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Am I right to be cynical?


Jellybeans
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I have read a lot of posts recently that have made me very cynical about the ballet world. for example,

 

Children are invited to school finals and no places are offered?

Children are told not to bother to apply to a school and then children in the same year that do apply are invited to finals?

Children who are in the schools can be asked to leave without even being given a reason?

Children that consistently fail to get a vocational place still go on to successful professional careers?

 

Is any of this fair on the children or even right?

 

DD has tried for a vocational place in the past but I am now confused as to what to do for the best as this has all made me seriously question how the schools operate and if this really is the best way to get a dance education. Do the schools genuinely take who they think are the best dancers at the time or are their other forces at play?

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Hi Jellybeans. I think, like anything there is much to be found in the ballet world to be cynical about and we all hear horror stories which may be true or may be exaggerated, or may be untrue. We, as parents are always looking to make sense of a world which we can neither influence or control. In my (limited) experience I will try to comment on your points:

 

"Children are invited to school finals and no places are offered". Yes, this is true. Schools will only take the dancers they really want and will not fill spaces if they are not convinced by the dancers who attend their final auditions. Schools do have spaces available that sit empty if they do not find the right dancers.

 

Children are told not to bother to apply to a school and then children in the same year that do apply are invited to finals? Told by whom? their teachers? No one can "tell" a child not to apply to a school. Even if a teacher advises that they don't audition, it is ultimately the choice of the parents and the child.

 

Children who are in the schools can be asked to leave without even being given a reason" Yes, this is a very tough part of the ballet world. The children are aware of this when they start at the schools and they are given some form of reason, but sometimes not in very much detail. This is very distressing for the child and the parent and I do wish the schools would handle this issue more sensitively. Maybe it will change over time.

 

Children that consistently fail to get a vocational place still go on to successful professional careers? I don't know about "consistently" failing to get a place, as you do need to train somewhere, but certainly there are successful dancers who did not gain a place until 16, who have gone on to dance as a career.

 

Do the schools genuinely take who they think are the best dancers at the time or are their other forces at play? My feeling is that the schools do aim to take the best dancers, or those with the most potential. They do make mistakes though. It is not an exact science (sorry bad analogy as it is not anywhere near a science at all!!) but you know what I mean.

 

If your daughter wants to dance, I would say to go into it with your eyes open but do not be too discouraged by the rumour mill and the panic states we all get into when our children audition (me included!). My experience of vocational school for my son has been positive and enriching and he is a happy and well balanced child. It's stressful, challenging and expensive but I wouldn't change it. Hope some of this helps. xx

Edited by Belljul
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Belljul makes excellent points. I would add that it is very difficult to get a place in years 8-11. If you don't get a place it doesn't mean that your child isnt as good as the children in those years, they may be at the same level, it's just that they were there first and there is only ever room for one or two extra. Sometimes they will say there aren't any places in a certain year but still invite people to the final incase anything changes e.g. people do leave unexpectedly or they may have places in other years that don't get filled that can be shuffled around.

 

At 16 the slate is pretty much wiped clean and all new 6th form places are up for grabs, but clearly the majority will be filled by those who have benefitted from vocational training. The moral of the story - get in in year 7 or make sure you have access to training that is comparable to vocational schools. ;)

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I can see where you are coming from JellyBean. However, I think (as a mere parent) that some of the issues you mention arise simply because children grow change and develop in different ways and at different rates, which aren't always predictable at 11. It seems very few children have all the qualities that a ballet school may look for, so they hope that some things will develop with the correct training. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

 

I once read an article by Mary Goodhew (ex Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst) in which she stated that she would gladly look at every child in the country to find the right children to train. From this I got the impression that rather than being overwhelmed with choice the schools can't always find enough suitable children to train.

 

Another quirk that you didn't mention was that sometimes schools will bypass the final audition altogether and offer a place to a young person at the initial audition. I don't know if this happens with Year 7s though.

 

I think for children from poor families, voactional school may be the best way of getting a dance education. But if you have money, time and and total focus and a good enough local teacher, it is possible to keep up with the array of associate and holiday courses and youth dance companies that are around. (Oh might depend on which part of the country you live)

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Belljul and Ribbons make some excellent points. There are more institutions with 6th form/degree training than there are for Years 7 - 11 so naturally there are spaces for people who weren't previously in a Vocational school. Late bloomers then get a chance to shine.

 

However, looking beyond that, there are not enough jobs for all the graduates of post GCSE training. It is vital to have a "Plan B". For the last few years RBS graduates have all found jobs, but that is the only school with 100% record. With cutbacks in funding across Europe, times are tough. So I must admit I am a little cynical too, there seem to be more and more 6th form options for training, but with no employment likely afterwards.

