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Grade 6 ballet - do they hit a wall?


sophieschoice
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Hello all

I am hoping for some guidance from those of you who are more seasoned that I am regarding ballet.

 

My DD has danced for the past 8 years and she dances 4.5hrs a week.  Currently doing Grade 6 ballet and her teacher has started to get impatient with the students and claims that many of the girls in the class will hit a wall and will be unable to get past it.   My DD thinks this is aimed at her - Im sure there will be a few others - as she is quite sensitive.  She has consistently improved her grades for the past 2 years although she misses a distinction by a few percent each year.  

 

I know Grade 6 is the beginning of the adult grades so is there a huge step up from Grade 5?

 

Do any of you have experience with this 'wall' and what we can do it overcome it etc?  My DD is very shy and has difficulty fully letting go.  She does jazz dance as well which has helped her but she cannot seem to overcome her shyness. 

 

We are both probably sensitive as she was not put forward for her Int Fdn exam after 2 years of class as there were concerns that she wouldn't make the grade. I did get a second opinion as I was so upset but feel that it was probably the right decision.   I feel that there is favouritism in her ballet school (certain people get the best dances in shows, get more attention etc but I understand this is pretty normal)  but we are unable to switch as they are the best.  If my DD put herself forward a bit more then I think she could do better but I can't force her!   I am very frustrated as she's so dedicated and I feel bad that it doesn't seem to be recognised. 

 

This sounds like Im neurotic......Im anxious that her hard work is recognised and I would like her to be encourage to flourish rather than berated as this is how I think she is treated. 

 

I don't believe we will go down the vocational school route and Im not sure it is for her.  We have talked about life beyond ballet as she has several other interests and I think she beats herself up a bit about ballet if she doesn't get distinction etc.

 

Anyway thank you for reading this far if you have made it!  I am quite emotional about the whole thing because I feel as if the teacher is already saying that some of them wont be put in for the exam in the summer.  Surely its very early days and it is normal to have an off day isn't it?

 

I am rambling and would be most grateful for some objective feedback. 

 

Thank you and please be kind to me.......

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Hello Sophieschoice :-)

 

I have two questions - how old is your dd, if you don't mind me asking?

 

And does this "wall" the teacher mentions refer to technique? Or performance? Or both?

 

I wonder about your dd's age as the higher grades (6-8) demand a level of maturity, in my opinion. My dd was always very shy, but with the higher grades her performance marks suddenly increased. It was as if she suddenly had a leap in maturity and was therefore able to overcome her shyness and really perform the work. You only have to look at the age of the girls the RAD used in the higher grade videos to see their views on the level of maturity required to nail the higher grades.

 

In terms of hitting a wall, the teacher should be doing her best to get the students past the "wall", or, if she feels that any student is not sufficiently prepared for the exam, extra coaching might be required, or postponing the exam. My dd's teacher enters the students when they are ready, so for example in her recent Grade 8 exam, dd was 15 but the other three girls ranged from 18-20. There's no hurry, especially if your dd is not considering ballet as a career.

 

When you say you got a second opinion regarding Inter Foundation, was that from a teacher in the same school? Or a different school?

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DD's teacher always referred to grades 1-5 as the technical grades and grades 6-8 as performance grades, though obviously grades 1-5 have now changed to the new syllabus. Her point, however, was that there was more of a mature feel to grade 6 and a more 'performance' feel to it. All her students take a little longer in grade 6 than they typically take in grade 5 or grades 7 & 8 for that matter. My DD is currently in grade 6 and like her sister before her will take part in a school performance before she takes the exam as the teacher believes it helps them learn and carry that sense of performing from the show back into the exam grades.

 

I don't know how old your DD is or if her shyness is showing in her dancing - or even if the remarks from the teacher are indeed even aimed at her. But I would reassure her that there she is quite capable of doing well. Not all students at our school are put in for the IF exam, after 2 years of classes like your DD, but I have seen those very same students go on to get distinctions (with very high marks) in grades 6,7 & 8.

