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Giving up


Tulip
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Shocked to hear of so many talented dancers who no longer want to dance once their training is complete. I expected a couple but there are a good few, and this is coming from top ballet schools. Is this very common? My daughter still wants to keep going, but it is very very tough emotionally on them all. Does it get worse once they get into a company?

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I have no practical experience but I expect it will be harder once a dancer gets into a company.  There will be even longer days for one thing when the company is performing and I would guess that, no matter how friendly the company, there will be stressing about getting roles.

 

The Northern Ballet Academy professional graduates scheme was set up because David Nixon felt that some students may not be ready for professional life when they first graduate.

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Some constant injury and stressing over recovery. Then the constant lows of never being good enough in their own minds. Some just don't want the same constant routine of classes and fall out of love with dance. Keeping to the correct weight and not having much of a social life. I am thinking that a lot of these points play a factor in their decisions.

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I've heard of talented dancers quitting purely because they felt it wasn't for them anymore, they wanted a change.

I guess no matter how talented you are if you don't have the passion you will only succeed as far as you want.

 

(I hope that makes sense I spent ages trying to figure out how to word that!)

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I don't have any inside information but my impression is that dancers who get full time (as opposed to ad hoc) contracts dance professionally for at least a few years and some then go on and do other things in their late twenties or early thirties. As Janet has said, dancers in companies are in competition with each other for roles and promotions and you are entirely at the whim of the tastes and opinions of your AD, who may of course change whilst you are with the company. There are some young dancers who are clearly head and shoulders above their peers - and are recognised as such and are rapidly promoted - but they are few and far between. With the rest, I believe that it's largely a matter of luck how far you get and, of course, as they say, success breeds success. I'm pretty sure that if you are confident and assertive you get more opportunities than if you are shy and don't like to push yourself forward.

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Chaperone I know one of them who I know is a really good classical dancer has decided to not bother with company auditions, but wants to Persue her plan B. I don't want to reveal too much incase anyone is idetifyable. I think it takes guts after a life long life style, to hold your hand up and say enough is enough, I don't want this anymore.

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Of course, some students who are not regarded as exceptional when they graduate from their schools go on to have stellar careers. Nicolas le Riche has said that he was the last in his class to get a contract with the POB but he was an etoile at 20. Vadim Muntagirov was not given an artist's contract with the RB but joined the company four and a half later as a principal. Conversely, some dancers do little more than carry spears having seemed to have a bright future on graduation. That is why Xander Parish left the RB after 5 years and went to the Mariinsky where he has been nurtured and now dances lead roles.

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Well repeated or persistent injury is really difficult to deal with and the schools don't tend to be good at dealing with it.

 

Also sometimes it's the realisation that you are not as good as your peers (either real or perceived) and lack of confidence sets in.

 

However as has been said, sometimes those not perceived as outstanding at the start of their career can develop, Equally, it can happen where the school favourites don't do so well.

 

I have seen quite a few 'give up' in all 3 years of 6th form over the years and it seems quite common for students to decide to follow a different route.

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If it's any consolidation to parents of those who "gave up" I'm happy to share my story:

I spent 12 (!!!) years in a vocational school in Eastern Europe. ( so you can imagine the regime and discipline and constant competition. We had assessments twice a year!) It wasn't ballet but another art and also boarding (for some) I think that about 50% of my pears ended up doing something completely different (including me) but there lives are forever influenced by they art.

I can't imagine going to a "normal" school. In my wild teens I once forced my parents to let me change schools and I lasted one day! I'm grateful until today that I was able to move back! It's that you are surrounded by others who feel and think in similar way, who are also sensitive and artistic ( of course there are sensitive and talented children in " normal" schools but I hope you know what I mean!). I was good but not exceptional so I knew I wasn't going to make a career - one of the reasons of me going to university to study something different. Other - I wanted to try other things I was interested in. But the art I've learned is still affecting/influencing my life and my life is so much richer and full thanks to it. I'm able to pass it on to my children for example, in different forms or just occasionally but I can! So it wasn't waisted time or waisted money, it was the right school for me and I'm happy until today that I went there and I benefit from it until today even though I "gave up". Hope it helps!

Edited by Happymum
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Let's face it, it's a really tough life as well. Getting through 6th form is tough enough but the prospect of doing nothing else but 12 hours of ballet a day when you graduate must be daunting, even for those with the deepest passion.

