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British students lack motivation.....


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So disappointing to read Christopher Powney's interview in Dancing Times in which he questions the motivation of British students and says that there can be an element of sitting back on their laurels and a sense of entitlement.

 

In my experience the British students at top vocational schools have generally fought so hard to get there and shown unprecedented levels of focus, motivation and tenacity to keep going in spite of the fact that they constantly get overlooked in favour of students from abroad with their amazing competition-winning hyperextensions etc.

 

It's not lack of motivation, if anything it's lack of confidence due to lack of opportunity or encouragement!

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It sounds utter nonsense, Ribbons.The writer does young dancers a serious unkindness. 18 months ago, I was in a mixed adult \ teen ballet group. Our dance teacher was pepping up the 14\14\15 years olds with "If you want a dance career, you have to want it more than anything else and try so hard that you can't try harder because you are giving everything!" This was a good studio but in a small town. It had lots of students who went on to vocational dance colleges.

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Very interesting article. I do think that in the past the artistry had been schooled out of the royal students and then ironically, they have been overlooked due to the flamboyance of the foreign students. It will be interesting to see if this can be allowed to flourish along side the lovely technique. But I agree with Ribbons, I think it has a lot to do with lack of confidence not a sense of entitlement.

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Not sure if it is possible to generalise about the attitude of all British students!!

 

And we only see the most successful foreign students usually successful enough to have won or been a finalist in a major competition.

 

I haven't read the article though.

However I did try to go into Dancing Times which I haven't read for years and saw that they had a very good 12 month offer on so have just subscribed to this .......looking forward to first one arriving.

Ive ordered from December 2014 onwards......which issue was this article in?

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I think that lack of confidence is the issue. Training is, rightly or wrongly, very cautious in the UK. As was mentioned on another thread yesterday, in other countries where students learn virtuoso steps very young these steps do not hold the same fear when the students (later professional dancers) have to perform them. It's very noticeable, for example, how Japanese dancers in the RB, ENB and BRB excel in virtuoso dancing. Another thing is that dancers from countries such as the US, Australia, Japan take part in a lot of competitions, which seems to be rather discouraged in the UK (for example, very few students training in Britain enter the Prix de Lausanne). Competitions have their downside but they provide valuable performance opportunities and a window on the incredible talent there is worldwide. When I've looked at threads about (vocational) school performances I've been surprised to read (in some cases) how little ballet was performed by the younger students, who have instead done national dances. I really can't believe that a student training seriously in, say, the US or Japan would be performing anything other than a variation, pdd or corps dance from a classical ballet in an end of term / year showcase.

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I haven't read the article though.

However I did try to go into Dancing Times which I haven't read for years and saw that they had a very good 12 month offer on so have just subscribed to this .......looking forward to first one arriving.

Ive ordered from December 2014 onwards......which issue was this article in?

Jan 15.

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Aileen I totally agree with you. I think the UK could benefit from a happy medium of the two extremes of training; in a lot of the world there appears to be an 'over-emphasis' on 'tricks' or virtuosity, perhaps at the expense of pure technique and quality. But in the UK we tend to be over-cautious! I agree that students in the UK could be 'scared' of some movements, if they haven't been exposed to them at an early age. I've said this before but I think that perhaps some of the vocational schools don't allow their younger students to perform pure ballet pieces until they are confident that they will be performed flawlessly. I suppose using character or demi-character pieces allows the students to work as a corps de ballet and to perform on stage without their classical technique being exposed and scrutinised? 

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It doesn't help when teachers lament the over-emphasis on extreme athleticism and 'tricks' in ballet these days and say that they want to foster a return to more artistry, but then favour those very students (usually from abroad) who demonstrate the best tricks!

 

Totally agree with posters above about cautious training and lack of performance opportunities.

 

The saddest thing of all is that the new Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet School, who has been in post for a mere 3 months, can make such sweeping generalisations about British students and can't see what is so plainly obvious to most posters on the forum.

 

I have re-read the article several times to see if I have misinterpreted what has been said but it still comes across as arrogant and misinformed and I am just getting crosser every time!

