Forum: Ballet / Ballet Intensives

Ellison Ballet Intensive: Why it was not a good choice for our daughter
By Smack1
On Sun Jan 01, 2017 09:03 AM
Edited by Smack1 (278788) on 2017-01-01 10:12:21

What price are you willing to pay, parents and dancers?

We paid a huge price financially, but mostly my daughter paid a terrible price emotionally, because we didn't make the right decision for OUR TEEN. This story is not for everyone to read. Only those parents who truly care about their dancer's heart, physical and emotional needs as much as or more than their success. If you value success over your child's heart- then don't bother to read on.

My story is not about the training, or the school. My story is about parents needing to be more careful when selecting a school simply based on prestige. Obviously, not every dancer is equipped to handle the living situations at every Summer Intensive or ballet school; and although many schools offer excellent housing options, not every school is providing safe options for housing. Do your research before sending a deposit to a summer intensive.

I've never heard of a living situation like Ellison Ballet, and the associated risks of placing your child in a low budget hotel with outside residents also sharing bathrooms, kitchen ,and living spaces. The Ellison Ballet website describes their housing as "Dormitory style, housing" and leads you to believe that the girls will be placed all on the same floors with only dancers from their program.

You should know that their website nor hand-outs state that you will share halls, bathrooms, kitchen, and living space in the basement in the hotel with outside low budget patrons. Nor is this truth stated in person or on the phone. How could they leave something so important out of the information? If they have so many students wanting to attend the school, with enormous fees then why do the girls share space on a floor in a low budget hotel with outside low budget patrons? Obviously, they don't see the risks associated?

So it takes a naive family from lower us to discover these truths? Actually, we are not as naive as the some might imagine. We live in a lovely southern city, but with high crime rates. We are well traveled, and teach our children how to care for themselves and travel independently with friends, drive, and walk safely. Also, we have vacationed in NYC every year for the past 10 years!

Why do we, the not so naive family from lower U.S. finally speak-up? Because it was wrong for us not to speak up sooner. In regards to their housing, Ellison Ballet will only tell you of the amazing chaperones, and great social gatherings, and the great location of the hotel. You will never hear the truth, because the truth is a matter of opinion? Do you think there are risks when you place your child in a hotel, low budget, without proper dormitory arrangements? Do you think there are risks of sharing hall space, bathrooms, sitting areas, and all spaces with low budget patrons?

Think twice if you don't see the risks. Stay at the hotel for a few days before paying 10K - and watch carefully. You will see many men entering the hotel, and staying on any or all floors, some with very unkept appearances, and looking so keenly at the young dancers bodies. Ellison Ballet says it's safe, though. Do you believe them?

But why? Why did we send her?

My daughter was so excited last summer to be accepted into two elite Ballet Summer Intensives, especially after auditioning for three years, and not receiving her top choices. But for the last two years she has worked hard, with privates, and classes 6 days per week, performing and loving the artistry- and given it her most, and the results are paying off.
Although she's been fortunate to train at home at a very good classical ballet school, the time is coming to search for challenging top notch summer intensive and finishing school.

This is our Story.........

Her first big acceptance finally came and it was to her dream program, one of the best in the country, top 3 no doubt, for centuries. Recommended by her teachers, too. We sent a deposit and she was so excited

Then a few weeks later she received a "surprise" acceptance to another newer school that she reluctantly auditioned for, called Ellison Ballet. At first she had no intensions of attending Ellison but then she started reading articles about the new up and coming schools in particular Ellison Ballet of NYC. The publicity about Ellison was quite impressive! Our artistic director, and other local teachers were impressed but somewhat hesitant with the glitz and publicity associated with the school, but we didn't listen.

She, and certainly all of us were naively impressed by the amazing articles and publicity for Ellison Ballet. The teachers, the over the top dancers, the success rate. No doubt, we would throw away the deposit from the other top intensive to attend Ellison. She was convinced that it was the perfect place for her to train.

After making this decision, we were somewhat still apprehensive as parents, because Ellison unlike the others, did not have normal dormitories for housing. However, again, she was so mesmerized by her acceptance into this amazing school (and her being our last child) we continued to support her wish.

