The Parent Advantage

On March 23, 2024, I was teaching class when my son, Kai Casperson, primary author of this blog, called to share the news that he had been promoted to Ballet West’s main company. The excitement was intense. This has been a goal he’s worked towards for over a decade. That fact alone makes a mother-heart proud. (Ballet West post about it here: DANCER HIGHLIGHT: Kai Casperson | Ballet West)

AND I was ALSO a dancer with Ballet West. In fact, I retired from performing when I was 20 weeks pregnant with Kai! So this victory for him is extra sweet for me. Plus, he’s the first dancer I’ve worked with to land a professional, full-time contract, so it’s wonderful news as a mom AND teacher.

For those who lack context, I compared his accomplishment to making it to the major leagues after playing on a farm team for a year. And likely because of that comparison, I was asked if the advantage the child of a former professional dancer enjoys is the same as the advantage in baseball to kids of major league players. It wasn’t a stat I’m familiar with, but here is what I’ve observed about ballet, what I suspect is also true of sports, and the ways in which a parent with a non-dance background can give her child the same advantage.

First advantage: Genetics
Sports have their various builds (tall for basketball players, etc.) and talents (those things you are just good at right out of the gate) and ballet is no different. My son Kai got the feet and hip rotation from me, and those are big advantages. But it’s not ALL rosy: he also inherited my inability to jump, so that was something he had to intentionally work to overcome! From his non-dancing father (and perhaps as significantly), Kai enjoyed the additional advantage of a health-consciousness, which translated into lots of encouragement to eat protein (great for muscle building), avoid sugar, take magnesium (great for muscle recovery), and be proactive about self-care (things like icing and rolling out to recover), etc. His dad ALSO made it part of our family culture to have lots of fun being active. (Hiking, playing sports, trips to hot springs were all things we do as a family.) So regardless of your gene pool, parents and dancers can pursue active lifestyles and nutrition rich diets and both will lead to better results in the studio.

Kai on a hike with his dad and younger brother

Second advantage: Value and Exposure
Calvin Biggio, major league baseball player whose dad was also in the major leagues, said, “Growing up and being able to see at the highest level what it’s supposed to look like, I feel that gave me a little bit of an advantage.” The road to a professional ballet career CAN be long and hard, but remaining inspired is so much easier when you are regularly reminded of and exposed to the highest levels of dance performance. Kai got to see Ballet West perform regularly. The vision of what he wanted to be when he grew up was never far away.

As a dancer, I learned to love art, music, and performances of many kinds. We listen to classical music in our home. We go to art galleries and live performances on a regular basis. Not only does that mean my kids have seen and heard a wide range of artistic expression, but they also know it’s important to ME. So the idea of Kai becoming a dancer, or his younger sister becoming a musician and composer, is an idea my kids knew would be supported. There wasn’t any question, “Is mom or dad going to like this?” It was a built-in family value. Kai identified the goal to dance professionally when he was 10 or 11. He had his parents on board 100% ever since.

It’s not just mom and dad who are ballet fans, but sibs, grandparents, and aunts and uncles too!

The best part of value and exposure is that it can be duplicated by any parent! Parents don’t need to TELL their kids what they hope they’ll be. The work of getting to a professional career is nearly 100% on the dancer. But parents can admire and seek after the beauty that is the expression of that goal!

Third Advantage: Informed Pacing and Navigating Opportunities
One of the disadvantages I’ve observed about training via private lessons is that the parent regulates the schedule. There is an optimal progression to building a ballet dancer and most non-experienced parents aren’t in a position to know that if, for example, their dancer is only in ballet class 3-4 times per week at age 16 or 17, the chances of them “going pro” is next to zero. It’s a definite advantage to have a former dancer as a parent not only ensure the aspiring dancer is training enough, but ALSO not training too much, or putting in too many hours that have diminished returns if the goal is landing a ballet contract. There were a number of performance opportunities that Kai and I said no to because the growth he would experience from the opportunity wasn’t worth the time required to pursue it. A former professional dancer will know: how many classes at what age are optimal, when to pursue summer intensives, when the dancer has outgrown the current teachers, what schools/training programs line up best with the dancer’s goals and stylistic preferences, what performance opportunities will be an asset or when they are more likely to lead to burnout, and where and when to pursue company auditions. This can be trickier for non-dancing parents to navigate, but if your ballet teacher has been a pro his or herself, he/she can advise on all of these points, and parents should heed their advice and not worry about “what the other kids are doing.” If your teacher’s experience doesn’t line up with your dancer’s goals, there are dance parent coaches online and Facebook forums sharing advice from those who have been there and done that which can help duplicate this advantage for any dancer.

Kai with his parents on a recruiting trip to Boston Ballet, 2019

So if you are not a dancer, you have plenty of reason to hope your dancing child can find success in his or her goals. My parents didn’t know anything about ballet before having me. And I have often reminded myself to make sure Kai ALSO got to enjoy advantages their lack of experience afforded ME: having parents that were just fans and not critics, and who allowed me to follow my heart and make my own decisions.

Being the perfect parent is an impossible task for anyone. But your love and pure desire to help your dancer succeed at whatever his or her goals may be will be the key ingredient that makes a critical difference! Thanks for loving your dancer and sharing your family’s time with Ballet Aligned!