Ballet Mom

Well, it’s starting. My baby girl isn’t my baby anymore. hehe Since she was two, Ysa has always loved ballet, hula and ice skating. Since we live in Florida, ice skating and hula are not part of the norm here. Ballet on the other hand is and I am taking Ysa to one of the local schools to check things out. I’ll be dragging the guys with me since they are part of her support group and I am hoping that she will like it enough to start next week.

We will have a month to buy her equipment which is nice in case she takes four lessons and decides “mommy I don’t want to do this”. One of her favorite sayings though is “never give up”. I am hoping she puts that to good use. Thankfully she has about 6 more years before I have to buy pointe shoes. hehe

I did a little research on selecting the right school, since it has been more than 20 years since I have been in ballet. Here are a few guidelines taken from the Gaynor Minden site:

Health & Safety

Good ballet training can improve children’s bodies and their self-esteem. Bad training can have the opposite effect. Beware of a teacher who pooh-poohs health and injury prevention in the name of Art; she may well have a long, sad history of injured pupils. If half the class has tendinitis at the end of term, parents might well question what’s going on. Sick or injured dancers can neither create Art nor experience the physical joy of dancing.

Weight

Parents should take the following factors into consideration in assessing the health and safety-consciousness of a school. Do the students look happy and healthy? Are they lean, bright-eyed and eager or are they frighteningly thin and joyless? How much emphasis is being placed on being thin? Recent medical studies have shown that underweight female adolescents who exercise without sufficient caloric intake are at risk for serious health problems even if they have regular menstrual periods. And of course it is well established, (though sadly not known by every ballet teacher), that lack of a regular menstrual cycle as a result of being underweight puts women at risk for osteoporosis and other maladies.

Pointe Shoes

At what age are the girls allowed to go en pointe? A teacher who permits pointework before the students are 10 or 12 would have to have truly exceptional students because very few girls have sufficient strength and technique at such a young age.
It is safe for a dancer to start pointework after the bones of her feet have finished growing if, and only if, she has developed the strength and technique necessary to pull up out of the shoe and maintain turnout and ankle stability. Thus beginners should never go en pointe. Adults can get away with dancing en pointe to a greater extent because their bones have hardened.

Attitude

A good ballet school exudes a disciplined and serious, but cheerful atmosphere. Students should be neatly dressed, ideally in a uniform color leotard and ideally with sweatpants and other concealing garb not allowed after barrework. Hair should be strictly groomed; jewelry either tiny or prohibited. Dancers should not talk during class and should show respect to the teacher and – if there is one – the accompanist.

Forcing Turnout and Extension

Rotation of the leg in the hip socket so that the knees and feet point out to the side rather than to the front is essential for classical ballet. This is called “turn-out”. A turn-out of 180???? is most desirable. However, knees and ankles can be damaged by forcing the turn-out. A careful teacher will try to help her students achieve the desired flexibility without putting the joints at risk.

Competition

Is the emphasis on competitions or on progressive training? Performing experience is wonderful and should be encouraged; on the other hand an over-emphasis on rehearsing for a competition may be to the detriment of the student’s technique in the long run.

Teacher’s Credentials

The teacher with the most glamorous and prestigious performing credentials may or may not be the best teacher. The ability to dance brilliantly is different from the skills that make a great teacher: the ability to analyze, to break down steps, to explain, to inspire. Some people possess both performing and teaching abilities, some don’t. Teachers who have studied with the R.A.D. or the Cecchetti Council of America know a particular syllabus with a track record of producing well-trained dancers.

Facilities

Are the floors “sprung” (wood with air space underneath)? Is the floor surface an appropriate area such as non-slippery wood or marley? Are the dressing rooms clean? The ideal space is large, airy, well ventilated, with high ceilings, a good floor, plenty of mirrors and a piano (indicating a real accompanist instead of recorded music).

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Hopefully these guidelines will help anyone else wanting to start their daughters, or sons, in ballet. Ysa is almost 5 and I am hoping to support her interests in dance, art, music and martial arts throughout her life or anything else she wants to do. We are very blessed to have her and I hope to encourage her growth into an open-minded, well-rounded woman.

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