Trouble begins.....

From the beginning, after paying the deposit, Ellison did not communicate well. Very little information, and details. No mention, or information about food, meal plans, cooking, etc. We had to contact them by e-mail several times to answer questions that should have been provided on the website or at least in the packet for attendees.

Up until the week before the intensive, we were still uncertain whether or not a meal plan was included in the cost. You see, Ellison is more expensive than any other intensive and we assumed wrong that a dining plan was included. Our fault for not digging deeper. No meal plan. We contacted the school to verify this problem, but again, we made the leap, and said it's for her training and she is a good cook. The hotel has a kitchen, voila! Geez, and we thought that their enormous fees included food! Our bad for not being thorough enough. Or was is their fault for not mentioning this in their information? Lots of assumptions were made on our and their part.

However, our concerns and my story is not about the lack of a meal plan, or the fact that the girls have to cook for themselves, or eat out every meal. Although a meal plan is very convenient and cost effective, it's not the most important factor when selecting a school.

FIRST RED FLAG: ARRIVE IN NYC, CHECK-IN,

When we arrived in NYC to move her into the dormitory- like housing, which was actually a low budget hotel in upper west side, we were thrown off guard with the questionable area of town just one block north, but decided to go with the flow. It's NYC after-all. The girls were checking into their rooms, and all seemed to be so excited, We met lovely chaperones at the check out desk in the foyer, and one would be residing on each hall. All should be fine. The parents from past years said it was an amazing experience and a very safe place for the girls. We bought every word of it.

So in the beginning we did not realize that outsiders were staying on our ballerina's floors. In fact, no other parents were aware of that fact until after moving them in and returning with groceries. Then we started noticing a few outsiders coming and going on the elevator. We were concerned, but like the other concerned parents kept our mouth shut not to scare our dancers and create fears. She's mature, a smart girl. It's very safe, according to Ellison.

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but my husband later said that he was very upset when he witnessed a young man when we first entered the elevator to our daughter's floor. His pants were not pulled up properly, and he had a dark wet stain on the front of his pants. Why didn't my husband mention this? He was so willing to follow her dreams like the rest of us and let it go because the chaperones and parents spoke only great things about their hotel experiences last year? Our mistake. He also mentioned that many parents and dancers passed by this outside man standing by the elevator watching our girls. Did anyone else notice him?


SECOND RED FLAG

Each day the students would travel with their "buddy" from their hotel, via subway to the studio- from the 99th block to 60th'ish. This trip would not be chaperoned, unless you made that request. Perhaps required for the younger ones, I'm not sure. We were not completely turned off by the subway, because we are frequent travelers to NYC and my daughter is accustomed to their subways. We've seen many a school children ride to and from on the subway.

A traveling safety factor that was offered was a buddy system, allowing you to select a level. The highest level would mean your child had to be chaperoned to all events, and there were a few other levels requiring a buddy system of one or two girls every time the dancer travels. No doubt, we chose a buddy system of three knowing that she would be in a big city alone for the first time. That seemed the best option, and most safe.

During the parent meeting, however, we were convinced (pressured) to remove our daughters from the restraining buddy system, which required them to have a buddy or 2 when traveling alone in NYC. Their logic was that they can always travel with a buddy, but will not have the restraint of being required to travel with a buddy. More flexibility if they have complete independence.

Many of the parents begin changing their levels, and lowering the buddy system requirements so that their dancers would have more flexibility and not be hindered. Don't we all trust our smart and mature girls? We gave in reluctantly, but did change our daughter's buddy system to requiring one person. Thank God we weren't so stupid to change it to complete freedom, or else her first week would have been even more lonely. You see, because she was required to have a buddy it did force her to meet someone on the way to class!

Although the chaperones were very kind, and even lovely ladies, one in particular was somewhat condescending to those of us who did not have their same mind-set. They were of the belief that all 13 - 15 year old ballet girls at Ellison are mature enough to make good decisions, and do not need to be forced to always travel with one or two buddies.

If that's the case, why do they even offer the buddy system if they are only going to end up convincing you that its a hassle and inconvenience ? Wouldn't you think they would want to make every possible effort to ensure safety regardless of the inconvenience of having a required buddy system.

