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Realistic Expectations from a Dance School


Beezie
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My daughter attends a Ballet/Dance academy with lovely teachers, many of who have professional experience and good connections.  In a vacuum, we’d love the school.

 

However, there are some favoritism-type behaviors that I cannot tolerate.  I’ve been told by other Mom’s that favoritism happens everywhere.  However, I am seeking advise from others...those not connected to my current studio.

 

In my studio, mothers are doing one of two things: 1) They are befriending the dance teachers with compliments and gifts and 2) they are paying for private lessons for their daughters.  In both cases, I see their daughters getting selected for more advanced casting.  The most blatant case is the best friend of the owner, whose daughter is always guaranteed a preferred role.  She is a good dancer, but not the best in the school.  Then, for the kids who take private lessons, the teachers promote those children as successes to show the ‘hard work and money’ has paid off....again, not consistently the highest skilled dancers in the school.

 

The school does a good job always offering multiple castings, so there are plenty of spaces available to those who are truly talented.  ...but I still hate the hypocrisy of it all.  I worry that my daughter will eventually come head-on with one of these ‘favorites’ and not get judged on her talent.  Ultimately, I’m worried she will become disenfranchised.  (I know I am!)

 

So is this normal everywhere?  Or is this a sign of a bad dance school, and I should look elsewhere?  Seeking advice!

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I hate to say it but in my experience its pretty much across the board. There are obviously a few schools that wouldn't do this but a lot do. The parent's buying presents etc is something that I have always found really cringey and distasteful. Sadly with some schools money talks and private lessons are costly so dance schools don't want to lose the income. Also they are usually the kids that attend multiple classes and who's parents give favours in other ways. Its hard when yiu see it and know you cant compete financially but that type of bribery has a shelf life.  I've always told my daughter that if she is good enough and has any talent then it will become apparent later on down the line when she is attending auditions. Those auditioning won't care or even know how much money Mummy and Daddy have ploughed in to private lessons or how many presents/favours they have bought. They will either be good enough or not.

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I'm not trying to excuse favouritism, but I can see why teachers may favour students whose parents show commitment when it comes to casting.  

 

What I mean by this is, if they know from experience that one student will definitely be there for every rehearsal, compared to another whose parents may struggle to get to rehearsals (for what might be very genuine and unavoidable reasons), they may well cast the first student, even if the second is a better dancer.

 

I'm not in any way suggesting that you should feel you have to sign up for private lessons to show commitment :)

 

 

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Another thing to consider re. the teacher’s friend’s daughter being cast in very prominent roles... it is always possible that they know each other having danced together in their youth. In which case the teacher knows she is casting someone that will have support at home with practising. 
 

Private lessons do make a huge difference in the technique and confidence of a dancer too, so again this is completely justifiable. They will also be children that are keen, and likely to do additional practice at home as well as the private lessons.

 

And the children that bring gifts at Christmas etc may also be the ones that are absolutely passionate about dancing, and want to thank their teacher for the input they have had in a hobby they love. It is also possible, of course, that they are trying to buy favour, but I wouldn’t automatically assume that that is the case.

 

Having been accused of all three things that you mention over the years, and having always been completely genuine and just both really passionate about ballet, I think it’s important to see both sides.

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I think there are elements of this in every dance school, unfortunately.
 

The very nature of dance can be quite competitive and some parents will use any methods to attempt to further their child’s opportunities. We have had some rather unpleasant experiences over the years at the hands of parents attempting to undermine other parents and children in an attempt to make themselves and their own look better. This is something we have both witnessed and unfortunately experienced ourselves. 

 

I think all you can do is encourage your DD to dance for herself and for her love of dance. Favourites are not always the best dancers, and whilst they might bag the best opportunities inside the comfort of their home studio, it’s a big wide world outside of it, and children who have found themselves being handed opportunity after opportunity without having to work for it could find themselves very surprised and very much on the back foot when the same doesn’t happen when they have to move away from it. 

Edited by Bunny
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Sounds familiar! We have encountered it in previous school. I first noticed it when we were on the other side, our teacher would e mail me saying how talented etc she thought DS was then offered to let him into the “advanced” classes. Obvs we were flattered (and a bit naive!) so paid for all the extras. Little did we know that the teacher had moved onto the next talented child and we fell from favour. The teacher from then overlooked DS, letting him get a bit cheeky in class and fooling around.

When it came to audition time for vocational school, the teacher choreographed the other applicants solos while my DS was left to choreograph his own. (He did a good job but obvs wasn’t as profess as the others) so just missed out on a place.

I’m pretty sure it’s motivated by money, obvs the teachers need the money from private classes, and they know that not all families can afford it, but if you tell someone often enough their child is talented, they start to think, “well, it must be true so I’ll find the money”.

