How do I talk to my daughter about pulling her out of ballet classes?
March 20, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

My 4 year old daughter goes to ballet lessons and really likes them. She’s looking forward to a recital in about 8 weeks. Unfortunately, we need to pull her out of classes at her current studio and enroll her some place else. How do my partner and I frame this issue with my daughter so she doesn’t feel terrible?

For about a year now, we’ve had my daughter in weekly, half-hour ballet lessons. We picked the studio she’s currently attending because they offered classes at times and locations that were convenient for us, and my daughter has been enjoying the classes.

Last weekend, my daughter got a cute, short, bob haircut. It’s what she wanted, half because she doesn’t like getting it washed in the bath and half because it’s the same style her older cousin has.

After this week’s ballet class, my daughter came out of class and was sad that her hair wasn’t going to be in a bun. Apparently, the teacher said something to her during class. Now, to be fair, we got an email a few days ago that said the ballet teacher would be “checking ballet buns” during class, and we both knew there’d be a discussion of ballet buns in class. I guess we didn’t consider that if a kid’s hair is too short to be in a ballet bun it would be a problem. Apparently it is.

Today, my partner and I got a very passive aggressive note from the ballet teacher, reminding us that my daughter’s hair needs to be in a ballet bun and asking us what our plan would be to get our daughter’s hair into a bun for classes and the recital. It seems like there isn’t a lot of room for negotiation, and frankly, I’m not going to allow my kid to feel weird or like an outsider because her hair isn’t the same as her fellow 4 year old ballerinas.

I’m not going to put my kid in a wig, and it is unlikely that her hair will grow out before the recital in mid-May. In any case, the teacher made it clear that hair was to be in ballet buns for lessons and the performance. My partner and I have decided to write back a very simple note back to the teacher that explains we’ll be pulling her from classes at the studio and registering some place else. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll re-register her at a different studio quickly and she can get back to having fun and dancing with other kids. In the short-term, though, she’ll miss the recital and probably at least a few weeks of classes. And, we have to at least have some kind of honest conversation with her that we’re doing this because of someone’s reaction to her haircut. (Typing that just now seems really ridiculous. She’s a four year old. She’s not going to be a professional dancer. What does it matter what her hair’s like? Ugh.)

This is my family’s first confrontation with needing to conform to particular standards of appearance. We’re not crazy off the grid nonconformists. We understand that we made a choice (my daughter in getting her hair cut and us allowing her) that has repercussions. While there might be a chance we keep our kid in classes there, we’ll still need to have a conversation about why she looks “different” and why that’s a problem for some people.

While my wife seems to be processing this pretty well and better than I am. I’m just angry and sad. My kid is nice, verbal, and generally cheery. I don’t want to drag her out with a conversation that makes her feel bad about getting her hair cut or with the implication that because she doesn’t look the same as the other kids in her class she’s less good. Since I already feel terrible, I don't really want to argue my parenting style and letting her choose her own haircut. I don't really want to discuss if the teacher is right or wrong. I understand that actions have consequences.

What I want is a way to talk to my daughter about these decisions (to cut her hair, to pull her from ballet at this studio) that doesn’t make her feel bad about herself or her appearance. Any suggestions?
posted by elmer benson to Human Relations (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest simply not getting into the business about the haircut at all. It's utterly incomprehensible to an adult, I can't see any way you can explain it to your daughter that won't make her feel self-conscious and at fault. I would just chalk it up as one of those incomprehensible things that parents have to do at times: "Sorry, darling, I'm afraid it's not going to be possible for you to keep going to that class any more, it just doesn't work out for us; but don't worry, we've found you a much *better* class to go to instead." Don't give her any sense, at all, that this is in any way about her--just let it be mysterious, incomprehensible adult stuff.
posted by yoink at 10:59 AM on March 20, 2014 [43 favorites]

Before you pull your daughter out of a class she likes, have you talked to the teacher in person or by phone about what actual steps you might be able to take to address the bun requirement?
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:03 AM on March 20, 2014 [18 favorites]

I hope this isn't a derail, but I'd be really tempted to try to talk to the teacher (directly, in-person) about how your daughter could finish the class and participate in the recital at this school. I hear that the note rubbed you the wrong way, but I feel like you're going all scorched-earth on this really quickly.
posted by mercredi at 11:04 AM on March 20, 2014 [77 favorites]

Yeah, I wouldn't go into to many details about the why. She'll most likely forget all about once she's happily enrolled in another class.