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Gosh! I hadn't realised that Powney was in a senior position at the RBS. I wonder what his students will think if they read the article. If he genuinely believes this then he should say this directly to his students and tell them what (more) they should be doing rather than criticising them behind their back. The other thing that he needs to remember is that students in the UK have to do a whole heap of high stakes exams at 16 (and this includes students at vocational school), which students in other countries don't do; in most other countries students only do exams at 18.

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I was very disappointed to read that statement in the article. Generalisation of any kind irritates me as a rule, and I wonder how many young British students Mr Powney has actually met and talked with, before forming this opinion? Does he only include British students at WL? British students at Vocational Schools? Non-vocational students? It seems an extraordinarily vague statement to make with little or no justification.

 

It may be worth a letter to Dancing Times if people feel particularly strongly.

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There's a persistent (and false) narrative out there about young people today being lazy and entitled. The reality is that young people are entering a very, very tough world and people over 40 generally had it much easier in that they could obtain secure jobs, even if they left school at 16, work their way up if they were bright and motivated, get a degree without getting into thousands of pounds worth of debt and get a place of their own (there was far more social housing available and home ownership was not an impossible dream if you had a job) in their twenties. I was 'entitled' in my teens and twenties: I felt that if I studied for a degree and passed professional exams I would get a secure, well paid job and be able to buy my own place when I was still young (even in London, which has always been expensive). My peers and my siblings all thought the same.

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I was very disappointed to read that statement in the article. Generalisation of any kind irritates me as a rule, and I wonder how many young British students Mr Powney has actually met and talked with, before forming this opinion? Does he only include British students at WL? British students at Vocational Schools? Non-vocational students? It seems an extraordinarily vague statement to make with little or no justification.

It may be worth a letter to Dancing Times if people feel particularly strongly.

 

 

Well given that he has lived in Holland for at least the last 8 years as I understand, he probably hasn't met many British students at all

 

 

There's a persistent (and false) narrative out there about young people today being lazy and entitled. The reality is that young people are entering a very, very tough world and people over 40 generally had it much easier in that they could obtain secure jobs, even if they left school at 16, work their way up if they were bright and motivated, get a degree without getting into thousands of pounds worth of debt and get a place of their own (there was far more social housing available and home ownership was not an impossible dream if you had a job) in their twenties. I was 'entitled' in my teens and twenties: I felt that if I studied for a degree and passed professional exams I would get a secure, well paid job and be able to buy my own place when I was still young (even in London, which has always been expensive). My peers and my siblings all thought the same.

And this was also the case for ballet - most British students could guarantee a job in a British company.

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I don't know any older students at vocational school but the younger ones seem extremely hard working, organised and motivated to me.

 

Maybe we need to question the dancing education they receive? It seems there may be differing policies here and abroad...... Hopefully Mr Powney will update the education his students receive.

 

On a related subject does anyone think the more petite size of many Asian girls would play a part in company selection?

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I hate to say this, but in my opinion the majority of Asian (for example - but I would also include South American, Ukranian) students who I know do have more drive than their  European counterparts (yes I know that Ukraine is now part of Europe). Although, not exclusively of course. Could it be that for artistic or financial reasons they strive to attain more ? Could it be that the culture in their countries permits the teachers and parents to discipline, push and demand higher standards ? Although I personally love to see clean and precise technique and artistry I do agree that sometimes over caution when teaching can foster reticence in students that may not serve them well in the international dance world. Sometimes it's good just to 'go for it' and then refine the steps. I am not generally a fan of competitions, but believe that the experience is valuable nowadays. I have however seen students perform amazing variations in comps, but then you see them in class and well, it's clear that they've been drilled to dance the variation, but have fairly shoddy technique....The situation at the moment does seem to be contradictory for young dancers and their teachers. Frustrating. x 

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Oh dear. I must buy and read. How sad to hear this. I wonder who he is aiming it at. From what I have seen in the last few years, british students (non vocational) and with an outgoing sense of performance are sidelined for the foreigners. Lauretta Summerscales for one! I have seen a class of WL students told to dance as a corps not try and be soloists. And a rather lovely now RB company member told the same in her last ur there. I def think my ex students at WL have serious lack of confidence and the fight is bashed out. Or they are told only one way to show they are fighting which, if it doesn't suit them they lose faith or think why bother. For the non vocational student its deflating to know they might get overlooked. So as a teacher, out of 100s of students we might get one who could really give the foreigners a run for their money with standard, physique and facility so yes I do think they as such a minority, have an entitlement- as a british student to train at the best british school and no I don't think WL students have an entitlement over non voc.

