What to do when your dancer wants to go to boarding school

NYCB principal Tiler Peck left California at 11 to dance in New York City.

One beauty of summer programs is they give students a chance to try something different. Tappers might trade in their shoes for a modern workshop, and jazz dancers could refine their technique with ballet. But sometimes, branching out leads to falling in love. What if a student returns this month and announces that she wants to study elsewhere?

Though it may hurt to learn that one of your stars wants to go to boarding school, it’s essential to help her through this transition. She’ll need your guidance on how to prepare, mentally and physically, to make the most of her new experience. And once she’s gone, you must recover from the loss and keep business thriving.

 

Is It the Right Decision?

It’s important to voice your opinion, even if you don’t agree with the dancer’s choice. “It’s a big decision, so I’m honest because I want them to know what they’re getting into,” says Ashley Canterna Hardy of Edna Lee Dance Studio in Maryland. Make sure they’re certain about moving by encouraging them to research the school; its year-round program may differ from the summer intensive in schedule, class offerings and even faculty. “Some kids come here wanting serious training and are shocked and realize it’s not for them,” says Martin Fredmann, artistic and executive director of the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC. Students may focus on one technique and find that they miss mixed training or realize that sacrificing a normal teenage lifestyle may not be for them.

Those who are serious enough to leave home probably want to dance professionally someday, so they should consider the school’s alumni, and whether the program feeds into a company. Canterna Hardy sits down with the student and parents to explain that they should expect a competitive atmosphere. “Everyone at these ballet schools is fighting for the same goal—to become a professional dancer,” she says.

Moving away from family, friends and teachers can be rough, especially for younger students. They should take location, distance from home, housing and academics into account; homesickness may become their biggest challenge. New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, who left California at 11, says that building relationships with friends is important. “I lived in the dorms where everyone’s away from home,” she says of her time at the School of American Ballet. “My friends became like family.”

Julie Jarnot, co-artistic director of Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Colorado, puts dancers in contact with a trusted person in the same school or city, so there is always someone nearby in case of an emergency.

 

Preparing for Independence

Once you prepare your students mentally, it’s time to get their bodies in peak physical condition. For the ballet-bound, Canterna Hardy suggests taking technique class five to six days per week to continue building on principles learned that summer and to develop stamina and endurance. Jarnot sends students to Pilates to maximize strength and flexibility. She also talks about nutrition and sleep. Instilling healthy habits and responsible decision-making skills will help them succeed in the long run.

Still, students won’t understand the true intensity of the program until they arrive. “Some kids who are 16 and 17 years old enter school and realize they haven’t had the foundation or the right equipment—there’s a lot of catching up to do,” says Fredmann.

Find out if there are transitional training programs available to new students. For instance, when dancers arrive at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, they are screened to identify strengths and weaknesses and  given catered exercises. “Most of the time they need to take a step backward,” says Interlochen’s director of dance, Cameron Basden. “They can do some steps really well, but they don’t know how to put things together.” She acknowledges that competition dancers succeed because of their work ethic and enthusiasm. As great performers, they tend to channel that energy into their studies.

 

Fostering a Lasting Connection

It can be difficult to say good-bye to a dancer you’ve invested in. “Once you get the news,” says Jarnot, “it stings a little bit. But if they want to pursue a career in ballet, and you know that’s what they should be doing, it’s easy to let go.”

To manage the loss of a leading dancer, Jarnot turns her attention to younger students. It reminds her of the studio’s purpose: to support and encourage kids. As the dancers age, they will continue to feed the studio. “You have to build from the bottom. As much as that star will be missed, there’s always someone to fill those shoes,” she says.

Stay in touch and encourage your dancer to return often. Canterna Hardy still choreographs for her student at The Rock School and taught a master class there through the connection. Peck says that choreographing at her mom’s studio, the Bakersfield Dance Company, lets her take a ballet vacation and revisit her jazz roots.

The key to maintaining your students’ business is to nurture your connection. They’ll bring outside experience, inspire the little ones and even lead you to new business opportunities.  It’s a win-win for everyone. DT

 

Julie Diana is a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. She has a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Photo: NYCB principal Tiler Peck left California at 11 to dance in New York City; by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by The Fleet, courtesy of Lion's Jaw Festival

Growing up in New Jersey, Lisa Race trained with a memorable dance teacher: Fred Kelly, the younger brother of famous tapper Gene. "Fred would introduce our recitals," she says. "He would always cartwheel down the stairs." It wasn't until years later, when Race was pursuing her master's degree and chose to write a research paper on Kelly, that she realized there was a clear connection between her own movement style—improvisational and floor-based—and his. "In this television clip I watched, Fred jumps up to the piano, then jumps off it—he's going up and down and around," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, wow, all this time, I've thought of my dancing as my own, but that's where it started!' Moving upside-down and into the floor. There's a thread there. I rerouted it in different ways, but there's a connection."

Now, as a professor at Connecticut College, she concentrates on how to introduce her students to that love and freedom of upside-down work—and how to best prepare them for life after graduation, no matter what dance path they take.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

It's summertime, which means we're all starting to feel HOT! HOT! HOT!

While a warm room is certainly better than a cold room when it comes to dancing, you don't want your students to get heat stroke at your studio. To help you survive this sweaty time of year, here are tips and tricks that will keep your classrooms comfortable for an excellent class.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox