“Late Beginner” Blues And How To Get Beyond Them

A parent recently wrote me, explaining that her 14 year-old daughter started ballet at 10 years old. Her concern was that when her daughter goes to auditions, she is behind her peers technically and she wondered if I had any advice. In response, I want to address some of the emotional obstacles that those who come ‘late’ to dance often face. I’ve taught beginners of all ages and I’ve observed that these mental hurdles are often harder to overcome than the physical.

Also, because nearly all dancers, at one time or another, encounter situations where they feel behind or challenged I think it may speak to other young dancers, too.

Steps A Dancer Can Take To Crush Comparisons

Three ballet dancers performing a grand jeté jump

Image via Wikipedia

Possibly the worst thing dancers can do when there is a strong desire to improve is make negative comparisons of themselves to other dancers. Quit it!

As Dianne of Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes recently pointed out, sometimes comparisons help us create a realistic picture and provide awareness of where we are and where we still have to go.

See her post on Late Ballet Starters for a few pointers on where to look to form this realistic picture.

However, comparisons must stop there. Once you recognize where you are, let it go, and focus on what you need to get yourself where you’d like to be. It’s easier said than done, I understand.

So, here’s a plan (not THE plan) but a plan that I hope will be a help to you. Use what resonates most for you and leave behind what does not.

_late beginner_ bluesStep 1 – Change the Way You Think

Expecting perfection, overnight results, or for everything to come naturally leads to frustration.

Read this: I Can’t

If you begin to feel negative thoughts creeping in or start to feel badly about a correction you just received, tell yourself to STOP (seriously!). Then replace these thoughts “I am learning,” “I am patient,” “I deserve to succeed.” For more on thought-stopping and building success…

Read this: It’s In Your Head: The Power of Thoughts on Performance by Sanna Carapellotti (Dancer; Jan09)

Step 2 – Get Real About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

    • Recognize that everyone has both and that weakness only really matters if we allow it to turn us off our goals.

Read this: Mastering Strengths and Overcoming Weaknesses

  • Have a conference with your teacher and have an open and honest conversation about the areas in which you need the most work. Explain that you are feeling the need to “catch up” with your peers technically and that you are willing to put in some extra work to improve.

Step 3 & 4 – Set Goals and Make A Plan

The best way I know to get beyond comparing oneself to others is to set personal goals and make a plan to achieve them.

    • During that discussion mentioned above, have your teacher help you define some things you may be able to do outside of your regular class; an additional class or private lesson perhaps (if that is in your budget), some “homework” that strengthens, conditions, and supports what you are learning in class.

Read This: Setting Goals

  • As the article linked to above demonstrates, be sure that you create a plan that will help you reach your goals and determine a “backup” plan: what you will do or say to yourself when the going gets rough.

How Parents Can Help

Parents, your child must desire the additional work and goal-setting it will take to reach his or her dreams. Make sure your child’s dreams are her own.

Read this: Finding The Balance Between Friend and Fanatic

While you can certainly help guide your child through this process, remember that your primary role is to support your child. Be careful not to become another voice of criticism (it is likely your child has more than enough of their own negative thoughts to tangle with).

Read This: Accentuate The Positive

Praise your child in a way that will further their skill development and feelings of accomplishment.

Read This: Appraising the Value of Praise

Disappointments along the way are inevitable, even if they are only the momentary ones when your child lets negative thinking or comparisons get the better of him/her.

Read this: Dealing With Disappointment

Know Where You Are Going

I’d be remiss to not point out that, if you are auditioning and feeling that you are not up to par with your peers, or are just not where you’d like to be technically, that it may be time to reassess.

Part of knowing where you are in your training includes determining if you are on the correct training path: studying the material and working with the teachers who can get you to where you’d like to be. Form that realistic picture, mentioned at the top of the article.

Professional ballet, in particular, requires intense study of the form. How much time spent in the studio and the quality of instruction matter in this field. The good news is that there are many wonderful careers available to dancers and that there are multiple paths to getting to where you’d like to be. Just know which path you are on!

Read This: Finding The Right Teacher

Are you a late beginner?

What words of encouragement can you give others?

What helped you to get beyond those late-beginner blues?

What have I missed? What advice would you have given this dance mom?

Curtain Call: The Art and Expectations of Performance Time

The first dance class I took was a tap class when I was 9 years old.  I remember being so excited when I got my costume for the end of the year performance.  I also remember my mom’s shocked reaction when she found out she had to spend  $40 on the costume, $8 on the fishnet stockings, not to mention the money she spent on the pricey tickets and pictures.