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"When I think about the future I am excited but I am also more scared than I have ever been in my life"

This is the answer given by a graduate year dancer when she was asked about her plans after graduation. There may well be anxiety about being good enough, worries about life in a professional company etc but I think for many the fear is actually more along the lines of what to do from this summer if they do not yet have a contract. Student loans finish, current housing contracts finish - there is a multitude of practical considerations. Auditioning is expensive and yet you still need a roof over your head and an income. Some may have the bank of mum and dad but for how long? And during this time you still need to be able to take classes to stay on top form! For many this may rule out returning to the parental home. My DD at best could do a couple of mixed ability ballet classes if she came home after graduation. So you have the find somewhere to live that can be temporary or as long as you want/need it for problem coupled with the must be able to still take some classes coupled with the must find work to pay the rent but must be flexible enough to be able to go to auditions and allow dance classes to be fit in.

 

All of this worry is set against the final few months of the graduate year. Deadlines fast approaching for the academic side of the degrees and diplomas, final performance assessments approaching and graduate tours and showcases. Auditions are very expensive but also very time consuming - a day or two off for an audition is a day or two off rehearsing for the tour/assessment/showcase. And all of your friends are going through the same emotional and physical struggles.

 

Graduating is taking a big step into the unknown and leaving behind all your friends and family. 6th form vocational training is tough but you are with your friends, your 2nd family but at this point you are moving on. And family finances do once again raise their ugly head. Some parents may be able to continue to support their offspring financially as auditions continue but for some there are real limits on how many auditions they can even afford their DCS to attend in the final year let alone how to support the DC once their training is complete.

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I think you've summed up the situation perfectly 2dancersmum.

 

Being able to take more control over your future could also be another factor in changing direction. By choosing a non-dance path you stand a much better chance of being taken on or employed on your actual merits, hard work and attitude, rather than on the way you look, where you've trained or your connections.

 

Being constantly assessed and scrutinised by others must be exceptionally hard, especially when one individual's judgement is the difference between success and failure. For most there is no safety net after graduation and to put yourself out there over and over again will be a challenge too far for some, no matter how talented and passionate they are.

 

For those that feel like this, the decision to 'give up' may come as a relief and be a very empowering thing to do.

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There was a very interesting interview with Matthew Bourne published in the Sunday Times on 9th November 2014.  It is probably behind the paywall, but I hope it is OK that I have cut and pasted the following quote from him.  It struck a chord with me at the time and I think it is very relevant to this discussion. 

 

Quote

 

About 1,000 British dancers graduate each year into a cruelly competitive field. Are we training too many? Bourne equivocates. “Within every batch of students, there will be only a few with the motivation to make a career work.” 

 

Unquote

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The girls I know about aren't even wanting to audition. They just don't want a career in dance anymore. For one it's about the constant ups and downs and she doesn't want that stress anymore. She's a beautiful classical dancer not from my daughters school. I'm sure she will go on to dance for herself, dancing for pleasure without all the stress.

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Interesting discussion.  Most of my son's year from Elmhurst and RBS (he graduated about 3 years ago) are now dancing, but not all, and for a variety of reasons as discussed already.

 

What I have thought though while reading these comments is how pleased and proud I am of him for managing to get this far, and although he faces some changes this year, I'm hoping this will bring bigger and better things for him.

 

We have made sure he knows all the way through his training (and now beyond) that we would support him in whatever path he took.  We would talk about it every year around assessment time - did he still want it, was he still prepared to work hard for it etc.  Wherever his path leads, his training and the people he's met along the way have made him the person he is now. 

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As well as classes, rehearsals and performances many (most) dancers spend time in the gym and that's not just the men who obviously have to build up and then maintain upper body strength for the lifts. I have seen photographs of Alina Cojacaru lifting very heavy looking weights. Some dancers do Pilates or yoga as well which lengthens the day even further. A dancer has to take responsibility for his or her own fitness and strength by doing everything necessary to keep in shape for performances and gruelling tours. The touring companies put on an incredible number of performances, often with 3 or 4 back to back, and the more junior dancers will generally dance in every performance unless they are sick or injured. The self-discipline required is enormous and, unless you enjoy whole process of bringing a performance to the stage, I don't think that this career is for you. Of course, many graduates are struggling to get jobs these days and have to be funded by the bank of mum and dad but they don't have the challenges of staying in shape for auditions. 

