When it’s time to sign up for after-school activities in Paris, most parents sign up their daughters up for ballet and their sons up for judo. Well, in my case, it’s the reverse.
From a very young age my son has been interested in classical dance. The easy explanation would be that he saw his sister in ballet class and wanted to follow in her slippers, but my daughter had long since turned in her tutu.
No, the impulse came entirely from him. “I just like it. I want to move that way,” he told me.
Still, I waited a whole year to sign him up in case it was a passing whim. It wasn’t – he’s now going into his fifth year of dance, although finding the right class for him has not been without its challenges.
Luckily, Paris offers a wide variety of ballet classes for all levels of skill and motivation.
To help you choose, let me break down the three main types of dance schools:
1. Cultural Associations
These are local non-profit organizations offering reasonably-priced classes. The emphasis is on enjoyment rather than skill, so it’s a good place to start when the kids are young or if your child wants to pursue dance on a casual basis (as a general rule, classes are once a week). You can get a list of the associations in your area from the Mairie or neighborhood city hall.
2. Private dance schools
Often founded by former professional dancers, these schools tend to be a bit more serious (and more pricey) than the associations. The teaching level is high and students are expected to attend regularly. Classes are one-to-two times a week and are usually open to all levels and ages (including adults).
Publicly-funded music and dance schools, the conservatory system, was created to keep classes affordable and to standardize teaching. Each region and department has its own conservatoire, and in Paris, most arrondissements do as well. Students attend classes at least three times a week, and must be at a certain skill level to enter and advance the following year. As a result, students (and parents) must be fairly committed.
Despite all these options, I should point out that classes for boys are not as easy to come by as one might think. My son was the only boy in his first dance school, not just in his class— but in the whole school.
Fortunately, that didn’t pose a problem for him or his teacher. But when we moved to a suburb and I wanted to enroll my son at the new local dance school, I was told they didn’t take boys. Period. I have a hard time understanding this reasoning, since little danseuses eventually need to partner with little danseurs, but that was the policy.
As a result, we enrolled him in the conservatoire, which was happy to take him. Unhappily, it turned out his teacher was the same woman who wouldn’t let him enroll in the private dance school, and did not seem very enthusiastic to have him in that all-girl class either. This year, we switched him to another conservatoire whose teacher is much more welcoming and supportive.
Which brings me to an important point about dance schools. With such a plethora available, there is no reason to keep your child somewhere where he/she is unhappy.
For a boy who—let’s face it—is much more likely to encounter raised eyebrows, or even snickers, when he mentions ballet, an encouraging atmosphere is essential.
So if you’re not happy with the teacher or the school, don’t be afraid to change.
I have no idea how long my son will keep taking ballet. He may switch to another type of dance. He may give it up entirely and pursue a different extra-curricular activity. But until then, I will enjoy every moment he twirls and chassés and anyone who doesn’t like it can take a flying jeté.