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Little Girls Dancing Big Roles December 30, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,ballet class — theworstat @ 6:42 pm
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(Please note that the child being discussed in this post will not be named.)

Recently I posted a link to a YouTube video from a school where very tiny girls are taught big ballet tricks.  One of them, an 8 year old, danced the lead in the school’s production of Swan Lake.  Although the choreography was slightly dumbed down, it was still very difficult.

Very notably and probably not very surprisingly, the little girl gave the appearance of swan-like loveliness: lots of flapping of arms and darting about.  This was enough to fool a majority of viewers into thinking that she really knew what she was doing.

But technically — again no surprise — she was a disaster.

More recent videos of her show that she has improved enough to win a prize at an international competition (she actually has a smattering of a turnout now and her feet are more arched), but the question remains: how long will she last?  In the earlier video her feet were weak and looked painful.  She had no turnout.  She could not sustain anything.

Again, no surprise.  Let me talk about figure skating for a bit.

In the 1980’s it became impossible for a female skater to win an elite competition with only double jumps.  As the old school figures competitions (drawing pictures on the ice with the edges of one’s blades) dropped away, the emphasis on turning multiple times in the air before landing increased.

As a result, many older, more seasoned skaters were  forced out of competition.  There were two competing theories about this: (1) the kind of skater needed for jumps was older and had huge thighs and (2) the kind of skater needed for jumps was prepubescent and weighed about as much as a thimble.

The world being the way it is, Theory #2 won handily.

Over the next two decades we saw tiny skater after tiny skater win the Olympics with what amounted to triple hops (they could not really jump), no edges (blade-edge control is necessary for safe and correct skating), flabby musicality, and no actual technique overall.

What else did we see?  Hip injuries.  SEVERE hip injuries.  It turned out that doing such extreme weight-bearing activities as landing triple jumps was very, very bad for little girls.  Finally, after much prodding, girls under 16 (or was it 15) were banned from elite competition.  Nowadays you don’t hear so much about hip injuries, although I’m sure there’s still a lot of that going around at the lower levels of competition where the girls are younger and triple jumps are the norm, if not required.

I have no doubt that even though proper ballet training strengthens the hips, the same is true in ballet.  And it is well known that being on pointe too early can damage the feet.  Yet very few of the viewers of the videos showing this little girl questioned anything.  A few comments even snorted, “her teachers know what they are doing.”

I’d like to counter that:  They do not.  Want proof?  Just watch the girls dance.

And I daresay in about 20 years, just watch them try to walk.

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13 Responses to “Little Girls Dancing Big Roles”

  1. I think I know whom you’re talking of, and I definitely agree. They really want to create ‘wonderchildren’, but in fact those children can not be strong enough to do all those things. Pointes are not healthy, but adults may have the strenght. They’re bones are formed, which is not the case for girls aged 6 or 8. I too wondered why no one commented that on the video, and I did in fact doubt if the teachers do know what they’re doing.
    In the 1900’s there were a few ‘baby ballerina’s’s as well, I believe they were like 13 or something, went on pointe very early. But I read somewhere that later on they suffered a lot because of that.
    Some people choose fame above health, and that is a sad thing.

  2. Jennifer S. Says:

    My mother went on pointe without proper strengthening needed for pointe work. She paid dearly for it in the form of disfiguring and painful bunions and arthritis.

    I am also a fan of figure skating and miss the days when skaters actually skated with ni e edges instead of spending most of their programs in the air with jump attempts. It really should be renamed ice jumping.

  3. Jennifer S. Says:

    Also this just popped into my head. Parallel between skating and ballet is scary. Jumps are element of skating that has in recent years be given undue importance at the expense of other elements. The results are lower overall quality in technique but more athleticism in presentation. Something graceful is also lost in this development.

