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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #1 
I had a conversation with someone at DDs studio last week that left me mulling over a question I thought I'd bring here to see what your thoughts on the matter were.

Is there any agreement about an age at which a teacher/ AD/ SO could or should reasonably discuss a dancer's lack of potential to make it as a professional?

I realize this is a rather huge topic, so to narrow it down let's eliminate the obvious. I think we can all agree that toddlers and preschoolers are out of the question. No one should be advising their parents that a professional career is not likely. Let's also take off the list of possibilities the teachers/ AD/ SO who are enthusiastic because they DO see professional level work in a dancer's future.

Let's also take off the table parents or dancers who bring the question to their teacher/ AD/ SO; that's not really what I'm getting at. I'm referring to the comments directed at dancers by the teacher/ AD/ or SO at the discretion of the AD/ SO/ Teacher. For example, "I don't think you have the potential to be a professional." or "I don't think you have what it takes to make it professionally." 

I have a very definite opinion, but I realize after this discussion that other people have vastly differing opinions on this. I'm curious to hear what different parents of dancers of different ages and different stages in the process think.

Is there an age, if any, that a teacher should be advising against professional pursuits? Also, regardless of the age, how should a conversation like this be handled? One on one? Call for a special meeting? During the year? Should they wait until year's end? 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
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RebelSwan

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Reply with quote  #2 
I know a kid who had a musical theatre teacher tell her something along the lines of she was so bad she didn't deserve to be in her class. Same season, same kid was cast in title role of Annie in a professional company.  The casting director must have thought she was pretty good.  I'm not a "pro" but I think she's pretty good.  But, like all of us, teachers have an opinion and their own past experiences of how they were treated when trying to become a pro.

And, yes, Annie switched studios.
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prancer

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Reply with quote  #3 
I don’t know what age if that is your only question 16?

But I would like to say that I hope this kind of professional conversation happens. I am a college professor, and I see students all the time who still think they are going to be physicians who have very average standardized tests and B or C GPAs. These are the same students who have never shown the academic potential to get into medical school, and some of them are fighting so hard for this dream, that they are doing so at the expense of making better selections for themselves.

I honestly can’t believe the no medical school in your future conversation hasn’t happened in high school, or freshman college advising. I guess those advisors figure the writing will eventually be on the wall, but some students or their families don’t see it.

So for Dance, I guess the writing might be with regard to SIs or roles, but I would rather someone speak directly to the issue.
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AnnaBeav

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Reply with quote  #4 
I guess the question is whether or not it was discussed that there was a desire to be a professional performer by either the parents or student. Or is it assumed at your studio that all students desire to go into the performing arts as a career?


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prancer

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Reply with quote  #5 
That’s a good point AnnaBeav. My studio is pre-pro, so they should they should be asking about future plans, and having appropriate assessment discussions if the dancer is hoping - especially planning - on a Dance career.
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #6 
There is so much that goes into a discussion like this one. Do any of you think there is a reasonable age at which this should happen? 

I have read quite a lot of prior topics on this board and I do see over and over again that what a dancer looks like at say, 9, will often have nothing to do with what that dancer will look like at 16. If we're sticking to the negative (as in, you are not looking like professional caliber) does that logic apply here as well? 

I'll add another dimension to this, assuming you feel that it is age appropriate for your dancer, would you want to be advised before your dancer was? Also, would you want to be a part of that discussion? 

I tend to believe that there is no one age that is the "correct" answer to this question, and that it is as individualized as every dancer... but that there is probably a cut off where many if not most parents would feel, "Yes, that would be too young to start having that discussion."

I also wonder if there is any consensus if parents want to be a part of the discussion, or if that doesn't sort of answer the question of what age. My immediate thoughts are if the child is mature enough for a parent to feel comfortable with a teacher/ SO/ AD having the conversation without the parent present then they are probably old enough to hear those words... which brings it full circle, is there a general idea of what age is appropriate?

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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #7 
AnnBeav, I'm really putting a hypothetical out there. There are no assumptions were my DD currently studies, but let's say there are no assumptions made. The dancer is not at a professional prep. type program. 
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prancer

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Reply with quote  #8 
Lorax - I think at my daughter's current age (14) she would be given much better odds of a professional career than she would have been given at 9.   In terms of ability to make an assessment - I would say no earlier than 2 years after puberty for a meaningful assessment. I don't mean to be unkind to anyone with phenomenal young children, but I don't put much stock in early skill level as good measure of future success. Now, early good feet or turnout are definite advantages, but those assets won't be enough alone.

