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New(ish) ballet teacher


Bluebird22
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Hi all I'm new to this forum and having read round some of the other topics, thought i would try and see what help you can give me!

 

I've taught at my local dance school for the past 8 years, and as a relatively young teacher I started with the tinies and a lot of those have stayed with me (the eldest of my pupils now being 14). A number of my older pupils have expressed a desire to go on to further vocational training in either ballet or musical theatre. Obviously these are my first pupils I'm preparing really, and I want to make sure I'm doing the absolute best I can for them. Should I be recommending that those age 12 and aiming for ballet careers audition for full time places earlier than 16 or should associate programmes be sufficient?

 

We are based in the midlands, and from a financial point some of the associate programmes in the south were just too far to travel. A number of them currently hold BBO ballet scholarships, SLP associates, Hammond and Elmhurst associates. They are also auditioning for MIDAS, Ballet Theatre UK, York Ballet, and I have a number auditioning currently for JAs with Royal and Elmhurst. On top of their ordinary syllabus classes they attend specialist technique classes working on perfecting their ballet and audition technique.

 

Should I be doing anymore?

 

Would really appreciate any guidance you can give me, as I want to give my pupils the best possible chance! I have suggested to a number of them taking classes with different teachers within our school which some of them have done and others have declined

 

Thanks xx

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Bluebird you sound like you are a brilliant teacher. Our decision to allow our daughter to go away at age 11 came firstly from our daughter and then us as parents. I think a decision like that can only come from the family. My daughters ballet school was a really good one, but I think that they believed that you didn't go away until you were 16. The thing also to consider is, what if you did recommend a child to audion to go away at 11 and it didn't work out, it could all possibly come back on you. Other teachers on the forum will give you some brilliant advice about what they have done and do. But you sound as if you are already doing an amazing amount for your student.

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Welcome Bluebird :)

 

I agree with Tulip - you sound like you're doing everything you can and how great that you make your pupils aware of what's out there.  Some of the other members who are teachers will, I am sure, be able to offer more practical advice.

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Hi Bluebird, its quite a dilemma isn't it sometimes knowing what best to do for your students but you sound like you are doing a good job.

 

I don't think it would hurt to write a short piece on vocational training so that your pupils can access it (something I've been meaning to do for years!!).

 

As others have said the decision to go to a full time school at 11 is up to individual families but you would be surprised at the general lack of knowledge that most people have about what it entails to became a dancer. Many do not know of vocational schools, the availability of grants (even I didn't know about MDS ten years ago!) and the fact that the standard of academic education is good. Many people said to me "well what about his education" when they gathered my son was off to "ballet school"- they honestly thought he'd do nothing else!

 

You sound brilliant and my advice is to keep giving your students and their families as much information as possible. The mother of one of my sons friends at WL said the reason why her daughters joined relatively late was that their dance school did not tell them about any associate schemes or vocational schools, never mind encourage them to audition!

 

I also send a plea to ensure the students and families watch as many live dance performances as possible but I'm sure you are doing this already. It frustrates me that I know families who regularly support sporting events, eg football, because their sons or daughters also play but don't think about the theatre, ballet in particular for dancing offspring.

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That's a good point. Bluebird, does your school have a website and/or a Facebook page? They are excellent tools for sharing information (our school's website has a "Useful Links" page as well as a "News" page, and the Facebook page is so useful for linking to performance, summer school or Associates info.

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This is such a breath of fresh air to hear a teacher who is so dedicated on expanding the horizons of her students instead of trying to isolate them within her own cocoon.

 

I can't help you with practical information since I am not in the UK - but I wish you and your students every success.

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Hi bluebird. Welcome. Agree...its fantastic that you want to explore all the options for your students and are willing to help them gain additional teaching. We are in the midlands and Graham Fletcher, ex RBS has started a new associate class in his own right that my dd goes too. He has really bought her on and is very encouraging. PM if you want more details. He runs it in leicester on sundays once a month but i think he hopes to expand it.

Good luck with everything!

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Wow everyone has raised brilliant points! I think I will put together an information pack about full time and vocational school as I think hfbrew and Tulip have said the decision definitely needs to come from the pupil and their family! I do encourage my pupils to go and watch dance and on more than one occasion I've taken them myself to save the parents spending money on a ticket. I think viewing dance whether its balle, musical theatre or contemporary only ever has a positive influence on the kids. The time back to class so enthusiastic and inspired which I think is really important!

