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Ballet training in the UK


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I have just been watching a clip of a 10 year old Korean girl performing in a ballet competition on pointe, at a level that is way beyond anything I would expect to see in the UK. I know everyone will go on about the dangers of going on pointe at a young age but I think it is more than that. These kids are obviously being pushed in all areas.

 

With a significant proportion of RBS Upper School and both the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet made up of dancers from China, Japan and other Asian countries, should we be asking whether our training institutions are still fit for purpose. I know we provide 'safe' training in this country but our students are obviously significantly behind when selections for ballet companies are being made.

 

 

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I've seen this clip before, usually I find many of the youtube 'baby ballerina' clips slightly gymnasticy and vulgar at the very best and downright scary at the worst. This little one seems to have sound technique and a lovely quality. Yes, we all freak out when we hear of girls going en pointe before the age of 11 etc, but maybe exceptions should be made in certain cases.....Interesting point Ribbons, the safety of a young dancers body is paramount, which hopefully leads to longevity in their career.....(but if they're not getting the contracts there's no career full stop......?)

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This thread raises a many issues for me (apologies for the spilling out of many of them now!)

  • Personally I'd have enjoyed that little girls' performance just as much if she'd been on demi pointe; there's no reason for her to be on pointe but she's clearly pretty strong so only time will tell if she's going to suffer for being on pointe at such a young age
  • Watching with my *very* critical eye, I don't think her turnout was particularly well maintained, and a short tutu would reveal this more
  • Her performance was quite nicely 'immature' ie it didn't show a mature style of dancing but then she's a little girl and actually it was nice that it wasn't overly mature for her age
  • I agree that in the UK the majority of dance training does not really push children to advanced levels when they are young and I think we can learn an awful lot from training of children in countries like USA, Australia and in North Asia especially in terms of the physical training but it does need to be done with care.
  • To be able to dance to this level, you need a lot of physical strength, flexibility and technical skill and control. To get this anyone needs to be training daily and training needs to be very focussed (and as I said before, with immense care)
  • I think that in the UK there is a general culture of frowning upon pushing young children, celebrating success, promoting viruosity. We're very 'British' in not wanting to be big headed or bratty so we inherently pass this message onto our children. Consequently our young dancers might not actually strive to be the best in the same way or at least part of them doesn't want to be the best perhaps.
  • In the countries where we see more successful children, there is more competition as there is a larger population. We think the competition for places at vocational schools etc is steep but imagine being in country with a population 10 times larger than our own!
  • Is it actually necessary for the all-round welfare of our children, for them to be performing full variations, en pointe, age 10?!
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I agree with everything you said drdance, but thinking competitively, if this little lady is pulling off doubles en pointe at 10, what on earth is she going to be capable and quite comfortable doing at the age of 14/16/18...which could possibly clinch her that all important contract over someone who had been introduced to fouettes en pointe (for example) at the age of 15/16.....I'm the very first person to shout out that dance is an art and not a sport etc etc and I'm no fan of over exaggerated extensions and a million pirouettes 'just for the sake of it', but it's such a horribly competitive market and if the companies want higher, faster, stronger, then that's what you have to be able to do....x

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I wonder what the real cost is? Thinking in statistical terms, what is the "number needed to treat" here? How many damaged children to produce each successful dancer? What is happening to their general education whilst this training is going on, and what happens to those who "fail"? One wonders if  children like this have actually chosen their path, or have they been selected at a very early age on the basis of physique/genetics etc, bearing in mind that the political and cultural situations are very different in different countries. It puts me in mind of the stories one hears about the Eastern Bloc gymnasts of the 70s and 80s.

I'm sure there are things that the UK schools can learn from those in other countries, but I would hope they would be very selective abut what aspects they would adopt. Even outstanding results don't always justify the means.

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I totally agree with you - I think you summed it up beautifully here.

 

 

I'm sure there are things that the UK schools can learn from those in other countries, but I would hope they would be very selective abut what aspects they would adopt. Even outstanding results don't always justify the means.

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I agree with you too Anjuli regarding both the nurturing of talent, longevity of career and artistic quality (and will google the book you mention) However, we have to face the cold, hard reality that after many years of training and in most cases great financial expense, many students are simply not being offered contracts. (Of course, there have never been enough places available for the graduates...)

 

Pups mum. I understand, but it doesn't have to be taken to the extremes. For example I used to observe and take class with a fantastic Cuban teacher. He would get his 12 year old (vocational students) to turn...(and boy do the Cubans know how to teach turns !) Obviously they had already mastered the basics of a pirouette, but at the end of class he'd encourage them to do doubles, triples, the next year fouettes....Now these girls were by no means executing perfect turns first of all, but they had no fear....and a couple of years down the line, wow, they were incredible.

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The only thing I will add is that the Japanese student coming over are outstanding, is it because they are the elite or the way they are trained???

I think it's the training matched with the sheer hard work and determination. DS has some Japanese students at his school and you never, ever see them give up.