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Hello Sophieschoice. I really feel for you and your daughter. I get so cross when teachers feel they have the right to berate children. These children are doing something they love and hopefully for pleasure and to be the future audience of this wonderful art. Not everyone can make a profession out of it or would want to. I presume your daughter is early teens, which is such a vulnerable age and a great time to have a physical outlet away from the stresses of school. Some ballet teachers use threat and intimidation in a ballet class but would not dream of using those tactics outside of the ballet studio - such an old fashioned method of teaching, you would think it would have died out by now!

 

Anyway, in terms of advice, you say this is the best dance school around, I would beg to differ. Happiness and good treatment are as important as good technique. Your daughter is not gaining in confidence and that is a crucial element of her personal development. I was in a similar situation just over a year ago and felt stuck, I knew the situation wasn't right but believed the school was the best in the area. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I found an alternative teacher, took a bit of digging, and I had to travel further but oh my goodness, the difference was amazing. Both mine and my DS stress melted away within days! I do wish you both all the best.

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I couldn't agree more with what Harwell says.

 

Your dd's school may be regarded as the 'best' one in the area, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is the one which will nurture every child as an individual and bring out the best in each one. All teachers have their own style and methods and it won't suit everybody. It sounds as though the teacher is already setting some of them up for a fall, which is hardly motivational and inspiring!

 

For a young teen who is lacking in confidence, this will have a direct influence on their performance quality, and being kept in the same grade for a long time is demoralising as well as boring - and a bored demoralised student isn't going to perform as well as they might with a different approach from another teacher.

 

We were in the same boat, and eventually took the plunge and moved to another school. The difference in ethos was unbelievable, and my dd is now a different dancer entirely to the one she was a couple of years ago.

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Is it possible to have a talk with the teacher? She might be able to give an idea of what your dd needs to concentrate on to get passed the 'wall'. Its possible that the teacher is trying to give feedback & corrections in class, but its coming across as criticism to your dd. I try to discuss comments with my dd & try to find actions to work on & move focus away from perceived criticism.

 

As others have already said though, it might be a good school but not 'right' for your dd.

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I would arrange to see the teacher to discuss your dd's progress (plus explore alternative schools so you know your options). 

Sounds a bit like my dd's dance school- I think practically every year the teacher says my dd has stopped progressing, won't be entered for the exam, the teacher is then persuaded to do so and my dd consistently gets the best result... All a bit bonkers.

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Hi Sophieschoice,

 

I really feel for you and your daughter. I know as a Mum how heartbreaking these scenarios are and I hope you feel better for posting on here as often Mums are there for their children and no-one is there for them.....

 

I agree first to talk to the teacher - children very often mis-interpret comments especially when it is about something they care deeply about. I know my dd does.

 

But I totally agree with the others that if you are still not happy then it is not the best school for your dd. She will flourish where she is understood and treated ad an individual. ..

 

Good luck

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Hi Sophieschoice,

Would it be possible to arrange 1-1 private ballet classes with her ballet teacher. This would hopefully build her confidence whilst working on her weaknesses and building on her strengths. If the school don't offer private lessons, there are plenty of private ballet teachers around, that could be there just for your daughter. Which area are you in?

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Hi,

 

Grade 6 is a HUGE jump from the old grade 5. The exercises are much longer, they seem to take an AGE for the students to learn them and remember them, and the level of musicality and performance is also more demanding. Having said that, I adore grade 6 - I did as a student and still do, as a teacher, even though I get VERY frustrated with students in this class (always) due to not remembering the choreography. Then, they spend the whole time worrying what is next step-wise, so they don't dance it full out. If teenagers get a bit chatty or 'go through the motions' or look a bit 'teenage' in this class, this can only compound a teachers' frustration and more often than not, this comes out in shouting etc

 

Most ballet teachers tend to get so hung up on exams that they don't plan lessons in the way that a school teacher would; most lessons involve 'starting at the barre and learning the work' - this then leads to frustrations when the students 'dont get it'. RAD teachers are all trained to plan lessons, and to build up exercises slowly, using unset work to work on the technique of new steps, but for whatever reason, most revert back to the usual. 

