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Parents & Teachers > Ask A Dance Teacher > Jan Miller's Response


Q: My daughter has recently turned 13 and been studying ballet her entire life (pre-ballet at 2 years old). She's been on pointe for over two years now and has been attending class 6 days a week for 4 years. I've been told by many other retired professionals that her body type is "perfect," stage presence is superb, and her extension and flexibility are excellent and hindered only by her strength. She takes Pilates and conditioning classes to enhance strength. Her low arched feet have, however, been a constant source of frustration for her as she works to exhaustion to gain the articulation in her pointe work she knows the professionals are looking for. She is over her pointe but doesn't have those gorgeous "popping" feet the best of the best have. 

Will this be an issue at school like SAB and ABT? Also, her instructors have informed me that she needs to go away to summer intensive this summer and following. We currently don't have the funds to send her this summer. Are there merit scholarships available for summer intensives or are these intensives designed to make the school money? And if so, how realistic should we be in seeking out merit scholarships for summer intensives? Additionally, we live 75 miles east of San Francisco. If she were accepted, should we consider going that distance to study with the San Francisco Ballet. 

Dear Parent,
If all you have said about your daughter's "positive" attributes for ballet are true and if she is phenomenally talented, exceptions to the rule are sometimes made. Since you said she is "over her pointe," I am assuming the line of the foot at least continues as one line from the leg. If this is true, a school like SAB or ABT might make an exception for a very talented dancer who they think has a lot of potential. Generally speaking, it is an issue in the top ballet schools, even though not all professional dancers have Alessandra Ferri's feet. Are you being realistic in what you think is required? There are many degrees of acceptable "arch" development. It is possible to have "articulation" of the pointe work without having the "popping" arches you refer to. That is a matter of training.
Your instructors are correct in telling you that she should, at this point, be going away to ballet summer intensives associated with the major companies. It is important to be observed year after year so they can see the progress, to experience training from different teachers and to make connections that might benefit job opportunities in the future. Summer dance intensives are more "forgiving" in their acceptance criteria than the acceptance into their regular school year trainee programs. That is because summer intensives are money makers for these schools, but at the same time, they always have their eyes open for new upcoming talent.
Yes, there are merit and "need" scholarships available. You would have to attend the auditions (or mail in a video tape if they accept a video) and see if they offer your daughter one. You might also consider finding a "sponsor" in your community.
And finally, yes, you should make the effort to study at the San Francisco Ballet School if accepted. This is the age to start this activity, but waiting until she is 14 (one more year) would not be a problem if circumstances prevent attending this year.
Jan Miller

Q: Hello, I'm 13 years old and I've been dancing for two years now. My main goal in ballet is to get on pointe but my teacher is extremely strict. I know there are requirements to get on pointe, such as having a good turnout, straight knees, being pulled up, and being strong enough (and going to enough classes). I think I'm good at all of those. But everywhere I look, everyone says that you need at least two years of dancing experience; I know a few girls that have been dancing for seven years or more and my teacher still hasn't put them on pointe. Like I said before, I know there are requirements, but it seems that my teacher is being unreasonable. I do trust my teacher's judgement, but it seems that she expects too much from dancers compared to other dance companies. Is my teacher too strict? I'm trying to think the best of her judgment, but I don't know what to think or do. Please help me out.
P.S. I go to class twice a week and I've been doing the summer workshop, if that helps any.
Thank you,
Dance Lover

Dear Dance Lover,
No, your teacher is not too strict. Your teacher is being totally reasonable. You state in your question that you trust your teacher’s judgement. I suggest you listen to yourself and trust her judgement.
You are 13 years old and have had two years of training. You only take class twice a week. I do not think someone your age with so little knowledge and experience should be questioning a teacher’s judgement. It appears to me that she is a good teacher making a very wise decision based on her many years of professional experience and knowledge. You must remember that what you want is not necessarily what is best for your long term future goal of remaining injury free and progressing in a timely manner.
It is very rare, if ever, that someone at a young age, such as you, is ready for pointe work with only two years of training. You need to take class more often on a weekly basis to prepare yourself for future pointe work. You mention that your teacher has some students that have been dancing for seven years or more and she still has not put them on pointe. Obviously, in your teacher’s judgement, they are still not physically capable of handling it at this point in time. It is not just about the number of years one has been dancing, it’s about how strong and properly prepared the body is. You also mention that you think  your  teacher expects too much from dancers compared to other dance companies. Your teacher’s decision has nothing to do with other dance companies. It is based on what is in front of her in her studio. There is a lot of improper advice and instruction in this world. I would strongly suggest that you listen to your teacher and follow what appears to be excellent advice.
Jan Miller