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My eleven-year-old daughter who has been in dance classes since she was four. She loves ballet, and she loves to perform. However, she does not care for the stretching and practicing that are part of the dance routine. I am trying to figure out how to motivate her to practice her steps and movements more.

Her teacher's studio is not large. There are only three other girls in her class, and there no older students at all. She's the most experienced and skillful ballerina in the studio. However, I actually think this is unfortunate, because it leaves her without older role models to look up to and to emulate. She is satisfied with how well she is doing, and I do not want to give her the impression that she is doing poorly by pushing her too hard. On the other hand, I know that she could do better, and I am looking for advice about how to gently encourage her to practice, so she can really reach her potential as a young ballerina.

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    Perhaps find a bigger studio? Maybe she needs to see better dancers who have the work ethic to go with the talent – Brian Robbins May 1 '15 at 13:47
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    Two questions: (1) Does she want to reach her potential, or just enjoy doing what she can? (2) Does she actually need practice to meet the challenges she's faced with? – user11971 May 1 '15 at 16:52
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    Also, I'm not really familiar with ballet, but I thought at least part of the point of stretching is to help prevent you from getting hurt. Does she realize she could injure herself if she doesn't warm up and down properly? – user11971 May 1 '15 at 16:54
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    @Hurkyl not nearly as likely at that young an age, and doubly hard to convince her of the necessity because of it. – Jared Smith May 1 '15 at 19:02
  • @Hurkyl Stretching makes the strength exercises more effective, I think. Also, for dance you need a great deal of flexibility -- e.g. splits. Stretching regularly will gradually extend the range. – aparente001 May 3 '15 at 5:15
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This can be a common issue in children who are very successful in almost anything: when they are motivated by success, and that success is easy to achieve, they see no reason to work hard to achieve basically the same success. The returns for additional success tend to be diminishing; being a big fish in a small pond can be very comfortable to someone motivated by that success.

The key is focusing on continued challenges rather than just on success. This is why we're taught nowadays to encourage "trying" rather than praising "success": the latter encourages doing easy things, the former harder things.

If your daughter is eleven, she's old enough to be part of this discussion: why she should challenge herself rather than be comfortable in success. She's also old enough to disagree. She may not want to be any more successful than she is - perhaps dancing is a good release for her but not something she wants to work at for a good reason. Be prepared for that answer, and if she is serious about that, be prepared to accept it.

If she is at that point - where she truly doesn't want to "reach her potential" as you state it - then she may be ready for a different role: that of mentor for other chilren. One good transition can be to being teaching others and helping them learn, as that is a powerful way to learn leadership and other useful skills for later in life.

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    The notion of having her teach in addition to continuing to learn is compelling, particularly if this studio is small enough to really appreciate the extra help. – Acire May 1 '15 at 15:15
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There's a common saying among highly-successful people, which is to never be the smartest person in the room. You grow by surrounding yourself with people who challenge you to be better. Somewhat counterintuitively, if you want to be truly successful, you need to fail sometimes. If you never fail, you're not pushing your boundaries. You're playing it too safe.

For your daughter's situation, you need to find a way to up her game. Give her a chance to learn from failure. That means joining a more competitive studio, or going out for more challenging auditions. She needs the experience of trying for a part and not getting it. Take her to more performances of world-class dancers, so she has something to aspire to.

I play the organ for church. I'm mediocre by professional standards, but pretty good for a volunteer amateur. People frequently ask me how I became a good organist. They say they want to learn, but the organ is significantly more complex than piano and they are terrible at it.

I tell them the secret is to keep playing even though they're terrible, then in 10 years they'll suddenly realize they aren't terrible anymore. To my knowledge, no one has yet taken me up on that advice, even people with much more natural talent than I have. They are too conditioned to think of temporary failure as a bad thing. They are too happy to stick with what they are already good at.

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    +1 If she's the best ballerina at her studio, she has outgrown that studio. – Aravis May 1 '15 at 16:50
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    I does seem that not having more advanced students around is limiting her quite a bit. On the other hand, I really don't want to change studios. We have been with this teacher practically since she began, and we are pretty good friends now. – Buzz May 2 '15 at 19:08
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    @Buzz That is a conflict of interest and the underlying reason why the problem isn't resolving itself (don't buy/sell from your friends). -There's no precipice for her to climb to from her pedestal. – Mazura May 2 '15 at 23:20
  • @Buzz, it sounds like you're purposefully leaving your daughter in the hands of a mediocre teacher and expecting her to magically become a star. If she's the best student this teacher has and is no longer progressing to her potential, she's probably reached the limits of her teaching ability. A good teacher should be helping you find the right person/studio to take her to the next level, if that's what you want, rather than continuing to take your money and keep providing the same results. – Aravis May 6 '15 at 16:12
  • I don't expect her to become a star; I'm just hoping for her to have fun and to get good experience with practice and payoff. – Buzz May 6 '15 at 17:43
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I can speak from experience as someone who has had multiple talents, but is lazy: I do things because I enjoy them.

