Jump to content

British born dancers and the global ballet market


aileen
 Share

Recommended Posts

Reading about children auditioning for vocational schools on this site and the dearth of British born dancers in the top ranks of ballet companies in the UK and abroad I'm becoming increasingly concerned about how British born children are going to compete in the global market, not just in the world of ballet but in other spheres as well. IMO the way in which children are raised today (and this includes anyone involved in teaching children in any way), with the emphasis on building self esteem and developing the whole child, militates against our children succeeding in intensely tough and competitive environments such as ballet. For some (many?) British born children the outlook of the vocational schools must come as a huge shock as it is so different from what they have encountered before. It may be a generalisation, but I believe that this is not the case for students from many other cultures (not America, which is more extreme than the UK). What does everyone else think?

 

 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 245
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Interesting question Aileen. I would be fascinated to find out WHY Artistic Directors have the preferemces they do, for example what is it about the Japanese system of training that makes Japanese dancers so desirable at the moment? What are they doing differently to us?

 

We do have some lovely British dancers who seem to be progressing; Lauretta Summerscales seems to be getting on well at ENB, Melissa Hamilton and Leanne Cope at RBS (not to mention Lauren Cuthbertson of course). Central students seem to be trained in a way that Northern Ballet like, which is encouraging.

 

Is it a lack of connection and communication between who Lower Schools are taking and Upper Schools want? Or a lack of links from Upper Schools to what the companies want? Is our Assessing Out system at fault, when a child could be guided through adolescent growth and the temporary loss of technique and balance which can come with it?

 

I don't think as parents in this country we are too soft. I don't see sending your child to the other side of the country at 4 or 5 to be stretched, manhandled and shouted at is the way to go, as we've seen in some (hopefully extreme) documentaries. Sergei Polunin was, by his own account, pushed into ballet at a young age and sent away to study. Principal at 19 and then a delayed teenage rebellion at 23, leading him to resign in emotional meltdown.....not what I would want for my child. I know that's an extreme case and maybe there needs to be a happy medium between that and our current system.

 

But I suspect the only people who can give us the answers are Artistic Directors because only they know what they're looking for.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The prevalence of PC teaching not only often gives the student a less than stellar result but is also a problem for the teacher. When I first started teaching ballet one could simply walk over to a student and adjust a foot position or an arm. One could give a verbal correction (albeit as positive as possible) but still a correction.

 

However, in the last couple of decades before touching a student at all (including an encouraging arm around a shoulder) I had to remember where I was - if in a school district - no, but if in the studio - maybe yes. Of course, then I had to try to remember who had given permission and who had not. So, I ended up walking around most of the time with my hands behind my back.

 

As for self esteem - placing a student in a performance line up on stage could not be based upon height or ability though I usually choreographed for my students so that everyone ended up at some point in the front. To them (and the parents) what mattered was the initial tableau. Well, the entire class just can't all be in front at the same time. The same with colors of costume - pink was considered to be more "valuable" than, say, yellow. (that came as news to me!) **

 

So, the student learns that no matter how well he/she has bothered to learn the dance - he/she is entitled to stand in front. And, a lazily pointed toe is just as good as a fully engaged foot.

 

Not having lived in the UK, I'm not sure that the USA is more extreme - I think it also depends upon where in the USA one lives.

 

I think we have mixed up our messages from:

 

"Everyone is valuable" and "everyone has potential." (now find out what it is and work for it)

 

to

 

"Everyone is entitlled to happiness.and success." (it's your due)

 

In the last year in which I taught within a school district, when I said to a 13 yrs old girl in a very crowded ballet class while pointing to a barre that she couldn't see from her vantage point:

 

"If you use the barre over there you'll have a lot more room."

 

and she replied:

 

"No. I won't move unless you say "please." Not only that, she insisted I say it in Spanish - por favor.

 

How does a child like this compete for a job? How does she treat her supervisors? Her fellow workers? How does she accept correction? Does she appreciate when someone is trying to help her?

 

Multiply this "entitled" child by millions.

 

I also have to say that many times when I wondered how these children came by these self absorbed attitudes - I got my answer when I met the parents. Not all the time, but many times.

 

**There was one time I grafically showed the parents (mostly mothers) exactly why those standing in front (at least initially) were in front. But, that's another story.