 

Great discussion ! Thanks Ribbons ! 

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My take is always never to judge a cake until it is fully baked so to speak. There are so many factors here and some kids who are amazing at 11 pale into insignificance as other dancers strengthen over the passage of time.

 

This is an issue I have always had with dance festivals as it is often the shorter and easier to strengthen type bodies who will win when in the long term there are many with more difficult to train physiques who actually have the most potential.

 

I have noticed Japanese dancers seem to a lot less fearful in terms of turning because they tend to start turning earlier. I think there is some merit in starting to get the sense of turning early when the fear factor is less present. By this I mean not pirouettes on pointe but just the general feel of turns so they become fun.

 

Like a good wine, some dancers take longer to reach their peak than others but that does not make the ones who peak earlier better dancers. There are also dangers of picking up bad technical habits by starting on pointe too young as compensation tends to occur to make up for the lack of strength and experience.

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I lived and worked in Japan for 3 years as a dancer [not ballet] in the early 1990`s. There was very little interest in Classical Ballet in the country then.If in one of our dance routines,there was to be a classical pas de deux,the management would tell us to change it dramatically as people were not interested in ballet. I think the interest therefore must only have come about in the last few decades. When the Japanese decide to do something they do it to excel at it. Their school hours and work load are absolutely gruelling,and it has always been traditional that the children would partake in extra curricular activities as well such as piano lessons or violin.The ballet lessons,therefore are probably just a natural extension of their education for some children nowadays.

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I think the children in these countries such as Japan and USA do have more intense training than in the UK probably giving them a better chance of making it. Yes they are young to be on pointe and also the dancers in their countries also do a lot more pointe! I have been on pointe since I was 11, and now I have just turned 14 have only just started more intense pointe such as more turns an soutenus even though I am at a vocational school! Sometimes I wish I was training in America :(

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I agree with you too Anjuli regarding both the nurturing of talent, longevity of career and artistic quality (and will google the book you mention) However, we have to face the cold, hard reality that after many years of training and in most cases great financial expense, many students are simply not being offered contracts. (Of course, there have never been enough places available for the graduates...)

 

Is it becoming more difficult for UK students to compete with overseas students when auditioning for upper schools, and if so - why?

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IInteresting point Ribbons, the safety of a young dancers body is paramount, which hopefully leads to longevity in their career.....(but if they're not getting the contracts there's no career full stop......?)

 

 

 

 

 

I would much rather the slow nurture of talent.   

 

How many of these pre-pubescent "ballerinas" end up with careers of any length and  fame for artistry?  

 

 

 

 

Like a good wine, some dancers take longer to reach their peak than others but that does not make the ones who peak earlier better dancers. There are also dangers of picking up bad technical habits by starting on pointe too young as compensation tends to occur to make up for the lack of strength and experience.

 

Agree with all of the points above. The thing is, there are very set points in time when UK students are competing against these more advanced students i.e. Upper School auditions at 16 and Company auditions 3 years later. They are being judged at that moment in time against their peers. I don't think the selectors are thinking much about 'maturing fine wine' at that point sadly  :(

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Is it becoming more difficult for UK students to compete with overseas students when auditioning for upper schools, and if so - why?

 

I haven't had first hand experience of the Upper School audition process for quite a few years (I was referring more to company auditions), but I would hazard a guess that the wealth of information that the internet brings, schools going overseas to audition and ease of travel makes the world a much smaller place. The information about schools and auditions that these 'youngsters' have at their fingertips is incredible. In the '80's and early '90's if you wanted to find a job in say, Germany for example, you'd get a railcard, book a tour, stay in hostels and knock on doors to see if they'd let you do class ! Now you can go to one of a number of websites and find out whats on and when within a matter of minutes ! x

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It's interesting what Balleteacher is saying about 'turning', as you know DD started Ballet late - but her teacher has always been impressed with her turns (both Ballet & modern).  I've put this down to the fact that as a Ballroom/Latin dancer she has turned, at speed, for years and spotted easily - for Viennese Waltz it's essential.  So maybe other genre have useful skills for Ballet.

 

I'll be interested to see if, when she starts working in a couple whether this is also a bit she is good at because of past experience

 

I'm afraid I don't know enough about Ballet or even dance training to comment on ages or speed of training

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I have been surprised that it does not appear to be the norm for vocational school (from 11) dancers to be given a personal training/stretching/ conditioning programme. I know my dd would benefit from a certain focus on specific aspects of her training and I am sure that this is the same for most children. Classes can cover so much, but personalisation would be so helpful. I know it might be difficult to manage, but not impossible with some good organisation. Any thoughts why schools don't seem to see the benefit of this (or do they and it has passed me by?)

