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Advice about dance classes


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Ok, I did make a post earlier, but the more I think about this the more I think I am probably asking the wrong things.


I don't know what to do about my daughter's dancing.  She has been dancing since she was very small, and has just had her 11th birthday.  We have had two major house moves since she started dancing, so she has had to settle into new dance classes twice in that time.


For the past 3 years she has danced at a local school which has a very good reputation.  As standard she does one 3 hour session a week, comprised of 45 minutes each of ballet, tap, modern and limber.  In the run up to a show, festival or exams there are extra lessons on offer, so she often does a lot more than this - for example recently she has been preparing for a festival and doing about 10 and a half hours.  However, this is mostly practise for specific dances.  Now that the festival has finished she has dropped back down to 3 hours.


Now, as I said the school do locally have a very good reputation - they often win medals and awards at festivals, and their dancers/dances do place at the All England Finals. However, the main teacher (and owner) has had a really bad run recently - she has had terrible back problems which didn't respond well to treatment, and then needed surgery.  She has sadly followed this up with a bout of pneumonia. This has had a huge impact on how things are going in lessons - particularly with regards to exams and ballet.  For example, talking to my daughter she has said that in the last 3 months they have tended not to do their ballet lesson, focussing instead on modern and tap (and song and dance) which were classes the children were entering in the festival.  My daughter joined the school at the point of taking her Grade 1 ballet (we had to move house just as her previous school were entering her) and she is still only on ISTD grade 1.  She was actually the only child in her class to do a ballet solo this year at the festival (having had a medal the previous year) and whilst she was in the same age group it was clear how very much further other competing children had progressed whilst my daughter, well, hadn't.  Which isn't really that surprising if, as my daughter claims, her only ballet in the few months previous had been 6 private lessons with a stand in teacher (who, whilst I am really grateful to her for her efforts, I don't think is actually a ballet teacher.  Certainly my daughter was criticised in her solo for "poor placement" - which she says the teacher never even alluded to to her, focussing instead on how she held her hands...).  That said, I am reasonably confident that when the main teacher makes a recovery things will get back on an even keel.


However, having bored you all rigid with the background to my conundrum, my daughter has expressed an interest in eventually trying out for a "proper" dance school.  Her teacher thinks she has the ability for this, but obviously at Grade 1 ballet and Grade 2 tap and modern she is seriously behind other children her age.  So it certainly won't be happening this September, but I would like to do all I can to make dance a possible future for her if that is what she wants.  I have asked around on another (non dance based) forum, and it has been suggested that the main options are:


1.  Enrolling her in an associate programme of some sort.  The problem with this is that to start the only local programme I can find info on she will need to hold Grade 3 ballet by September - which will not happen without other action being taken in advance (her school are planning exams for March, but that will be Grade 2).


2.  Taking extra lessons at her current school.  When I mentioned to them that my daughter was interested in going away to study dance, they said they could make attendance at other classes open to her.  Now, on the face of it, this seems ideal.  However, this wouldn't happen until they have had a "timetable rethink" after Christmas, and if the timetable stays similar to it's current state, then won't be terribly helpful, as most of the ballet classes run on Saturday (which is when her current class is).  If she was doing extra I think another day of the week would be better than turning Saturday into one long dance class.  Now it could be that this will work out, but I don't know if I want to rely on it really - it will be another 2 or 3 months before we even see if it is a viable option, which further reduces her chances at reaching a decent standard any time soon.


3.  Changing dance schools altogether.  I am really reluctant to do this.  The simple fact is (and I admit I am biased, etc) I have watched the dancers from the other schools who take part in festivals and the ones within decent travelling distance from us just don't seem very good...  I don't like how they choreograph, I don't like the sometimes inappropriate costumes, and I don't like the way most of the mother's interact and talk about our current school.  Let us just say there is a LOT of rivalry, and I am not sure I want to go there.  There are obviously more schools who don't take part in festivals, but they don't really seem to offer a larger amount of ballet than the current one usually does. - so 1 lesson a week, 2 in the run up to exams.


4.  Supplementing her attendance at the current school with RAD lessons at a local ballet only school (who don't do shows or festivals, so no conflicts there!)


Sorry this has been so mammoth - I am really not sure where to take this.  The only thing else I can think of is asking for private lessons either at her current school (which I suspect would go down like a lead balloon at the moment, what with one thing and another!) or with another ballet teacher, maybe with an aim to getting grade 3 RAD in the next 9 months...



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Thank you, Chaperone.  I was beginning to worry that my post was so long that nobody would have the will to plough through it!


I am beginning to think that might be best for the short term.  Maybe get her up to RAD Grade 3, as well as continuing where she is, and then making a decision on what comes next.

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If she is year 6 which i think is correct I would say get applications in immediately and audition for a year 7 place now. At this stage they are looking at potential more than level attained to date and there are far more places available than in later years. If accepted at any of the vocational schools for year 7 they will all take them back to basics anyway although your dd might have to work a little harder than some of the others as they progress quickly.

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I would go for number 3 or 4.


It's also worth asking your DD how she would feel if she left her current school and joined a school that did no festivals. Would she miss them a lot? Does she want to continue doing them? If you decide to change schools, this might be a big factor in what school you choose to join. A lot of schools have a school show, usually yearly, for their students to perform in. So your DD would still have a chance to perform, if this was what she would miss about not doing festivals.


It's been mentioned on this forum before, but I would just like to mention that vocational schools also don't take festival results/sucesses into account when they offer places at vocational school. So if your DD is aiming to go down this route, it's worth baring this in mind when you pick a school.


If you and your DD are open to looking at schools that don't do festivals, you may have a bigger choice of schools to choose from. For these schools, since you don't see their students at festivals, it might be a good idea for you and your DD to ask about watching a class and/or do some trial lessons at these schools before choosing which school you want to join.


You also mentioned an example where your DD felt unhappy with the ballet teaching she received at her current school. It can be quite difficult to find a teacher that suits your DD best, just because dancers (of all ages) can be looking for different things in a teacher. Therefore, the idea of asking schools to watch their classes and do trial lessons is a good idea when looking for a new school. The other advantage of doing this, is that you're not committing yourself to a school, or have to leave your current school, before looking at all your choices.


Good luck.

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Thanks, Pictures.  Yes, I am in Swansea.


If we did take Spooky's advice and apply for a full time place in Year 7 (whilst acknowledging the chances are minute), where could she go?  We are not rich, and wouldn't be able to afford it without some sort of bursary...


Otherwise, if we go and look at other teachers, I don't actually know what to look for?  I know my daughter would like ballet more often than the once a week she has currently - I have been advised that lessons should be longer than she has currently too (I am told as she goes through the grades they should increase to about 2 hours) and that some sort of body conditioning is a good idea too (she does limber once a week - would she need more?).  But within the lesson - I don't know enough about ballet to know a good teacher from a bad one, really...

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The RAD can give you a list of their registered teachers near you, if you want to look at RAD schools.


I think people will have different ideas of what they look for in a teacher. But in my opinion, I would avoid any teacher who does the following:

  • Takes a very casual approach to their students starting pointe work
  • Only gives attention to the 'star' students and ignores everyone else
  • There is an emphasis on getting the leg as high as possible, with no teaching/explanation on placement.

A good teacher would do the following:

  • Not ignore certain students - he/she tries to correct everyone
  • He/she is knowledgable about correcting placement in individual bodies, for example, he/she will tell a student not to raise their leg so high if it's distorting their hips at the moment
  • He/she creates a positive atmosphere in class to work, everyone is encouraged to do their best and no-one is picked on for being 'the worse'.

If you go to a RAD school, a lot of students from Grade 4 or 5-ish onwards will also be working towards one of the vocational exams. At Grade 4 or 5, the students are probably doing Intermediate Foundation as well as their grade class. There are usually 2 classes per week of a vocational exam class, so this means students do at least 3 classes a week minimum. If there are free-work classes available, that's even better.


It sounds like your DD has done enough ballet to pick the schools/teachers she would like to try out classes with, so I would go with her opinions and take it from there.

Edited by Dancer Sugar Plum
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I would agree to get applications in for RBS /Hammond/Tring/Elmhurst this year. They are looking at potential. There are MDS scholarships which are means tested.


In the meantime with all these questions you have in your head it is hard to know where to start. I would sort out the dancing school first and they should be able to answer your questions.


Apart from getting advice on here from people local to Swansea (moderators can the title be changed to include location?) You could contact RAD/BBO/ISTD for a list of local schools. Then you and your daughter need to go and watch lessons, talk to the teachers and see who gels for you.


Good luck!

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I think option 4 .....a long way back now is best at the moment.

I'm sure if she is keen she could get her Grade 3 by this time next year. She could even miss out grade two altogether if time is very short.....I think it is still permissible to miss a grade occasionally .....so,much depends on the student and if they are a quick learner etc.


I would have thought getting onto an associate programme for a year would be better at this stage than rushing to apply right now for boarding schools if you have not had more time to find out about them. These schools admit pupils in every school year though obviously it may be easier to get in earlier rather than later.


You need to give your daughter at least a fair chance at this and even though schools are looking for "potential" maybe she needs a little more advancement and preparation for this big step.

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