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What a slap in the face to the students and also to the previous regime of teachers at RBS. From everything I've read here about youngsters going through auditions, training, and all the agonies of selection by the major vocational schools, the one thing I haven't seen is any sense of entitlement. I don't know what he thinks is lacking, but I hope he isn't wanting to see a future where kids train dangerously hard when they're very young and burn out with serious injuries by the time they're 20. Just because supply exceeds demand, it doesn't mean you should abuse your supply.

 

The British system, at least at the Royal Ballet and its school, seems to fall between two stools. Some companies (POB, Royal Danish, NYCB, and the Russians) have their own styles they're trying to preserve and tend to recruit locally into the company and the associated school. Some companies (such as ABT and apparently ENB) seem to be quite happily eclectic and will take dancers from anywhere without too much concern about preserving their heritage. RBS seems to take mostly British kids at the earlier stages, with some sort of vague notion about preserving the more low-key British style of dancing, and then at the higher stages and in the company they go out grabbing Spanish, Russian, and Asian dancers who can manage the glitz and flash that the school has discouraged in its younger students. If the school really is just training the corps de ballet of the future for a company that's going to get its stars from elsewhere (like opera companies do), the least they could do is to be honest about it so people know where they are. The sad thing is that the company over the last year or two seems to be making an effort to recruit and develop local talent, which is good but it needs support from the school if it's going to be a successful long-term strategy.

 

And then for the school's director to shrug them off as lazy and entitled! Good heavens. Interesting times ahead, apparently, and not in a good way. The company and the school need to decide what they really want, and then start training their students accordingly and being honest about it. This is so unfair.

Edited by Melody
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As for competitions I am all for them but my goodness you need to be seriously loaded to enter YAGP or Prix. I think UK students have drive but they have so much exposure to alternative interests, there are few who really understand how focused on 'ballet' and all that enhances it they need to be to follow a Classicsl career.

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As for competitions I am all for them but my goodness you need to be seriously loaded to enter YAGP or Prix. I think UK students have drive but they have so much exposure to alternative interests, there are few who really understand how focused on 'ballet' and all that enhances it they need to be to follow a Classicsl career.

I agree that exposure to ballet comps is a serious eye opener for students. As you say, unfortunately they are very, very expensive.

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Oh dear I had no idea that one of our top ballet schools was training dancers almost not to be seen!! How absurd.

 

However there is a balance to be struck between not encouraging 10-11 year olds perhaps to attempt variations far too advanced for them and to have time to build a firm foundation for technique .......but however expecting somewhere between 15-18 to start maturing into being able to do quite complex variations which might be expected at competition level.

 

Does Christopher Powney have any dance training and where was this ....does anyone know offhand?

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Oh dear I had no idea that one of our top ballet schools was training dancers almost not to be seen!! How absurd.

 

 

Well, one of the ballet mistresses in a YouTube video about the corps did say that if they don't notice the new corps members, they must be doing something right. I guess it's an institutional thing - just be a nice quiet little cog.

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As for competitions I am all for them but my goodness you need to be seriously loaded to enter YAGP or Prix. I think UK students have drive but they have so much exposure to alternative interests, there are few who really understand how focused on 'ballet' and all that enhances it they need to be to follow a Classicsl career.

I am not sure I agree with this. I look at the girls in dd's Saturday associates class, and see an incredibly driven, hardworking, single-minded group of teenage girls, most of whom who have got up ridiculously early on a Saturday morning, probably taken homework and revision to do on the train, who won't go to parties or sleepovers if they clash with ballet, who juggle hours of homework and ballet class on weekday evenings, and whose "alternative interests" are stretching and doing their theraband exercises. I see no lack of understanding of what it takes to try for a ballet career.

 

Maybe in the UK we as parents and students like to put more emphasis on academics so that if the worst comes to the worst, our dance students have choices for alternative careers, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Perhaps we are more careful with our children's long-term emotional health than some "more driven" parents in other cultures? Again, how can that be a bad thing? To try to produce intelligent, rounded adults who have made their own choices, rather than hot-housed children pushed down a certain route that has been chosen for them, and which at some point, they may rebel against?