If the dancer was not at a pre-pro studio and the dancer or their family are not talking about dancing for a career, then I don't think studios have an obligation to provide that type of assessment.  But if the dancer is investing tons of hours and the parents are investing tons of money because they are hoping for a dance career, some read on the likelihood of that panning out is important to me.  

Obviously, if I'm saying 2 years after puberty, that conversation should take place between the teachers and the dancer directly.  
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #9 
I appreciate your perspective, prancer. 

We haven't hit that age range yet, either of my kids. From where I sit now it's hard to think of a conversation like that happening without having some sort of involvement from us, but I realize, we haven't hit that age  yet and perspective changes rapidly.


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joriebelle

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Reply with quote  #10 
I would think if a dancer really had zero potential that would be obvious to the dancer as well.  Other than that, I wouldn't take the advice of a teacher if my DD was passionate about dance; I would never underestimate the power of hard work and determination if she continued to work hard.  This is for a dance career outside of ballet though, which is what I think you're asking?
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #11 
Joribelle I'm not talking about a dance career in any specific genre of dance, just dance in general professionally. 

I'm surprised at what seemed such a simple issue when I first began to talk about this (in conversation) really had so many "if then..." aspects to it. 

I'd appreciate a teacher being sincere and honest about my dancer's shortcomings, IF it was the appropriate time and place developmentally for that discussion to happen. I definitely feel that there is a lower age range where this kind of discussion is just out of line, unprofessional. I do wonder if, even among people who share that opinion, there is some consensus about how young is too young for that discussion.

And, I can appreciate the value in never letting someone else's opinions sway you from something you are passionate about. 

If you feel your dancer should be able to handle this conversation on their own, about what age do you feel is appropriate? I know every dancer is different, but what age was definitely still too young?

I can see the other side of this to a certain extent. I would not envy being in an AD/ SO or teacher's shoes if they really felt the need to have this conversation with a student. 
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melissa745

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Reply with quote  #12 
We had a discussion with DDs ballet teacher, as she recently has decided to pursue a career in ballet. She's almost 13, and I wanted to know if it was even a possibility. The teacher told us it was, but also listed some weaknesses that would prevent her. She told us that they are correctable weaknesses, but that if DD doesn't improve in those areas, her career as a ballet dancer would be difficult to achieve. I appreciated that feedback, and DD is still young enough that she can make those improvements.

On the other hand, I spoke a few weeks ago with a retired teacher from a well known, year round residential ballet program. She said of the more painful parts of her job was to meet with teenagers and explain that they will likely never be employed as a professional ballet dancer. They would explain to the student that there are many other avenues for women who wanted to work as a dancer, but they felt it was very important to let young people know as soon as they could that ballet wasn't in the cards. They wanted to let the kids know while they were still young enough to make other plans for the future, whether that would be to switch to a more commercial dance type program or something different altogether. 

While difficult, I feel it is probably a good idea to let teenagers know how difficult or impossible their journey would be. Think of all the people who audition for American Idol who have been told their whole lives how amazing they are only to find out they can't stay in a key when singing. Those poor kids don't know that they'll never make it as a professional singer because they had been surrounded by people who told them that anything is possible.

Reach for the stars! And as you get older, have realistic expectations for what you will become. It may be that you become a dance teacher instead of a professional ballerina, or an actress instead of a dancer. 
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AtTheStudio

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Reply with quote  #13 
In giving my response, I am not thinking just of dance but of any possible career path. Conversations regarding possible career paths should be taking place in late 7th/ early 8th grade so the appropriate planning can be done for high school. Nothing is written in stone but high school can really shed the light on what may or may not be a good fit. It can also help to best use a student's time in high school. It's a much safer place to "fail" than in the real world.

For example, if my child wanted to go into a math or science based-field, I would make sure said child had exposure to calculus by the end of high school and expect science to consist of biology, chemistry, physics and an additional year of science. For a elementary education major, calculus is not essential.