 

As far as associate programmes and sharing on the website goes we do try and do that but I've found individual guidance specific to each pupil t be more effective. One of the boys I teach auditioned and gained places at SLP and Hammond as an associate and declined both places because he just felt something didn't quite work for him there. Having done a little more digging he's since decided he wants to focus on just ballet and contemporary rather than a wider range of subjects.

 

What would everyone recommend as far as those students who want to study classically rather than musical theatre/commercial at 12/13 when they make that decision should they focus purely on subjects taught at ballet school or should they continue to study all forms of dance? Will studying everything prove to be a hindrance ultimately?

 

Thanks again, everyone's advice has been brilliant

X

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Good question about what dance forms to study. When we went to the CAT open day at The Place a few years ago, they were very clear that the students must get enough ballet training, either there or topped up locally. I would say that continuing with some level of ballet training is hugely important even if students feel that Musical Theatre, Contemporary, Jazz or Commercial are their chosen direction.

 

I don't however think it's as important to continue to study all other dance styles if they - and you - are 100% certain that they want to go down the classical route. Partly because if - for example - you're trying to strengthen hypermobile ankles for pointework, then tap classes several times a week may hinder you slightly. Or if you're ultra classical in physique and style, you may not be very good at (or more importantly not enjoy) hip hop or commercial!

 

My teenage daughter has just taken Grade 5 tap and is now going to stop tap for a while. She's happy that she's got some tap under her belt, as it were, and now wants to concentrate solely on her ballet and contemporary. I'm quite happy with that! :-)

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A bit of research could be to go on vocational ballet schools websites to see what other styles of dance they study that should give your students an idea of what other styles they should be studying alongside their ballet training. No vocational ballet school studies just ballet.

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Hi Bluebird22!

 

Firstly it is lovely to hear you are already doing so much for your students.  Hopefully my advice and suggestions will be helpful to you.

 

In terms of ages, I think you can afford to give your bunheads different advice to your jazzerinas – I believe for the best shot at a classical career you do want to be training in a vocational environment asap, but for musical theatre/commercial I have seen dancers start their vocational training after college and still been successful. 

 

As for whether or not you ought to be encouraging them to fly the nest as early as possible, I think it ought to be a decision made on a case-by-case basis; taking into account not just their level of talent, but more crucially their maturity, the strength of their desire for a career and how they feel about leaving home etc.  Perhaps organise ‘career appointments’ – a time slot made available for you to have a conversation with each student one-on-one and discuss their options and ask their opinions on what they feel is important and what they want to do.  This will give you invaluable information to be able to best advice your students on what is your recommended course of action for each of them.  It will also help you identify those who may not really be suited for a career in dance, but are merely infatuated with the fantasy, or are only pursuing the idea due to parental pressure. During these appointments it might also be worth asking the dancer if they have any other ambitions and to also discuss those options; if they also fancy themselves as lawyers now would be a good time to be frank about career security and wages so they can factor that information in!

 

In addition, don’t be afraid to put part of the decision in the hands of the vocational training providers.  In other words, if the student is passionate enough, rather than agonise over whether or not you ought to be pushing a student why not encourage them to audition for full-time schools and see what the result it?  The experience of auditioning will be educative for the student (potentially as good training ground for future auditions, and/or to give them a better idea of if they would be theoretically happy to stomach a career of auditions), and just being at the school will help inform the dancer if this is really what they want to do.  If you opt for this approach it may be useful to talk to the student about why i.e. “this experience is to help you assess whether or not a career in dance is for you – there is no pressure as to the outcome” and “just go and enjoy dancing in their wonderful studios!”

 

Many young dancers have a rose-tinted ideal of what a career in dance might entail, and frankly if they knew the truth many would back off before even auditioning for vocational schools!  Similarly, many simply choose to audition for vocational schools as they love their recreational classes, and if they had a better idea of what training encompasses then they would not wish to embark on a programme; dancing as your hobby is a world away from full-time training.  To resolve these issues I recommend to all teachers they hold ‘career days’ where you do things like:

 