I, for example, rarely did anything with my clarinet for the sake of becoming a better clarinetist. The music we were going to perform? I played it because I enjoyed playing it. I never really practiced for an abstract sense of becoming better. Practice was for concrete things: e.g. I wanted to play something, but I could not, so I fixed the problem.

The same with training exercises. Work on my scales? Never. I'd play them because I had an urge to feel smug about how rapidly I could play a Db scale, or because I liked playing high notes and was annoyed that I still couldn't hit that double-high G smoothly or reliably in tune so I wanted to take another go at it. But never just for the sake of training.

I could never be a world-class musician with such a work ethic, but I was still able to become very good and attain a level of excellence I was quite happy with.


If your daughter is anything like I was, the point is, you won't get anywhere by telling her to do unfun things for the sake of achieving her potential; at worst it might push her to the point where ballet is more of a chore than a source of enjoyment and she'll stop pursuing it.

Instead, let her enjoy things -- and give her more things to enjoy, and targets she wants to reach. I don't really know anything about ballet so I don't know how feasible or safe these suggestions will be (consult with her instructor!) but I imagine things like

  • Give her a way to practice her routine for fun when she wants to.
  • Maybe she would enjoy trying to perform the routine even faster than it normally goes?
  • If you have something you want her to practice, give her something fun to do that involves them. Maybe a new dance, or some sort of challenge routine. If she enjoys them, she'll do the dance or strive to meet the challenge. (if not, don't try to force it!)

Ultimately, the point is, let her do the fun things, and offer her more fun and/or challenging things to do if she wants to. Don't give her training chores to do, unless she actually wants them and/or the results that they would let her achieve.

  • Nice way to look at the other side of things. – Brian Robbins May 1 '15 at 19:15
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I have faced this very challenge with my son. Here are a few ideas (in addition to the main idea mentioned by several people, of giving her a larger pond to swim in):

  • Let her go to a dance camp for one or two weeks in the summer. (Choose carefully.) There are sleep-away versions and day programs. If the day program is out of town, contact the director and ask for help arranging for a home stay. Perhaps you could both stay in the out of town place together, if she's not ready to go without you.

  • Take her to exciting dance performances and concerts.

  • Spend some time watching good quality rehearsals together. This doesn't have to be exclusively ballet.

  • Have a conversation with a dancer (in front of, or with, your daughter). Ask how important ballet is. That person will, I guarantee, tell you that ballet is enormously helpful for everything. The light in the person's eye will be helpful for your daughter to see.

  • Put on classical music at home for your daughter to improvise to.

  • Tell someone (such as another family member) something very positive about your daughter's dance abilities. (Discreetly make sure your daughter can hear what you're saying. You have to be subtle about this, though.)

  • Watch some YouTube videos of ballets together.

  • Ask the teacher when would be convenient for you to have a chat with her. Say you only need about five minutes of her time. When the time comes, ask about your daughter's areas of strength and growth, and potential. These questions will show the teacher that you want to support your daughter to excel, and not just diddle daddle. Hopefully the teacher will be motivated from this to push a bit harder.

  • General physical conditioning can be helpful, especially developing core strength (e.g. sit-ups) and aerobic conditioning. So, take her swimming, go on a bike ride with her, etc. Whatever she enjoys. To get her to do sit-ups, set a challenge for both of you. Ask her to do sit-ups with you.

  • It can be helpful to "cross-train," so to speak, in other words, to get some experience with theater and music.

  • Don't neglect the discovery of literature. The best ballet teacher my son has ever had explained to me that a deep empathetic connection with literature is what she most looks for in a dancer.

  • Try watching some opera, live or on youtube. For example La Bohème, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntg9vXxAia8

  • Model daily stretching.

  • Get books from the library with photographs of rehearsals and productions, and biographies of great dancers. Get some literature for her age level with dancers as characters.

  • Make a special family trip out of town to see an exciting company perform.

Okay, that's everything I can think of. Last comment: ballet, apparently, isn't like music, where you really have to practice alone every day. With ballet, the main things you can accomplish alone are the stretching (to increase flexibility) and the strength and conditioning. For the actual ballet work, normally the best work is done in class. I don't completely understand that, but I have come to accept it.

  • Thanks! These are good ideas.That last bit is quite interesting.I had not previously heard that it was more difficult to advance by practicing on one's own. – Buzz May 6 '15 at 17:45
  • @Buzz, I've been told that when you're taking class, something sort of magical happens, and you're in some kind of zone. I know that professional dancers take class the day they're performing. How different from music, where so much important work is done alone, in the practice room. – aparente001 May 7 '15 at 0:07
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Most of the advice before me is good advice. Here is my 2 cents.

As a father with two high school dancers that have danced since age 3 - one daughter just shows up. The other daughter practices before dance class and then practices after dance class.

The daughter that just shows up - she's tired of dance and does not want to dance after high school. She goes to see her friends at dance, gets to perform on stage, and gets to go on road trips and sleep overs with those friends. She's in it for the friends and fun.