THIRD RED FLAG - The Hotel and all downhill from day one.

After moving her into the hotel room, and meeting her roommate who clearly had other friends, and no interest in making new friends; and then attending an unorganized parental meeting- we, like the other parents, left her there alone in her room, a low budget-hotel room and gave our good bye hugs. But I convinced myself that she would be fine.... remembering that she was there for training , and excellent training it would be! And there would be plenty of girls to hang out with in the dorm, and she's never had a problem making friends!

She actually did OK the first day because she was so excited to be finally attending this amazing ballet school, The Ellison Ballet School. We encouraged her to meet girls early on to make it an easier transition (because it was clear from the beginning that her "roommate" was a ghost- would not be around). She was alone in her room the entire first afternoon and evening, and second and third evening as well. After ballet class, she looked for other dancers on her floor, but could only find a few outside residents (men, but not the business type, looking very trashy). Since she shared a bathroom with everyone on the hall, including outside residents, it was very awkward and she felt unsafe from day one, but she sucked it up because she was at Ellison Ballet.

On day two, she called us and said the teachers were absolutely amazing, but she was having a hard time sleeping. She was able to find a small group of girls to hang out with after classes which was good, but then it was back to her lonely hotel room all evening until curfew at 10 pm.

She cooked meals her first few nights, with outside residents, for there were no other dancers in the kitchen areas or halls. Again, she only met up with strangers sharing the halls, kitchen and bathroom. Call it bad luck, but when she roamed the halls after classes there were no dancers to be found on the floors, and in the gathering areas. She assumed they were in their rooms, and knocked on a few doors looking to meet people, to no avail. She accidentally knocked on the door of a trashy looking man, in his shorts, and quickly went the other direction.

Second and third nights, she went to bed with no room-mate until curfew, or after, and alone. Looked for dancers to hang-out with but could not find any. But then she loved the ballet classes, and as lonely as she was, she would not let the crappy hotel living situation change her heart. The third night she continued to not be able to sleep. In hindsight, we now know that she was worried about the man she saw by the elevator that evening with his zipper open, and strangely looking and smiling at her. Perhaps it was the other man she saw going into the bathroom ahead of her who was clearly red eyed and possibly "on something". All of these incidents occurred on her floor in the hotel. No one tried to physically assault her or touch her, obviously it was an emotionally fearful experience. Unfortunately, she didn't share the details until leaving the school, because she wanted to make it work, Be strong. After all, other girls were also staying on the same floor and must be experiencing these same things?

Later in the week we received a phone call, she had missed classes, due to being sick and then admitted that she was sick because of the loneliness in the hotel and couldn't stay in her room any longer. Can't sleep at night (again, keep in mind, that it wasn't until many weeks that we discovered all of the details including her being fearful of staying on the same floor with strangers, creepy men).

Finally the most emotional call came. She begged us to return to NYC and remove her from the hotel, she was in tears. We calmed her down, and asked her to call the chaperone to request help. She called, we called, they made a great effort to check on her. Regardless of their help, though, when the loneliness of the evening came (and we later learn that there were always strange men lurking in the hotel) she was ready to call it quits. Hadn't slept the entire week, and was probably physically as well as emotionally drained from such an unfortunate situation.

But we still did not know all of the details of her fearful experiences with the strange residents within the hotel- and that is why we continued to encourage her and work with the chaperones.

We promised to return to NYC after the 4th of July and discuss her housing arrangements with the chaperones bc there was one other hotel choice for Ellison students. . She was finally encouraged and did manage to return to class on Friday and have a brief outing with a few classmates over the weekend.

Despite all efforts to make the situation work, and make changes- In the end, over the weekend something happened to her emotionally. Regardless of the efforts from the chaperones, and from us long distance, and attempting to return to class, she was not encouraged enough to stay at the Summer Intensive. She did not want to move to their much better hotel a few blocks down.

She had such a traumatic experience the first week at Ellison's hotel that it was overwhelming, and she simply wanted to come home. Later we discovered, that she had lost all trust in the school for allowing girls to stay in an an environment with such apparent risks.