The first year I taught jazz class at a studio, I was preparing for the end of the year performance.  I pulled the parents aside and told them that instead of buying pricey costumes the kids could wear different colored tank tops and black leggings.  The parents were disappointed; they were hoping for something with a little more sparkle.  Needless to say I was quite confused.

The end of the year for a dance class can be filled with celebration and lots expectation.  It took me a while to find a balance to meet the needs/wishes of the students, parents, myself and the directors of the school.  Believe me there was a lot of stumbling along the way!

Dance recitals should be a learning experience for the students.

Dance is a performing art and therefore performing is a part of the learning experience.  Performing is not about smiling the biggest or doing all the steps correctly.  It is about being present in the moment, dancing with and not competing against the other dancers on stage, and sharing the mood/feeling/story/dance with the audience.

I once had a student literally fall flat on her face on stage.  She got up and immediately continued.  When she exited the stage she was in tears. I was so proud of her. I told her anyone could learn steps but not everyone could fall on stage, get up and continue.  This was a true step in her dance education.  Performing is a skill you learn by doing; by having the experience.  There is no other way to learn it.  And I was so proud that she was learning these skills so beautifully.  She stopped crying and smiled.  I believe she learned a priceless lesson that day.

As you prepare your students for their end  of year performances think about:

  • What do you want them to learn from the performance?
  • What skills do you want them to work on?
  • What kind of experience do you want them to have?

Share your goals with the parents.  Let them be a part of the process.  Teach them, as well as the students, the art of performing.  Other things to think about:

  • Performance etiquette (Give your full attention to the performers on stage.  This means exiting and entering between dance numbers, clapping at the end of each dance, refraining from talking and eating, etc.)
  • Proper make-up and hair.  I am not a fan of little ones in lots of make-up and excessive hair spray. Dance is about  movement not hair.  Too much hair and make-up can be a distraction to the little ones.  If they are focused on the bobby pins they will not be focused on performing.
  • Let the parents know you will need a moment to say “a job well done!” I think it is important to review with the students what they learned/experienced at the end of class.  This is just as important on performance day.  See if you can have a moment with each class at the end of the performance even if it’s only for each student to say one thing he or she learned or enjoyed about performing.  And it is important that they hear praise from you and maybe something you learned as well!
  • Nothing is perfect, nor should it be.   I tell parents and students dance is a performing art not a “let’s tape it and watch it on TV” art.  What I mean by that is it’s about experiencing art – live!  Anything can happen, which is awesome.  It can be scary too. Children’s feelings are important and performing should not be forced but encouraged.  No matter how much we practice, anything goes.  There is no right or wrong;  just a moment to learn and experience something new.

To get back to my previous story about my first year teaching, I think the parents wound up making hats for the kids. So, they wore tank tops, leggings and hats.  In the end, I learned that a little sparkle added to the excitement.  Having some extra pizazz didn’t take away from what I was teaching.  It is all about balance.  The next year I had a tie-dye party with one class and my 5 year old ballet class wore tutus.  I still think it is very important to be budget conscious but also expectation conscious as well.  With everyone on the same page, performance time can be a magnificent time to learn, develop, explore and ultimately have fun!

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10 Credits Dancers Take With Them to College

Today’s guest post is courtesy Vicki Nelson. She and I connected over blogging but discovered a shared appreciation for dance. In addition to her professional experience within higher education, Vicki is the parent of two post-college daughters and one daughter currently in college. She studied dance for many years herself and enjoyed being a dance mom for 18 years. With this article, she’s put into words what a credit dance education, and arguably the arts in general, can be to young adults entering college.

Dance Education May Lead to College Success

Photo by bamarina09

As the mother of three daughters, I have spent 18 years as a dance mom. My daughters loved to dance. Each girl took ballet and jazz and one daughter added tap to the mix. We spent a lot of time at the dance studio! Two daughters have now graduated from college and the third is not far behind. No one dances any more.

Was it all a waste of time, money and energy? Of course not! My girls had fun, and learned to love and appreciate the arts. They gained a bit of grace and became more comfortable with their bodies. They made new friends. They had a great role model in their teacher. None of us regrets a minute of the time spent dancing.

However, I’ve come to realize that there are even more important benefits of growing up studying dance once students head off to college.

Qualities Successful Dancers and Students Share

As a college professor I work with college students every day. I see the qualities that successful students have, and I see the qualities that the less successful students lack. I believe that the dance education that my daughters received helped to reinforce many of the important qualities that made them successful in college and will help them succeed in their lives. I’d like to suggest ten of those qualities here.