If in the moment your daughter does ask why, then I would give a general answer like, "We found out that the teacher wasn't treating all kids fairly and since we think it's important for ballet to be fun for everyone we want to take you to a class where all kids are treated fairly." She'll understand the general concept of fairness at that age and it's a good chance for you to reinforce that fairness is an important value in your family.

In your note to the teacher I would bring up more specifically your disappointment that they are unable to treat children at such a young age in what is an exploratory and fun class (not professional training) more appropriately and are spoiling what should be an opportunity to develop a life-long love of dance and ballet.

And then I'd repost that note on Yelp!
posted by brookeb at 11:05 AM on March 20, 2014 [28 favorites]

One of your jobs as a parent is to guide your kid through the world and protect her from shit that her brain isn't formed enough to understand. You and I are adults with brains that are barely formed enough to comprehend why this is happening. There is absolutely no need to have an "honest conversation" with a four year old about this. All that she will hear is her hair and her appearance and being different equals sadness and missing out. Tell an innocent lie.
posted by telegraph at 11:06 AM on March 20, 2014 [23 favorites]

While there might be a chance we keep our kid in classes there,
we’ll still need to have a conversation about why she looks “different” and why that’s a problem for some people.
No, no no no no. You don't. You really don't. Having a short hair cut is not "looking different" in any meaningful sense of the word. If any conversation needs to be had, maybe one about how sometimes things don't make sense and aren't fair but we try to work around it anyway.

If it was a requirement that they can't have short hair, then that should have been communicated ahead of time. If it wasn't, then there's no way that they're in the right at this point, like you seem to be thinking. I get the impulse to pull her out, but I would find out if it would be possible to escalate this to the director of the studio for clarification, let her do the recital and then pull her out.
posted by bleep at 11:21 AM on March 20, 2014 [12 favorites]

*I meant to add that it should have been communicated that parents cannot have their kids' hair cut in certain styles that preclude buns. This is the conversation you need to have, but it's with the director of the studio, not with your daughter.
posted by bleep at 11:23 AM on March 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Dude, she's 4. She's not going to understand the hair thing and it doesn't even make sense to me. This is a conversation to have with the teacher (and it's freaking ridiculous, btw), but if you have to pull your daughter out of the class, explaining to her that it's her hair is just going to be completely confusing and will likely make her feel bad. I wouldn't even say anything to her about it other than, "here's a new school!"

Leave the hair story to when she's old enough to laugh about it and call that teacher nuts.
posted by vivzan at 11:30 AM on March 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Did you try googling ballet bun for short hair? because there are some tips to be found out there. Maybe the teacher realizes the hair is long enough to do this correctly.
posted by haplesschild at 11:31 AM on March 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

I took dance classes for years as a child. For recitals, we were not allowed to have our hair down, period. No ponytails either. Their reasoning was that hair flipping around is distracting to the dancer (very true for me personally) and the audience. When I wore a ponytail for class, I was always pushing stray pieces out of my face. When recital time came, my hair was essentially shellacked to my head with hairspray for two or three days. One of the owners/teachers had shorter hair and she pinned it back and wore a fake bun for recitals, as did others with bobs. Super short hair was okay. Nobody ever found this rule the least bit unusual and nobody ever complained - or quit - because of it. Nor did anybody complain because we were expected to dress a certain way for lessons and recitals. Discipline is a big part of being a dancer in many ways. This is nothing personal against you or your child.

Please talk to the teachers and school and see what their rationale is for this. If my folks had pulled me from my dance classes (especially the recital) because of this, I would have been devastated. I don't think you're wrong to feel the way you do. I just wanted to offer another perspective.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:33 AM on March 20, 2014 [66 favorites]

The normal rule is that short hair is pulled back and sprayed and secured with a headband and/or bobby pins. If it's long enough, sometimes French braids on the side.

The point is not to conform, it is to keep hair off the face and from being a distraction during the dance recital.

I would seriously calm down and talk to the teacher in person, and if no satisfaction, a director if there is one.

And it is common to wear a false bun but maybe not at 4. Please see if you can work something out with the teacher.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:35 AM on March 20, 2014 [13 favorites]

I was in third grade with unbunnable hair (it's way too wiry and bristly and heavy and thick). Just put it in some kind of heavily gelled ponytail and attach some round-looking attachment -- I stuffed my ponytail into a round shaped net and shellacked the hell out of it, as described above.