  • Like 7
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Slightly off topic, my ex DD got her chance of performing a dream role in Sweeny Todd at the Edinburgh fringe denied her because her singing teacher wanted her for the role and another teacher,who is not concerned with it all (?!) vetoed her!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My DD wouldn't dare answer back at any ballet teacher and demand the teacher say "please" to her.

I have not come across any "PC" teaching, either at our local ballet school or at other schools/summer schools/competitions.

I have felt for a long time that the ballet world seems to be the only area that is immune to all the excesses of PC - which is one of the reason why my DD likes it so much. that's just my experience though, and no doubt there are overly PC ballet schools out there!

 

Lack of British born dancers in companies must be due to something that happens at upper schools. If the training is just not good enough, then surely the schools would have been able to sort that one out.

 

there was something in the paper a couple of weeks ago about Darcey Bussell starting something up to support British dancers - I can't remember the details though and will try and google for more info.

 

Sorry - disjointed ramblings.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

With regards to PC teaching, I feel sorry for teachers. I had to give my DD's local teacher permission to be as hands on as she liked, to help demonstrate to my hypermobile DD which muscles should be working the right "bits". I can't imagine trying to teach ballet without being able to be hands on, to be honest!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is, I think, no doubt that the ballet world has become increasingly competitive. In the past it was very difficult, if not impossible, for dancers and students from Russia, communist Eastern Europe and China to dance or train in the UK. Many foreign born students come to study in the UK on Prix de Lausanne scholarships which really increases competition at Upper School level, particularly at The Royal Ballet School. I would be very interested to know, for example, how many students in White Lodge and the Upper School respectively are British born.

 

Spannerandpony, you mention the popularity of Japanese trained dancers with ADs. I am struck by the success of Cuban, Brazilian and Spanish dancers in the UK.

 

I may be wrong about this, but I think I read somewhere that Paris Opera Ballet School does not admit (or perhaps does not give funding to) students who are not French nationals.

 

Btw, Begonia Cao, a principal at ENB, is British born and trained. Melissa Hamilton is an interesting case. She was turned down by RBS and things were not going well for her at Elmhurst so she moved to Athens to have private coaching from a teacher who was relocating. Subsequently, she was accepted by RBS or RB, I'm not sure which.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This seems a rather hot topic of conversation everywhere. Me too I wonder why there are so few UK trained dancers reaching Principal level, if not at least First Soloist level. It seems the Japanese and the Americans are getting quick promotions, much much faster than our UK trained dancers.

 

Looking into whom came all the way through White Lodge, the Upper School and joined the RB (there are very few):

in 2009 Ruth Bailey joined the RB, Yasmine Naghdi joined the RB in 2010, and Francesca Hayward in 2011. In 2012 no White Lodger is joining the RB thus this makes just 3 female White Lodgers-Upper School trained dancers over a period of 5 years (no White Lodger taken on in 2008 if I remember well). Liam Scarlett, James Hay, Sergei Polunin spring to my mind as male White Lodgers having joined the RB (sorry if I forgot one).

 

More dancers from Japan and USA are taken on. Why?

 

Edited in response to Post 7: Ruth, Yasmine and Francesca were all born in Britain, so are the boys except Sergei.

Edited by ninag
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Melissa Hamilton is a good case in point. I think that as time has gone on the template for the ballet dancer has become very restrictive. Potential students are rejected based on a picture. A picture cannot show musicality or dedication. Granted there are some standards of form which have to be met - such as a foot that can accomplish pointe work. Or a reasonably flexible back. But the standards have now gone way beyond that. This restricts the field of possible future dance-artists. I"ve purposely linked the words "dance" and "artist."

 

I have never seen Melissa Hamilton dance, but from her pictures she seems to have all the "correct" equipment. So what did the teachers at prestigious schools miss? And what did that one teacher (a Russian, as I recall) see? Perhaps that Russian based teacher looked beyond what was happening and saw Melissa's heart and knew that given a bit of time, Melissa's heart would inform her body. That teacher didn't make a cold assessment - she made a warm assessment. She didn't use a template - she used her gut.

 

It has been my experience that the little "mouse" who hides in the back line because the showier students drown out her presence - is often the one with the heart. Despite her/his emotional banishment by peers - that quiet mouse is very often the greatest joy to teach. It's difficult to find those little mice, but they are there in every class.