 

When I did my PGCE I learnt so much more about teaching and it has dramatically improved my ballet teaching. I learnt that effective planning means more successful, but also less bored, students, and less chatty/grumpy/frustrated/lazy teenagers!

 

Planning each class now starts with outcomes - "what do I want the students to be able to do by the end of the lesson". From there, I tailor the lesson to enable the students to meet this. You can differentiate these to meet various needs/abilities of the students eg All of the students will be able to perform the legs /feet of the petit allegro. Most will be able to do the legs/feet of the petit allegro using floor pressure on jetes/assembles and Some will be able to do the arms as well as the legs/feet with floor pressure. 

 

Anyway - I've gone off on a slight tangent there - what I'm trying to say, is that yes Grade 6 is a big jump, and yes most teachers find it very frustrating if they do not adjust their teaching methods as they end up having to manage behaviour as well as teach dancing. The best teachers will be able to adjust to the needs of the students in their class.

 

Perhaps it might be worth having a couple of private lessons to catch up, learn some exercises and rebuild her confidence? Or get a copy of the DVD and/or notes so that DD can reinforce her learning at home? Or, as others have suggested, find a teacher who suits your DD better?

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Hello to you all and thank you so much for your replies!!

 

My DD is 12 - sorry I should have said.  

 

We got the second opinion (about why she wasn't allowed to take Int Fdn) from a teacher at RAD who was lovely and said my DD's teacher had nailed on the head the issues my DD has.  

 

What you are all saying is of concern to me as the reason why DD was not entered into Int Fdn was because of the performance part.  This makes sense as a shy girl will have difficulty performing and giving that extra little bit of showmanship.     A lot of you are saying that Grade 6 has more performance in it so this is what she will struggle with. 

 

There is no other school near us, believe me, and Ive looked hard.    If I am to move her it will mean a lot more driving and Im reluctant to commit to that now.   She loves ballet but takes correction badly and usually cries after she has been told off.   This level of self-recrimination is very difficult for me as I feel that she should congratulate herself on her high grades and acheivements to date.  The teacher knows her well and I would have thought that gentle encouragement would work rather than shouting!

 

I may try and talk to the teacher - you are all right.   I wonder if she will take it badly if I ask her to use a different approach with my DD??  I have no ballet background so can't really help my DD but perhaps I can get a DVD for her and look into private lessons.  I have looked at intensive courses for before the exam (have only found Tring at Easter as a possibility) as I figured that ballet with a new teacher may help her?

 

We are hoping that she will break through the shyness barrier and start to look as if she is enjoying her ballet but so far its not happening.

 

Many thanks to you all for your so supportive replies.  Sometimes I know that I feel worse about these things than my DD!!!! 

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I think that a real 'bottleneck' can occur at Grade 6. At least it seems that way at my DD's school. Many students can get stuck in this grade with the result that they get a bit bored. As drdance has said, many students in Grade 6 are teenagers (or teenage-like!) and there can be a wide age range, which doesn't generally help matters. It seems to be the time when a lot lose interest and give up. My DD has just stated Grade 6 and is finding it hard. 

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sophieschoice, is your DD being given corrections or being told off? You have used both expressions and they are different things, although your DD may not see this. I don't think that the teacher should be shouting at the students. Is she shouting at the students or is she shouting out instructions? Try to explain to your DD that ballet is very exacting and that it is normal to be given corrections and that they do not mean that she is a bad dancer. 

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My daughter loves corrections even if they are being shouted out. She woul find it heart breaking to be ignored as to her that would mean the teacher has no interest in her. However she knows her dance teachers and she trusts them. If they are correcting her they are doing so because in ballet it is good to correct straight away for lots and lots of reasons. If however your daughter is being singled out and shouted at, then perhaps you could have a private word with her teacher. It could be explained that the shouting is making your daughter lose confidence and this is having an effect on her performance.