If it helps, don't think of ballet and its requirements as a statement of modern femme-normative culture. It's this odd old art that lives on and requires certain costuming.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:36 AM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Talk to the teacher and say you don't know how to get your child's hair into a bun. Ask what she suggests. If she says something reasonable, do it. If she says something unreasonable, tell her politely that you're not willing to do that and if this is a requirement, you will switch to a different instructor.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:36 AM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would talk to the teacher. Be nice, but make it clear that this is a ridiculous requirement that you'd like to understand the rationale of. And then see what you can do to pull your daughter's hair back. And then switch schools over the summer.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:39 AM on March 20, 2014

what our plan would be to get our daughter’s hair into a bun for classes and the recital

You said you don't want to put her in a wig, and I agree that is too much. Have you looked into what kind of solutions exist for this, though? I can imagine slicking her hair back with some product into a tiny ponytail and covering that with a small scrunchie type thing.

I understand you don't like the teacher's reaction, but I think there may be an easier solution than what you are imagining. If there isn't, I'd say brookeb's line about fairness would be a good way to explain it to her.

I was in marching band in high school and we had to deal with hair in helmets and on color guard. No one was made to feel bad about having short or partially shaved hair.
posted by soelo at 11:39 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is the teacher the owner of the studio? If she is, there's probably not much you can do but withdraw from the school - and if you do that, you should come up with a way to make it very clear why you've chosen to do so.

If the teacher is not the owner, go to the owner. Explain the situation to her (going with her because the owner of my daughter's ballet studio is a woman) and ask her for her take on it. Don't be confrontational. You may still choose to withdraw your daughter, but you may also be doing the owner a favor. Even if it is the owner's requirement, you could suggest that it be included in enrollment materials. But maybe the owner will have a clue, talk to the teacher, and your daughter can stay for her recital.

I'm also very surprised by the teacher's emphasis on appearance for a 4-year-old class, outside of a professional ballet school. At that age, the only request for hairstyles in my daughter's dance class - which, at the time, was pre-ballet, which was really creative movement - was that it be out of her face for class, and that it be "pulled back" to accommodate the fancy ribbon or hair clip that went with the recital outfit. My daughter had very short hair at that age, not from cutting it but just because that was all the hair she had! We pulled it back as best we could, plastered it with hairspray, and the teacher was perfectly happy. Ballet buns were not requested until she started her first year of Ballet II, when they started barre work.

If you do withdraw, I wouldn't even touch the hair issue. As suggested above, explain that the class no longer worked for your family, but you're going to find her another as soon as possible. Give her opportunities to dance at home! Ask her to put on a recital for you/family/friends, and record it. Let her have a special way to show off what she's learned.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:40 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need to take a step back before you do anything like take your daughter out of her existing ballet school and move her to a new one. I get that you're mad and hurt, but your grown up emotions could be based on not knowing all the facts, and being reactionary is going to hurt your little girl, not help her. Talk to the teacher in person and address the note (the NOTE, not the passive aggressive note you think you got), and let them know that you'd like to comply with the bun request but you're not sure how to proceed because you were not informed that hair should be long enough to facilitate a bun. Let the teacher know that you are surprised that this is as big an issue as it seems to be, and that you'd like to work with the teacher to make sure that your daughter neither looks nor feels out of place come recital time.

FWIW, I went to an upscale ballet school as a very little girl in Los Angeles, and even though we were a bunch of 4-6 year olds, the requirements for performances were as particular as the ones your daughter's school is outlining. Take umbrage if you must, but something tells me this was outlined when your daughter signed up and it may have just slipped by you, so maybe take that stance when you talk to the teacher and see if you did miss something.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:45 AM on March 20, 2014 [12 favorites]

It seems like you should talk to the teacher first...and second...and maybe even third. Pulling the child from the recital over this seems like it could be quite a negative lesson for your child in several ways. It could be that the teacher wants all the kids to look the same for the recital and so one kid without a bun would be against the 'plan'. It could also be that the teacher is a jerk who doesn't accept that little girls might actually want to have different hair. Either way, I bet there is a compromise before you change dance studios.

Is there a little hat-like thing that your kid could wear that looks like a bun? There has got to be a compromise here.

Passive aggressive (I sure do stuff that way, sometimes...and usually at my own loss) can be a two-way street. Pulling a kid from this class just because you can't confront the situation as an adult would be a really bad lesson to give to your kid. That said, going way out of your way to meet the demands of some unreasonable teacher would also be a bad lesson for your kid. Talk it out, be ready to compromise and suggest alternatives (little hat thing?) and really try to take the high ground and think of the best interests of your kid. Can you meet the teacher half way?...or even more than half way?
posted by BearClaw6 at 11:59 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reading your above the fold, I was prepared to tell you to just stick it out and let her do the recital she's excited about.

But she's getting grief because her hair doesn't go into a bun? And she's FOUR?

Nope. Nope nope noep.