We left that particular school soon after, and now dance at a much more inclusive setting. I have found as the kids get older and into their teens, it happens less. That could be because the teens only want their parents to drop and run rather than kick about in waiting rooms! DS now takes part in lots of different classes, mixed classes, boys classes, classes with adults, etc which he couldn’t have done if he’d gone down the vocational route. Sorry you’re going through this, having been there it’s not nice when you fall from favour. Move schools quickly! 😆😆 xx

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MrsMoo2 - Oh my, that is my thought too.  We are financially able to pay for privates, but I don’t want to perpetuate a revolving-door of children initiated into higher-cost-tier of privileges...esp when my child is barely approaching her pre-teens.  

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I get the same comments about talent too: naturally talented, such stage presence, we can see her joy when dancing....  I wonder if studios feed this to the parents of all children who are 50% and above.  Who doesn’t like being told their child is fabulous?  And what parent wouldn’t sacrifice to nurture their child’s talents?


Probably a separate topic, but I wonder if dance teachers can really spot talent in the 8-12 pool....or if they cast a wide net knowing that the course of adolescence will significantly dwindle the numbers.

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Writing from the perspective of a parent, whose child attended ballet classes until 11 and a full time ballet school thereafter, and is now a professional ballet dancer, I can’t recall any parent (well connected or not) succeeding in promoting a less able child (at any age) to the disadvantage of more able pupils.

 

Naturally, any parent will do whatever they might believe would assist but, after watching the progress of whole classes of children over a 12 year period, the better dancers always looked better than the others, they were the ones spotted by the schools, the companies and the directors.
 

I didn’t know much when I started watching, but in the following 12 years, can’t recall seeing a poorer dancer selected ahead of a better one. The popular parental trope was that one should compare the dancing of one's own child with the dancing of the others in the class/year group to gauge ability. It seemed a pretty infallible approach. 
 

If I could see it, which I could, so could any professional appraiser watching the group. 
 

 

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11 minutes ago, Crazylifecrazykids said:

Reading this has made me feel a bit guilty 🙈 my DC gives teachers a small Christmas pressie each year and a card, where the teacher is thanked for all the support given during the year. My DC has a privates too, mainly for festival solos and just to... well dance, we do make sacrifices but we are happy too.

There would appear to be no favourites at our studio, well not that I've noticed but it never occurred to me how it would look to the teachers with my DCs yearly gift and card. I don't have a dance background, so rely on their words of wisdom and advice, we like to thank them.. I can see how it could be misconstrued now 🙈

What i will say is my DC works so hard and loves dance, she sucks up any input given like a sponge and she's always grateful for any above and beyond the teacher may do... which I should imagine all teachers are going above and beyond for their students all the time ❤ I know ours do for all their dancers.

I really don’t think there is anything to feel guilty about! Lots of children give their schoolteacher(s) a card and/or present at Christmas. I receive lots each year. I don’t view them as an attempt at securing my favour, and I certainly don’t treat students any differently because of them!

 

Students that practise and respond well to corrections will make greater progress, and the work done in private lessons would be inappropriate in a whole-class setting (ie. preparing festival solos or getting ready for auditions) as it would be to the detriment of the rest of the class. Other parents would be very quick (and right!) to complain if an individual solo was being taught in a whole-class lesson.

 

Parents are naturally protective of their children’s rights, but I do feel sorry for the dance teachers that have to defend their every move!

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6 hours ago, Beezie said:

MrsMoo2 - Oh my, that is my thought too.  We are financially able to pay for privates, but I don’t want to perpetuate a revolving-door of children initiated into higher-cost-tier of privileges...esp when my child is barely approaching her pre-teens.  

From our experiences, I’d say to enjoy the stage where your DD is now, and try not to get too whipped up in the whole vocational school thing at 11. DS did start to lose some on the joy of dancing once it got a bit serious. If I think back to the concert his school gave when he was 10, he was just loving everything, randomly free styling at the end during the encore and throwing his hat in the audience! That’s the kind of dancing I want him to experience and I’m thankful that now at 13, he has found his own path, which isn’t necessarily traditional classical ballet, but dancing which absorbs him, that gives him joy and that’s the most important thing. Sending (((hugs))) xxx

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Crazylifecrazykids - Oh no, really didn’t mean to make you feel bad!  We give little Christmas presents and cards to our teachers around holiday season too.  This is not that.  
 

To all others: Thank you for your feedback. My takeaways are that some favoritism probably happens everywhere AND talent will payout in the long run.  I think that’s what I needed to hear.  I may also need to grow some thicker skin in order to stay out of the Mama-drama.  Can be hard when you are a non-dancer and all this is quite foreign. ☺️ 

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7 minutes ago, Beezie said:

Crazylifecrazykids - Oh no, really didn’t mean to make you feel bad!  We give little Christmas presents and cards to our teachers around holiday season too.  This is not that.  
 

