My daughter (10 years old) is starting to develop breasts and is very worried about this in ballet. All of her friends are tiny and she feels fat next to them. What do I say to her to make her feel okay about this? She loves to dance but I am worried she will want to quit due to this.

This is one of the hardest issues to deal with as a young dancer, especially if your daughter is the first of her friends to start developing. Little leotards leave nothing to the imagination and the most innocent of comments may affect her greatly.
• Try and help her see it as a positive: She is the first of her friends to really grow up. She is not a baby girl any more, and this means that she will soon get to be one of the older girls. Girls who develop early will often get to be in with the older students, while the little ones may get held back.

• Focus on the things she is good at: If she is shying to the back of the studio for fear of looking in the mirror, teach her how to use the mirror to check her line, placement and technique, rather than her physique.

• Try a few private lessons: If she is worried about what the others think of her, working on her technique in a one-on-one environment could be very helpful in improving other aspects of her dancing so that she feels confident in front of the other students. If she is not focusing on the size of the other girls next to her, she will progress much faster.

• Talk to her teacher: Ask the teacher to avoid any comments on your daughters figure for a period of time. Girls often idolize their teacher, and if she is constantly prodding her (already pulled in) tummy in front of the other girls, she will want to do anything to get thinner or will avoid going to class.

• Encourage other forms of dance: Get her into a hip hop or street jazz class where she can move, but doesn’t have to wear a leotard all the time. The increased exercise will help keep her slim, and she will often have an advantage over girls who have not done ballet before in the ability to learn complex steps.

• Focus on her love of dance: Encourage her to put music on at home or listen to her iPod and enjoy actually moving to the music with no rules, no dress code, no mirrors and no scrutiny. Natural response to music is something that is often lost in strict ballet training, and making dance fun will keep her interested.

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