Saturday, September 1, 2007

To Dance or Not to Dance In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

 To dance is never a mistake.

I get asked a lot, "do you think I should pursue ballet professionally?" And my immediate thought is, "If you can live without dance, do so, if you cannot, then dance."

"Ballerina" by Vone Deporter
 I say that because ballet is a subculture. That is not a bad thing, but like opera, music, and other art forms, training is intense and competition is fierce. That may be the attraction for some.

Ballet attracts perfectionists, obsessed and oddly dysfunctional people, but also attracts incredibly gifted performers and brilliant broad-spectrum artists who excel at dance and related arts such as choreography, music and stage design.

Professional ballet has a small job market. Ideally you would start training at the age of 9, and be ready to perform in a company by 18. You would have been in about 8-10 classes per week, with some modern dance training as well.

Starting later, along with physical limitations, is the challenge for the majority. And yet, when I taught at university, I saw students go on to become leaders in the dance world.

Although, not in ballet, but in the modern dance arena, which emphasizes creativity somewhat more than the perfect technique and physique. I think the maturity of training at that age helps too, and I have seen a greater number of survivors from that venue.

Talented children with highly sensitive nervous systems have more problems with the competition. If they are studying away from home, they lack their family support. This can be very stressful for children. However, the demands of the training and the joy of learning what they love sometimes balances the stress beautifully.

To be extremely positive, let's just say all roads lead to our success. I have seen "failed" dancers develop into excellent musicians, brilliant actors, and choreographers with exceptional vision.

I once had a student who backed out of a performance in his first semester of training, due to sheer stage fright. He became a well-known innovator in the Canadian dance scene. The first time I saw a short piece of choreography of his in a small workshop setting, I knew where he was headed.

A world-famous prima ballerina was let go from a major dance school because of an eating disorder. She was immediately picked up and hand-held by a competing school. She just needed more personal support.

A well-known Canadian musician/conductor was once a struggling ballet student. He played piano at the school in order to pay for his classes. He wasn't a bad dancer, but started his professional training late.

The school's top pianist spotted his talent and supported his development as an accompanist. We were roommates for a while. Our third roommate was a flautist. Ahhh... well, anyway... good musical memories.

 I remember my heart soaring as Steve played the fourth act from Swan Lake from the Russian leather-bound score his mentor Babs MacDonald had given him, on a piano in our tiny apartment. He was born to dance in his soul, and became an excellent musician and conductor.

So if you are led to dance, dance! You never know where it will take you.

To dance is never a mistake.


  1. At first, I wasn't sure how this fit into the Mothers and Daughters Blog Carnival, but it really does.

    I danced my whole childhood, and almost studied after high school. I read Gelsey Kirkland's book, and realized that I was not cut out for that world. I did not have the body or the will, and I was already on the verge of an eating disorder. I chose to study voice, and I have never regretted it.

    "To be extremely positive, let's just say all roads lead to our success. I have seen "failed" dancers develop into excellent musicians, brilliant actors, and choreographers with exceptional vision."

    This is extremely true. Even though I have become a musician, not a dancer, my dance training was essential to who I am.

    My children are in dance classes, but I chose a less competitive studio, because I want them to love it first. We must think about all these issues and prepare our girls for what is really involved if dance is their chosen field. This blog is very informative.

  2. I love your concept of 'failure' - how it is often essentially the door leading to a future success. Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts!

  3. I did a lot of ballet (modern, Greek & tap) as a child, but didn't pursue it professionally.
    My daughter's just done her first ballet exam and loves it at the moment, but I'm quite keen for her to go off it before she hits her teens because of what it can do to a girl's body image.
    It's great for musicality, co-ordination and fitness while she enjoys it though.

  4. I am one of those that has two left feet on a good day and your post is encouraging. I don't want my kids to fear or doubt their abilities or lack of. This was a great read, thanks!

  5. Very well written. What wonderful insight. I think in the age of shows like dancing with the stars and so you think you can dance... children who never considered dance are thinking about it now. It is nice to hear your perspective of how it can lead you to something else.

    Kim @ TheBitterBall

  6. Thank you for sharing the pressures and opportunities in dancing. It's helpful to know what I'll be getting into if my daughter ever wants to dance!