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The Beauty of the Aspiring Ballet Dancer vs the Agonies and Responsibilities of the Ballet Parent

All parents go through periods of utter agony as their child grows up, matures and finally reaches what they hope will be the safe haven of adulthood. Parents of gifted children, such as aspiring ballet dancers however, have the extra burden of observing, supporting, financing and often picking up the pieces of the child training for this most elusive career that demands such an intensity of training, commitment, discipline and work from such an early age.

Many exceptionally gifted young dancers are 'discovered' at an early age, either because they themselves know that dance is their destiny and demand to take ballet classes or by someone spotting their physique and potential and guiding them to a dance school. There are many children though who possess little or no natural born talent or a less than perfect physique whose desire to dance is as strong as the more obviously talented young child. Parents of the latter may have a much harder journey as fewer of these children actually make it through the hardships of ten or often considerably more years of full time training to a successful career than their naturally gifted counterparts.

It will save parents a lot of agony to be clear from the onset that the chances of the naturally gifted born with perfect physique becoming a successful professional ballet dancer are at best slim and that of the purely motivated almost non existent. And therein lies a truly difficult problem.

I believe that to deny any of these children a resoundingly good chance at becoming a professional dancer involving years of full time training at a professional ballet school would be to deny them the one thing that makes them truly happy and fulfils their purpose in life. I will, from knowledge and experience go so far as to say that it will take away their desire to live a meaningful life. Because 'to live-is to dance' is for the aspiring young dancer the only path they will follow.

Finding out as early as possible whether your child wishes to be a professional ballet dancer because that is the ONLY thing in life that really matters is crucial. So many young students start serious training because they 'think' they want to be dancers but in reality there are many other reasons. Examples range from the strong social aspect of wanting to be a part of an elite group of young dancers to following this particular career path to the parents or dance teachers who want them to become dancers. Some ballet students have difficulties at school or at home and find a safe haven as well as experience better levels of confidence in the studio while others find ballet to be fairly easy compared to other activities. All of the above are often recipes for disaster as the final years of training approach and ultimately only one in thousands will audition successful for a ballet company.

Over the years of serious training many aspiring ballet students will sadly (or gladly) realise that a professional career as a ballet dancer is no longer an option. Students whose initial desire to dance professionally was not one hundred percent genuine will slowly realise just how terrifyingly difficult the end goal is and look for other easier career options within or outside of the industry. The lesser talented often cannot live with their more talented and gifted counterparts often of a younger age, and they eventually give up often after some frantic ballet school 'hopping' in the elusive hopes of finding a better teacher or less competition. Many with less than the optimal physique will sadly realise that nothing will change their genetically predestined body shape or that it is slowly becoming worse with the development of puberty. Injuries, joint and muscle overuse, burn out and plain bad training will also stop many of even the most talented of students. What can a parent of an elite ballet student do to lessen the blow of a failed career?

Being pragmatic of the overall chances and wholly supportive of their child WHATEVER the outcome from the onset of full time training is a must. I have known students feel they are only worthy of parental love if they are successful balletically and so a strong parental bond and a secure, loving and caring family basis is essential if these vulnerable young students are to survive in and outside of the elite world of ballet training.

Frequently sounding out with both your child and their teachers whether the chosen career path is still a viable concern and still a life necessity is very necessary throughout the long years of intense training. Never take a successful outcome as a certainty however exceptional your child seems to be, try and have a back up plan ready to go, but it must be something that you know will suit your child and that they could grow to love.

My father insisted on my taking the requisite examinations to qualify as a piano teacher in case as he so delicately put it - I broke my legs! I still wonder whether with broken legs I would have managed the pedal work needed but taking piano lessons was a calming and strengthening influence throughout my turbulent ballet training years and a solace when things went wrong in the studio. Whereas I put huge obsessive compulsive pressure on myself in the studio I completely relaxed during my weekly piano lesson and found a valuable outlet. Knowing that if I never made the grade as a ballet dancer I could be a pianist or piano teacher helped my parents considerably as they were not responsible for 'putting all my eggs into one basket'. I, myself never once considered not becoming a ballet dancer but in hindsight if anything had happened to prevent me from dancing at least I would have had an alternative. So many teenage ballet students who have to give up their dreams go through a horrific period in life before finding themselves again and it is up to the parent to prepare them for all eventualities. Enjoy every minute of your child's journey to becoming a ballet dancer but know that many adventures and dangers lie ahead. Be Prepared. For them and for yourself.

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