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Belljul's points are very sensible, but I don't know about "No one can tell a child not to apply to a school." The teacher surely has to sign the application form at the very least in support of the application. Teachers can be put in an uncomfortable position with parents brandishing a form and the teacher not being keen to sign, or in fact absolutely refusing to sign, rightly or wrongly as they may be. I've seen this happen. Surely then you simply can't apply or do you apply without the teacher's signature and nobody really minds?

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]

 

Children are told not to bother to apply to a school and then children in the same year that do apply are invited to finals? Told by whom? their teachers? No one can "tell" a child not to apply to a school. Even if a teacher advises that they don't audition, it is ultimately the choice of the parents and the child.

 

 

One of the schools told prospective students that they were full for a certain year but some auditioned anyway. of these then some have been invited to he final. I don't understand why they did this as by discouraging people to apply hey have possibly missed the opportunity to see good dancers.

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Rowan, my DD auditioned without a signature. The RBS didn't have a problem with it for the first round but told us they would need a reference if she were to be called for finals. Sadly, she wasn't called but I think that even a set-against-applying teacher would gladly give reference if their pupils were called to RBS finals, don't you think?

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I don't think they are discouraging dancers from applying, I personally think they are being upfront by saying that they currently have no space in a particular year group at the present time, however, you are welcome to go along for audition as they like to see future potential talent ... at least you then go to the audition knowing how it is and are not full of false hope. By going to the final audition one or two children may get on to a wait list and then ultimately get offered a place ... as children do occasionally leave a vocational school part way through a school year or decide to leave at the end of the year, many months after the normal audition process has come and gone.

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I'm not sure why anyone would need a reference from a teacher. If a student from school A goes to an audition at school B - then school B should judge that student by what they see standing before them. Not only can physical and dance qualities be judged but if the auditioning panel is up to the task, attitude and aptitude can also be assessed - expecially if it is a call back.

 

I was once asked to write a reference for a student who was moving to another city and was loath to do that because of the student's lack of focused dedication which I would in all honesty have to mention. However, I felt that perhaps in a new situation as well as the possibility of increasing maturity could change that particular liability and the student should be judged by the new school with a blank slate rather than have that tag placed on her.

 

If, however, the auditioning process consists of only a photo/s and a teacher reference - I would say that is a most incomplete audition. Yes, one could winnow out those with obvious physical problems but a photo tells nothing about how the physical asssets of any one student is used to dance. Dance is about more than a set of physical assets - and that can't be assessed in a photo.

 

As for feeling cynical about this - well, the world isn't fair (I surely wish it was) - and on a bad day we all feel this way. The problem is to prepare for oneself to meet the world as it is.

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I have been feeling especially cynical lately about a dance world where a dancer can spend a fortune getting to an audition overseas only to be "cut" after 10 mins. Sooo tough, but that's the way it is (doesn't make it "right" or decent but there we have it ). As you say Anjuli we can feel cynical one day, then accept all these tough things and battle on to find the positives again and when we see our children dance with joy and strength and confidence it makes it worthwhile.

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It's a tough world, no doubt about it. I am greatly relieved that my DD has no aspirations to dance professionally as it does seem a hard, and at times unfair world. Hats off to those children who battle on.

But if it's any consolation, it's not just ballet where things like this occur. I have 2 young friends who this year have failed to gain university places in their chosen subjects.(Different subjects, different parts of the country, so no connection between them.) Both are academic high fliers with wide ranging interests including county and national youth sporting appearances to their credit. Both are articulate, interesting and empathic young people with proven track records in voluntary work related to their hoped for careers. Both have had to endure the misery of serial rejection letters with no feedback or explanation whatsoever, whilst seeing other apparently less well suited or motivated classmates gaining places.No-one can understand why they have been unsuccessful, but one can only assume that they lacked "that certain something" that the admissions tutors were looking for in their interviews. It's not just ballet, it's life I'm afraid. I wish the best of luck to all the young people who are having to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again in these tough times.

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I know that life in general isn't fair but it seems particularly brutal to me that the success or otherwise of these very young children seems to be dictated by the whims of schools that seem to make he rules up as they go along! There have been endless posts on this and other forums about what the schools are looking for. I think the answer is that they do not even know themselves!

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I think that the only way you can treat dance training without loosing your parental sanity is to remember that it is about the journey, not the destination. Really very, very few people who start on this road become ballet dancers, but those who don't seem to get a great deal out of the experiences, which gives them strengths whatever they end up doing in the future. And I think it does no harm for children to learn that life isn't fair. We all know its not. But those who succeed in whatever they do in life have to learn to get past that and do the best that they can.