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12 is on the young side for grade 6 and interF so you're dd must be actually making good general progress.  Maybe an idea to look at picking up some non-syllabus classes or masterclasses to help her progress her all round dancing and confidence and not over focus onthe exams.

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12 is young to be thinking about Grade 6. I agree that the distinction between being "told off" and being given corrections is very important. Like Tulip's dd, my daughter worries much more about being ignored than being corrected. If you watch a company class, (there are several examples on Youtube) you will see that even Principal Dancers are given corrections by whichever teacher is giving class. Constructive correction is a vital part of class and something that will never stop, no matter how long one has been dancing.

 

However, destructive criticism is different, as is being "told off". Do you know what it is she's being told off for? Have you watched a class, say at the end of term, to see for yourself? I know dd's teacher does occasionally get impatient with some young teenage students when they aren't concentrating, or are chatting amongst themselves. She has at times raised her voice and understandably so. This is different from corrections though.

 

If you can, it might beinteresting to try to watch a class, to see for yourself the interaction between the teacher and your daughter. If it is possible to also have a chat, you could ask the teacher if she can suggest anything constructive and proactive that your dd can do in order to be considered for her next exam. If she gives suggestions of things to try, then that's great. If she writes your dd off without explaining to you why, then it may well be time for a different school.

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We get to watch the classes and all criticism seems to be constructive.  I think it is corrections that are being given rather than tellings off.   But the girls don't see it that way and are nervous to go to class after they have all been 'told off / corrected'!  

 

That is great advice to advise DD to focus on it as being constructive.  I think the teacher is frustrated when she has to mention the same thing over and over.   I have said to her that she is being 'taught' and therefore needs to be corrected.  She is very hard on herself.

 

It is also positive to hear that 12 is a good age for the grade she's at.  She will be 13 by the time she does the exam (if she is entered for it!) and I know some schools take 2 years to do it.  I suppose there is some competition among the other students and usually they do a grade per year. 

 

I will see how she goes over the next while and have a chat with the teacher about how she can improve.  Plus I will keep an eye on other schools!!

 

Many thanks to you all again.

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I have read that the percentage of ability to remember and act on a correction in class is approximately 5%.  Anyone who is a teacher and especially a teacher of an activity such as ballet had better be used to having to correct the same problem many, many times.

 

Even after a student understands the correction, it is not always possible to immediately respond.  I can remember when I was taking class, there were some corrections that it was not until years later that I truly understood what the teacher had said.

 

The correction has to be absorbed in many different forms: while moving, while still, while turning, while jumping, etc.  The brain first has to assimulate the correction, it then has  to communicate this information to the body and then the body has to develop the wherewithall to respond and only then can the process BEGIN to become part of the action on any kind of a permanent basis.  This doesn't happen quickly.  It can take years.

 

An impatient teacher and/or one who doesn't understand this process is not a teacher - just someone shouting out corrections.

 

Every student is different - needs a different approach.  A shy student is no less precious and the teacher needs to use a different approach.  That should be obvious to the teacher.  

 

It's called positive teaching. 

 

Having favorites is not positive teaching.  

 

As for the question "is it normal to have an off day?"   Oh, my, yes!  I used to call those days "maintenance" days - when I was happy to simply get through it.  The body - and the mind - are not machines - they don't run on automatic.  On the other hand - there are also incredibly "on" days which are equally unexplainable.  :)

 

As for the teacher already predicting that some students will not be ready for the exam next summer - well, she is certainly full of hope isn't she?  If she has no hope for each student - why should the student be hopeful or positive?  Ballet is hard enough without dealing with that kind of negativity.  It is the task and challenge that each student presents to the teacher and how that teacher responds which makes one a teacher. 