Pull her out, and TELL HER why!

I would say something like "We think it's mean for your ballet teacher to insult your cute haircut, and we want you to have fun and be around people who are nice to you and love you for who you are, not for what you look like."

I would also reassure her that her new ballet school will also have recitals, and it's going to be just as fun and include all the things she likes about where she goes now. She's four. She just wants to do ballet.

Also, a note about "ballet buns". I was a short hair kind of kid, and I never experienced anything like this. And I studied at a classical, purist "black leotards only" type of ballet school. As long as her hair is out of her face and not getting in the way of her dancing experience, it really shouldn't matter. You may want to clip her hair back or have her wear a headband, half-pony, or something else that helps keep her hair out of the way. I don't think this is going to help the snooty appearance-obsessed dance school she's at now, but it will probably be useful going forward.
posted by Sara C. at 12:01 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am of two minds about this.

1) I love that you've reacted to this in such a clear "NOPE." way. I wish my parents had done more to protect me from the whims of crazed irrational people when I was a kid. The requirement and note from the teacher at AGE FOUR is just nuts, and I'd react like you did probably.

2) However, you'd be forcing your daughter out of something she loves and preventing her from participating in something she's looking forward to. That's tough, and something I think you should avoid if possible.

I think it would be most useful to go in person to the teacher and say straight up (but politely, of course): "My daughter is four years old and this ballet class is for fun. Dance class is not going to dictate my kid's personal choices." Explain that you understand the need to keep the hair out of the face during practice (so you'll use headbands) and that you understand the need for uniformity during recitals (so you'll use a bun clip). Period. If you get static from the instructor, then and only then pull your kid out of the class.

I understand your desire not to put your kid in the wig, but please do make an exception for recitals. They're a performance, and your kid is playing the role of a ballerina. If your daughter were in a play you'd let her wear a costume, right?
posted by phunniemee at 12:09 PM on March 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

She's four, dancing should be fun at the age of four. Her only being four though really works to your advantage with changing, you really don't have to explain much of anything to her about why you are changing, because to be honest at 4 she probably really doesn't care.

We know you liked those classes, but we've heard these classes are more fun/less serious so we think you'll like them more and then change them, she may grumble for a class or 2 then it will be the new norm and she'll be fine.
posted by wwax at 12:11 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

As another father of a little one (5) in ballet, at no point would I ever tell her it was about her hair cut. My daughter would immediately take that as being her fault when it's really not.

I've seen fake buns around the ballet studio - I think there is a practical solution to this, just talk to the instructor in person. Perhaps not with your daughter at your side.

If you're going to take her somewhere else you should make sure this won't be an issue there too.
posted by Big_B at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

I agree with futureisunwritten. A ballet recital is not so much about the individual as it is about the 'team'. There needs to be cohesion and everyone needs to "look the part", but there are also practical reasons for wearing a bun - hair gets in the eyes and is generally problematic when long and engaging in physical activity (such as spinning).

I think the note was simply to inform you - I don't get a passive aggressive vibe at all. The problem is that since it's text it can be interpreted incorrectly, which I think is the case here. The result is that you've gotten incredibly defensive about this.

Rather than pulling your child from this ballet school (which I think would be a huge mistake and send the wrong message), why not ask for help in how to bring your daughters' hair to compliance? I think at 4 years old, she's old enough to understand that hair in a bun = less hair in her face = less chance of messing up in the recital. I also think she's old enough to understand that she needs to 'dress the part' for the recital - just like every other little girl there. What she probably won't understand is why she has to leave her class because mommy and daddy felt put off by a note and believe running away from the issue is better than talking it out like adults.

Remember, a recital is no different than a play or big game and everyone that participates does so with the understanding that they'll need to dress up and be in costume for the performances. Dancing is supposed to be fun, of course, but it also teaches discipline, team work and the ability to compromise. Pulling your daughter out over such a minor issue will rob her of those valuable lessons, IMHO.
posted by stubbehtail at 12:24 PM on March 20, 2014 [12 favorites]

Another vote for "Talk to the instructor". Seriously. This very likely is no where near as big a deal as you feel it is right now, and this very likely will be very easily solved. Your daughter loves it, she is excited for her recital, so rather than immediately going nuclear on this go have a conversation with instructor. She probably has suggestions. No way is this the first time a student has had hair too short for a bun.

