many girls out of being a ballet dancer. When you look back at pictures of ballet dancers from times gone by that has not always been the case.  

No company is going to take any dancer who can’t dance to a high standard, or one who can’t pick up choreography. Companies choose dancers from all over the world, they choose the best of the best. Schools especially at 16, are selecting students who are trainable and employable. 

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1 hour ago, Tulip said:

No company is going to take any dancer who can’t dance to a high standard, or one who can’t pick up choreography. Companies choose dancers from all over the world, they choose the best of the best. Schools especially at 16, are selecting students who are trainable and employable. 

 

Yes, I agree that companies want the best of the best - at 18 and older.  I am seeing schools, PdL and YAGP however prioritising a certain low weight, very lean-look over talent-  at the 16 and under age range.  

 

In Australia, unlike many countries, students can continue to train at a very high level even when they have been repeatedly rejected by vocational school/s.  Often it appears that the rejection is about meeting a certain aesthetic. We get to see some of these students go on to win a place at top upper schools, comps or companies when they are 16 and older.  

 

So, I am just observing that the focus on 'potential', based on meeting the favoured aesthetic (not facility in terms of turn-out, body proportions, natural flexibility. feet etc) at the younger ages seems out of whack.  Ultimately damaging for many.

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7 hours ago, DD Driver said:

 

Yes, I agree that companies want the best of the best - at 18 and older.  I am seeing schools, PdL and YAGP however prioritising a certain low weight, very lean-look over talent-  at the 16 and under age range.  

 

In Australia, unlike many countries, students can continue to train at a very high level even when they have been repeatedly rejected by vocational school/s.  Often it appears that the rejection is about meeting a certain aesthetic. We get to see some of these students go on to win a place at top upper schools, comps or companies when they are 16 and older.  

 

So, I am just observing that the focus on 'potential', based on meeting the favoured aesthetic (not facility in terms of turn-out, body proportions, natural flexibility. feet etc) at the younger ages seems out of whack.  Ultimately damaging for many.

In the UK we have hundreds of students from all over the world applying and auditioning for places at our top schools. They won’t know who has the most talent, they are not looking for that and they will actually tell you this. They tell us they are looking at facility, long achillea tendons to jump, natural turn out etc etc, musicality. They are not choosing the thinnest child. These children once selected are under close scrutiny and are regularly assessed and can lose their place at a drop of a hat. Children at UK vocational schools are different heights and different shapes, but they are chosen for potential to become professionals later on. The schools in the UK are not necessarily looking for soloists when selecting, that will come soooooooo much later if ever. We do see festival children who are absolutely beautiful and competition winners who are wonderful and beautiful, I don’t know why schools won’t take them, but if that student has applied to lots of schools and they’ve all said no or not yet, then sadly somewhere along the line that student has to either keep trying or re-avaluate. Getting into the schools and selection is one topic. Once chosen and what happens along the way is a whole new topic. 
I hope your daughter succeeds and becomes a professional dancer, she sounds like a determined beautiful dancer, strengths she will need to succeed. 

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1 hour ago, Tulip said:

In the UK we have hundreds of students from all over the world applying and auditioning for places at our top schools. They won’t know who has the most talent, they are not looking for that and they will actually tell you this. They tell us they are looking at facility, long achillea tendons to jump, natural turn out etc etc, musicality. They are not choosing the thinnest child. These children once selected are under close scrutiny and are regularly assessed and can lose their place at a drop of a hat. Children at UK vocational schools are different heights and different shapes, but they are chosen for potential to become professionals later on. The schools in the UK are not necessarily looking for soloists when selecting, that will come soooooooo much later if ever. We do see festival children who are absolutely beautiful and competition winners who are wonderful and beautiful, I don’t know why schools won’t take them, but if that student has applied to lots of schools and they’ve all said no or not yet, then sadly somewhere along the line that student has to either keep trying or re-avaluate. Getting into the schools and selection is one topic. Once chosen and what happens along the way is a whole new topic. 
I hope your daughter succeeds and becomes a professional dancer, she sounds like a determined beautiful dancer, strengths she will need to succeed. 


Haven't we seen several of  the mainly US  based 'phenoms'  who  stormed their way  through various competitions  fall flat  in Upper School or in a Trainee Contract because their lack the range and humility that a rounded education  brings 

Edited by NJH
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Possibly, but haven’t you seen so many succeed and do well. How awfully sad for the students who appear to have ‘fallen flat’,  instead they may simply of had enough. Unless you have had a child go through vocational training, or have worked in a vocation ballet school, you really can’t know what these students actually go through, not just physically but mentally ever day. 

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I’m not sure myself that there is that much diversity. A few of our principals have spoken out to say that they were berated, told they had to work harder and be better to overcome their body shape e.g. rojo- too large, osipova- legs too short and muscular (I know they trained abroad but I don’t think it’s much different in the UK). The thing is, as an audience member do their bodies stand out as being hugely different on stage? So we really are talking about some imperceptible differences which are more a matter of ‘fashion’. 