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I made it through about 2 months of vocational school (albeit a contemporary college, and I was aged 18) before I decided it wasn't the career for me. There were several factors in this:

 

- To move away from being a 'known' fish in a little pond (I won't even say big fish because there were better dancers than me there) to a completely new city, school, teachers, way of doing things at even aged 18 was a massive shock to the system, I dread to think how upsetting it could be at aged 16. I felt so young and unprepared for the diversity of people I was now training with. I dreamt for so long about going to this school/college and once I got there it didn't match my dreams - injury didn't help I'm sure - and I hate to say it, but I was bored. When you spend all of your formative years cramming in as much school and dancing as you can, and only stopping to eat and sleep it's a bit of a shock to be dancing during the day and not doing anything in the evenings. Living in a big city means that you don't necessarily live near your co-students, and the loneliness of those evenings, when you know all your old friends are at dancing, was a massive issue for me.

 

- To be surrounded by other people like you can be a great thing, or it could be an awful thing. As a teenager I suffered some issues (as do most) but it got to the 'clinical' stage at times. I had been doing well before going to college - but when I started talking to the different students around me it almost became a competition to see who had the most issues and I knew that wasn't a good environment for me to be in. There were anorexics, bulimics, people with money problems, family problems, and also some very narrow minded students who couldn't see what damage they were doing to their own bodies all in the aim of 'getting better'. As someone who was already quite well read in the area of dance medicine and science, this frustrated me and confused me - why would these people do this to themselves when the stuff I've read clearly says it's not possible/will cause problems/ etc etc. 

 

- I also decided, quite quickly, that dancing as a career was quite a selfish thing to do - you spend hours working yourself into the ground, to be criticised and berated by yourself, and teachers/choreographers etc..... all because you love it! 

 

So - I apologise for the lengthy post - my story is NOT one of 'giving up', but actually being strong enough, after years of wanting it, to turn around and say that actually, no I don't want this anymore, not if it has to be like this. For years and years I had dreams at night where I went back, picked up where I left off. I actually even auditioned to join the same college's 1 year postgrad course once I'd done my BSc degree (and had done Adv 2 exams while at university). My career has certainly been a 'wonky' one so far, and I'm sure there'll be more changes to come, but everything I do at the moment, comes from the dance training I did when I was younger. It's never been a waste that's for sure.

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It's been my experience over the years that there is a "drop out" age with young trained dancers - particularly females.  It seems to happen at around age 16.  My guess is that it coincides with other changes that occur at that point in life such as:

boys,
drivers licenses,
high school/college,

What a tumultuous time the teen years are for us all!

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It's been my experience over the years that there is a "drop out" age with young trained dancers - particularly females.  It seems to happen at around age 16.  My guess is that it coincides with other changes that occur at that point in life such as:

 

boys,

drivers licenses,

high school/college,

 

What a tumultuous time the teen years are for us all!

There might be something else at play here too... There are far more girls than there are boys!

 

Most of the vocational schools take about the same number of girls as boys into their 6th-forms, but at auditions the girls outnumber the boys by anything up to 20-1. So a very high percentage of girls will not get a place at 16 and will have to find an alternative for 6th-form.

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Some of these girls have spent five years plus three years of training in upper schools. It is sad but at the same time at age 19, the world is at their feet. Each person gives up for their own personal reasons I suppose. However the main being the downs with a few ups? You can have it all but once that passion dies and can't be retrieved then they have made the right decision. Good luck to them.

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I agree - sometimes the passion just dies - but then of course you are talking about children to adults too as they get more independent and more mature in their decision making.  Sometimes when dance has been their passion for so long it perhaps takes a while to find an alternative goal.  I know a couple of dancers who this time last year were questioning whether they wanted to continue - one in particular said he might as well finish the course as he did not know what he could do if he wasn't dancing as he wasn't interested in or good at anything else.  He seems to have got the passion and drive back though.   I think ultimately age is a big factor - dancers need to make decisions to train much earlier than their peers who get a few more years to decide what they will do at 18 - university, apprenticeship, job - and inevitably some must change their minds - I would suspect more so those that stepped on the rollercoaster prior to 6th form as many of them in year 11 would maybe of just been swept up in continuing the ride.

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This is a very interesting thread, as I have been thinking to this question since my DD decided to ride the rollercoaster. She is only 12 and I am full of doubts on what I should do with her: I want to support her passion until she has it, but on the other hand I am afraid to limit her future possibilities. I mean: after many years of vocational school, are the DC able to see and appreciate all the other routes life can offer them? Being isolated, even in a golden cage such as RBS, sharing their everyday life for many years with people (peers, teachers, parents) all oriented towards the same unique goal, does allow them to make actually an informed choice? Can a 14, 16, 18 years old girl that has spent her life between that walls be aware of what life could be outside her school and/or beyond dancing? The dancer 2dancersmum was referring to thought he wasn't good at anything else: how could he know it?