For a child who wants to pursue anything in the arts (performing or visual) and is NOT a student who loves science, you can be open to other science courses your school may offer which fulfill any graduation requirements. (If you have an arts kid who loves science, by all means, encourage them to stick with it!)

With each of our kids, we have encouraged them to figure out what they really want to pursue. Then they need to come up with a plan B in case something happens. It makes for a much easier life course correction if they change their minds.

This is the same age I would expect student athletes to begin to understand if they think the want to continue to play in college. It's a very different level of commitment. By the same token, I would say this is a good time to have that conversation about professional dance. Anything is possible, but by this time I think it's ok for them to have a realistic understanding of what life after high school may be like and understand at what level (for fun vs for pay and anything in between) they may find themselves continuing their interests.
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tendumom

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Reply with quote  #14 

I think this is an exceedingly difficult question. There is far too much subjectivity involved. 

A lack of potential to be a professional would vary by the style of dance, so I'm going to stick with ballet in my answer to begin with.

Within a 3 month period, dd at 17 was actually told by one teacher that she should be looking towards teaching ballet, not performing ballet. I was there to listen. 3 months later, at her first conference at another ballet school, I saw there while various faculty members excitedly spoke of which companies they thought she would be a good match for. I initially thought they were talking about SI programs, but they thought she was ready for company auditions. So, two very different opinions, one of which turned out to be correct. 

That said, there are certain body facility issues in ballet that cannot be overcome. One can learn to turn out with normal anatomy, but there are some orthopedic conditions where a person can have difficulty just getting to parallel. In that situation, for ex, a dancer would be better off being redirected to other dance forms if they desired to be a professional. 

Other than certain orthopedic and anatomical issues, I think with the right training, hard work, persistence and intelligence, most things can be overcome so I don't know how someone could tell a dancer that they do not have professional potential. Perhaps a person might be better off in another dance form or might need different/better training, but having seen late starters succeed with commercial, Broadway, and modern dance, I just don't know that it is as cut and dried as someone wanting to get into medical school. 

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melissa745

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Reply with quote  #15 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AtTheStudio
For example, if my child wanted to go into a math or science based-field, I would make sure said child had exposure to calculus by the end of high school and expect science to consist of biology, chemistry, physics and an additional year of science. For a elementary education major, calculus is not essential.


To build on your example, if your child wanted to be an engineer, but couldn't pass Algebra, it would probably be a good idea to have a conversation with your child about how engineer might not be in the cards and help them find a new path.
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #16 
Thank you, Melissa745, it is nice to know that there are professionals who have compassion about these conversations to balance out those who dole out this advice (in my humble opinion) haphazardly and far too early and without compassion.

AtTheStudio, your comments certainly make a lot of sense. I would agree that junior high school age seems to be just about right as I see a certain amount of self awareness emerging in my older child that would indicate that many are beginning to question the legitimacy of their specific goals, and that they are trying to determine what road they need to take.
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prancer

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Reply with quote  #17 
Hmmm. There are only about 20,000 professional dancers( broadly defined) in the U,S, The odds of becoming a professional dancer are exceedingly low.

Yes the skill sets are different, but for comparison, there are about 714,000 physicians in the U.S. Someone should be providing appropriate information about their chances of succeeding to dancers who do not excel regardless of how much they want to be a dancer.
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #18 
tendumom, thank you for those examples. I tend to agree. My initial reaction, when this conversation happened, was a knee jerk, and it was that this conversation (just my opinion at that time without a lot of thought) just doesn't belong on the table under most ordinary circumstances, and at no time did I think it should happen without a parent present at any age while a child is still living at home as a dependent (obviously, kids who are living on their own dancing and working excluded). 

I've dialed back that knee jerk reaction, and while I do find exceptions, overall I think it's a powerful statement and one not to made lightly. The entire topic needs to be handled with great care. Unfortunately I have heard one too many stories of all varieties of "you're not pro material" or "you're not seriously thinking you could be a pro?" tossed around at dancers: in auditions in front of the entire auditioning body, in classes, in lobbies, you name it, and quite a wide variety of ages as well. 

There's a lot to it, but there are boundaries to how and where and when this conversation should and could happen, although I'll admit, they're not always easily defined.
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #19 
Agreed, prancer, I don't believe anyone is doing a dancer any favors by shielding them from the simple statistics. Dreams are good, as is a realistic approach to achieving those dreams. 

