Dance advice: Should my daughter go full-time?

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My daughter is 14 years old and really wants to dance full-time next year. Is this a good idea, and how will it affect her ’employability’ later on?

Words of advice…

This is a very difficult question and the situation will vary enormously from student to student.

Some girls (and boys) do go into full-time dance training far too readily, as many of them will struggle to achieve a career as a dancer.

It is a big decision to give up full time schooling for such an unstable career; however it is also important that students are encouraged to follow their dreams rather than feeling that they have to choose the ‘safe’ option.

Far too few people in our society have any passion for their occupation, so if she simply must dance, then pursuing this path may be right for her. If a child is talented and dedicated and has an absolute passion for dance, I would definitely support her in her quest.

Being a professional dancer is an extremely demanding occupation that is far more than just a job. A student must have a passion for dance, a love of exploring their body, and a fascination with how to constantly improve their skill level in all areas of movement and performance to gain any pleasure from it as a career.

While it may appear glamorous from the outside, the life of a dancer is often fraught with challenges, rejections and frustrations not to mention being far from lucrative.

Many people find it difficult to handle the stresses of the industry, so a strong sense of self and support from family members are crucial to their survival.

The dance world is an extremely competitive place and even dancers who have great technique and fantastic presentation may not make it as professional dancers.

Things to consider…

While some types or genres of dance are more forgiving, the physical requirements to get into a classical company can be largely determined by a dancer’s genetics. If she is considered too tall, too short, too ‘heavy’ or has disproportionate features and limbs, the fact is that she may find it very hard to get employment.

This is hard for any individual to accept, however it must be brought up with families if their daughter is not particularly suited for a career in ballet. This is by no means a reason to stop dancing, and there are some dancers who break the mould completely, however she must be aware that having a successful career may be difficult.

It is important to note that there are many examples of successful dancers and famous ballerinas who were told at one time that they wouldn’t make it, or didn’t have the right body, they were too tall, too heavy, didn’t have the right look or the right colour hair. And while it’s important to be realistic, you also have to follow your passions and work hard to fulfil your dreams.

It is also important to remember that there are also many different types of dance careers and not everyone will become or wants to become a principal dancer. There are different types of companies all around the world, who seek different types of dancers, so if you worry that your child wont fit the mould, there might be another company out there that will be perfect for them.

Also, getting paid to do what you love to do is an amazing position for anyone to be in. Dancers bring mystical worlds to life, bring joy and delight to thousands of people and inspire others to explore their bodies. They achieve a connection with their own body and soul that very few individuals will come close to and will explore the deepest reaches of their being in the name of art.

Dance and / or study…

If a student is contemplating going full-time I would definitely recommend continuing with an academic correspondence course to keep her well educated in all the core subjects.

She should research what level of schooling is needed to re-enter the education system if she would like any tertiary education in the future. And if, for whatever reason, her dance career does not work out it is important that she has a high enough qualification to be able to study in her chosen area as an adult student.

Physical development…

Of course her physical development must also be taken into account, when considering an increase in hours and physical demand of dance lessons. Young bones may be permanently damaged by excessive training en pointe before the growth plates have stabilised enough, and during periods of growth, hip knee and back injuries are common.

A study conducted by dance physiotherapists in Sydney, Australia, found that once a dance student below the age of 14 is involved in more than 10 hours of dance per week, her risk of injury to the feet and ankles increases significantly. Once over 14, the body can tolerate more training (ie full-time training), provided optimal technique is maintained.

There are many other ways to improve a student’s strength and flexibility apart from her classes in the studio, and for the younger students who want to be doing more, I would suggest investing in supervised Pilates equipment sessions, private ballet lessons to perfect technique or limber and strengthening classes over extra group dance classes.

Choosing the right school…

Unfortunately some teachers will take on full-time students despite a lack of potential for the student to have career in ballet in order to keep their student numbers high. This is extremely unfortunate, but as dance schools typically run on a very slim budget, it is a fact of life.

If your daughter is serious about doing full-time classes at a particular school, she should look at the career paths of previous students to see whether those students are anywhere near where she would ultimately like to be.

I feel that not enough students look into the realities of a career in dance before they decide to go full time. This is a very important step to decide if they really want the life of a dancer.

Many different dance career options…

It is also important to remember that most dance careers are extremely short, particularly the performance element of a career. So this provides two considerations, firstly your daughter will have time to develop a second career stage once she steps off the stage (and companies are becoming better at supporting and preparing dancers for this transition) and secondly, that having a qualification to fall back onto is not a bad thing. It really depends on the individual in terms of which path and what type of dance and academic training is suitable.

The other thing to consider is that there are many different career choices for the serious dance student may include:

  • Employment in a classical or contemporary company
  • Creation of or joining an independent modern dance company
  • Contract work for companies as an independent artist
  • Music video contracts
  • Cabaret style work, for example in ‘The Moulin Rouge’ or on cruise ships
  • Corporate event dance performances
  • Choreography for companies, schools or movies
  • Dance teaching
  • Working in other areas of a companies, such as finance, PR, marketing, producer, director, lighting, costume design, plus so much more….

Thanks to the team at The Ballet Blog for their words of advice for parents – if you’d like more advice you can download their ‘Perfect Pointe Parent’s Manual’. You can also send us an email below and we’d be happy to answer your questions.