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The process of training to become a classical dancer


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this may seem like a strange question, but I shall ask it anyway.


What is the process of training to become a dancer? By that, I mean, in order to get a job in a company (hopefully), what type of training is required and at what age?


It seems to me that you can't get into a company without having done some time, at least a year at a company school. Is that correct? 


In Australia, we only have 1 large company, plus two smaller ones. Most kids seem to be at preprofessional schools in order to apply for company schools, such as Australian Ballet school, RBS, English National and others in USA and Europe (usually Germany).


There seems to be a big emphasis in our state (NSW) on taking part in competitions. I've heard it is not so big in other places such as Victoria.


My dd is turning 16 in June and started 'part time' vocational last year and moved into full time this Feb. She took her RAD Adv 1 exam last year but is not doing RAD anymore. Looking ahead, will she stay at the current school for another say 2 years, then need to audition elsewhere?


What age should they be finished training and ready to audition for jobs?


I realise these are probably all million dollar questions, but just interested to hear from others who are further down the road and see what it is like in your part of the world, since my dd may well end up there as she has no desire to join the Australian Ballet because is it primarily contemporary and she prefers traditional/classical.


Thanks in advance,


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In the USA, one usually starts out at a local school.  Some start very young in a pre-ballet class while others start a bit later around 8 or so.  As time goes on, the number of classes per week are increased.  The student auditions for various summer intensives/sessions offered by other schools - sometimes attached to a company - sometimes not.  Talented youngsters are noticed by the school/company representatives. 


Other teachers are added to the class scheddule, usually locally if possible, second opinions are asked for and given.  Local performing opportunities are sought.  Then application is made to a company based school moving up the ladder from smaller to larger.  When a talented youngster is noticed at auditions, contacts are made, further audtions are sought, tapes sent out. 


Very few come through a syllabus based curriculum such as RAD, etc. - mostly because very few schools are part of a syllabus system. 


As to age....generally speaking, especially for a girl - because of the increased competition for a girl - more girls than spaces - if she hasn't gotten "noticed" by 18-20 - it's questionable that she will be able to make a career of it.  But, I emphasize, that's a general statement.

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Can I ask anjuli_bai you say very few come through rad why is that and what method is preferred as my dd does rad and does well but I have been thinking she should do something different to broaden her knowledge.


Across the USA there are many styles/schools of ballet which are a result of dancers immigrating here from many countries.  My teachers included Russians (pre-Vaganova) who set up schools as they retired from the Ballet Russe, Balanchine trained dancers, also Eugene Loring, Margaret Craske, teachers from Germany, UK, etc.  That offered me an opportunity for a wide view from which to learn.


Syllabus schools are very few and often unsuccessful here.  On the whole the good schools win out and those which do not produce good dancers close up.  As a very general statement, we are not impressed by diplomas and certificates hanging on the wall - we look at results. ( Same with physicians, lawyers, accountants, etc. - many wall hangings are not a guarantee of a good outcome.) The student is not judged by having passed an exam - but how the student dances, how quickly the student absorbs new material, how the student stacks up against others. 


In my personal experience, I found that syllabus based students (I took class for three years from a renowned Cecchetti examiner) often were excellent at the niceties of technique, produced beautiful arabesques, etc - but had a great deal of difficulty in actually dancing.  They had great difficulty in quickly absorbing and dancing new material (which is very important for auditions and professional level dance), and they tended to be "cool" dancers (by the book) rather than warm dancers.


The typical American schools don't do exams.  Exams take up a huge amount of time, money and emotional expenditure.  After the exam one gets a grade, but that doesn't really guarantee that the student can dance.  Even though a syllabus includes "free work' - that's not the same as having every exercise - every day - different from the day before.  That is a huge demand of the brain/body connection. The time and energy spent in passing exams I think- just my personal opinon - can be better spent in broadening one's learning experience. 


It's hard work for the teacher, too.  Every day that I taught for 40 yrs. I gave a different class from the day before.  The elements may have been the same - but the exercise and therefore the approach and result were different.  This included a constant change of music.


This constancy of change keeps the mind awake, observant and quick.


The above is just my personal view - for what it is worth - and I know others think differently.

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Hi anjuli_bai,


thanks for your interesting reply. I find it very comforting since the vocational school my dd is at teaches in the way you describe - this goes against the regular way in Australia. Her teachers have just returned from the USA 2 years ago, so clearly, they have taken on that model. I feel like we are on the right track :)

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If the examination societies' advice is fully adhered to, the work that they set is an EXAMINATION syllabus, not a training syllabus.


Teachers are supposed to teach unset classes based around the examination settings, just in the way that most vocational schools will teach unset work most of the time, but focus on certain settings of exercises in the run up to an assessment or appraisal class. The examinations are intended for students to have recognition for the level that they are working at, feedback from an external source and are also guidance for the teacher on how to build up the level of difficulty or train movements correctly and safely. If used in the way they are intended, examination syllabi are excellent.


Sadly the large majority of teachers only ever teach the examination settings and use them all as training exercises, which certainly limits dancers' cognitive ability in terms of responding to learning settings quickly, restricts them to only being able to connect certain movements in the way that they do in set exercises, and restricts their movement vocabulary and artistry. Furthermore, if dancers are only ever trained to dance the same exercises to the same music they stop listening to nuances of music, and any 'musicality' then becomes learned, just like the movements and they cannot translate this to responding to new music.

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I agree with Anjuli and DrDance I see so many dancers who have rushed through the grades and have good results but you know are unlikely to make it because they don't know how to 'dance' they can simply pass exams or perform set audition pieces, it worries me when teachers focus on grades and exams rushing students through the grades (particularly the higher or vocational levels) the examinations are there as a measure but only as a subset, the focus should be on combining moves into a dance that reflects musicality, to be frank grades and exams count for nothing in the real world, they are there mainly to measure 'success' for parents and teachers, when you go for auditions they don't care what you got in your intermediate grade or if you passed advanced 2 they simply want to know if you can learn the choreography they set in 10 mins and do a triple pirouette.


i've seen students who come flashing really good grades and high levels at young ages but when you actually look at what they can do they are flawed, i would much rather see a student at a lower grade who has taken longer to move through the grade, gaining a firm grounding in technique and application and I think some teachers would do well to remember that the syllabus is there to support learning not be the focus


... gosh, just read that back and i don't mean it to sound as ranty lol :)

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At DDs school they usually find they are a grade or 2 behind the same age children at neighbouring schools as they teach around the syllabus to get a more solid technique.  It has never worried either of my DDs as they have seen for themselves at workshops, summer schools etc that their standard is high, even if their grade suggests not.

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