As tough as the numbers are for dancers, a friend's daughter is in competitive gymnastics, and the prize there is the coveted spot on the Olympic team. I don't have the numbers, but my goodness they must be hard to look at.

Which brings me to this point, no matter the numbers, as long as a dancer is grounded and given the information they need to continue making informed decisions at each stage, I'm not advocating for squashing their dreams just because the odds are long... not at all. I am a big believer in having a plan "b" "c" and "d"...
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heidi459

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Reply with quote  #20 
I think the discussion is important but unless the dancer has two left feet I don't think it should ever should include the absolute statement "you're not pro material".  Given that there are so many different versions of "pro". Ongoing discussions about strengths and weaknesses.. about how to address weaknesses...about the dancer's vision for their future... about opportunities the dancer may have not considered for his/herself?  Fine.  But the message "you just don't have it, you'll never be able to do it"?  I can come up with very few scenarios where that would be appropriate... and even then, it would never be appropriate to say it like that.
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hopefuldancer17

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Reply with quote  #21 
Quote:
Originally Posted by heidi459
I think the discussion is important but unless the dancer has two left feet I don't think it should ever should include the absolute statement "you're not pro material".  Given that there are so many different versions of "pro". Ongoing discussions about strengths and weaknesses.. about how to address weaknesses...about the dancer's vision for her future... about opportunities the dancer may have not considered for his/herself?  Fine.  But "you just don't have it, you'll never be able to do it"?  In my opinion, that is almost never appropriate.     


Exactly my thoughts - thanks for articulating them!
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #22 
I tend to agree with you, Heidi459. The context of the conversation is everything and the choice of words as well. It's a delicate situation no doubt, and definitely not something to just blurt out openly without careful consideration. 


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joriebelle

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Reply with quote  #23 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tendumom

I think this is an exceedingly difficult question. There is far too much subjectivity involved. 

A lack of potential to be a professional would vary by the style of dance, so I'm going to stick with ballet in my answer to begin with.

Within a 3 month period, dd at 17 was actually told by one teacher that she should be looking towards teaching ballet, not performing ballet. I was there to listen. 3 months later, at her first conference at another ballet school, I saw there while various faculty members excitedly spoke of which companies they thought she would be a good match for. I initially thought they were talking about SI programs, but they thought she was ready for company auditions. So, two very different opinions, one of which turned out to be correct. 

That said, there are certain body facility issues in ballet that cannot be overcome. One can learn to turn out with normal anatomy, but there are some orthopedic conditions where a person can have difficulty just getting to parallel. In that situation, for ex, a dancer would be better off being redirected to other dance forms if they desired to be a professional. 

Other than certain orthopedic and anatomical issues, I think with the right training, hard work, persistence and intelligence, most things can be overcome so I don't know how someone could tell a dancer that they do not have professional potential. Perhaps a person might be better off in another dance form or might need different/better training, but having seen late starters succeed with commercial, Broadway, and modern dance, I just don't know that it is as cut and dried as someone wanting to get into medical school. 



Once again, you say it so much better than I did, tendumom.  Lorax, I think it DOES matter what style of dance it is.  If it was a dancer who wanted to be a classically trained ballet dancer, I think ballet is more "unforgiving" if you will of certain aspects than other styles would be.  You might know sooner with ballet than you would with other styles and I actually don't think any teacher could tell even as a teenager that a student wasn't cut out to be a dancer.  Lots of Broadway dancers get started llate.
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Lorax

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Reply with quote  #24 
Agreed, joribelle, that genre does generally impact whether or not there is anything to back up a statement like this, and ballet may be more unforgiving... but that sort of brings it full circle. Even in classical ballet, I think it's an incredibly delicate topic and even if the conversation should happen, and even if it is the right time to have it, DT/ SO/ AD should treat it with very careful consideration. 

I don't think I could ever justify having this conversation openly in full view of other dancers at any time. Even in an audition, although I know rejection is to be expected. A statement like this should be given privacy and discretion. Maybe once I'm further along as a parent that view will evolve.
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joriebelle

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Reply with quote  #25 
I think I get what you're trying to get at, Lorax.  I agree, never have this conversation in full view of other dancers.  EVER.  Not cool.  
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