 

As someone who was not a syllabus teacher - it reminds me why I chose not to be.  Exams are not the be all and end all of the study of ballet.  

 

I hope your daughter finds her path to a  more positive situation and blossoms in a kinder environment.

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As others have said, there is a big difference between positive correction and negative criticism (and being told off for doing something wrong!) particularly if parents are watching, and young people can be very self-conscious about this. 

 

You asked whether they can hit a wall - well yes I believe so, and occasionally perhaps the wall may be in the mind of the teacher also, especially if they have had the same student for a very long time. Sometimes a new approach (and a new pair of eyes) is needed, as having a correction explained in a different way by someone else can make all the difference - and the penny can suddenly drop!

 

I really hope that your dd is able to find her way through this, and that the teacher is able to support her.

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Having read your post, I could honestly have said you were writing about my daughter (although in slightly different terms). I fear she may have hit a wall with her dancing.

 

She is also 12 and started the grade 6 syllabus in Sept. She has been dancing since the age of 2 and, until last week ballet and dancing had been her life for the last 10 years. All she has wanted to do as long as I can remember is to train to be a ballet teacher and open her own dance school. Now it seems she wants to give it all up overnight!

 

I'm hoping that it is just a 'phase' that is going to pass. I fear that if she gave everything up she may live to regret it in the future.

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Are the 4.5 hours your daughter dances a week all ballet classes working on the Grade 6 syllabus or does she take only one of them at that level? 

 

Grade 6 is lovely, but a huge syllabus with masses of work to learn.  Tons of new steps and a big jump from Grade 5.  I remember one group I had of Grade 6s who just could not remember it at all. I got so frustrated! A month before the exam, they couldn't even remember how they were supposed to stand to begin the the adage!!!!  A pep talk and lots of encouragement got them over the hump and they did fine in the end.  Still personally I think the new IF is easier in many ways!   Although of course the expectations are higher in IF and you don't have the benefit of  getting extra marks for character and free movement.

 

Does your daughter know that the Higher Grades are based on the Romantic era style?  Grade 7 is even more stylised in that way than 6, but there's a lot of it in Grade 6 too.  Perhaps it might help her if she pretends to be an old-fashioned ballet student - you could show her Degas paintings to get the idea!  It might make her feel less self-conscious!  

 

I too would suggest buying her the DVD to help her learn it.  Once she comes to class better prepared it will be easier for her.  Do tell her that she is not alone - most students find it hard to learn, but once she manages to learn it, I am sure she'll love it and enjoy dancing it.  The Waltz enchainement is gorgeous, for example, but she probably hasn't even got up to that yet.  If she sees the whole syllanus on the DVD, it may encourage her!  I remember having to dissect an English novel for GCE and I found it the most boring book imagineable, so one day I decided to read on and I got involved with the story and suddenly it wasn't boring!  Watching the DVD and realising what's in store for her may just do the trick!

Edited by Dance*is*life
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Just wanted to say that my DD (almost 11) goes to pieces if she is shouted at, so we asked around carefully before staying at the school we are with (which just merged with the best one in town). Apparently the head of the school shouts, but she only works with the seniors so DD has some time to harden up :o  But, as I said to her, why would I pay someone to shout at her, when she is the most conscientious, hardworking kid in the class? I asked her how she feels when dancing her competition solo (as we are working on performance quality), and she said 'My head is like a beehive'. I like that description! I wish you well with your DD  :)

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I feel that In Some ways shouting can be motivational if it's done in a constructive non aggressive way or raising voice to add emphasis or geeing people up. It's what's said and the way it's said that can be so damaging. Some of the meanest, most sarcastic comments can be delivered in a very calm way - that's the worst!

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If I had taken a guess at your DDs age it would have been 12! Both my DDs were shy at that age and found the 'performance aspect' the most difficult - especially doing it in a classroom environment in front of their friends. Younger DD in particular hated the feeling of all eyes on her if she had to demonstrate something.