 

As to the specific question - why so few UK born dancers make it to the top ranks - there could be several reasons. The population mass is a small one - comparatively speaking. Funding could certainly pay a part. And, also, perhaps the pervasive use of syllabus teaching.

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just a thought - but there must be a limit to the numbers that any company can take on a year-to-year basis unless it is prepared to accept a heavy churn rate, which is probably not a good idea for the standard of a corps de ballet. And if we go back to 1958, when the Royal Ballet was running both London and Touring companies, it took in just 2 female RBS graduates, one of them being Monica Mason. The other had done a year with the then Opera Ballet before progressing. So as far back as that, there was no automatic assumption that graduation from the RBS, say, ensured a contract with the RB.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A few years ago, the director of the RBS was asked who would be the "Next British Ballerina". I won't state her reply here but if anyone cares to google the directors name and the name of a very good Lilac Fairy and Mistress from Manon they will find quite a statement. Some British dancers now seem to prefer other companies. A very good White Lodger joined BRB at the beginning of the year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Out of the three dancers Spanner referred to, only one (Leanne) went to vocational school at 11. Lauretta Summerscales went to ENBS at 16, and Melissa Hamilton to Elmhurst at 16, famously lasting only a year before finding a private teacher. What happens to all the children who do get into vocational school at 11?

There are so many young people training in ballet and there just aren't enough jobs for them all to go to. Enjoying doing dance isn't enough. You need people who are willing to pay to watch dance too; then companies will thrive and grow. I've often wondered if all our dancing children actually like to go and watch ballet. Do we support our local and national companies enough? Northern Ballet are running a "sponsor a dancer" campaign. Will this be successful?

Edited by rowan
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I dont live in the UK at the momment and was wondering how strict are the teachers?

Now,my dd has had 3 russian teachers.She started when she was 4 and is now 9.

They take ballet so serious,even when she was 4 and 5.Long lessons,so much dicipline,you can just about breathe!! every lesson she comes out sweating and they are very hands on.This might seem very harsh and it was for me to start with,but the children love the class and none of them have left and its been 5 years!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've seen Brazilian ballet classes in Brazil before and observed a Russian ballet class in UK and IMO the English approach is too soft, but perhaps is because of the system we have in Uk.

 

I agree with Anjuli-Bai comments about corrections and this is certainly part of all lessons I've seen at Brazilian and Russian schools. One must be able to have hands on when teaching ballet.

 

My DD goes to a school and she complaints that teacher never holds anyone's leg, foot, etc in the position it should be. Occasionally an arm is corrected with the help of the teacher, but that's it.

 

A very interesting topic.

 

Jete

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ninag, are there many American dancers at a senior level in British ballet companies? I can only think of Lamb and Kish at the RB. I think that there are more Australians and, of course, East Europeans.

 

Anjuli, what is the position in the US, particularly in the large ballet companies?

 

Spannerandpony and Jete, I wasn't really thinking about the current British anxiety about adults having physical contact with children but about the prevailing "all must have prizes" / L'Oreal "you're worth it" climate in which children are raised. In particular, parents today have a great tendency to find excuses, blame others (especially teachers), cite unfairness etc. as reasons for their children not achieving what they want to achieve (and I'm not just talking about the ballet world). Ultimately, this approach is not IMO helpful to children because it breeds a sense of misplaced entitlement and consequent disappointment and resentment. Those children then grow up and are ill-equipped to deal with the demands and challenges of the adult world.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Slightly veering off topic but the way competition in schools is discouraged really annoys me. At my daughters last school on sports day there were no winners in races, everyone got an identical medal. Even at her current school everyone is given a turn playing netball for the school or swimming in a competition. They pick different children each time. When I was at school you had to work hard and do well to get on the netball team! There's no reward for working hard now though! Maybe it'll change as she gets older but why not start now and actually start producing some really promising players!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aurora, the anti-competition ethos in many British schools, particularly state schools, is very strong. Sports teachers have to put up with parents challenging their decisions on team selection; parents run off to the head to complain when their children are not chosen. In every school there are some parents who seem to go in to see the head almost weekly to make a case for something or other for the benefit of their children. Annoyingly, these parents generally seem to get what they want, to the detriment of other children. Many parents just cannot accept it when other children are more talented than their own and this is when they resort to special pleading and talk of (unrecognised ) potential. I've seen the same thing in the context of music scholarship auditions at senior schools. One mother whom I knew just could not be persuaded that a Grade 8 standard oboist was more deserving of a scholarship than her Grade 4/5ish

standard violin-playing child. Potential is all very well but at some point it is the standard which has actually been reached which is being considered. The reason that Australians are doing comparatively well may be down to their more competitive sports culture. Someone once told me that an Australian family who had arrived at her children's inner-London school had been baffled by the school's non-competitive sports day!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote: Anjuli, what is the position in the US, particularly in the large ballet companies?