  1. Time Management

    This may be the single most important quality necessary for success in college. Students who know how to plan ahead, organize, and balance their lives are the students who succeed. Children who grow up adding dance to their weekly activities, especially those who may take several classes each week, must learn to manage their time. They learn to balance, to prioritize, to multitask, to make choices and sacrifices. These lessons will definitely give them an advantage when they get to college.

  2. Discipline

    Anyone who has ever taken a dance class knows that it requires discipline. It requires discipline to show up to class, to control your body, to practice, to focus on the teacher. It requires discipline to give up other things to make room in your life for what is important to you. Students learn, and are able to practice, the discipline of making and following through with choices. When faced with choices in college, these students will be prepared.

  3. Passion

    Photo by ssanyal

    Students who are involved in a dance program have the opportunity to pursue something that they love. In following their passion, they experience the benefits and the satisfaction that comes from following your heart. Hopefully, when they get to college, they will follow a passion for something – whether or not it is dance. They will commit to something simply because they love it – not necessarily because of a class, or a grade, or a career move. Loving something that you do is important in keeping balance in your life.

  4. Commitment

    Dance students learn that doing anything well requires a commitment. That commitment takes time, energy, sacrifice, and follow-through. Dancers learn to stick with something. You cannot become a dancer over night. It takes time to develop as a dancer. College students, too, need to recognize that some things take time to develop and require a commitment of time, energy and sacrifice. In this often commitment-phobic age, students who know the value of commitment will make a difference – for themselves and for others.

  5. Hard work

    Dance is hard work. As much fun as it may be, as fulfilling and satisfying as it may be, as good as it is for the soul, it is hard work. Dancers learn how to put in the hard work to achieve something. They are not afraid of doing something difficult. They know that they need to tackle a difficult task (or step, or routine) and break it down and work at it. Many college students worry about hard – hard courses, hard instructors, hard majors. Students who are willing, and able, and unafraid, to take on challenges achieve more.

  6. Technique

    Photo by bombarosa

    Dancers spend much of their time learning to perfect, or at least improve, their technique. They know from experience that doing something well often happens because of all of the small details. A good dancer knows that a beautiful dance grows from good technique. Details matter. Details add up. Details take hard work. Paying attention to the smallest of details can make the difference.

  7. Skill-building

    Dancers understand that there is always room for improvement. No matter how long you have been dancing, no matter how good you are, no matter how clearly you understand a step or how instinctive a move has become, there is always room for improvement. Dancers learn that you never stop growing in your ability, that there is always somewhere to grow. In college, they will continue to strive for something more.

  8. Criticism

    Dance students understand that criticism is not a bad word. They understand that true criticism means helping someone find the best in themselves by giving them feedback. They understand that criticism is good and that good criticism helps them grow. They understand, because they have heard it being given for years, how to give good criticism to others. College students who are able to receive – and use – criticism will gain more from others. College students who know how to constructively criticize others – positively, specifically, non-emotionally – will be able to help others.

  9. Creativity

    Dance is not technique. Dance is not skill. Dance is not discipline or hard work. Although all of those qualities are required, dance is ultimately a creative work of art. Dance students begin to understand that they have something within themselves that they bring to a dance. Dance students begin to understand that dance is greater than they are. It is the ultimate unity of the music, the choreography, the technique and the soul of the dancer that creates the dance. Dancers learn to tap that creative energy within themselves – and they will bring that creativity to all that they do.

  10. Self Investment

    Ultimately, dancers learn to throw themselves completely into whatever they do. They blend the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual into a greater whole. Students who head off to college understanding, and having experienced, this totality of themselves will be better able to seek and maintain a balance in their lives.

My daughters no longer dance – although I continue to hope that they may return to it some day – but they have reaped countless benefits from their dance experience. The life lessons which they have gained gave them a head start in college – and in life. Current dance students may not yet realize that each time they lace up their pointe shoe, or take their place at the barre, or practice just one more pirouette, they are preparing themselves for life.

Vicki Nelson currently teaches communication at a small liberal arts college and has more than 25 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, academic advisor and administrator. She founded College Parent Central, a website designed to help parents navigate through the college years, to give parents information about how to be productively involved in their student’s college life while finding ways to allow their student to gain independence. Visit Vicki’s website at www.collegeparentcentral.com or contact her at vnelson@collegeparentcentral.com.

What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know

Transitioning To College: What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know is a college preparation guide for first-year students written specifically for dancers. It provides a snapshot of college life, essential information on what to expect in a dance program of study, and scores of tips and tricks for staying healthy and happy.