    Similarly in ballet as exemplified in the video linked, students and dancers are trained to perform crowd pleasing tricks, like jumps in skating, which require nothing more than athletic coordination and coaching. A generation of such dancers now grace the stage. Dancers are called ballerinas when they do multiple turns and jump high in the air, it doesn’t matter those turns are not ideal for choreography or those jumps have ugly forms in the air. No the endpoint is now the crowd pleasing tricks, mostly grand allegro techniques and also multiple turns. Sure these dancers can fool untrained eyes with athletic Don Q variations but do they have refined technique and stylistic sensitivity to dance and interpret roles like Sylph in La Sylphide? No, because such techniques are lost on most of newer generation of dancers. Petite allegro and batterie are not as crowd pleasing and they are dare I say it, harder to master so why bother? Better to just concentrate on extensions and soulless multiple turns that do nothing to add to music or choreography. To be a true ballerina a dancer has to master the Romantic roles like Sylph and also ultimate classical role like Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. Lopatkina whom many Marinsky snobs revere, dance neither roles yet she is considered goddess there. Osipova who dances Sylph with emphasis on height of jumps instead of lightness, proper placement and port de bras, is applauded by even some critics for her athletic rendition in it. The art in ballet s dying.

  4. raisssasss Says:

    I know what are you talking about… I don’t like the little dancing girls from Russia, they don’t have too young for doing such variations as Esmeralda or Odilie. They’re not too young for ballet, but they should practice something easier. They make that Swan Lake pas de deux is looking like a joke or a parody, not like a the most classical and beautiful ballet. Have you seen that? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6_nX_XzgQk I think it’s horrible. I don’t know how old they are but there is the youngest group and watching it make me embarassed.
    However I don’t like that school from Russia, there is one person who is now the best student in Vaganova Academy and who earlier was dancing in Vladislav Kuramshin school. Her name is Ksenia Zhiganshina and now she has a bright future in Academy and after that in Mariinsky Ballet, probably. Her talent is extraordinary… but it’s just an example.
    And I think these little girl from that school work too much. I’ve read that Lada is working for 3-4 hours a day, 6 day a week. It’s unhealthy for that young child! And I’m sure she spends most of that 4 hours en pointe! It’s really sad.

  5. raisssasss Says:

    And I’d like to add that I’m watching now some videos of Lada and I think she has a talent and a good body for ballet. I’m sure. If she go to Vaganova Academy she could be very good student and dancer but now she dances too much and too dificult things. She does 32 fouettes but it’s actually sad because she doesn’t need that for being called a vary talented girl. And the choreography of this things is really, really bad…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr7nIJLFou0

  6. theworstat Says:

    What will be interesting, if this child enters a school like Vaganova eventually, is her reaction when she is forced back into doing the basics. I watched this happen with a young figure skater whose big sister, a national competitor, had taught her some advanced tricks (spins and jumps) before she even started taking lessons. Then she got a coach who saw the dangers and deficiencies and dropped her back to the basics. Well, the outcome was predictable: the coach got fired when the kid started whining to Mom that “all we’re doing is stupid stuff.”

    Now, there’s another type of kid who will take to demotion (in training) readily, and accept that they need to re-learn everything. Let’s hope that this child is one of them. She does have physical qualities that are good for a dancer. My biggest hope for her is that she will not eventually be crippled by this early over-training.

    • theworstat Says:

      And I just watched that video Raisssasss linked to. It’s excruciating.

    • raisssasss Says:

      yes, you’re right, maybe they will have to re-learn, but I’ve talked with Ksenia and she said that she had to change a lot of things but I don’t think she needed a lot of time for that, because she turned out as the best girl in the class very quickly. Probably she’s just uncommonly talented for ballet and it’s excerpt.

  7. atlantic Says:

    On one hand, she has a talent for learning the dance and actually getting on stage and doing it. Many children her age would not have the maturity to do that. However, her technique is very poor and the ‘tricks’ detract from the performance. She could have a lot of talent, but needs to re-learn the basics if she were accepted into the academy.