I've never taken ballet, but to me I have always viewed the bun as part of their uniform. I personally see this sort of like a basketball player wearing a jersey in a slightly different but noticeably different colour from the rest of the players. If you can reframe your thinking in this way, that the bun is part of their uniform, then you may be less outraged and be able to find a solution that doesn't involve pulling your daughter out of something she loves and hugely disappointing her.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:34 PM on March 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sometimes an 'ask' is silly, but it's not the end of the world. For example, there is a cheap, Capezio ballet bun hair-piece one can buy. Your daughter is already going to be wearing a costume for the recital, so she has a little bun on her head too. Big whoop.

If everyone otherwise likes the ballet class, if your daughter likes her friends in it, if the teacher is good with little-ones, this doesn't have to be a 'throw the baby out with the bath water' situation.

I agree, the note was nasty, and that's why you should speak with the teacher. Go in (without your daughter) and say, "we had planned to get a little bun hairpiece for Lucretzia, and just pull her current hair up into a wee pony-tail and attach it. Any better ideas?"

You're taking this very small issue and blowing it up into a referendum on your parenting decisions, and frankly, it's just an issue of a Control Freak trying to make a group of four year-olds look like a corps de ballet. It will be hilarious at the recital.

I say, spend the $12, buy the hair-piece and don't make this a BFD.

Aren't you glad you have better things to worry about?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:41 PM on March 20, 2014 [15 favorites]

Chiming in to say the bun is part of the recital uniform, yes.

BUT. You should talk to the teacher about
1) Plan for class;
2) Plan for Recital;
3) how her tone in the email made you and your spouse feel. I can JUST SEE my boss sending EXACTLY THAT email, and really meaning NOTHING by it. She's just tone deaf that way.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:48 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would talk to the teacher and try to figure out at least a short-term solution before pulling your kid out of the class altogether. Surely there have been short-haired girls at this school before; short hair is super common on preschoolers.

It sounds like your daughter's already feeling bad about her hair. If so, you should address her feelings and try to find out more: did the instructor make a fuss? Did the other kids talk about it? How did that make her feel? Reassure her that her hairstyle is pretty and she can wear it how she wants, and the teacher didn't mean to make her feel bad, but the school has a rule about buns, and you think it's a silly rule and that ballerinas should wear their hair however they want, but you know this recital is important to her and you will figure something out, etc. If you get the sense that her ballet teacher hurt her feelings, bring that up with the teacher and ask for her perspective. Her response will give you a sense of whether you should start looking for a class with a more kid-friendly teacher. Ultimately, this is about managing your kid's feelings and making sure she feels good about herself.

If she continues to feel sad about her lack of ballet bun, you might want to consider showing your daughter some short-haired role models. I can't think of any dancers - ballet dancers do need to wear their hair totally plastered back, after all - but off the top of my head, someone like Dorothy Hamill (who inspired zillions of short haircuts back in the day) might be reassuring to her.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:48 PM on March 20, 2014

Oh, Dippity Do, and Aqua Net will be required to get the proper amount of shellacking of your daughter's hair so that it will stay back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2014

Don't be confrontational.

For certain values of confrontational, sure. But saying "I really found the tone of this message unacceptable" is not unreasonable confrontation. You're paying these people for a service and trusting them to be stewards of your child for some period of a day.

They can decide how to run their business and what standards to set in the classroom, but they should still treat you with respect. Maybe this indicates a crappy attitude and you don't want them influencing your kid. Maybe they really don't understand how this reads to folks who aren't more knowledgeable about ballet, in which case you're doing them a favor by bringing it up.

All that aside, I'd never tell a four-year-old that their choice in haircut caused a reaction from someone, even if it was to say that the reaction was wrong. I don't think they'd have the capacity to understand it nor the capacity to assign all the blame to the irrational other person.
posted by phearlez at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

nthing talk to the teacher. I suspect the tone you are reading is not the one intended.

My five-year old goes to a super serious ballet school, with very rigid dress codes etc, and kids with all hair lengths attend. They will make it work.
posted by gaspode at 12:58 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

If she continues to feel sad about her lack of ballet bun, you might want to consider showing your daughter some short-haired role models. I can't think of any dancers

Simone Messmer wears her hair short. There's a photo that shows this well here. The wonderful Natalia Osipova also wears her hair short. Here's a good photo of that. But, of course, in performance they'll often have extensions or wigs or what have you--depending on the role.
posted by yoink at 1:10 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, it sounds like the school is being ridiculous! Hopefully there is some sort of solution that does not involve taking your daughter out of the class and/or making her feel guilty or excluded. Can you ask the teacher what students with short hair have done in the past? Is the teacher the owner of the school? Or are they just repeating strict orders from their boss and are worried that their students will get them in trouble?

