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My Dream Is Too Expensive
(Currency in SGD)
When I first started my journey as a tiny little ballerina in 2005 (I was born in 2001), it is when my mother decided to bring me to a dance school to let me find out what my passion was and if I had any interest in ballet. I was flexible, slim and loved every moment in the studio and my teacher told my mum after class that I had potential and encouraged me to continue dancing. Since then, I started the CSTD Graded Examinations, starting with many foundation examinations such as baby-ballet, pre-primary ballet, primary ballet etc. before the actual Grade 1 examinations. As my mother does not know anything about ballet, she just let me continue with this whole grading system and paying so much money for all the weekly classes and additional rehearsal hours. Only when I moved up to Grade 1, she heard from other parents that the foundation ballet examinations were not compulsory to take if you want to be promoted to the next grade - this meant that my time, effort and money has been used up for no reason. However, no one can be blamed as we did not know that there was such an option that we could take and after all, it was these classes which ignited my passion in dance. Hence, we just let this incident pass. Then, the price tag for each term (3months) was around $250 for the weekly classes and additional fees would come at $20 a class. Of course, when I was only 4/5 years old, I had no idea about money and how it works or how important it is but I was sure my parents did not make a fuss about the cost then since it was a rather common thing for parents to do for their child. However, when I started my first ballet examination, I realize that everything that I had to do, often without a choice, came at a price. For example, we had to purchase new leotards, shoes, tights, character shoes, character skirts, props and all of them would add up to at least $140, not to mention that it is mandatory for us to purchase these every year before the exams. What more was that on the actual day, we had to pay our ballet teacher $5 to have our hair tied in a bun (I could remember this very clearly as I was just looking at the pile of $5 notes stacked on top of each other so very neatly). I continued with this school for around 5 years before leaving to another dance studio.
From my basic ballet training, money wasn't a big issue, but we started to get the idea of constantly paying and paying.
In Primary school, I took up Chinese Dance as my co-curriculum activity (CCA) where I had 2hours of weekday training and 4 hours of weekend training. Now when I think about it, I was very very lucky to have a school principal that supports the arts even when the arts was not extremely popular (not in Singapore). She was a lady that everyone respected, not only because of a bright and kind personality but also of the charisma and the control she has that seems to bring assurance to everybody. But anyway, with my CCA, I was able to have all these trainings for free, and we did not need to pay a single cent for all the performances, stage rehearsals, and costumes that we had. Then, it was normal since it was just a CCA that the school funded so everything was paid for by the school. This serves as a serious reminder for the large amount of money I need to pay which I will talk about later.
As I mentioned in the previous header, I left my first dance school to follow my Chinese Dance teacher (he teaches ballet too) to do the RAD Graded Examination. We had lessons weekly as well and every term was around $350, and the higher your grade the higher the price without a doubt. This is considered very cheap as compared to other dance schools but of course, lower fees would also mean lower quality teaching. Thus in order to improve my dancing despite such classes, my mother arranged personal private classes with my teacher at a price was $90 for around 2.5hours. I thought that that was quite expensive but little did I know that there would be much more expensive coaching fees in other schools. (see below)
During my primary years, money wasn't so big of an issue as well.
When I was 13, I was accepted into a local art school, the first art school for 13-18-year-old students in my country. I was delighted to have been accepted and I worked hard every year, both in the arts and academics to obtain a scholarship which could help subsidize the high school fees ($400/month for citizens and $2500/month for foreigners). I was very lucky to have been offered a scholarship which helps pay my entire school fees up till now and it has definitely helped to relieve some of the financial burdens. My daily timetable has up to 4 ballet classes a week and around 2 contemporary classes a week and with my scholarship, this meant that my every class was paid for and this made me quite happy and satisfied as I am technically 'saving' money. This was when I felt that it was a right time to quite my second dance studio as I felt there was no point paying more externally and I went on without additional dance classes for around 1.5 years before I joined my third dance studio. This was the start of hell.