  • Have available prospectuses for all the major schools (or internet print-offs for key info from those schools who have gone paperless) for the students to peruse so they have a better idea of what is available.
  • Watch footage of life at vocational dance school such as this documentary series about Elmhurst (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4-q6N3Ib1M ) so they have a better idea about what is actually involved in full-time training.
  • Watch footage from different ballets/productions – many young dancers believe, for example, that if they go to a ballet school then work will come easily afterwards (“as long as I get into the Royal Ballet School I’ll be sure to make the company and then I’ll get to wear a tutu all day!”).  It is helpful to expose them to ballets such as ‘Chroma’ and ‘In the Middle Somewhat Elevated’ so they realise that even if they are fortunate enough to get into some of the top companies, life will not always be about ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’.  It might also pay you to introduce them to ‘La Fille Mal Gardée’ and ‘The Tales of Beatrix Potter’ so as to make them aware that company life might also see them dancing as a chicken or a pig; if all they want is tutus, they may not be prepared to ‘suffer’ the rest.
  • Give a talk about the demands of the profession, and discuss how common it is for even incredibly talented dances to lose out on a career in dance through illness, injury, pregnancy, or simply loosing their passion.  It is also worth mentioning that not all dancers who get places at vocational schools are destined for professional careers: they might complete their training, but be simply not good enough to get work in face of the ever-growing competition.  It might also be worth mentioning at this early stage in their potential carers to discuss the short span of a dance career; if we can start preparing dance students for the fact that they will have to opt for a secondary career at some stage right from the start we will have less professional dancers suffering from emotional distress and break-downs at the end of their short careers.
  • ‘Interview a dancer’ – if possible invite a professional dancer to your school so your students can ask questions.  Encourage your guest to be honest about the pitfalls and negative aspects of life as a dancer to give a balanced perspective.

 

It might also be good to organise trips to see any touring companies in your area do company class or rehearsal – some companies are up for this if you call them in advance. Seeing the sweat up close can be an eye-opener for young students.

 

[NB: I am aware I have written this from a ballet perspective, I just couldn’t help myself, but all the ideas are of course transferable and can be expanded.]

 

This ‘career day’ is of course useful in informing the students about the subjects discussed, but crucially it also informs them, and you, of something more fundamental: if they are bored or disinterested then you instantly know that they are dancers who are primarily interested in ‘them doing dance’, and not in dance as an art form or as a career.  These students invariably lack drive, and a ‘hunger’ for the profession which means, in my opinion, they should not even entertain the idea beyond this point.

 

I agree with Tulip that the decision whether or not to pursue dance, and at what age, ought to come principally from the dancer and her family.  By providing a ‘career day’ in this way you empower the students to better make up their minds about what they want, and then you can further support them at their ‘career appointments’.  I would also suggest that the ‘career day’ ought to be open-door event, so that dancers who may have secret wishes to go pro may also attend, rather than you inviting who has already expressed an interest to you (or, in the case of other teachers, only choosing to invite your ‘best’ students, and excluding those who might surprise you!)

 

Finally, for your students who you have sent to other teachers for additional training, you might want to forward to them this article: http://www.danceadvantage.net/2013/05/02/teachers-dont-agree/ It could clear up any problems before they arise, or that the students may feel to shy or uncomfortable bringing up.

 

Hope that helps Bluebird22!

 

Best wishes,

Angeline

 

 

- Join me on Twitter @AngelineDance for ballet/dance news, info, tips and videos, or to ask me anything I may be able to help you with or research on your behalf.  Hope to see you there!

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With regards to which vocational schools are more classical, it's not always recognised that Hammond students study ballet six days per week, with just one additional modern and two additional tap classes per week. It's a common misconception that Hammond is MT to begin with. Maybe it used to be that way? Even Elmhurst has recognised the importance of modern and are introducing it in a bigger way in 2014/2015. 

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Taximom, what is CAT? And angeline your advice has been fantastic! We are currently in the process of moving studios, so we are planning an open day to celebrate, I think having some professional dancers give talks and share their experiences would be hugely beneficial to both pupils and parents. I think I may try and include some of our studios current vocational students to give a more current perspective.

 

As a new member to this forum I can't believe how helpful and informative everyone has been. I've got so many new ideas to help my pupils.

 

Thank you all again and feel free to keep sharing ideas I'm finding it very useful!

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Hi Bluebird. In wondering whereabouts you are as BBO is quite big here (though my ds goes to an RAD school.)

 

I run a drama/MT based school but my dd also attends a local ballet school. My dh teaches at a vocational school after spending several years teaching voice to undergrads/diploma students at London based drama/dance colleges. He loved it but wanted to be closer to home.

 

It's great you are looking for opportunities so many schools ban their students from doing stuff outside their dance school.

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I can't believe schools would wish to ban their pupils from extra dance activities, it seems a little self centred and vain to assume a child can be the absolute best they can be with only one tutor ? My boss and principal, has always encouraged her pupils and staff to audition for associate programmes and take part in whatever additional training they can access, and I've always assumed that was the norm!