Dance schools are weird. I remember my mom having to spray paint my tap shoes silver when I was 5 just just so I could be in a recital. (We did get some use out of them for Halloween, but come on)
posted by Shadow Boxer at 1:17 PM on March 20, 2014

I can't think of any dancers - ballet dancers do need to wear their hair totally plastered back, after all

This is straight up not true and a completely bizarre thing to say. Wearing your hair in a bun is not the "uniform" for a ballerina. Ballet dancers have all sorts of hairstyles, and during (professional) performances (when you're not four years old) the hair look will depend on the costume. Which is why I am so heavily on the "NOPE" end of this.

There are also lots and lots of ways to wear your hair pulled back that don't involve wearing a bun.

If your daughter were 14, I would say, yeah, if she is serious about dance it behooves her to have a hairstyle that is conducive to keeping out of her face (there's a reason the dancers mentioned by yoink have pixie cuts). But she's four. It's unlikely that the girls in this recital are going to remember more than about 25% of the steps, and half of them will likely get stage fright and cry.
posted by Sara C. at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

expecting a 4 year old to wear a bun in the recital is not out of the norm or an insult to her choice in hair cuts. Like it or not, ballet is about aesthetics as well as technique. Buns come with the territory, as does stage makeup etc. I would expect them to work with you to simulate the look though at this age. the ever popular "sock bun" technique can be tweaked to help you. if you have been happy otherwise with this studio, i would pick trying to work it out over moving. Your next studio could have a way worse issues. As far as them wanting buns in class, in addition to the hair in the eyes issue etc, it is also about an instructor being able to see how a dancer is holding themselves from head to toe.

As far as this being about appearances, a hair cut is a personal choice. i don't think there is anything inherantly damaging about asking kids to all have the same hair do for a class or performance. Yes, they could have handled it better, but it isn't about appearance the same way classical ballet schools having a perferred body type for their dancers is about appearance. they didn't say her feet were bad or she was too heavy or her turn out was poor. If they start in on anything that is part of her natural build, get as mad as you want. that stuff really pisses me off at this young of an age.

also if you change and you don't like these kinds of standards, there are other forms of dance you might be happier with that don't adhere to some of the more classical "rules".
posted by domino at 1:33 PM on March 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Wow! I didn't realize Eva Braun ran a ballet school. She's 4 for crissakes!. If the teacher is hassling you imagine what she is doing to the kids. Pull her out and find a school that cares. Also at 4 all she needs to know is that things change. "The new school is a lot of fun and it is closer to home." or some simple excuse.
posted by Gungho at 1:52 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

It behooves you to remember that this teacher is someone you are paying money to deliver a service to you, that service being teaching your child ballet.

Given how hard your child has already worked, and how close to recital season we are, I'd talk to the school to find out what the story is with the ballet bun.The teacher may have something to propose as an outcome. Beyond that, I'd probably stick to my guns and insist that she be permitted to dance in the recital without a bun, because this is not a professional troupe, this is a bunch of preschoolers. I'd ask if that means they don't ever accept boys, and if they reject customers who try to sign up with short hair as a matter of course. YMMV.

Aside from that: Yeah, this is a big red flag in terms of body image and attitude in the older years. After the recital, switch schools, and never look back again.
posted by Andrhia at 2:01 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Chiming in as both a dancer and a teacher of little ballerinas.

At the youngest ages, part of the "dress code"/"hair code" thing is less about any real aesthetic or distraction rationale (as others have said, there are many ways other than ballet buns to keep hair of any length safely out of a child's face), and more about a discipline thing and a respect thing. When I was a kid, part of the ritual of ballet class was preparing myself for class in a way that adhered to the dress code; not because it was practical, but because it was part of the rules. You wore black leotard, pink tights, no jewelry, and your hair off your face (in a tidy bun if it was long enough, secured tidily back with clips and pins if it wasn't). We weren't even allowed to part our hair on the side until we were in the senior levels. The ballet bun tradition may have originated as a practical measure to limit distraction and maintain a cohesive look among the corps, but nowadays, and especially in ballet schools, it's much more about getting kids used to the discipline and rigour that is a part of the art and cult of classical ballet. I'm not saying its right or even rational, but it is absolutely a part of ballet, and something that is simply inescapable at any studio that is "serious" about classical training. Adhering to dress code standards (yes, even at the age of 4) demonstrates respect for the teacher, the studio, and the art form. It's not about stifling creativity or forcing kids to conform (at least it wasn't for me when I was a student, and its not for the classes that I teach now).

That being said, there are many, many schools that offer amazing dance training that are less focused on traditional classical ballet standards and traditions and therefore care less about trivial things like hair and dress codes (schools that are more focused on recreational students, or that complement ballet technique with other dance forms, etc) and that you may consider for next season.