To all others: Thank you for your feedback. My takeaways are that some favoritism probably happens everywhere AND talent will payout in the long run.  I think that’s what I needed to hear.  I may also need to grow some thicker skin in order to stay out of the Mama-drama.  Can be hard when you are a non-dancer and all this is quite foreign. ☺️ 

Hi you didn't ❤ I am similar to you and have Zippo dance experience.. I feel for my child sometimes! 🤣 I have also got to grow a thicker skin too... Its all new to me but its nice to know I'm not alone! Good luck with your dance journey and it's good to know we have each other on here xxx oh an I'm sure talent bubbles to the top xxx

Edited by Crazylifecrazykids
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for what it's worth, we experienced years of favouritism etc pre vocational.  My regret is that I didn't move DS.  Another student was allowed to by-pass all the requirements of the school (must be in troupes for 1+ year before solos, strictly rationed private lessons) The high, or low, point came when my son was told to hand over his ballet shoes because the other student liked them more than their own.  These were his own shoes, bought by us, not school property.  Fortunately older students stepped in at this point.  

 

We had no dance background and knew no better.  We were made to feel bad because although DS had multiple MDS offers he "failed" to get a place at White Lodge after reaching finals.

 

Don't grow a thick skin, but a good pair of conspicuous headphones to be worn (whether you are listening to anything or not) may help.  And if you aren't happy, you are a customer and entitled to go elsewhere.

 

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On 29/11/2020 at 20:02, Bunny said:

We have had some rather unpleasant experiences over the years at the hands of parents attempting to undermine other parents and children in an attempt to make themselves and their own look better.

 

Thing is, the body, ability, and talent will always eventually show - either to advantage or disadvantage. And parents who try to undermine others for the hope of 'prizes' will be stymied by this eventually. You can't buy a place at a really good vocational school (UK) or pre-professional programme (USA).

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1 hour ago, Kate_N said:

 

Thing is, the body, ability, and talent will always eventually show - either to advantage or disadvantage. And parents who try to undermine others for the hope of 'prizes' will be stymied by this eventually. You can't buy a place at a really good vocational school (UK) or pre-professional programme (USA).

Absolutely! And of course in the long term some children will make it, and others will not, irrespective of what happened at their local schools. But the sort of behaviour I am referencing is still very unpleasant for the children who are experiencing it. 

 

All we can do is teach our DDs and DSs to be resilient and focus on themselves. When there is injustice, I teach him to rise above it. If he cannot rise above it, and if it’s appropriate, then I challenge where needed. x

 

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15 hours ago, meadowblythe said:

for what it's worth, we experienced years of favouritism etc pre vocational.  My regret is that I didn't move DS.  Another student was allowed to by-pass all the requirements of the school (must be in troupes for 1+ year before solos, strictly rationed private lessons) The high, or low, point came when my son was told to hand over his ballet shoes because the other student liked them more than their own.  These were his own shoes, bought by us, not school property.  Fortunately older students stepped in at this point.  

 

We had no dance background and knew no better.  We were made to feel bad because although DS had multiple MDS offers he "failed" to get a place at White Lodge after reaching finals.

 

Don't grow a thick skin, but a good pair of conspicuous headphones to be worn (whether you are listening to anything or not) may help.  And if you aren't happy, you are a customer and entitled to go elsewhere.

 


I used to read a book, you’d be surprised how people forget you’re there and don’t like to interrupt! Top tip that! 😂😂

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I hear you... All dance schools are businesses, and unfortunately, where there is business, money talks. There will always be students who come from affluent homes who can afford more classes and have the resources to get all the latest gear and travel everywhere. It's an unfortunate fact of life that goes right to the top of the industry, WITH NO EXCEPTIONS. There are also quite seductive narratives that can engender superficial bias in teachers - and jealousy from other students. Just be aware of these narratives can make it seem like preferential treatment is being given, when it might not be the case.
If your child is wanting a career, getting the starring roles in the school is certainly no guarantee of success outside school. The key is whether your DC is progressing technically or not. And if they aren't, other teachers/schools are always available. 

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I've seen both sides of this. One girl is very talented and her ability is far above her age group so she is put into classes with girls 5 or more years older than her. Some of the other dancers/parents perceive this as unfair favouritism and other parents ask that their child is moved up classes as well (based on their age and not ability or level of exams taken).

 

Often the teachers cave in and do this, in one case because the parent is friends with the teacher, but in most cases because the head of the school doesn't want to lose their custom, especially in these difficult times.

