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Let’s Include Passion In The List Of ‘Must Haves’ For Ballet Dancers

Ballet is a hobby that young children, particularly girls, are often thrust into by their parents from a very young age. It is common for students to learn to plié and pointe their toes, but once they get to the age where the whimsical songs and skipping stops, they tend to give it up and try other hobbies. For those that stick it out because they truly love the art however, there still seems to be a pattern in the loss of passion later in training. What are the reasons for this? And going forward, how can we be assured that a dancer’s passion will be nurtured and developed along with their technique?


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Body Image

Full time ballet students are generally aged between 14-19 years. This is a crucial developmental stage for both males and females physically and also emotionally. Learning to understand and accept changes in your body is difficult for every person in some way - for dancers however, there is the added attention to their bodies and certain expectations of what they should look like.


The dance industry still has a long way to go in its acceptance of diverse body types. While striving to become a professional ballet dancer, access to dance-educated nutritionists and psychologists would be a fantastic stepping stone in mental health care for full-time dance schools to implement.


Taking the focus off body image and placing it more highly on delivering the best training methods for each and every dancer to achieve their greatest potential, is the responsibility of all dance educators. This priority change would perhaps not make a difference in the number of ballet dancers who ‘make it’ but instead, we might at least see more dancers develop self-confidence and fulfil their dream of learning to dance.


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Pressure

Most teenagers learn to deal with pressure by adhering to school practices such as examinations and disciplinary actions or by conforming to social standards in friendship groups. This kind of pressure, while definitely stressful, is very different to the adult pressures put on adolescent full-time dance students.


Ballet is a younger person’s career, with most ballet dancers retiring sometime in their 30’s. Therefore, ballet students need to be taught to reach an extremely high level by a very young age. This requires an immense amount of discipline, determination and maturity. Students are encouraged to make dramatic sacrifices for their dance career such as moving out of home from a young age, not taking part in regular teenage activities such as parties or more dangerous physical hobbies and paying particular attention to their diet - all on top of always performing to the highest standard in class and on stage. All of this is because in classical ballet, there is a very high demand for a very small amount of positions. Students must be competitive in the pursuit of their career. All of these factors create a huge amount of pressure to succeed.


A student’s journey can easily get off track from simply following a dream and instead become about always conquering the next goal. Achieving goals is a completely rewarding experience and imperative for those who want to continue to improve. However, the motivation for improving should always be genuine rather than getting swept up in the pressure to succeed. Parents and dance teachers have a duty to their young dancers to allow them to make their own choices in their career path. Ballet is a profession that requires tremendous physical and mental toughness - no one should be forced to dance without the passion to do so.


© Photo by National Photography for Melbourne City Ballet

Teaching Methods

Over time, ballet teachers have developed a reputation for being strict, demanding and downright crazy! Whilst it’s true that all students learn best in different ways, it could be argued that belittling and screaming personal attacks will never achieve the best results - or even if great results are achieved, the mental repercussions will often result in a much shorter career.


In the new year, along with resolutions to become healthier, go outside more and be more organised, hopefully dance teachers are willing to become more open-minded with their methods of training. For too long, parent’s choices of where to send their child to complete their full-time training has had very limited options in terms of finding a school that will nurture technical, artistic and mental health development equally.


The dance industry continues to evolve in its trends and styles, while dance students also continue to evolve in maturity and physicality. Why, then, are some ballet teachers determined to continue with the same teaching methods for decades at a time? The integrity of classical ballet remains the same as it’s always been. However, even this has grown to incorporate more modern movement and expressive storytelling than ever before. It is time for dancers to be learning from educators who will nurture and produce the best results for each individual student. This should include the encouragement of passion.


©BreakTheBarre

To any young dancers who may be struggling to remember where their passion for dance started, perhaps take some time to reflect on your dance journey and pick out some of your favourite dance memories. Begin the new year by making decisions for yourself; those who support you will always support your decision to be happy. If dance is what makes you happy then make the choice to incorporate happiness into your training. The pursuit of a career is not nearly as important as the pursuit of passion!


Emma Cheeseman

30th Jan, 2019

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