    I once heard an interview on NPR of a teacher from SAB. She said she would rather have students with no prior training than poor training. It is twice as much effort to unlearn bad habits.

    I’ve noticed that the YAGP competition seems to be encouraging young dancers to perform adult variations (see the film “First Position”). In contrast, the Prix de Lausanne only takes older teenagers. Possibly this competition has created a culture of private studios pushing young children for profit? I don’t see any young children from Vaganova or the Bolshoi academies participating

    • theworstat Says:

      That’s an interesting point. I have to learn more about YAGP, since it came into being well after my brief “career” as a dance student. I know it has launched two or three dancers into elite schools, but that’s about all I know.

      What you’re saying puts me in mind of a young skater who was the Olympic gold medalist. She basically won on the strength of (1) not falling down, and (2) landing a triple-triple jump combination. Other than that, her skating was not remarkable or even correct by any stretch of the imagination. She just sort of threw herself around while the music played.

      Like many another young skater, she was a world-champion flutzer. A “flutz” is an illegal combination of a Lutz jump and a Flip jump; the skater doing a Lutz should enter the jump on her outside edge, (the Flip is done from the inside edge and is considered a much easier jump), but many skaters, at the very last moment, sneak over to the inside edge because taking off from it is easier. I used to do this all the time, lol.

      After a rules change following this young girl’s big Olympic win, she totally lost her flutz (which she had been passing off as a Lutz). She just could not land it. Because the judges now had instant replay and were looking for flutzes, she could no longer sneak to the wrong edge. Her coach reportedly drilled her for months on doing a proper Lutz, but with no results. And so her career as an elite skater stalled.

      The reason I’m telling you all this is that this is what I am afraid is going to happen to some of these tiny girls should they eventually enter the elite academies such as Vaganova: they will, as you say, have to completely re-train. Some of them may not make it. I expect that a fouette done turned out is a different matter than a fouette done without a turnout, for instance.

      Time will tell. It’s going to be interesting to watch.

      • Jennifer S. Says:

        You must be talking about Tara Lipinski. She was tiny and skated without ounce of musicality nor artistry but she jumped well on the ice as opposed to skating beautifully like Michelle Kwan who was the whole package skater, last of the kind really. Then the next abhorration of an Olympic gold medalist is of course another flutzer Ms. Sarah Hughes. It makes me mad to think back how wronged Michelld Kwan was by circumstances surrounding her peak Olympic years. Michelle just had ‘it’ on the ice, she wasn’t most technically astounding skater in each individual areas but whole package was something special, most of all her way of interpreting music and projecting emotions. I would take a skater like that any day over today’s bland jumping beans who can twist themselves into pretzel shapes while spinning. Same thing pretty much goes for ballet. I have no desire to see boring and athletic exercises passing off as ballet.

  8. theworstat Says:

    Lol I think the word “flutz” originated with Lipinski. The skater whose career was trashed by the rules change, though was Hughes. Neither of them knew one edge of a blade from the other, or anything about music, or anything about skating at all. Yet both won Olympic gold during the age of the jumper.

    It’s been debated that perhaps the “flutz” should become a legitimate jump because videos have revealed that very few skaters in history have actually owned clean Lutz jumps. (I can think of three: Todd Eldredge, Ann Patrice McDonough, and a Russian champion who used to launch into the Lutz from the outside of her boot instead of just the blade as required.) This problem goes back to the days of school figures. Definitely those old-time skaters knew everything about skating, though — so if they couldn’t manage a Lutz, maybe that says something. It’s no surprise to me that Kwan was the last elite skater who still practiced school figures every day until the end of her career.

    Definitely this corresponds to ballet, with the modern-day emphasis on competition. Will it help ballet or hurt it? Good question for a discussion either on the board or on this blog.

    • theworstat Says:

      LOL I was wrong…there were 4 clean Lutzers. Alexei Yagudin was another Russian boot-launcher. Anyway, back to ballet…


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