For Parents

How Can I Tell If My Daughter's Ready to Leave Home to Attend a Ballet Academy?

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Q: After attending a summer program at a prestigious ballet school, my daughter has been invited to stay for the year-round program. She is interested, of course, but I'm not so sure. How can I be objective about this?

A: An invitation to attend a top-tier academy is undoubtedly a great compliment to your daughter's talent. And while it seems like her acceptance may be a fast-track to a career (especially if the school is attached to a professional company), you are right to slow down and ask a few questions first. Denise Bolstad, managing director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School—and a mother herself—offers the following considerations.

Is she receiving solid training at her current school? "Is it the prestige of the other school that's appealing? Is it a practical move?" Bolstad asks. Leaving home for another program becomes a viable option only if that program can augment or best her current training. For instance, will she gain regular partnering classes, work with well-connected industry insiders, or get access to some other upgrade that will help to refine her technique?

How old is she? Bolstad considers many dancers younger than 16 too young to leave home, especially if they're receiving solid training at home. The average age in PNB's Professional Division is 18, and most are 19.

Does the school offer housing or a list of host families? Many programs (including PNB) do not have dorms, which means dancers—or a family member—need to find their own arrangements. Also, ask about other expenses. While tuition scholarships may be offered, what about the cost of living? Travel between home and the school?

Has your daughter finished high school? Dancers who currently attend high school often have trouble adjusting to this big a change.

Is she ready for adulthood? "We accept 26 students in the Professional Division, and I watch each of them struggle in the beginning," says Bolstad. "All of a sudden they're grocery shopping, cooking for themselves, doing their own laundry, living on their own. It takes a certain maturity level."

Bolstad warns that the reality of boarding school can dampen a dancer's initial enthusiasm. "Kids will say, 'I just had the best summer of my entire life!'" she says. "But the intensive ends, and the fall session is much different. All the dancers they've been with are now gone, so there's a different dynamic in class. The weather changes—in Seattle, for example, it rains. Plus, there's added pressure of academics, and the potential of missing holidays with family." Ultimately, she says, "once kids make this move, they pretty much don't come home again. So it really needs to be the right fit."

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