 

Personally I would not be in too much of a hurry for her to take the grade 6 exam. I agree a talk with the teacher and a few private lesson would be a good idea but I would view this as more of a confidence builder and building your DDs relationship with the teacher than for getting her exam ready. My DD took the grade 6 at just turned 13 and although she got a distinction it was the lowest mark she got from any exam she took.

 

You mention that they tend to take an exam each year. Its perhaps worth bearing in mind if your DD wants to dance recreationally and stay at that school until she goes to university, that the grades only go up to 8 and at an exam a year she would be done aged 15. Does she do intermediate? Would she have the option of other classes after grade 8? Sometimes its worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture so that you can plot your DDs course to best suit her needs and her wishes.

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I think that the teacher occasionally gets very shouty and some of the girls get very upset.    I don't think the shouting is necessarily that loud / aggressive (Ive seen the teacher in action) but I think for someone who dislikes raised voices, extra attention on her because she is doing it wrong (still thinking that a correction is negative) - it can be devastating.   Since posting, I have been discussing how corrections are GREAT because it means my DD is doing well but can do better and she is being corrected in order to reach her full potential.  I asked DD to think about it from the ballet teacher's point of view - if she has corrected my DD 500 times for the same thing and my DD still can't improve on it, the teacher will get frustrated. 

 

So, I think the teacher is trying to be constructive but may sometimes get cross as she's said the same thing for years. 

 

Its comforting to hear that 12 is a difficult age and I do hope she will relax soon.  

 

She confessed that she is bored in Int Fdn now which is sad to hear.   She also says she has started to think beyond ballet and how much extra time she could have to devote to other things - she always assumed she would continue with ballet to Grade 8.   I am very keen for her to give the vocational grades a rest after Int Fdn as I personally feel that we shouldn't have ever started them (but I didn't do any research about what they actually mean and of course she was desperate to go on pointe!) and perhaps she could take a year's break after Grade 6 or even take an extra year to do it.

 

She does do some ungraded dance but she is actually the one that is motivated by the exams.  She drives herself very hard in everything she does.   I am aware that I am quite a pushy parent however I wonder if this is because my DD doesn't put herself forward so I do it for her.  She is so diligent and hardworking and I want that recognised without me having to mention it.    I do hear those of you who are saying that an encouraging teacher who nurtures is what is needed and perhaps that could be the answer.   

 

Ive mentioned intensive courses, private lessons to my DD but she wasn't all that keen......says she'd rather do a sports holiday course.   I am wondering if this is the beginning of the end......

 

Im getting in a muddle now as Im not sure if we will do grade 6 this year and then give up ballet, see how we go for this year and if not allowed to do the exam try another school, give up next term or do a final push to get through the exam!  I have told her that she can do whatever she wants and I haven't even voiced most of these thoughts with her.

 

Many thanks to you all for taking the time to read, share your experiences and be so supportive.

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So if she is still in inter-foundation, is the teacher planning on her taking the exam? I don't think 2 years is unusual in a vocational grade by the way. At DDs school they usually take the IF before they take grade 6 exam. The teacher puts IF alongside grades 4 & 5 and intermediate alongside 6 & 7. It sounds like your DD has a really good work ethic and pushes herself hard but please do remember it is not a race to get through the grades. It comes across a little as if your DD thinks she's failing or not good enough if she does not enter the exam each year but that really isn't the case. Your DD is making the journey from childhood to adulthood over the next 4-5 years with all the physical, mental and emotional changes that go with it. There is no one size fits all ballet training system.

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Sounds like not being allowed to do the IF this year is what's really knocked her confidence. If as you say it is the exam that motivates her I can totally understand that. I would guess she is terrifed that exactly the same thing will happen again next year with the Grade 6.

 

Also I assume from your last post that she is still taking the IF classes with a view to maybe doing the exam next year? If so no wonder she is bored!

 

Maybe she should take a break from it & return nearer the time of the exam, and do some performance-based things instead. have you thought about drama lessons?

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