For this season, however, I would strongly encourage you to follow the advice of many other posters and have a chat with the teacher. She almost certainly has a number of solutions for your daughter's hair that would be perfectly acceptable to both of you, many of which have already been mentioned. When I teach the wee little ballerinas, I usually devote half of one of our classes in the very first week of the term to a ballet bun boot camp, in which the parents come in with their kids and we practice (as a GROUP, so that no one feels singled out) how their hair should be for class (I personally accept things other than buns for kids with short hair, but I know many other studios that have different policies). In the weeks leading up to recital, we bring the parents in again and go over with them how to deal with all the fiddly little costume bits and bows and ribbons and things, how they all need to have clean ballet slippers and tights without runs, and how to do their hair for performance. If I'm asking for all the kids to have the same hair (which I sometimes do for recital, depending on the situation), I make sure that everyone understands how to make that hair happen on their individual child. It's not a big deal. We have fun with it. The kids LOVE having their parents in class, and absolutely HOWL with laughter when we ask some of the ballet dads to start making buns and braids.

Long story short: I think your kid's teacher may not have handled this in the way that I personally would have (maybe she's young and new and all flushed with ideals of unrelenting discipline), but I don't think she's erred so drastically as to require you to jump ship IF your kid is still enjoying herself. Have a chat with the teacher. Ask for her help. Let your kid stay for the recital if at all possible. Kids who get pulled from class before the recital are, in my experience, devastated.

(As a side note, I'd be wary of jumping to conclusions about negative body image standards running amok through the school based on this one incident. If there are other things going on that cause you concern, that's one thing...but asking a kids (even a young kid) to wear their hair in a bun for ballet class is not in and of itself a sign that the school is a haven for the development of bad body image.)
posted by Dorinda at 2:29 PM on March 20, 2014 [29 favorites]

The same situation happened with my own daughter, at about the same age when she got a haircut just after falling in love with ballet. The school she was in insisted on the right color of ballet attire and that everyone's hair look exactly the same including a bun. Lucky for us, we had two big ballet schools in town and in switching to one that was less rigorous about conforming to an appearance, we found it was actually a better fit for my daughter's personality as well, and she took the change in venue well since she had more fun at the second school.

Obviously, I can't guarantee that how serious an instructor is about hair will equate to how understanding they are when teaching on the ballet floor, but our experiences seemed to follow that pattern. You should ask any future ballet instructors about this upfront when inquiring about enrolling.
posted by mathowie at 2:51 PM on March 20, 2014

If you do go the switching route:
Chances are, the ballet class you are switching her to, won't have classes at exactly the same time. Take her to both, as a trial first, before switching.
posted by Elysum at 3:09 PM on March 20, 2014

She's not formally training to be a ballerina at 4 years old. Talk to the teacher and propose that your daughter be able to wear her hair clipped back or in a thick headband for classes and then shellac it back with gel or hairspray and get a clip-on bun for the recital. Fancy hair for a recital is reasonable, demanding that you shellac it back with oodles of product for a ballet class for 4 year-olds is ridiculous.
posted by quince at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

She's not formally training to be a ballerina at 4 years old.

Sure, but most ballet schools operate under the assumption that someone is taking ballet seriously. Four years old is when you start.

A lot of classical training for anything (dance, music, whatever) is going to be really rigorous and by the book. Maybe it's not right, but this teacher's attitude doesn't strike me as super weird or unusual. I think it would be better to try to work with the teacher than pull out your daughter before her recital. Shellack her hair up, put in a clip on bun, and she'll be fine. Recitals are such a big deal at that age!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Go talk to the teacher instead of writing notes. Call ahead, and schedule a few minutes to discuss "our daughter's hair." When you talk to her, pretend that you are there to address her concern; say "we didn't realize that hair too short to be in a bun was going to be a problem. Since we can't make her hair grow out any faster than it will, what do you think would be appropriate to ensure she can attend classes and perform in the recital?"

At this point she'll either make it clear that it isn't really an issue for now, but once it grows back you should let it grow to bun length, or she'll propose something like a wig or hair extension, or she'll make it clear that she will not be able to attend the class or perform in the recital due to her hair length.

Your response to the first: "terrific, thank you very much for your time." Whether you then choose to have her attend another school after the recital is not her concern, and you can do that at your convenience.

Your response to the second: take it at face value as something you'll have to do, because that's the rules of this place, just like a certain outfit or a certain performing costume. Whether you then choose to have her attend another school after the recital is not her concern, and you can do that at your convenience.