The E-book Helps You:

Own Your Education
What college freshman can expect to encounter freshman year in terms of dance technique and training, as well as overall scholastics.

Study Smarter, Not Harder

Stay HealthyClick Here

Manage Stress


How To Discuss Problems With Your Studio Director and Be Heard

Ideally parents and studio directors would see eye to eye on everything but we all know that it doesn’t always happen that way.

Suggestion Box

Photo by Lindsay Bremner is licensed CC BY 2.0

Dance parents invest almost as much (if not equal) time as dance students in their dance school. Not to mention, the financial investment for lessons, costumes, private classes, competitions, and more. It isn’t unusual or surprising, therefore, that as a parent, you may feel you have a lot to say about how a studio is run.

Parents, it is not at all unreasonable to ask questions or express your concern over the policies at your school if it is in the best interest of your child to do so. If you are hoping to discuss your concerns with a teacher or director follow this plan for making your approach.

  1. Take a breath
  2. Collect your thoughts
  3. Time your approach
  4. Buffer your complaints and opinions
  5. Be willing to listen
  6. Be willing to walk away

Take A Breath

Often when there is a problem or we’re upset about something, our feelings get all jumbled up with our reasons for wanting to see change happen. For example, a dance mom recently contacted me with concern about the attire (bra tops and booty shorts) which older company dancers are wearing for class or for assisting with younger students. When she expressed her concerns to me, she gave one reason she wants to see a change – the attire is not morally upstanding, and then added several ways it makes her feel – she finds it embarrassing, believes this makes the girls poor role models, and maintains that it does not match the values she wishes to uphold for her daughter (a younger student at the school).

Whether or not you agree with the reasons or her feelings, attire is a legitimate concern for this parent. However, if she were to approach the director with only one reason and a whole jumble of feelings, you might see how this could be a problem, especially if the director doesn’t agree or feel the same way.

Imagine the director feels the girls are good role models and that they show this in ways outside of what they wear. Imagine the director of the school does not share your value system, or disagrees that wearing this particular attire is morally incorrect. Imagine he/she is not embarrassed by the attire – many dancers don’t have the same uncomfortable feelings about the human form as others because they spend so much time on study and analysis of the body. Imagine no other parents or teachers at the studio have expressed concern on the matter.

Always take a moment. a breath. a day. a week. or two! to think through your reasons and separate them a bit from your feelings.


Somewhere between taking a breath and collecting your thoughts, you should consider if the problem or concern you have is a matter of studio policy or addressed in the school handbook.

Policies are typically in place for good reason and if you have an issue with something you have already agreed to or have been notified about, bringing the issue to studio management should be very carefully considered. Always read a studio’s policies before enrolling and question anything you don’t understand or have concerns about at that time. Constructive criticism of the rules is usually welcome when delivered appropriately (see below) but if you knew the policy and agreed, it is within the business owner’s right to simply restate the policy. That’s what written policies and handbooks are for.

Collect Your Thoughts

Before approaching a studio owner/director with a concern it is a good idea to think through the varying reasons why you feel a change may be in order. You can include the personal reasons you would like to see things done differently but support your ideas and concerns with logical examples.

Going back to the problem with attire, our concerned dance mom could argue that girls struggling with weight or body insecurities (like breast size) may feel additional pressure or inadequacy when surrounded by girls in clothing that hides (or supports) nothing. She may even present alternatives. The dancer uniform of leotard and tights allows the instructor to see what they need to – it won’t solve any difficulties a student is having with body image, but the wide variety of class appropriate leotards, support garments, and warm-ups means greater likelihood that young women of varying body types will find something that works for them.

When you present well-thought out arguments for how or why the director might handle something differently, you are more likely to be heard. The director can listen and consider your opinions. That doesn’t mean that change is inevitable.


Time Your Approach

This is so important! I can speak from experience as one on the receiving end of parent concerns (for a variety of issues) that the way a parent approaches me can have a tremendous affect on my response. Think about the ways this is true for yourself, in your work or at home!

The timing of your approach can make or break your argument. Set a time that is convenient for the teacher/studio owner to sit down for a discussion rather than confronting her between classes or while she is “on duty” with other responsibilities of the work day.

Hopefully your studio has a publicized protocol that sets clear guidelines for studio parents and students and makes communicating problems and concerns easy.

If your studio does not have such a protocol established, you may need to go forward much more carefully. Thoughtfully decide to whom, how, and when it is best to address your concern. Please, don’t talk, gossip about, or sway opinions on the issue with other parents, students, or teachers. It won’t help your case and it will lead to negative feelings on every level.