 

 

The large ballet companies are certainly a mixed group. ABT started out and has continued as a very mixed group of dancers - and it was always meant to be so - from the beginning.

 

NYCB seems to be more "American" based - but still has lots of dancers from other places - and always did such as Violette Verdy and several dancers from Denmark, etc.

 

I think one difference is that the Royal Ballet started out as a showcase for UK dancers and, correct me if I'm wrong, at one time did not hire dancers from outside the Commonwealth, except as guests. American companies never really did that. So, we don't notice a difference - a change.

 

Another difference is the size of the population base from which we draw. We also have a tremendous variety in teaching styles - few schools here are syllabus based. I've had teachers who spanned the spectrum from Cecchetti to Balanchine, from Russian pre-Vaganova to Russian post Vaganova, from Loring to Craske, from German based to French - and even teachers from the UK like Elaine Thomas former ballet mistress and Keith Martin from the RB.

 

As far as I know - no company here has ever set out as a showcase for American dancers - American style, perhaps, but not just native born Americans.

 

The only time there was a problem was when the Russian dancers who defected from the USSR (a major news story) eclipsed some very fine American dancers. But that wasn't really the fault of any training lapses or even company policy - it was the "fault" of an ignorant audience. But that view seems to have melted (hopefully) away especially as the Russians are free to come and go and don't have to defect.

 

As for the Cubans who do have to make a choice - everyone accepts them and is glad to have them and I don't think it has caused any contretemps of which I am aware.

 

And Aileen - as I said above -

 

"I also have to say that many times when I wondered how these children came by these self absorbed attitudes - I got my answer when I met the parents. Not all the time, but many times."

 

Which is what you are affirming in your post #17.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is heartbreaking to see the lack of competitiveness in schools, vocational schools are guilty of this too - even exam results are quietly announced rather than a list on a noticeboard for all to see. If somebody has done well they should be congratulated!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Gingerbread and Spannerandpony, I think it would be very interesting to find out what happens in the transition between the lower and upper schools. I understand that many more foreign born (and trained) students enter the mix at that point. Do many British students lose their places at that point and, if they do, are they able to get places at other schools because some schools only offer places at sixth form level (eg ENBS)? We shouldn't overlook the fact that many of the foreign born students who enter the schools at 16 plus are going to be some of the best in the world in their age group because they are coming in having won international competitions. Their ability, coupled with the ambition, self-confidence and mental toughness which it takes to leave your home and country behind (and often knowing little or no English), makes for a winning combination. And when the British students graduate are they reluctant to take jobs abroad owing to the famous British resistance to learning foreign languages?

 

In the UK it's generally rather frowned upon to look as if you're trying too hard or to be openly ambitious/competitive. Being rather self-effacing and self-deprecating is more acceptable. I don't think that this approach is helpful in the ballet world where drive and self-confidence are prized. After all, ADs etc. have to be convinced that a dancer will be able to go on stage and perform a role at a high level.

 

And we shouldn't overlook the

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

One area in which british dancers are at a disadvantage compared with their foreign peers is that we expect them to be able to grow up as balanced individuals as well as dancers. Most of us still think its important that our dancing teens still get the best academic education they can. We want them to have friends, some kind of social life, and to be happy. If we send them to vocational school we struggle with the loss of control over their lives, because this is so alien to our culture. In many other cultures training is much more intensive from a younger age to the exclusion of almost everything else, and once a child is in training the parent has very little control. Spanner used Polunin as an example of this. I saw this very much in the Japanese students that my dd trained with. They had already given up so much to get to where they were.

 

My dd also observed at auditions that many British girls are larger than their foreign counterparts. The Japanese have an advantage here in that they are naturally smaller and daintier which is aesthetically pleasing in a ballet dancer. Her suggestion was that in other countries schools are less careful than English schools about avoiding eating disorders.