 

Unfortunately what then happens is that the standard in the more advanced groups drops massively and the teachers end up spending a disproportionate amount of time correcting the new dancers who really aren't yet at that level of class, and the girls who really are that level , and should be taught to that level, miss out on attention/corrections. 

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A belated welcome from me too, Beezie.  It sounds as if there are two separate issues going on; behaviour of other Dance Mums and your uncertainty about/slight mistrust of the Dance school’s decisions and practices.

 

I’ll address Dance Mums first - in primary/junior school there was a group of Mums I used to refer to as the Playground Mafia.  These were incredibly competitive and quite militant Mums who were always unhappy about something or other and who wanted backup and for other Mums to nod and agree that a certain Teacher/Staff Member/decision was outrageous/incompetent/disgraceful.  Everybody would be told how marvellously a PM member’s child was doing in class.  They would also send one of their group over to another parent to berate them.  

 

I learned very quickly to try to avoid the Playground Mafia while still smiling pleasantly and keeping my own counsel.   There will always be Dance Mums who would undoubtedly qualify for PM Membership and these Mums will be the first to try to put you/your child down slightly pityingly while broadcasting their own child’s every achievement.  They are also likely to be encouraging “Competition Stretching” before class and at every audition in a bid to psych other children and parents out.

 

I absolutely second the headphones and/or book tactic; even if you’re not really reading or not listening to anything, both these are a great defence mechanism.  Don’t hang around longer than necessary either; if you’re not required to wait on the premises during class then don’t; a nearby coffee shop or even your own car are preferable.  I often dropped dd at class then went off for an hour or two. 

 

With regards to the school; are there other schools/teachers nearby where you and your dc could go for a trial class? It’s not unusual to move schools and at the end of the day, you’re a paying customer; you can take your custom elsewhere.  By having trial classes elsewhere you may get a better idea of whether any favouritism at your current school is justified.  Here in the UK we have Associate Classes - classes run (usually) at weekends by top Vocational schools who select children from all over the country.  These classes run in conjunction with local dance training and are hugely beneficial in many ways, not least in that at audition you can see your child’s level and potential compared to other, similarly aged children from a whole host of different dance schools.  It’s easy to get caught up in your local dance school as being the centre of everything but that can sometimes give you a skewed view of your child’s level - especially if there is any favouritism going on. 

 

Above all, I’d say for now, try to see dance as a hobby without too many worries or expectations for the future; especially whether it will become your dd’s career - she’s very young yet.

 

 

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Anna C...you outlined my concerns better than I could.  Spot-on.

 

Yes, there are a couple other dance schools in the area.  I am a little worried about leaving and then sheepishly coming back if the other studio isn’t better.  Hence, I thought it worth doing some research to understand how common this behavior is.  (It sounds quite common, but also sounds like the severity varies from studio to studio.). Good idea to try out another school on a trial basis or for summer classes.  Since the PM moms are unlike to be evident at first, do you have any suggested questions to the studio?  I think I need to look for a clear and consistent approach to leveling, correct?  Maybe philosophy and age at which to start considering privates?  (I’m really shocked to see kids as young as 8yrs taking privates at my studio....which is what makes me think it is more about studio earnings than dancer development.  Granted, some of those 8yr olds are quite good.)

 

Ultimately, I probably take the queue from my daughter.  Her frustration is mild at this point.  If it becomes moderate (and before it becomes severe), I think I need to nudge her into taking an exploratory class at another studio.  I’ll learn to ignore even the worst Mom behavior if the kiddo is happy and thriving.

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18 hours ago, Beezie said:

Since the PM moms are unlike to be evident at first, do you have any suggested questions to the studio?  I think I need to look for a clear and consistent approach to leveling, correct?  Maybe philosophy and age at which to start considering privates?

 

Yes, I’d say that’s a really good starting point.  Here in the UK, many non-full-time dance schools follow an exam syllabus which forms the basis of most ballet classes (Royal Academy of Dance, ISTD and so on) although they may also offer non-syllabus classes as well.  So based on any previous exams, the pupil’s age and so on it’s possibly more straightforward to know where to place a student.  Then a question might be “when are pupils entered for exams; when an individual is ready or do they wait until the whole class is ready?”.   If your local schools don’t work this way then asking about initial level and progression is reasonable, and, as you say, are private lessons offered, are these at the invitation of the teacher, should you be thinking about them and if so, at what age?

 

Also important is whether pupils progress on from the school into pre-professional and full-time training, if that might be something your dd would like to consider in future.  Does the school do recitals and how is casting decided? 

 

Some or most of this information might be available on the schools’ websites but you will also get a feel for a school by visiting in person, watching a class if possible, meeting the teachers and so on.

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