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But they were still initially taken on by the school, because the school was able to identify their potential. As I said earlier, once inside the schools it is a whole different story, and not always a nice one. 

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they are two of the most talented, Rojo didn’t get a major contract for a while and Osipova left the Bolshoi as she said they type cast her to specific roles because of her body. I just think it shows the importance of body to some companies and schools, starting with selections. The Russians are obviously quite upfront about their criteria! I don’t have children who want to dance so looking at it from an outside perspective. I don’t see diversity in some schools or companies and suspect we must be passing over some really talented individuals. I suspect it may be a contributory reasons why certain races and nationalities are under and over represented. I’m certainly not saying that those who are there don’t deserve their place.

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14 minutes ago, Peony said:

they are two of the most talented, Rojo didn’t get a major contract for a while and Osipova left the Bolshoi as she said they type cast her to specific roles because of her body. I just think it shows the importance of body to some companies and schools, starting with selections. The Russians are obviously quite upfront about their criteria! I don’t have children who want to dance so looking at it from an outside perspective. I don’t see diversity in some schools or companies and suspect we must be passing over some really talented individuals. I suspect it may be a contributory reasons why certain races and nationalities are under and over represented. I’m certainly not saying that those who are there don’t deserve their place.

 

I don't understand your comment about Tamara Rojo.  She was offered, and accepted, a contract at Scottish Ballet after being seen by then AD Galina Samsova.  I remember seeing her dance Juliet there not long after she started.  Is Scottish Ballet not a major contract?  It is one of our UK national companies.

 

As far as the Bolshoi goes I have read on many occasions that they do typecast dancers but not necessarily on their body types but on what the management perceive as their strengths.  I was under the impression that Osipova was slotted into the soubrette category so that it was unlikely she would be cast in, for example, Swan Lake and that she wanted a more varied repertoire.

 

As a watcher I prefer to see a company with diverse dancers and I don't personally think it is entirely down to body type why different dancers do not fit with various companies.  

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Is it therefore an audience who is playing a guessing game, rather than knowing true facts. I said earlier, some parents need to take a closer look at themselves, judging children’s size and proportions, deciding if a child is talented enough to have earned themselves a place at that school. So much mental damage is done to these children, but it is not just done by their establishments, it is also those that think they know more, looking that child up and down, whispering that that child made a mistake and was too slow to pick up, she’s only there because she is skinny etc etc. 

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The Scottish contract was 5 years into Rojo’s career I believe. 
obviously this thread is personal for some, I agree that just being on the edges of ballet competitions/ selections/ performances there is an element of the pushy parent which I’ve never encountered in everyday life. Not nice at all, poor kids if that is happening to them

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8 minutes ago, Peony said:

The Scottish contract was 5 years into Rojo’s career I believe. 
obviously this thread is personal for some, I agree that just being on the edges of ballet competitions/ selections/ performances there is an element of the pushy parent which I’ve never encountered in everyday life. Not nice at all, poor kids if that is happening to them

 

The Victor Ullate company in Madrid is a well know company is Spain and I would have thought that that would also have counted as a decent contract!  If Wikipedia is to be believed she joined that company at 17 and was presumably 22 when she joined SB.

 

From the perspective of a ballet watcher I have seen many dancers over the years and watched them develop as artists; not all dancers come out of school as such complete performers as Alexander Campbell who is now with the Royal Ballet.  (He joined BRB from school and was getting leading roles right from his first season.)

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19 minutes ago, Jan McNulty said:

 

I don't understand your first sentence.

I mean Peony discusses Rojo and gives her opinion whether it is correct or not, about why she didn’t get a contract. Unless I’ve mis-understood, was this opinion based upon observation or fact. 

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16 minutes ago, Tulip said:

I mean Peony discusses Rojo and gives her opinion whether it is correct or not, about why she didn’t get a contract. Unless I’ve mis-understood, was this opinion based upon observation or fact. 

Actually I think I’ve got my wires crossed, I’m watching line of duty, my nerves are shot 😂😂😂

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1 hour ago, Tulip said:

looking that child up and down, whispering that that child made a mistake and was too slow to pick up, she’s only there because she is skinny etc etc.

 

Yes, Tulip, I've seen that too, over many, many years ... and not just in ballet, but in other elite sports (family member years ago on the squad from which selection for the national Olympic skating team was made, for example). I think it happens in every elite activity where there is pressure of age, a very very narrow funnel from the broad recreational pool of participants into the elite echelons.

 

It seems to me that some of the underlying - maybe completely unconscious - feeling/thinking in this sort of discussion (and I've seen discussions like this for years - it's not a recent thing!) is that there are a lot of young people desperately chasing something that is very very hard to get. 

Edited by Kate_N
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