As I await Julian’s arrival home after another year dancing professionally at SemperOper Ballett in Dresden, Germany, I occassionally read the accounts posted in the My Son Can Dance private Facebook group about all the dancing’ boys leaving home to go to summer intensives. My son is taking the summer off, while these younger boys continue working hard.
I remember those days fondly and my time spent chaperoning Julian in New York while he attended intensives. What a great experience for a dancer.
The boys going off to dance for the summer are in a different stage in their dance careers than my son. Julian returns home in a few days—after just turning 21—not as a corps dancer but as a coryphée. He was promoted to what in the U.S. we might call a demi-soloist. Technically, a coryphée is a “small group dancer.” However, he had his debut as a principle dancer this past winter when he danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince. And he also has danced soloist roles this season. At the end of the 2014-15 professional ballet season, he is ready for six weeks of vacation. And his body needs the rest!
For the younger boys still working their way toward professional positions in companies, summer is a time to learn from new instructors in new ballet schools. It’s also a time to be with other—and often more—male dancers. Going off to a summer intensive affords a variety of benefits, but the ability to take class with many other boys is one of the largest.
Most boys struggle as the lone male dancer in class. If they are lucky, maybe one or two other dancin’ boys join them. Even with a few boys in class, it can feel difficult for them to judge their ability. And that’s where the large classes of boys offer such an advantage.
Each boy has his strengths and weaknesses. Each boy has a different level of technique. But standing at the bar and staring at yourself in the mirror—and only yourself—give you no comparison, no way to judge your ability or level of mastery. When you can see the other boys’ reflections as well, you can determine your skill level compared to theirs.
I’m not advocating comparison on a regular basis. However, healthy comparison can be good. And if you don’t ever see that you need to improve, you won’t be as motivated to do so or even know that you must.
And that’s the real key. The boys motivate each other. Whether it’s during barr or while doing jumps and turns or when taking partnering class, they always want to do better, be better than the next guy. Healthy competition is in a boy’s DNA! Put them all in a room together, and they will jump higher, point their feet more, do more turns, and force themselves to stretch in every way.
And that’s why you, as a parent, want to send them off to a summer intensive—or find them classes with more boys during the year. And that’s why dancin’ boys should ask to go to a summer intensive.
If you are wondering how your dancin’ boy measures up–if he’s as far along as he should be at this point, send him off to a summer intensive with lots of other boys. Or, enroll him in a school that has large numbers of boys. Once in a class with five or more boys, the comparison will be clear. You’ll know if your son is ahead or behind as well as if he has talent. Just watch him dance and judge his skill level objectively compared to that of the other boys in the classes.
Once the boys become professional dancers, some boys (and girls) get lazy. They only do what’s necessary. It’s possible that the ballet master or mistress who teaches company class may not demand enough. But put the guys together in a room, and you will still find them pushing each other. Then, of course, there is the desire for parts to keep them motivated!
If your son is dancing away from home this summer, enjoy the time off. No driving! No picking up dirty dance belts off the floor and washing them. Whoo hoo!
If you are a dancing’ boy attending a summer intensive, make the most of every minute. Don’t slack off! This is your opportunity to make friends, move ahead, make professional connections, and have fun—away from home (so be good…). Learn it all. Soak it in. And figure out what you need to do to continue improving during the year.
And if you are pro dancer home for the summer, rest, relax, and give your body some love and attention. Julian always spends a fair amount of time getting body work in the summer…and just doing nothing! Take advantage of the chance to just “be” for a change.
Enjoy the summer!
Miranda morad says
Hi – I love your blog! My son is starting vocational ballet school this week aged 10 and we don’t know what to expect or how to support him. This week we had to find out what is a dance belt …..
Hi Miranda, as a girl who used to want to become a ballet dancer, and I realise your post was quite a while ago, but I will say this…
First of all, congratulations on your son being accepted to vocational ballet school. He must have a ballet body, facility and musicality for him to be accepted, and they must think he has at least a slight shot at becoming a ballet dancer.
Vocational school can be very tough, and some dancers may find it is just not the right environment for them. However, if your son HAS to dance like professional ballet dancers, he will find it (most likely) exhausting, but also rewarding and lots of fun. Support your son in ballet, and encourage him to try his best in dance, and help your son to realise how competitive the ballet world is (not to discourage him from his goal), and stress the importance of hard work but don’t make it sound like that is all it takes. He is still very young, his body could change over time and he might not keep up his technique, both of which may lead to him being ‘assessed out’. However, being ‘assessed out’ is not the be all and end all. If some way into his training, he indeed is assessed out you could try auditioning for other ballet schools – see if he has a high chance of being assessed out before the appraisal so you do this by the deadline. He could look into other forms of dance – or it may be a chance to look into other things. At parent-teacher conferences, both in academic and ballet, try to find out what he needs to work on and discuss this with him.
Your son must push himself and stretch almost every day (take a break a day or two as muscles need recovering), and never get lazy while completing schoolwork. When he has free time he could relax and on school trips, but if he needs to he could also complete homework or remember choreography. He must also be patient, as learning ballet is a slow process and the basics may seem ‘boring’ at first – but a lot could change with the right mindset!
Don’t dismiss the importance of school (as a parent, I would guess you already know this). A career in dance is very unstable, very hard to get and generally very poorly paid. Require grades that he is capable of getting given appropriate effort – don’t push him to get grades he will never get or punish him for grades he truly worked for as this could cause all sort of problems. If he is very academically able, demand this standard and make sure the school provides appropriate challenges, but remember very few people can get top grades absolutely consistently due to illness, a bad day etc. If he really struggles academically, accept that and make sure he is getting proper support in school. If you are in the UK, I believe that vocational dance schools are good at giving proper challenges or support. This may or may not be applicable, but SEN support generally is also good, although there may be staff who fail to understand.
If your son has the potential to get into university, don’t dismiss the possibility of higher education. Your son may not get a job in dancing, and he will need a plan for after he retires.
It is always good to have a plan B.
Vocational ballet school will teach your son many lessons, not only about ballet but also about life. Serious ballet training is always something a person can take with them along with the life lessons, whether they become a dancer or not.
Now you may already know all of this, or have found out through your son being in vocational school.
If you don’t mind me asking, how has your son been doing? How have you been doing living without your son at home, or perhaps your son is one of the few day pupils? Do you have any advice for other parents, dance students and dancers?
All the best to you and your son.