Dance teachers have tried to motivate her more - to no avail. She doesn't want to put anything more into something where she sees no additional return.

The other daughter loves dance. She would walk five miles to dance practice if I did not give her a ride. She'd probably dance the whole walk to dance practice. :-)

My daughter that loves dance is in high school now and loves high school dance. She is forced to do everything - pick the theme of the dance, choreograph the dance, teach lessor dancers how to dance and perform, pick and edit music, etc. Plus my daughter that loves dancing is able to be a teaching assistant at the dance studio. All of this is teaching them leadership skills.

At some point they have to want it. You cannot want it for them.

You can try putting her into a more competitive studio. Over the summer send her to some intensive dance camps that will challenge her more. Buy her some advanced technique DVDs. Those should shake her up and make her realize - she is a big fish in a small pond. If you she really loves it - she'll pick up and run with it. Otherwise, she's just enjoying her childhood and friends.

There are lots of major regional dance competitions all over the country - almost every weekend. Usually the bigger the city - the better the competition. Look for competitions: http://www.starpowertalent.com/ http://starsystemstalent.com/

You will see the top talent (by age group and type of dance) and the top dance studios.

Problem with kids today - they think they can do everything perfectly - without practicing. So have your daughter start doing solos and entering these major regional competitions. If she loves it - keep on doing it. If she misses her friends then she does not love dance.

You cannot make someone (even a daughter) love something.

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I'm not going to tell you to deliver an ultimatum, but...

You are in a sense enabling the behavior. You could move her to a different studio as the other answers suggested, but if you are that concerned with your daughter going through the motions you could simply stop supporting her in doing so.

Even if you are so financially well-off that the money is not a concern, you are spending your most precious resource, your time (I'm assuming a couple of things here: that you transport her to and from, that you stay at the studio while she's in class, etc). That's time that you could be spending with her in a more direct fashion, or both of you separately working on more productive endeavours.

Why are you spending money and time on something she doesn't take seriously? I'm all for kids having leisure time but that doesn't require such an investment in terms of resources.

You may of course want to be little cautious in how you broach this to her. Although this has already been alluded to in comments above, your daughter may be suffering from the notion that she is 'talented'. I say suffering because according to the work of Carol Dweck and others children who believe they are talented tend to avoid any situation that might disabuse them of that notion: they seek easy victories and familiar waters, always with fragile ego in need of protection.

She may very well be scared of not having that constant reinforcement that she's gifted by being visibly better than the people around her. But she will sooner or later. The world is a big place, its far better for her to learn what is required for success (namely diligence and training) at eleven than at eighteen (or thirty).

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    This really doesn't fit the situation with my daughter at all. She is very motivated and seeks out challenges is many areas. I guess, based on the other answers, that the issue of her not having role models---who can show her what she could be moving toward and expecting of herself---may be the most serious of the issues I identified. – Buzz May 2 '15 at 19:06
  • Well that's good then. In that case I think the other answers regarding a different studio may be your best bet. – Jared Smith May 3 '15 at 0:07
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    If you can afford a dance camp (see my answer for details), that would give her a huge boost (judging from my son's experience). – aparente001 May 4 '15 at 3:25
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"How do I convince my eleven-year-old to practice her dancing?"

How about, don't? Let her decide for herself if she wants to invest the time practicing. You can push her, but she will resent you for it. Simply tell her that all the best dancers practice and stretch, so if she wants to be the best she should emulate them, otherwise she can just do it for fun. Just let her enjoy the dancing the way she wants to, not the way you want her to..

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    This answer sort of reads like, don't convince her, instead here is a possible argument that might convince her – Acire May 1 '15 at 21:53
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    The other answers here offer extremely excellent advice. However this one most directly answers the question, or at least rebuttals it. OP needs to ask themselves, why should she?. My flippant answer would be, If you're not going to adhere to the instructors' regiment; I'm not paying for these classes anymore. Now, if not doing their school homework was the concern, then we'd have a problem. – Mazura May 1 '15 at 23:29
  • +1 for a possible argument that might convince her that she SHOULD; not how to MAKE her. – Mazura May 1 '15 at 23:42
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    @Mazura Arguing with the premise is specifically discouraged, which this question comes close to. "Why are you pushing" may well be a valid response to the OP's Question in a conversation, but telling the OP you don't think his problem is really a problem (or, more constructively, helping him rephrase so his goals are clear rather than assuming his intent) should be done in comments. Whether this Answer is excellent advice is separate from whether it is well phrased or directly responding to the original Question. – Acire May 2 '15 at 11:59
  • @Erica Basically the same Q&A, where an answer politely and continuously asks the OP to self-retrospect: Motivate 8yo to practice piano. – Mazura May 2 '15 at 23:22
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When children are reluctant to practice they should be reminded of the consequences that could arise from not practicing. But if they have enough confidence and are ready to pursue dancing on their own, you shouldn’t need to force them to do it. Let them encourage themselves.

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