Your response to the third: frankly, I don't think it will come to this. I will be shocked if it comes to this. If it does, you already know what you plan to do, and other advice in this askme will be of use to you.

note: my daughter wanted a bob around the same age, and the instructors of the various classes she was attending, including ballet, could not have cared less.
posted by davejay at 4:26 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think yanking your daughter out of classes she likes because you don't like the teacher's tone is rather mean. I'm sure there's a way to pull her hair back (she's not needing a wig) with bobby pins and maybe some sort of clip-on bun for the recital. I agree that one of you, (the calmer parent) should speak to the teacher, but I don't see why your feelings about the teacher are more important than your daughter's enjoyment of the class.
If you decide that you really don't want her to continue--tell her the truth. You don't like the teacher. Don't give her a fake excuse. Even a four-year-old can tell when you're not straight with her.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:39 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please do talk to the teacher. My mother pulled me out of a child's ballet class when I was 5 or 6 (different reason from yours, my mother didn't drive and the teacher did not pick me up for the recital as planned, so in her frustration with the teacher, my mother removed me from the school and I never went back to the class again). Fifty or so years later, I still remember it with regret--because I loved the class so much, and couldn't understand my mother's reaction for years.

I second everything davejay wrote. Plus, Dippety-Do, bobby pins, bun nets, whatever, might fix the classes/performances concern. Ballet classes are so particular about the "right" kind/color of leotard, style of shoes, overall appearance that you may find that wherever she goes. Even at her age, regrettably.

I found some suggestions for the bun issue by googling: how to style short hair for ballet
posted by apartment dweller at 5:44 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also--it might be that because the haircut came after the e-mail you received, maybe the teacher feels as though *you* were being a little bit passive aggressive? (Even though that was in no way your intention!) So--some misunderstandings all around. I am hoping that both you and the teacher will be able to figure this out and smooth things over so that your little girl's feelings aren't hurt.
posted by apartment dweller at 5:52 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just tell your daughter something made-up.

If it were me I'd then put her somewhere it would be weird for most or any of the adults in regular contact with kids to be "all flushed with ideals of unrelenting discipline".
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:16 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: First off, thanks to many of you for your thoughtful responses. Even though this went in a different direction than I expected, I appreciate the responses that have encouraged me to slow down and think this through and offered different perspectives and options. I guess the central confusion is around what our expectations are/were (a fun class for our kid to learn movement and have fun) versus the teacher's expectations. There's clearly some crossed communications, and I can fix that.

You're right - we should talk to the teacher, voice to voice. We'll do that tomorrow.

Allow me to say this (and I don't think I was clear about this before): I'm not actually hacked off that there are rules about ballet buns. I understand discipline and rule following. I know we probably screwed up and got a haircut at a weird time. I'm not going to feel bad about that or let my kid feel weird about it. That's done and there's probably a path forward. Thank you for your help figuring out some options.

Also, I'm not going to roast this teacher on Yelp or anything because she's probably a fine teacher, just not for our kid.

If, as many of you suggested, we can come to some kind of agreement, we'll still probably end up pulling her from classes before the next session starts - we'll look for a school that's more laid back, and thanks to your suggestions, I know what to look for now.

Take umbrage if you must...
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:45 PM on March 20 [mark as best answer] [8 favorites +] [!]


posted by elmer benson at 6:45 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hmm, not sure if I agree with people saying to just switch your daughter like it's no big deal. I remember that the activities I enjoyed when 4 were a very big deal to me and switching classes would have been a big deal. Not that you shouldn't do it, if you feel you have reason to, but I definitely think it'd be worth talking to the teacher if your daughter really enjoys the lessons and there are no other objections besides the bun thing.
posted by bearette at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I just wanted to follow up with the conclusion of this story, in case anyone ever checks this thread again:

We tried to talk to the teacher. We really did. We calmly asked about options and tried find a way to make it work. The teacher started explicitly shaming us for letting her cut her hair, and it became clear this is just not the class for our kid.

Anyhow, we made the decision to pull our kid from the class. We basically said, "hey, honey, ballet class isn't going to work out this time."

"So I can stay at school for movie day, then?" she asks. I guess the afternoon we pull her out of day care an hour early for ballet is "movie day," where they watch a half-hour of Blues Clues or something like that.

"Uh, yeah. Sure. You can stay for movie day, kiddo," we say.

"MOVIE DAY! YAY!" She's running around the living room, cheering.

She hasn't asked once about ballet since. I guess things work out. Thanks for all of your help.
posted by elmer benson at 7:12 AM on March 31, 2014 [14 favorites]

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