 

Personally I think we have the balance right, because I think its more important to be a balanced human being, but I do think that this is one of the reason why there aren't as many top British Ballet Dancers as we might like.

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Royal Ballet Upper School is, I think, the only British school with a 100% employment record. But it is not only the top British school, it is a top international school as well, so they can take the very best of the very best. Getting into the Lower School is clearly a good start for British children, but otherwise it seems to me, you will have to have been spotted at a summer school (not necessarily the RBS's own summer school), placed highly at an international competition like YAGP, or perhaps taken in from SAs.

 

Glowlight is right - children from abroad can and do study much more intensively than is normal in the UK. I was quite shocked when I discovered how much other children are doing, especially in America. I think most British local ballet schools couldn't possibly offer the sort of schedules and classes that seem quite normal there. Also, in the US, even if you're not at vocational school, home schooling for talented children (not just in ballet) is much more common, enabling youngsters to put in huge numbers of hours at the studio.

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

glowlight i think your right!

When we moved abroad we entered my son into a state conservatory for piano.Not realizing how much time,dicipline and very hard work would be involved.They are so strict and give major amounts of work.So much time was dedicated 7 days aweek to keep up!His teacher is Russian.Well after 4 years he achieved a very high standard and auditioned in the UK boarding school and gained a scholarship.Even though he achieved more than i could ever imagine it also came at a price!it sort of took over our lives without realizing it.

Thats why i think in the Uk there is much more of a ballence,and happier children.I cant wait for my son to start in September and enjoy his time there.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Glowlight, I've often wondered whether the problem of eating disorders in the ballet world is exaggerated. Sadly, many high-achieving girls who have no connection with the ballet world suffer as well. Is it the case that the problem of eating disorders in worse in Japanese ballet schools than in UK schools? I've not heard that.

 

I agree with you that British parents generally want their children to have balanced lives whilst pursuing their ambition to be dancers, and the question is whether this aspiration is really compatible with their children getting to the top in the ballet world. In the UK the rite of passage of being a teenager with the accompanying social life (and experimentation!) is highly prized, even by many parents, but this has to be sacrificed, and the consequent social disapproval endured, if a child is training really hard to be a dancer. It is even more difficult if the child is at a mainstream school. I may be straying into dangerous territory here, but this is where the children of immigrant parents have an advantage in that the "cult" of teenagehood is not accepted to the same extent and is counter-balanced by the more conservative values, including hard work and self-sacrifice, of their parents.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tomuchtallent, I once read an interview with Tamara Rojo in which she said that she didn't know why people went on about putting in 10,000 hours of "practice" in order to become really good at something as she had put in at least 20,000 hours! In the UK everyone is obsessed with so-called natural talent. There's a pervasive view that if you have natural talent, whatever that means in the particular context, you will get to the top even if you don't work particularly hard. I don't think that this view is as prevalent in other cultures. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Outliers, advances the hypothesis (which I agree with) that once you reach a certain benchmark the likelihood of you succeeding at whatever you're trying to do is determined by the amount of work that you put in. In other words, there is a direct correlation between effort and achievement if you have been able to reach that initial benchmark. I don't know if this holds true with ballet, although I think that it might despite all the physical requirements which distinguish it from other fields of endeavour such as music,chess etc.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually it wasn't with regard to Japanese girls that the comment about eating disorders arose. My dd has many Japanese friends and I don't think any of them have had eating disorders - they just seemed to be naturally petite.

 

The comment arose after an audition in Italy where she was quite shocked by how unnaturally skinny some of the other European girls were. I have no idea what nationality these girls were, but she was basically suggesting that if she or one of her friends had been that skinny, her school would have been watching their diet and possibly stopped them from taking class until they put on weight.

 

I think that there are probably fewer cases of eating disorders amongst dancers than you might expect given that ballet brings together two things which are potential triggers: a highly competitive environment which attracts high achievers and the need to be a particular body shape in order to succeed. I think this is in part because many ballet teachers in the UK are very sensitive to the danger and watchful for signs. So are dancing friends. It's possible that an eating disorder is more likely to be picked up early in a dancing child than in say a highly academic child who can hide his or her changing body under layers of baggy clothes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share


×
×
  • Create New...