After losing sleep for a week, fearful living conditions, and loneliness, it was quite difficult for her to see anything positive at this most sought after Summer Intensive. She had to call it quits, for personal reasons, and returned home for the summer. No refund from Ellison after hearing our story. Despite my daughters situation, and after explain it to Ellison, they simply defended their amazing school and had no interest in hearing more of her story.

Note about the hotels at Ellison and other things....

Wish we had known about this "better hotel: before-hand. We only knew that the other hotel option offered private baths at an additional cost. Since she never had a private bathroom in past summer intensive dormitories, why now? Extra costs for no good reason. Other than the bathroom situation, the hotels were considered equal according to Ellison. Both excellent.

In hindsite, all of the other dancers that attended Ellison last summer in my daughter's class, had contacts and friend circles, which is why she couldn't find other lonely girls. It was a tragic situation for our daughter but I'm quite sure that some were having the time of their life- not knowing that they were living within an unsafe and risky environment.

Some of our daughter's traumatic situations were being in the wrong place at the wrong time, right?

Wrong. My daughter never had such a risk of this happening at her other intensives because she stayed in a real dorm. There were no such risks. No strange men staying on the same floor, sharing the bathrooms, and not zipping up their pants, and wearing their underwear shorts around the floors.

Other traditional dorms have only dancers staying on each floor- with opened doors, halls to gather in with dancers. Safe.

My daughter's situation at Ellison Ballet, although blameless for us allowing her to go, is fully to blame Ellison Ballet for being deceptive in their housing descriptions,


OUR LESSON, AS PARENTS

In our opinion, Ellison Ballet is not a place for young girls without come sort of parental or family chaperoning. You can listen to my wisdom or not, that's your choice. It's too risky. What might happen next? Our daughter may have suffered only emotional damage because we did not help her make the right choice for a summer intensive.

But what are the other risks associated in placing young girls, some as young as 12 yo in a low budget, hotel, with outsiders sharing hall space, bathrooms, kitchens, and basement sitting areas. There is no way possible that they can be chaperoned 100 percent of time, which means they are at risk. What will it take for them to listen at Ellison Ballet?

For older girls, approaching college it's doable, but certainly not ideal even then. Perhaps older girls would be better off in a shared apartment. They would be much safer.

In conclusion...

Is it worth placing your daughter in an environment that has such potential risks? For schools with no proper housing, either take a loan and rent an apartment or send her somewhere else.

Other options for older girls might be to share a safer situation such as an apartment with multiple girls, including a few college age with more maturity. At least they can go to the bathroom in peace, and sit in their living space with friends instead of lonely strange men with glaring eyes.

5 Replies to Ellison Ballet Intensive: Why it was not a good choice for our daughter

re: Ellison Ballet Intensive: Why it was not a good choice for our daughter
By Storm_Trouper
On Mon Jan 02, 2017 04:10 AM
This post is eye opening and thought provoking to say the least. It doesn't strike me, a parent, as a best practice or first choice arrangement for 12-14 year old boys attending any SI for that matter either at first glance. But I could be wrong. The school must feel that having chaperones in place is well sufficient and perfectly adequate, that there are bed checks done at curfew time. I don't know what their ages or genders are but I wonder how they themselves would feel, - perfectly comfortable? - staying and living in a low cost accommodation with kitchen cooking arrangements, where adult members of both the opposite and same sex are co-mingling with minors who are basically left alone to fend for themselves some of the time it sounds like. Maybe I don't have the full story snd picture so am drawing invalid conclusions and suppositions.

So if there are any countering arguments or aspects to take into consideration and into account (when judging and evaluating one's SI options for achieving the best possible fit for a young individual) that haven't yet been posted to this thread I sure would like to become a better informed consumer and listen to both sides of an issue before reaching and conclusions.

Parents need to have ALL of the pertinent factors if they are to make the best decisions. Full disclosure is a must in this day and age probably IMHO.

I think the notion or concept that serious ballet youngsters are relatively more mature than their non-dancing peers is interesting. Does maturity necessarily translate into being 'street smart', when dancers are perhaps relatively more cloisteted away from normal teendom, during their formative adolescent years ... missing slumber parties, boy/girl friend relationships and other coming-of-agenrights-of-passage experiences typical of the majority of their peers, it is an interesting contradiction perhaps. They are focused as they are living a sheltered existence possibly? I can only speculate because I have never heard of a double blind controlled experiment or study to compare dancer vs non-dancer maturation rates.

