It isn’t just ballet, and it isn’t just the world of dance. It is the world we live in today: The world of instant gratification. We are overloaded with instant everything; from our food, to our banking, instant is everywhere. We are now able to watch ballet around the world at any given time, fast forward through the parts we don’t like, or generally just skip to the next video if we don’t like what we see. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining… But it is causing young dancers to become more and more impatient. They are rushing into things, techniques that are too difficult, attempting pointe at too young of an age, and pushing their bodies too fast causing early injuries or will cause injuries down the line.
So what is the rush?
Dance students are being faced with more and more obstacles each year. Each year brings harder steps, refining of the technique, the depleting of jobs, and the perfecting of overcoming genetics. With each of these new discoveries, dancers are being forced to maintain a ridiculous speed of growth and improvement. It is because of all these things, the pressure to become “fierce” is growing.
It isn’t enough to be flexible, but now most dancers are hyper flexible. If you weren’t born hypermobile, dancers are now stretching beyond what their bodies’ natural limit is in order to keep up. Dancers are being put on pointe and ridiculously young ages for the sake of Youtube video shares and Instagram likes. It isn’t enough to have a clean triple pirouette en pointe. Nothing seems to be enough. It isn’t enough because if you don’t have high extension, beautiful turns, and an oversplit leap, you won’t be getting a job anytime soon.
Normally, slow and steady wins the race, but I have to wonder if that idealism is heading out the door. What does this mean? Shorter careers, more opportunities for young people, higher injury risk… Now, I am not saying that everyone is going to get injured because a lot of bodies can take it. I don’t know for how long, but they can. I have seen it. They compliment everything with cross training, or dance fewer hours and more hours of stretching and conditioning. It is a hard balance, but you do need to find it.
Another problem? Young dancers are having a hard time finding a job because of the maturity factor. You can be super mature, be respectable, or even be “grown up”, but the problem is they lack life experiences or refinement that comes with age.
Questions I get asked a lot: Where should I be at for my age? What is the timeline of a dancer these days?
Different curriculums ask for different things. Different pedagogies approach the ballet timeline differently.
Here is what I recommend for dancers who are fourteen who are wanting to go to summer programs, get scholarships etc:
Splits… lateral and center; over splits for those who are ready and capable.
Clean basic barre
Standard Adagio (promenades, fouettes, penche at center)
Triple pirouette en pointe/ Boys: four pirouettes on flat in Waltz time
Standard Petit Allegro (no beats, but able to reverse)
Full Split Saut de chat, right and left
8 Fouettés on flat/ turns in a la seconde
Dancers who are nine and under:
Focus on core strength and stretching
Working on basic barre, turn out principals, pointing of the feet, articulation on and off the floor, developing and refining motor skills, spacial awareness, body positions
So focus hard, and keep up the good work. Have questions? Email them.