Hope you understand what I mean

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I don't necessarily think that the passion dies,as such, perhaps more likely is that reality of life and developed maturity play more of a part in decision making regarding ones life. 

 

You make it sound like deciding against a career as a dancer is a sad thing, a dreadful waste, something to be pitied or lamented - I actually think it's something very different. All of the positives that someone gets from training as a dancer will remain with them, plus they will more likely....

  • have a career which is much more likely to be secure,
  • earn a good wage, possibly with benefits such as a pension, sick pay, holiday pay
  • work more sociable hours, 
  • be able to walk without something hurting (although I still seem to have something aching most days!)
  • be able to eat what they like, when they like

The list goes on. Yes for some they may have 'lost that passion' but for many the passion remains, but the desire (or need) for a different career is also present. Don't forget that some of these youngsters may have personal or familial situations which affect their decision. They might be upset to read that some people assume they have 'lost their passion' to dance....

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I understand what you mean. My daughter has been at vocational school since she was 11. However she came home lots of times. She has helped out in the family business. I don't feel she has been sheltered more than her two brothers. She is just different and has always wanted to perform on a stage. Although she is very academic her plan B would be towards musical theatre which is another passion of hers. There are so many things she could have done but she really, really doesn't want to do anything else. Hopefully she will fulfilled her dreams, she has worked extremely hard, and has been on this roller coaster for years, but she still wants that chance to perform.

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People reading this,please don`t take this the wrong way. But could it be for some people ,maybe girls in particular,that they decide a career as a ballet dancer is not for them ,that their realisation /decision of this is a sign of them just growing up? How many thousands ,since being little girls have wanted to become ballerinas? It`s a typical little girl`s dream. But the harsh reality of having the correct physique ,with being talented enough,with being lucky enough,with being dedicated enough, with it being so competitive ,probably starts to hit home for many teenagers,i`d imagine. 

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Dd has already decided at age 13 that she will leave vocational school at age 16 in order to take A levels that otherwise wouldn't be available to her.

 

She then plans to audition for musical theatre college at 18.

 

She says that although he dream is to dance at the moment she just wants to take advantage of the teaching & bring in a school full of like minded children. Her Plan B wouldn't be seen as a failure but an extension of her love of dance. (She has become very interested in the human body & physiotherapy techniques & how they relate to dancers & also how the voice works. ).

 

Her training will not be wasted if she does take that route.

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Reading through the threads on this forum highlights the stress of auditioning for associate schemes, lower school, upper school and colleges and the seemingly endless wait for the letter or email which could set or keep you on the road to your ultimate goal of being a professional ballet dancer.

 

I'm wondering if, for some people, just by getting through all those auditions and assessments and then the rigours of an upper school training, they kind of feel as if they have achieved their goal. Or certainly, A goal. It is hard to see beyond the end of your course sometimes, plus, when you're training, your day is pretty much planned out for you. You feel as if when you graduate, you've finally made it, when in reality, that's just the beginning. Looking for work is hard and expensive. It is understandable that the reality doesn't always set in until you actually reach that point. Before then, you're focussing on your next assessment or performance.

 

Additionally, so many make the decision to train as a dancer when they're very young. At 11, you don't know what life as a ballet dancer will really be like. You are not considering how you'll live on that wage (that's if you even get a job) or how hard it will be to balance work with other things you might want out of life.

 

From my own perspective, I made the decision before graduating vocational school that a full time contract in a classical ballet company wouldn't be for me but I wanted more of a portfolio career to include teaching and especially choreography as well as performing. I have been lucky enough to achieve this, but there were some things I had not considered. I hated touring. I also found that even when I was working full time on a contract, I had to come home and look for what I'd do when that contract ended. It was all consuming and it didn't leave any time for a social life. I realised that I wanted more in my life than just dance. I wanted a family, and I realised that my job was standing in the way of achieving that. I realise that some people do both, but I think it is very hard as a freelancer. I didn't realise it would be so lonely.

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It's obviously individual, but I can imagine that the constant assessment, scrutiny and criticism can just get you down after a while and these students realise that their life is always going to be like this. It's worrying if students feel that they have to keep going because they don't know what else to do / aren't good at anything else. There are lots of options out there but in the bubble of vocational school it is probably harder to find out about them.

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