Buffer Your Complaints and Opinions

I’ve spent years teaching and, like most jobs worth doing, it is a thankless one. Someone who has taken the time to offer compliments along the way, or who approaches me with positive things to say about the tremendous work I’ve put in, gets further than those who approach me only to say something negative or tell me when I’ve done something wrong. Dance teachers and studio directors are no different from anyone else in their desire for criticisms to be delivered with care. So, making yourself heard is often a matter not of what you say but how you say it.


Be Willing To Listen

Most instructors think and debate with themselves on every choice they make. We are heavily invested in your child too! A teacher has a right to her opinions, feelings, and choices just as you, the parent, have a right to yours and a business owner can and should run their businesses according to their own values in life and in dance. Once you have had your say, stay open to the counter-arguments presented. The reasons behind certain policies or decisions may be very good ones!


Be Willing To Walk Away

You may do all the “right” things when you approach the studio owner and still not receive the desired response. It is okay to request change as long as you are willing to also accept that it is the director or teacher’s prerogative to run things according to his values and/or the prevailing attitude of her customers, and leave the school respectfully if this studio’s choices will in any way compromise the values you seek to uphold. If you no longer feel comfortable in the environment or it is not a good fit for your child or your family, the only thing left to do is make a change.

Confessions of a Busy Dance Mom

Do you have one of ‘those’ moms at your studio?

You know, the one who doesn’t read the notices about payments due, rehearsal schedules, or performance times?

Or do you have one who drags their feet and doesn’t sign up until the last minute?

What about the mom who calls you all the time, emails constantly or has a million questions?

You might have more than one at your studio!

Communicating with parents is one of the most frequently reported challenges and problems that dance teachers and studio owners face when it comes to running a successful business.

Guess what? I am one of those moms!

I’m probably a great example of some of the moms at your studio. A mom who can barely find the time to get the lunches packed and get to school on time, let alone read the many papers and emails and notices that come home on a regular basis.

Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • My 3 year old daughter recently refused to go to dance class in anything except her fleeced footed PJ’s and absolutely freaks out at the idea of me putting her hair in a ponytail.
  • My minivan is what I call my ‘mobile office’. Some days it seems like I get in and out of my van to drop-off, pick-up, drop-off, run errands, pick-up about 20 times.
  • I get invited to dozens of events by email: pampered chef parties, scrapbooking events, birthday parties, girls nights out, volunteer days at my kids school, parent committees, the list is endless. If I can RSVP to half, I’m doing well.
  • My dining room table on most days serves as a place to fold laundry.
  • I run from work to soccer practice then to music class. We have school and dance class and work again. Then it’s over to the studio, back to my home office, and school again. My google calendar looks like a puzzle of appointments!

It’s no wonder that communicating with parents is a top concern and complaint of dance teachers and studio owners!

Can you relate? There’s good news here…

Teachers and Studio Owners, increase your success in effectively communicating with parents by keeping them engaged and involved through a variety of modes of communication.

  1. If there is an important date or deadline that I should know about please deliver that communication to me in a variety of ways, more than one time.
    • Post announcements in the studio, announce it after class, post it on the studio website, email me. I need more than one reminder and it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that sometimes I just cannot record that date into my calendar at that moment or the form could be lost among many others.
    • Thank you for going out of your way to let us know about important dates and deadlines.
  2. Ask me what I can do to help. Seriously.
    • Believe it or not, even in the midst of the chaos with a couple of kids most moms want to be involved and help out.
    • Do you need a parent volunteer at the show?
    • Need someone to steam costumes or maybe email moms I know to let them know spots are still open in dance class on Tuesday mornings? If you don’t ask, I think you have it all handled, by all means ask. If I can’t help this time around, I’ll make sure next time.
  3. I’m looking to the internet first, you should be too.
    • With my busy life, one thing has made my life easier: the internet. I like to register my kids for their activities at off hours, I check my email from my smart phone, I Google everything and I’m communicating with my friends and work colleagues on social media.
    • Thanks for keeping your website up to date, posting important news, and keeping in touch online. It really helps me know what is going on at the studio. Even better, I like to let my friends know and I’m happy to share it with them.

Lastly, and MOST importantly: Thank YOU

I am one of ‘those’ moms who may not say it often enough, or perhaps even at all.

Thank you. All I want for my child is to see them succeed and be happy. Thanks for making dance class fun for my kids. I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you show with your enthusiasm and praise.

Dance class is a highlight of the week for my child. You create that moment each and every week.

From all those moms and parents out there that may not say it, thank you for all that you do to keep the joy and magic of dance alive in the world.