The children's summer camps industry has developed an unbiased, objective camp accreditation process. So has the private boarding schools industry. Restaurants can earn Micheline Stars. It costs money to administer these consumer parent information services and maybe can serve watchdog or consumer protection from functions so since dance schools don't come under specific government regulatory agencies is my current understanding.

Full disclosure of pertinent information is a necessity. Forums with SI threads can be informative and insightful.

In Britain now there is lots of emphasis on pastoral care of children in the care of educational bodies like schools with residenses.
re: Ellison Ballet Intensive: Why it was not a good choice for our daughter
By Smack1
On Fri Jan 06, 2017 06:40 AM
Thanks for responding. I agree, to your point about looking at both sides of an issue. This is one of the many reasons that I waited to begin posting our experience publicly. My daughters experience was personal, and will not necessarily be the same as the other participants.

However, it's about the living arrangements at various summer programs/camps and inherent risks, that are the most important point here. Some summer intensives are simply better run overall, period, and provide the protection needed for various age levels and maturity. Also, the fact that this unfortunate experience happened to one student is enough to prove that it can not only happen, but the risks could easily lead to a situation far worse!

Funny thing....I heard privately from some parents at another site, arguing with the risks at this particular program because they are such supporters of the school.. My response to them was as follows:

"You have the right to your opinion, in all matters, yes. However, I think you are missing my point, Moms. The fact that your children were 12 yo-14 living under this same roof with my daughter, Im a tad surprised that you didn't at least feel some sense of caution for the next time around. Do you really believe that your daughter is not at risk staying in a low budget hotel in upper west side, with potential problematic outside patrons staying on the same floor, sharing the hall bathrooms? Kitchen and basement sitting area? Do you really believe that a chaperone also living on the same floor is a solution? Even though my daughter did't see the chaperone for the first days in the evenings?. Yes, Moms, you have the right to your own opinion and have the right to express mine on any forum that allows, even if it does raise eyebrows, and could potentially prevent a child from staying in the the housing situation at this particular school, then who knows, I may prevented a potential rape case, or worse. So, take my story, and throw it out with the bath water- and in the meantime, I'll pray for your precious girls".

Comment #10244173 deleted
Removed by Sumayah (204191) on 2017-01-12 08:23:14 Double post

re: Ellison Ballet Intensive: Why it was not a good choice for our daughter
By dncermama
On Tue Jan 10, 2017 04:24 PM
You should really copy and post this review on the Ballet Talk for Dancers website. They welcome first hand information for each of the summer intensives.

Thank you for sharing your experience. Sorry your daughter had such a poor experience. My dd went to Ellison two summers ago when housing was at Riverside Terrace. Fortunately, those rooms had private bathrooms and a hotel employee at the front desk. Nobody who didn't belong was allowed to go up to the rooms.

Ellison for the most part feels very much like a commuter summer intensive. Kids stay all over the city and converge at the studios for classes. Unfortunately, it is not one that fosters hanging out in the rooms and bonding with other classmates. Bolshoi Ballet SI is a much better environment for something like that. 12-14 year olds would also be in a very secure dorm with meal plans. The 15-year olds live in the dorms in the city, but have no meal plan.

Hope your dd isn't scarred for life...
re: Ellison Ballet Intensive: Why it was not a good choice for our daughter
By netmum
On Wed Jan 18, 2017 05:18 AM
So sorry to hear of your daughter's experiences.

I had similar reservations when I sent my 14 year old aspie daughter to a summer school in the UK at a highly remowned dance college (Doreen Bird). Accommodation was supposed to be with a private college checked landlady but ended up being in a student halls of residence supervised by one of their recent graduates.

I was very concerned at the level of supervision however I need not have worried. The hall of residence was exclusively used by summer school participants, breakfast and dinner were provided each day and a college administrator also visited on a regular basis. What you describe however sounds horrendous and I would not have been happy.

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