 

(Edited for typo)

Edited by glowlight
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Another quirk that you didn't mention was that sometimes schools will bypass the final audition altogether and offer a place to a young person at the initial audition. I don't know if this happens with Year 7s though.

 

 

 

I missed this before!

 

Do you mean at schools other than Hammond and Tring where I thought it was the norm to get a place after just one audition with the second audition being to ascertain funding offers.

 

surely this makes a joke of having a second or final audition if it applies to the other schools?

 

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I think it may have been Desmond Kelly who said that they don't like to turn anyone away from auditioning as you never know who may come to the audition. You may not have any spaces for a year group but if the the next potential Carlos or Darcy came through the door you are not going to turn them away - you will find a space!

 

Having had offers for year 7 and 8 but with only a 50% scholarship offered we decided not to try for year 9. Last year Tring offered a place but without a boarding bed available! I couldn't decide if it was good that they wantded him despite the lack of bed or bad that they wanted him but not enough to find a space!

 

tutoo2much, on 26 February 2012 - 01:39 PM, said:

I think for children from poor families, voactional school may be the best way of getting a dance education. But if you have money, time and and total focus and a good enough local teacher, it is possible to keep up with the array of associate and holiday courses and youth dance companies that are around.

I agree in part with what tutoo2much says but as a family where the chldren qualify for free school meals where does the money come from for all the lessons needed to try to keep or for all the courses, schemes, associates etc.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to stop trying but how fair is that?

Having had offers each time of trying for vocational school and having been on SWL twice for RBS training (not WL) I think I need to give DS every opportunity I can but at what cost - there is never going to be the money to pay for him. His dream is to dance full time, I shouldn't have to take that away from him just because we are poor!

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When the prelim auditions take place the schools may not know if there will be any places in a specific year apart from year 7. As mentioned some may leave and of course some will be assessed out. The schools may have an idea but usually don't know for certain until the apprasials take place. They will also not fill places if they don't see anyone which meets their criteria. Our year while at W/L only had 8 girls.

 

We have known of students attending W/L summer schools and then being offered places in the September without actually auditioning during the audition rounds.

 

As for reasons why you are assessed out we were never given a real reason I think they saw someone they liked better during the auditions and needed to make space for them!

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On the subject of offers after one audition or prelims and finals - I can only comment in regard to 6th form as my DD never auditioned before then but Hammond and Tring are not the only schools to offer on the basis of the first audition. Northern Ballet School does too and maybe others. My DD only applied to a few places. Tring has a final audition but for Hammond and Northern offers are made on the basis of that first audition. Northern award a 'score' to their candidates and you have to reach the score they want to be offered a place. The funding then goes to the highest scoring candidates. Hammond I think do similar - not entirely sure but they film the auditions and can watch them all back. Another valid point for assessing their candidates is that the auditions are longer (potentially all day at Hammond and a good 4 hours at Northern) and often with fewer dancers (12 at both Northern and Tring). Contrast this with my DD's Elmhurst audition which lasted 65 minutes and where she was in a group of about 30. Obviously each school has the method they have found works best for them, not just to select their new students but also for the students already there and the impact that days of auditions and missing staff has on them.

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I truly believe it's healthier all round to consider ballet training as a hobby for young people, rather than thinking about where it might end up as a career. The chances of success are so small, and the financial rewards are out of all proportion to the costs of training to learn. It's best to to think about what the child is getting out of learning to dance now, at their present stage in life. If your child is at vocational school, perhaps you are right to regard it slightly differently but for the vast majority, mine included, I think it's true.

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I think that it is up to the dancer to decide that one, depending on age ofcourse. Usually a older child who is determined to succeed in a classical career will have researched all the requirements that are necessary, and regardless of vocational school or where ever they train, something in them will make them fight for this need to dance. A true dancer never gives up unless ballet gives them up.

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I agree with Rowan to a certain extent yes the chances are small and in my case i also think of the future for both my dd this is why education is still important in my case u need something to fall back on incase u dont make it. Yes the financial rewards are out of propotion to what the best training costs but if a child really wants this way of live no one will stop them when they are old enough they will know if this is what they really want. They say all good things come to those waho wait so who knows what will happen. A lso for the people at vocational schools they have more pressure as its not just making it to a vocational school but remaining there. So for whatever reason children are training for i suggest they will reach there full potential somehow even if they are dancing as a hobby .