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Karen - perhaps it's for the same reason schools don't have a dedicated specialist in this area on staff full time (ie cost). I know of a schools that do not even have physiotherapists on staff, but require students to have medical insurance. Once injured, students see a private physiotherapist (who may or may not visit the school) and the medical insurance company covers the cost of treatment. In my opinion prevention is better than cure but I don't think it's fair that a student had to get injured before the gain access to a personalized injury prevention/ rehab programme.

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I think that vocational schools (UK) have come a long, long way over the last decade or so in terms of the importance of nutrition advice, injury prevention and cross training...I think that it is so important for ballet students to do cross training (pilates, gyrrotonics, weight training etc) to enhance the ballet technique and to strengthen the 'under used' muscles, tendons etc which may not be essential in a ballet class, but when weak, lead to over compensation on other muscles etc and thus injury. Dance science and medicine may be still in relative 'infancy' but it is invaluable. Finance, however is obviously a big issue...

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I think that vocational schools (UK) have come a long, long way over the last decade or so in terms of the importance of nutrition advice, injury prevention and cross training...I think that it is so important for ballet students to do cross training (pilates, gyrrotonics, weight training etc) to enhance the ballet technique and to strengthen the 'under used' muscles, tendons etc which may not be essential in a ballet class, but when weak, lead to over compensation on other muscles etc and thus injury. Dance science and medicine may be still in relative 'infancy' but it is invaluable. Finance, however is obviously a big issue...

The issue with finance isn't really finance, it's all to do with how the directors/governors of the school choose to allocate the money that they do have ie priorities. Until cross-training, injury prevention, body conditioning/fitness training that is NOT ballet class etc IS a priority, it won't be funded.

.

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I have lived in Japan for a while - from what my dancing friends there told me, things are rather different from what we in the West sometimes assume.

 

Their interests for ballet goes back longer than we might think.  Ballet as a performing art was introduced around 1880's and after the russian revolution in 1917  russian dancers who fled from the communists government settled in Japan via Siberia and  strated to teach ballet there.  Ballet is not exactly a popularlist pass time there, but that is the same in the UK. 

 

It has been a popular thing for the girls to take ballet lessons for about 50 years now.  Nowadays you see young dancers who are taught by their grandmothers.

 

With regards to foreign students in vocational school here, one must keep in mind that those students were elite students in their own country already. 

 

In addition, one tends to forget that Japan is twice as populous as the UK.

 

Japanese students here generally try harder, because they feel they are physically disadvantaged in comparison to European students so  they know they have to be better technically and artistically. 

 

By the way, at least nowadays, no serious ballet studios in Japan put little girls on pointe until they are over 11. At least that's what I heard. 

 

I don't know what it is like in South Korea... I do hear that kids there do get "pushed" by parents a lot.

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With regards to the clip. She does seem to have a very nice presentation apart from other skills and doesn't look as if she is struggling on pointe which you do see on some awful YouTube videos. However she could just be exceptionally talented.....even by Korea's standards!!

 

Wasn't Olga Korbet crippled by arthritis by the time she was 30? Admittedly her "career" was over by then and she had all the benefits which came with it from the then Soviet system but it is a considerable price to pay I think and one which should be considered when training young girls/boys. What happens down the line a bit?

Maybe there are some dancers who just don't care in the end though. A dancing career is usually shortish for the majority of dancers anyway and they would be happy to have this chance of an early career and trade possible future mobility for it.....in the worse case scenario that is.

My feeling is the problem of burn out could come if there is too much advanced dancing at an earlier age......more emotional than physical I mean. But perhaps some dont mind a shorter career in ballet and don't want to be having a long career for 20 years or more who knows? But if a longer career is envisaged then its probably best not to push too much at an earlier age......the body can only take so much punishment over time......but for exceptional cases.

 

I think lovely Marienuela Nunez started at a very young age and is still going from strength to strength but she may be one of these exceptions.

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Marienela Nunez was dancing professionally in Argentina at 14 and only went to the RBS (for about a year) because she was too young to join the RB (ie she was not yet 16). I read that Laura Morera was able to do many fouettés when she arrived at the RBS at 11. Maina Gielgud has said that she was asked to get pointe shoes after her first couple of lessons at 8 (or possibly 9) and she did not have any problems with her feet and danced professionally at an early age. Children do seem to be more advanced at an earlier age abroad.

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Maina Gielgud has said that she was asked to get pointe shoes after her first couple of lessons at 8 (or possibly 9) and she did not have any problems with her feet and danced professionally at an early age. Children do seem to be more advanced at an earlier age abroad.

This did make me chuckle slightly - I don't know how old Maina Gielgud is now but having seen her in and around ENB one might assume that dancing has taken a considerable toll on her joints! Walking seemed tough at times! But her arms & head when rehearsing were still beautiful

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The issue with finance isn't really finance, it's all to do with how the directors/governors of the school choose to allocate the money that they do have ie priorities. Until cross-training, injury prevention, body conditioning/fitness training that is NOT ballet class etc IS a priority, it won't be funded.

.

One would hope that injury prevention is already a high priority!!!

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