To Dance or Not to Dance In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

To Dance or Not to Dance In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

I get asked a lot, “do you think I should pursue ballet professionally?” And my immediate thought is, “If you can live without dance, do so, if you cannot, then dance.”

I say that because ballet is a subculture. That is not a bad thing, but like opera, music, and other art forms, training is intense and competition is fierce. That may be the attraction for some. Ballet attracts perfectionists, obsessed and oddly dysfunctional people, but also attracts incredibly gifted performers and brilliant broad-spectrum artists who excel at dance and related arts such as choreography, music and stage design.

Professional ballet has a small job market. Ideally you would start training at the age of 9, and be ready to perform in a company by 18. You would have been in about 8-10 classes per week, with some modern dance training as well.

Starting later, along with physical limitations, is the challenge for the majority. And yet, when I taught at university, I saw students go on to become leaders in the dance world. Although, not in ballet, but in the modern dance arena, which emphasizes creativity somewhat more than the perfect technique and physique. I think the maturity of training at that age helps too, and I have seen a greater number of survivors from that venue.

Talented children with highly sensitive nervous systems have more problems with the competition. If they are studying away from home, they lack their family support. This can be very stressful for children. However, the demands of the training and the joy of learning what they love sometimes balances the stress beautifully.

To be extremely positive, let’s just say all roads lead to our success. I have seen “failed” dancers develop into excellent musicians, brilliant actors, and choreographers with exceptional vision. I once had a student who backed out of a performance in his first semester of training, due to sheer stage fright. He became a well-known innovator in the Canadian dance scene. The first time I saw a short piece of choreography of his in a small workshop setting, I knew where he was headed.

A world-famous prima ballerina was let go from a major dance school because of an eating disorder. She was immediately picked up and hand-held by a competing school. She just needed more personal support.

A well-known Canadian musician/conductor was once a struggling ballet student. He played piano at the school in order to pay for his classes. He wasn’t a bad dancer, but started his professional training late. The school’s top pianist spotted his talent and supported his development as an accompanist. We were roomates for a while. Our third roommate was a flautist. Ahhh… well, anyway… good musical memories. I remember my heart soaring as Steve played the fourth act from Swan Lake from the Russian leather-bound score his mentor Babs MacDonald had given him, on a piano in our tiny apartment. He was born to dance in his soul, and became an excellent musician and conductor.

So if you are led to dance, dance! You never know where it will take you.

To dance is never a mistake.

Dianne M. Buxton trained at The National Ballet School of Canada, The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and Toronto Dance Theater. Find out how to get exactly the right fit in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, how to prevent dance injuries, how to get The Perfect Pointe Book, The Ballet Bible, and details about classical ballet technique.

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