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Absolutely SandP, I agree with all yr comments about parenting and guidance. I think by majority we all get it right, I am very much learning along the way. But regarding the classical focus, out of an associate environment I think the right minded student/understanding parent is in the minority, or, it takes them a lot longer to understand what it takes and the passion they need. Maybe I was unusual but by 12 there wasn't a ballet book I could get my hands on that I hadn't read or used to help me. Now if I ask an advanced class any history of ballet or music and composer questions, they can't answer. But they know about Dance Moms, tho forgot to do their mets exs at the same time.

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It's those poor students at RBS I feel sorry for. How demoralising to hear that you've already been PUBLICLY written off as unmotivated by your new school director. Not exactly supportive is it? And how much time has he actually spent with the students since he started?

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I am not sure I agree with this. I look at the girls in dd's Saturday associates class, and see an incredibly driven, hardworking, single-minded group of teenage girls, most of whom who have got up ridiculously early on a Saturday morning, probably taken homework and revision to do on the train, who won't go to parties or sleepovers if they clash with ballet, who juggle hours of homework and ballet class on weekday evenings, and whose "alternative interests" are stretching and doing their theraband exercises. I see no lack of understanding of what it takes to try for a ballet career.

 

Couldn't agree more, Spanner. They understand all too well what it takes; and how the odds are stacked against them.

 

I'm sure my dd is not the only one to feel slightly disenchanted to see an advert in this same issue of the Dancing Times (for another UK school, not RBS) showing their upper school preliminary audition dates. She pointed it out to me: there are nine preliminary auditions, six abroad, and three in the UK (and one of those is for overseas candidates only). So - only 2 out of 9 auditions at this British school are open to British students. Why aren't they doing everything possible to support home-grown talent first and foremost?

 

Sorry to hijack the thread slightly, but this really gets my goat!

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I have reread the article a number of times and I think that he makes a very unfortunate comment about British students feeling entitled - that is a large generalisation. However, on balance, I rather like the article. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what he says. I think a large well established institution does need shaking up and the ethos revisiting. If he has a goal of getting more artistry into the students along side their excellent technique then I applaud that - that has long been my gripe with the school, that they seem to train for the corps - those very talented students need to be allowed to bring out their full personality so that they can truly shine. The very 'English' reserved personality is a lovely quality in a person (unassuming, polite and humble) but there has to be an understanding, approval and acceptance that once you are performing everything is laid out for the audience. Your true feelings and personality is absolutely required, and that comes down to confidence and being in a supportive environment so students can be brave.

 

He mentions Anthony Dowell in the piece who was fantastic both classically and artistically. However, you need to look more currently and I think Ed Watson is a perfect example. He has beautiful technique, amazing physicality and is an incredible actor, laying everything out there. And he went through the Royal school - not this 'oh yes he/she was trained at Royal' and it turns out they were taken in for one year as a graduate - that is not being trained by Royal!

 

I have always felt rather sad for children going to RBS as I know They have massive potential but so many get 'ruined' along the way, and I don't mean by being 'assessed out' because they grow or develop out of the classical requirements. But their personalities seem to be 'flattened' and harmogenised (if that is a word). The very best are outstanding and are a match for any international star but I think more could be done to develop more of the incredible talent that they have. I really hope Chistopher Powney can bring the school even further and add another dimension to the training, so more of our most talented students can get the recognition they deserve.

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Re reading this thread this morning I was having a sense of déjà vu and then remembered .......was it about a year ago now......that Carlos Acosta had made some very similar remarks about "British Students"

 

I can understand to a degree that our more "British reserve" may be misread by someone not brought up in our culture but Christopher Powney must have some understanding of this and if he thinks the culture in ballet needs changing ....that's fine...but there are ways to express this desire without actually putting down the students he is working with........he should know the score.

 

Sometimes a bit of pushing is healthy though. I was in a class once .......well quite a few years ago now.....where the teacher stopped the class at the pirouette section because in an enchainement he had set we had all only put in one pirouette. He asked us all to do pirouettes one by one first ...and most of us did two though a couple in the class could do three!! He then said as we couldn't be bothered to do the number of pirouettes we were capable of then he couldn't be bothered to carry on teaching the class!!

 

A lesson learnt!

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