This dance school I am at is extremely well-known to be one of the best dance schools in my country, with experienced teachers who were once principal artists from prestigious ballet companies and producing students who were later sought after by ballet companies. In 2016, each term was $1600 - already a huge jump from my previous school but lessons were conducted twice a week with much harder technique and lessons so I could not compare the prices. I can proudly say that the classes have definitely helped improve my dancing and gave me a lot more opportunities to perform on stage. However, at the end of 2016, I was given a new contract, asking me to take on a new class they created called the competition team where we will be training to go overseas to take part in competitions. The price was a shocker, it was a whopping $3700 a term, $3700. The contract included 3 classes a week and a half hour long private lesson and it was $3700, which meant that it would add up to $14 800 that year. This did not include performance fees, costume fees, stage time fees, additional coaching fees or to go overseas and the following fees mentioned would add up to a high price. Neither do my parents nor I understand why we need to pay for all of these. After all, we are representing the school and the school should pay us for what we have done for them and at the end of the day, the dancers are just free labor to promote the school! Of course, attending this course is my own choice and it is the necessary steps to take in order for me to improve as a dancer and I am doing this for myself, but paying for every single additional class and fees is not fun at all, especially for my dad who is the sole breadwinner of the family.
This, as compared to my previous dance studio, is a huge jump. During my last performance with my previous studio, I did not need to pay for the additional fees, costumes and stage plotting fees and my teacher took his own time to do additional classes without asking us for more money. He just wanted us to bring people to purchase the tickets to watch and that will do. I did not remember paying over $1000 for that performance, not to say over $10 000. Now, we are constantly bombarded with emails after emails, asking my dad to make payment after payment, and recently during a local competition, my dad has spent over $450 just for additional classes and 15mins of stage time in a span of 4 four days. However, what is making us filled with fury is that the additional classes we were charged were implemented by the school, and we did not have a choice to back out of the classes we were told to attend. And if the school decides to have these additional rehearsal classes told to us last minute, we should not need to pay for it since I did not ask for it and it was the school's own decision! And I was not told about the payment until the email is sent after the class! This is terribly wrong with the system, the school can just keep calling us back to have additional rehearsals and then getting the parents to pay for every class as if they think we are all rich! (Though it is true that most of the dancers here are rich and can afford to give cheques after cheques but not all of us). And what more is that the parents of other dancers are just paying and paying when they are told to! This whole school is extremely money-minded and I am sure that all they want is the money they get from us which is ultimately their salary.
This aside, not to mention my $600 costume (which is considered very cheap) and spending at least $200 on pointe shoes a month, I dare not say the around I have already spent on this art in this first half of the year. But what I really want to voice out is that the school should help pay/subsidize the additional fees that they ownself want to carry out which is not stated in the contract such as the additional rehearsal fees or stage time. Ultimately, we are representing the SCHOOL in all the performances and competitions and the school should be the ones paying for these events, not us!
As I aspire to become a professional ballerina, I need to attend vocational training and this comes with a large price tag, ranging from $10 000 to $17 000 a year, and this is crazy (not forgetting the amount of money spent on shoes alone). Unless I get a scholarship from the school or I go to Germany where all accepted students are under scholarships, I will continue my dance journey in Singapore.
In professional dance companies, the pay is low, and only just enough to sustain yourself. One can only earn more if your status is high or when you become a teacher in a school like my one and the whole cycle repeats itself, making ballet an elitist art form which only a dancer with rich parents can afford to do. Hence if you are thinking, won't dancers who can afford these expensive training be better in their dance and will have an advantage over those who can't afford these training? , you are 100% correct. These are no geniuses in dance, a good dancer can only be groomed if she has a good teacher, a good training, countless stage experience and all of these can only happen if you have the money, simple as that. Classical ballet isn't like contemporary, or visual arts or other art forms that have more artistic freedom, in ballet, the steps are the same, one must never change the way it is done as it can only be approached in that way (to be exact, there are 6 ballet styles and 5 training methods) and if one approach a step differently, one might just slip and fall or injure oneself. Hence, making "self-training" hard to achieve as one will only develop bad habits if done wrongly without guidance from a professional teacher.
At the end of the day, though I know for sure that dance is what I truly love and want to do for the rest of my life in the future, I cannot stop but worry about how financially draining this art form is and the amount of money a dancer has to pay just to fulfill a fraction of her dream. I believe that this is not a problem only I face but with many other artists all over the world. I hope that those who are struggling with this situation will be able to achieve their dreams in the future and continue to pursue what you love and improve on this system where local artists in training can afford the necessary education to succeed.