 

I'm based predominately in stoke on Trent but I also teach in Cheshire and Staffordshire moorlands. Bbo is a huge thing locally. In fact at any bbo course or weekend it tends to be predominately northern children with very few from the south. We also use the idta syllabus for some subjects, and one of my pupils is off to Walsall this weekend to compete in their freestyle scholarships.

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I've mentioned this on a different thread but dh is looking into running workshops for dancers looking to audition for post 16 dance/MT courses. Singing auditions for dancers sort of thing as he sees a lot of kids at audition who are terrified by the singing part.

 

Just looking into venues/costs/course content. Your older students may be interested maybe.

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Yes there's very few who have heard of bbo if you go beyond Birmingham! I think I would be interested to see a little more of the RAD syllabus since I know a lot of girls at vocational either do istd or rad, so from a prepping point of view maybe that would be beneficial.

 

I can only think of one local RAD school and I know a few of their former students are now at ballet west, central or have just left elmhurst

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I think that would be a great idea, I know the singing element has a lot of my pupils on edge. In fact one is so terrified of the singing element she is not even sure she should audition for vocational. If he does decide to put some workshops on please let me know as I'm sure I have pupils who would be willing to try. I also know of a venue I use £10 an hour depending on where you wanted to run classes

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Dd likes RAD because of the character. When we were choosing a school however we didn't so much go for the exam board but dh had worked with one of the teachers in the past and it had the sort of ethos we were after.

 

Originally she began ballet to complement her drama. Now the dance has taken over a bit more but her ambitions lie in MT (she's 11)

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Bluebird22

As a mom of a DD i would be very interested in your project.  My DD is only 10 and I have started to look at where she needs to go next.  There is not one place (except here) where I can find out and compare the vocational schools.  I would also mention the funding in your pack if you can get your head around it :D

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Bluebird22: It's so lovely to hear of teachers who aren't afraid to offer their students additional options. In other walks of life professionals recognise when they are not a specialist in an area and refer people on- but for some reason dance teachers are sometimes reluctant to do this, when actually it would be beneficial for all involved! As a teacher, if you have students who participate in associate programmes, additional summer schools etc while being 'your' students, their improvements will benefit you!

 

The Birmingham CAT has two strands - one is contemporary with some ballet, and the other focuses on South Asian dance primarily. 

 

Also - most associate programmes tend to focus solely on ballet. I believe that Elmhurst Associates used to do a conditioning or jazz class when it was PVP's in Birmingham, but that it was optional, and I'm not sure if they still do that. So be aware that if you've got great students who want more training but aren't 'ballet' bods, your options become fewer (although by no means non-existent! ;-) )

 

Wise words, as usual, from Angeline too! 

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I think that as a teacher it is great you are so willing to offer your students other options and are so involved in informing them about their dance options.  An Open Day sounds like a great idea but Angeline also makes some great points about individual and case by case basis as factors like talent, maturity etc do come into it as does finance.  DD's teacher, now retired, said she always found it very difficult promoting all the options as she would have parents coming to her worried that their child would never achieve their goals because they could not afford the x, y and z that some of the others were doing.  I do not know the students at your school but I suspect that as at many schools, the number of students who wish to continue into vocational training at 16 is far less than at 12 or 13, not because they enjoy dancing any less than before but because they realise they want to do something else.  It is important therefore that vocational training and a career in dance is seen as just another option and that dancing for fun does not make a dancer any less important/worthy or less talented.  Her teacher said it was always very difficult to promote the 'could' rather than the 'should' and in the end she used to have a note on the notice board asking students/parents to make an appointment if they wished to discuss any optional classes/schemes run outside the school and she just had a list of some of the things available fairly locally on the board.  Once a year or so she would put out a small table with some prospectuses etc on it for people to read but not take away.  It was a fairly hands off approach but those who were serious about vocational training, like my DD, certainly got all the help, support and encouragement they needed.  

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Oh absolutely drdance, I have a little rule with all my associates, whenever they go to their associate programme or dance intensive, they write down one correction and one thing they were praised on for as many of the classes and teachers that they can.

 

It's great I love seeing what the students come back with, especially after classes with Brenda Last!!

 

The bbo offers a jazz scholarship scheme which is great but I do try and encourage even those who aren't bun heads to get as a high a quality of ballet as they possibly can, because its unavoidable whatever they decide to do dance wise!

 

The Lowry one probably would be closer though I think there is also one in Leicester or Nottingham which wouldn't be too bad either

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My DD had classes with Brenda Last at the 2 Yorkshire Assembly summer schools she attended aged 11 and 12. She thought her classes were 'amazing', so I'm not surprised that you enjoy the comments your students receive from Brenda Last, Bluebird22!

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