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Am feeling pretty cynical myself right now. Dd turned down for school due to one element in her dance which I personally feel she could work on and improve given the opportunity to dance every day. At the moment circumstances dictate that she can only dance twice a week, hence she is not having the opportunity to "fix" this problem. Also was hinted that she should give up on dance and try drama or music. This has never been mentioned before even though she has auditioned 3 times at this school and is currently on their associates program! Why can't people just be honest and why can't they give the less advantaged dancers a break? Sorry if I am stepping on toes, but am feeling a little upset right now.

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Hi Lil, yes I was referring to this years 6th form auditions. I know your DD has been auditioning to some of the same places but from posts on here I think they have had different dates each time. I can only go on our personal experience.

Hi 2dancersmum- not sure whether our dd's were on different days but the numbers were the same at our auditions . Did your dd make finals? Lil x

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Am feeling pretty cynical myself right now. Dd turned down for school due to one element in her dance which I personally feel she could work on and improve given the opportunity to dance every day. At the moment circumstances dictate that she can only dance twice a week, hence she is not having the opportunity to "fix" this problem. Also was hinted that she should give up on dance and try drama or music. This has never been mentioned before even though she has auditioned 3 times at this school and is currently on their associates program! Why can't people just be honest and why can't they give the less advantaged dancers a break? Sorry if I am stepping on toes, but am feeling a little upset right now.

 

It is difficult to understand isn't it? It's also a difficult situation for the teacher - especially when it comes to grading and "giving a less advantaged dancer a break."

 

I faced this when I taught at a college. The class contained students of varying abilities - anyone could sign up for beginning ballet.

 

As the teacher, my dilemma was how to grade the student? And thus - how to limit who could go on to the next level? Do I grade by ability: ability that was inborn or by amount of dedication and work? How do I grade the less gifted student who worked hard but in the end really can't move on to the next level? If I give this student a passing mark - she/he will automatically be able to move up. What about the student with natural gifts - with poor work habits - but easily passes all the "tests?"

 

How do I tell a hard working dedicated student - I can't give you a passing grade because you will then automatically be able to sign up for the next level - but technically you'll be lost.

 

Should I reward a student who easily made the grade without much effort and really doesn't care?

 

My heart really belongs to the student who works hard regardless of the result - but can I put that student in the front line in a recital or end of term performance? While the lazy beauty gets to bounce around in the front.

 

There are some things in life that are truly based on dedication and hard work. But most things are a combination of hard work and natural gifts - a some luck thrown in. The first we can control the rest we can't.

 

As for the teacher being honest - many people say they want the teacher to tell them honestly but when it comes right down to it - many reject that honesty if it not what they wanted to hear. We accept what we want to hear.

 

I had a student who was lovely, sweet, hard working, and wanted to dance more than anything. She had every attribute but one: her feet were totally unworkable for pointe. She had the tightest arch/instep I've ever seen. No amount of exercise or stretch would alter this extreme kind of construction. As we got closer to the time when pointe would normally be considered I told the mother - but she refused to believe it. She and the student insisted that if she worked hard it would change. When she reached 12 yrs old and rest of the class was beginning to go on pointe, the mother bought pointe shoes for this very enthusiastic child. There was no way she could ever get close to being up on the platforms of her pointe shoes with her knees straight. She worked and worked - while the rest of the class moved on. My heart ached for her. I tried to save her from this embarrassment - but she and her mother insisted she try. Finally after a few months of this she realized it was hopeless.

 

It was so difficult to watch this but I had to let her find out for herself since she wouldn't believe me. And other teachers see something like this and hesitate to "be honest."

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In some ways this topic has moved away from the original intent, but that is good, like a "normal conversation"!

 

I don't know enough about dance to argue with or question a decision made by artistic staff. My cynicism was directed more towards decisions that seen to be made arbitrarily or administratively - about the overall system, if you like.

 

 

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I understand what Anjuli is saying. However when a student has a good amount of natural talent, works hard at the level she is offered and achieves at this level, how then can one element take all this away? I would understand if as per the example it was something that couldn't be changed, but when it's something like flexibility or turnout where the child has never been taught this properly and doesn't have the teacher to help with this or the amount of classes available to change this on their own, I would have thought that giving that child a break and allowing them to be taught properly and then seeing how they responded would be a way to go. As for honesty, I would far rather know that my child is unsuitable than deceive the child into thinking they can make it when clearly they can't. Also, why say the child has no talent for dancing when she is on the school's own associate programme? She auditioned for this too and was chosen, so why? Thanks for your feedback Anjuli, I always appreciate your wisdom.

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