My last blog post about when to send your son to a summer dance intensive generated a bit of off-blog discussion from parents too afraid to comment on the blog. Too intimidated by their studio directors or ballet masters, they didn’t want their names right there in the blog comments as they told me stories that corroborated what I had said in that post: Some teachers, directors or studio owners frown on or disallow their male students attending summer dance intensives because they simply don’t have their male student’s best interests in mind.
Here’s what I heard from one mother of a dancin’ son:
We couldn’t get a meeting with my son’s studio director or teachers regarding summer intensive auditions for this year. He attended a 2-week intensive last summer and absolutely loved it, so he wants more this summer. He’s cast in two productions at the moment, and the school director wouldn’t allow my son to go to other summer intensive auditions due to rehearsals every weekend. It took us three rescheduled meetings to finally meet with her to be told this decision. Fortunately we had already taken him to the one audition in early January. He received a full-tuition scholarship for a 5-week program run by a large, prestigious ballet program. We notified his director that he will be going and haven’t heard a word back from her… No congratulations, no acknowledgement, nothing. I recently received feedback through the grapevine that she is furious that he did audition and that he is going to this intensive. As one of only a few boys who are at the studio every day taking classes and rehearsing, I can’t understand her failure to respond. It’s a harsh reality that the teachers and directors don’t always want the best for the boys.
When I asked this mom to post her comment on the blog, she said the studio had “strict rules” about posting negative things on the internet and social networking sites. God forbid a parent should complain about such behavior from a dance school director, right, no less make it public?
Here’s the thing, as I said in my last post, there comes a point when you have to become your son’s manager. This is one of those times. Only you have your dancin’ boy’s best interests at heart. (Or you should—even if it means longer drives to dance class. The woman above said she is at her driving limit—35-60 minutes each way to the studio; we thought 45 minutes three to four times per week was our limit but ended up driving 90 minutes each way seven days a week for a full year.)
They Need Your Son More than You Need Their Studio
Stop being afraid of the studio owners, ballet masters, and teachers—even the ones with long performing histories or who come from countries where they demand more respect than here in the U.S. Stand up for yourself and for your son. Claim your power. In fact, you don’t need a formal meeting. If you can’t get your studio director or teacher to set a meeting, corner him or her in the hallway. Tell him or her you need a decision now—or you’ll make one on your own. If she can’t talk…or find time…tell her you will make the decision—or take your son elsewhere. Plenty of studios will want your son, especially if he has a smidgen of talent—and possibly give him a scholarship to boot.
If you aren’t sure if your son has talent, should go to an intensive, should switch studios, etc, you can always pay to have him seen by someone else and to get advice. Or ask a visiting choreographer or teacher. Or trust your gut. You and your son know what is best for him. And you know when you and he are not being treated the way you want to be treated.
I don’t recommend making a uniformed decision, though. Do your research. Ask questions. Have conversations. We spent a lot of time talking to Julian about what he wanted and discussion the pros and cons of changing studios and giving up one thing for another. We also took the time to research what dancers had come out of different studios, who the instructors at each school were, and where the dancers had ended up. We tried to talk to the dancers and the parents at different studios; you can do this while your child takes a class or auditions there. Do due diligence. It’s your right and your job. Don’t let anyone stop you.
Pay attention to the signs—they are there. You know if your son is being stifled, not growing and learning, not being allowed to pursue his interests—and this is a clear indication it’s time for change. And if you don’t make a change it will lead to one end and one end only: He will quit dancing. If he wants to be a triple threat, for example, let him be one—despite what anyone tells you, and it’s a rare ballet studio director who will ever tell you to let your son learn to sing, although they may tell him to learn to act. And they likely won’t tell you to let him learn other styles of dance, although to this day I believe that is what has made Julian such a good mover. (Yes, some of that is natural, but some of it comes from learning many styles of dance rather than only standing stiffly at the barre.) And the fact that he had two years of contemporary dance training (and two contemporary ballet summer intensives as well) and another year at a ballet studio that included contemporary ballet each week (and performance pieces) helped him land his him his current position in Germany. The artistic director immediately knew he had contemporary training because it was evident in the way he moved.
Know When Your Son is Doing Too Much or Too Little
Let your son follow his heart to as much as possible. As his manger, do what you know is best for him, including curtailing some activities and adding in others, like private lessons. If your son, like mine, wants to be involved in every performance—at the studio and at school—you may have to put your foot down and say, “No.” This can be very hard to do, I know. But one parent mentioned to me that her ballet studio actually encourages the students to be in musicals, which is great. However, her son seems to be in everything—not uncommon when studios have few boys. That means he is juggling a ton of rehearsals. When your dancin’ boy spends too much time performing and rehearsing and not enough time in class, his dance education suffers. His technique suffers.
Performance experience is very important; I’ve seen boys get on stage for the first time at age 16 or 17, when they need to be job hunting soon; they need more performance experience than that. However, if they’ve spent most of their time performing rather than training, they will lack the fundamentals—they won’t have pointed feet, they won’t have correct arm placement, etc. Your son should spend more time training than performing. A studio that focuses more time on training is actually better, as long as there are ample opportunities for performance. This means you need to evaluate how much time your son is in class as opposed to in rehearsal.
You have to look at the overall time your son is spending—on everything. Boys (and girls) get burned out. They need time off. They love to be in the studio dancing every chance they can. But be sure their bodies and their minds get down time. Julian used to just want to sit for hours in front of the television and do nothing if he had any time off at all. He just needed that. It wasn’t great…but it was the repercussion of being so overcommitted. If they are overcommitted for long periods of time, and if they over train and over perform, one of two things will happen: they will get injured or they will quit. If someone at your studio is not watching out for their time commitments, you need to do this. I’ve seen too many great dancers with severe injuries and burnout that sent them away from the studio—forever.
Your Son Will Thank You for Becoming His Manager
Step up to the plate. Begin managing your son’s dance career. Don’t be intimidated by your studio director, teacher or ballet master. He or she is more afraid of losing your son than you should be of losing the studio. There are plenty of great ballet and dance studios. Yes, you may have to drive farther to get to them and sacrifice a bit, but typically when you make the change it is the right thing.
You might make some hard decisions—some even your son might not like or agree with initially. However, he’ll know they are right, too. He’ll even admit it—eventually. Recently Julian thanked us because he feels he has never stopped learning. Instead, he has always been at studios where he was able to learn what he wanted and needed to learn at the time he needed to learn it. That takes being your son’s manager.
Photo courtesy of allgord | istockphoto.com