Working the System

If you work the system, the system works.

This year, I have been asked by many sets of parents how to help their children achieve their dreams of becoming professional ballet dancers. Unfortunately, everyone cannot achieve this dream. There are four things that are necessary:

1. Talent: In the ballet world, talent mostly means genetics, which means the body you were born with. Excellent training can change, improve and maximize some things, but body type needs to be accepted. There are many ways to have a life in dance, but that ballet contract is not always in the cards. Talent also means musicality, stage presence and a sense of artistry.

2. Excellent training: There is a lot of bad ballet out there. There are schools that have showy performances with flashy costumes, but the technique just isn’t there, and the professional companies can tell the difference. If you are at South Bay Ballet, you are fortunate to be at one of those extremely rare places with the track record we have. We enjoy a great reputation for clean technique and strong artistic training.

3. Supportive parents: Since training occurs while the body is growing and capable of change, your kids need your support. Dancers must be in class, must be in rehearsal. They should see ballet whenever possible. They should see good and bad. They should read about dance and dancers. They should be familiar with classical music and music history. They should be well rounded, capable of critical thought and empathy. They should be team players. All dancers need to know that, like athletes everywhere, one can only dance for so long. So every dancer needs to have a “Plan B.” But how wonderful is it to have two complete lives and careers?

4. Intense desire: If you sort of want it, it will never happen. It has to be the most important thing. You have to love to work hard, be resilient to disappointment, enjoy the training and the challenges of the physical demands of ballet. If you doubt it, you don’t really want it.

This last one is where working the system comes in. We at Lauridsen Ballet Centre and South Bay Ballet have worked very hard to have the very best training system. One of the key components is always working also on a level below your own. Another is the number of classes taken. Young children have to be especially careful not to overwork. Dancers trying to be professionals are in competition with dancers all over the world who are in training situations which have them dancing all day, every day. Our system is successfully competitive with those big famous schools, but not if the system is not followed. Three hours a day of really good training can win out over eight hours of usual training. But one class at your top level just won’t cut it. As much as I recognize the demands of homework, which are certainly excessive, I also recognize that there is not a field that one can enter into without meeting the established requirements. Imagine applying to medical school and explaining why you just didn’t have time to take biology. It’s the same thing. Either you make the cut or you don’t. Nobody is saying it is easy, but it certainly is rewarding.

Over the years, we have had many dancers here who have reached the top of the field. All of them did the entire program as it was laid out. We have also had dancers who made their own decisions, trying to pick and choose. They like this teacher, but not that one. They like the advanced class, but not the easier one. They take this correction, but not that one. A few of those more talented dancers even get jobs; however, none have reached their full potential. If you take three months off, don’t expect to be promoted. If you only take the advanced class, you are not building deep strength; you risk spraining your ankle. Classes are like money in the bank: you either invest, or you don’t. So when I say work the system, I mean work it the way it is meant to be worked.

We have so many young, talented dancers. I am so looking forward to watching them grow and develop. There is not much money in what I do. The big reward for me is that last year of training, watching someone reach that end level of blossoming and growth as a finished technician and artist. I look forward to seeing you reach your full potential! Let’s work the system together: I’ll do my job, and you do yours, and let’s see how far we can go together!

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