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Vocational versus Recreational Ballet Classes

For some there is simply no question about wanting to try a few terms or even a few years of hobby ballet classes, often termed Recreational classes, before trying out something else such as tennis, netball or swimming. It’s part of the wonders and joys of growing up and trying out all sorts of sports and art forms. The only question is whether to attend a school where ballet is taught correctly and safely and, therefore, quite seriously, or take the nearest venue and go with the flow and perhaps experience poorly trained or even totally untrained and certified teachers.

For other children though there is a burning desire to dance from the moment they become aware of their bodies as tiny tots. A desire so intense that it can even lead to a desperate fear later on of being denied the right classes and good teachers. These incredibly lucky ones are Born to Dance and may have all the prerequisites: correct body shape, natural strength, coordination, flexibility, musicality, grace, poise, an ingrained hard-working ethic, a quick brain able to learn fast and DETERMINATION. But the unlucky ones may only have a fraction of the prerequisites or none at all.

What do parents do with a child desperate to dance vocationally but without much ability? Is it simply a question of auditioning for a Vocational program once they are of appropriate age or starting in a recreational class and seeing how they develop over time? The latter means finding a really good school where ballet is taught to a very high standard in the recreational classes so that no ground is lost in case the child starts to develop well.

Usually, most parents need help as there are some agonizing discussions to have when considering switching from recreational ballet classes to a Vocational training.

To put the two into context:

Recreational Classes

  • Classes are taken one to five or more times a week with no expectation of a career outcome.

  • A sense of belonging, camaraderie and joy in the class interaction should occur in a good dance school.

  • The joy in moving to music in a structured way can lead to calmness and inner peace.

  • Positive energy should be awakened and a heightened sense of in-the-moment awareness.

  • Regular class attendance should have positive effects on the general physical health and psychosocial state of children and adolescents and may lead to an appreciation of staying fit and healthy, as well as improved cardiovascular fitness and bone health.

  • Could contribute to preventing or reducing obesity if enough classes are regularly attended.

  • Might improve self-concept and body image and reduce anxiety and anger issues.

  • Can greatly improve self-confidence and self-esteem.

Vocational Training

  • Should be undertaken with the firm desire and sole aim of achieving a career within the ballet industry - ideally as a ballet dancer.

  • Hours of classes taken can range from eight to fourteen or far more per week depending on age and growth.

  • Class focus is entirely on oneself and achieving daily, weekly, monthly aims and goals, benchmarking oneself and not one's peers.

  • Injury and accidents can and often do happen.

  • Training at Vocational level is costly and time consuming and often a whole family must become involved and be prepared to assist in facilitating ongoing classes, audition, exam, competition or awards attendance.

  • Burn out can occur for little or no apparent reason.

  • Body shape may change dramatically with the onset of puberty making a future career unlikely.

  • Not finding the right teachers in your area may mean having to relocate the whole family.

  • Distance Education may become a necessity at some point as classes, exams, extension programs and auditions interfere with regular academic school hours.

  • Self-discipline, motivation, resilience, tenacity, hardworking ethic, focus, self-esteem and self-confidence are naturally developed during a good Vocational program and usually stay with a student for life.

Starting a Vocational program can be daunting and if the teacher and the parents are unsure of the outcome caution is necessary in making sure the student realizes and accepts that this may not last forever.

Most teachers when faced with genuine Born to Dance students with all the prerequisites will have no hesitation in offering them a place on their program but often students are ‘borderline’ and there are also the rare LATE BLOOMERS - Misty Copeland for example! Everyone must take a huge leap of faith, parents included.

I have noticed over many years that children whose parents, for a variety of reasons, have denied them access to Vocational training often veer terrifyingly off the rails and need very real and constant help.

I believe that to lose a dream before they have had the chance to even try it out is harder than trying out and perhaps failing and having to give up.

When a Vocational student (or their teacher) realises that the career path chosen and so intensely studied is not the correct one they must give up their place in the program. Sadly, they sometimes even give up dancing altogether rather than transition to recreational classes. Teachers and parents should try and assist in the gentle transitioning away from Vocational and into Recreational classes or suggest other movement forms or sports to compensate for the sudden loss of hours of physical work. Their workload on a Vocational program will naturally have produced a considerable amount of ‘Feel Good’ endorphins, enlarged lung capacity and a slower heart rate and all this must be addressed to prevent possible health and mental issues.

Always check that your child wishes to join a Vocational program for genuine reasons of their own and not perhaps because their best friend(s) is on the program, or they desire attaining the elite status of being on such a program within a dance school. For some students, full time dance seems like a better option to academic schooling if this is not going well. Trialing first or finding a school that offers Guest Vocational places is a great option to test the waters mentally and physically for all involved from student to parents to teachers.


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