Book: The Ballet Companion


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Parents & Teachers > Ask A Dance Teacher > Bart Cook's Response


Q: When I was little I took tap, jazz, and ballet (soft shoe) at a local dance studio. I danced from the time I was 5 until I was 9 or 10. I quit because I didn't have much time to devote to it. I am currently 15 years old and would love to get back into dance. I was wondering if you could recommend some exercises or techniques I should brush up on. I am quite flexible already and have been working on that for awhile now. Also, I am in cologuard, in which we dance often, and my instructors say that I am quite good (considering the limited time I took dance). Is it too late to get back into ballet? Also just a side note: can dance damage your knees by causing your legs to bow out?

Thank you so much!

Dear Dancer,

First of all, no, I have never heard of dance, ballet, causing your legs to bow out! Maybe from horse back riding? It can cause some knee damage if you are not careful about how you turn out your legs. Turnout should always start at the hips, never forcing at the knees, ankles, or feet.

It's great that you feel you want to return to dance at this time. As far as exercises go, I think you just have to get into a class with a teacher and go for it. Maybe just a beginner adult ballet class would be a good place to start so that you wouldn't feel any pressure with your peers being further along at this age.

Best wishes,
Bart Cook


Q: I have been dancing ballet for two years. I'm 17 (I know late) and I am working on my body because I am still a little overweight but I do have my splits and leaps. My question is, do I have a chance at becoming a professional? It's true I started late, but I seem to have caught on rather quickly and I am proficient with my basics. Also, how many years of training do you feel are needed to become professional? I am very determined and I like breaking molds- it's been hard for me to keep my spirits up because when I try to do research there seems to be less info for guys. I know that just because men don't do pointe doesn't make it any easier. Dance is my dream. Please give me some good advice. Thank you.

Dear Dancer,

Hi there and thanks for writing in.

It's great that you are so determined about your pursuit of a professional dance career. Many male dancers have started late in their training and have gone on to achieve quite a bit. So it's been done. But remember everyone is different and there are no guarantees, especially in such a competitive environment.

However, you are still young and can train for another 2-3 years before auditioning for a dance group. Perhaps you need to give yourself this amount of time and then re-assess your situation. It's the hardest to be realistic about oneself but it's very good that it has come so easily to you and that you love dance.

Try to get to a good weight and it will make the training much better.

So my advice is for the moment is to just keep working and stay postive.

Good luck,
Bart Cook


Q: I recently saw an article in a local newspaper where boys were being trained to dance en pointe. The accompanying photo reveals that they had little technical training (hips out of line, etc). I am very concerned that they may do serious injury to themselves. Also the teacher claims to have been taught to dance en pointe by Mikhail Baryshnikov! What are your thoughts, and do you know if Baryshnikov has ever taught male pointe work?

Dear Dancer,

No, I don't know about Baryshnikov and the teaching of men to dance on pointe.

I do know that some old schools of ballet do use this as a foot strengthening approach. Recently I have been working at the ballet in Tbilisi where I have seen even the youngest dancers of 6 years doing their Georgian folk dancing on the toes without pointe shoes! It's beautiful but ouch!!

As far as training and poor hip alignment, it is a current practice all over America to put children in pointe shoes when they are clearly not ready to do pointe. So what can one say. It's a shame we do not have a better system here but this is how it is. Thank goodness it seems that not too much damage is done. I myself have not heard of any severe cases of injury due to going on pointe prematurely, but I am sure there are some.

It is best however, whether female or male, if the dancer is properly prepared before going onto the toes.

I agree with your concerns wholeheartedly.

Bart Cook


Q: I am an extremely tall dancer (around 5'8 or 5'9). I also started to pursue a professional career late (about 2 years ago). One of my teachers seems to have no confidence in me because of these two reasons and also seems to think I'm just doing this as a hobby. I've made it clear that dance is not just a hobby for me, but she continues to act like I'm not present in class and barely gives me any corrections at all. What should I do?

Dear Dancer,

Hi and how are you? It sounds from your question that you are not too happy about the kind of reinforcement you are getting at this time with your dance goals. So clearly you have decisions to make about this.

Sometimes it's not easy to make a change when we have had a teacher for a long time. But you really need to consider what will make your goals materialize. And sometimes we stay in uncomfortable situations because we are afraid to change. The best advice I can give you is to look as clearly as you can at this situation, perhaps with expert advice like a friend or parent, and try to make a decison with a brighter outlook. Don't just stay in the same habitual environment if it isn't working for you.

Bart Cook