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Dancing Dad: Auditioning for vocational schools

Here is the first post from our dancing dad, Tim Stirrup. Tim has helped a lot behind the scenes so far and has also kindly agreed to write for us. We are very grateful for the time he has spent both on this article - and on running the BDB twitter HQ: http://twitter.com/boysdoballet.

My son went through all the auditions for vocational schools last year, as well as auditioning for summer schools, for associate schemes and performing. We learnt lots from the process and thought it would be good to share our experiences and some tips we would have found useful. Some of these are pretty obvious really, but it would have been good to have reminders.

Firstly, we had no prior experience of either vocational or boarding schools, nor of associate schemes at any schools. So at the start we decided to look at the 4 vocational schools offering DfE funding as part of the government's Music and Dance Scheme. Those schools are:

- Tring Park School (formerly The Arts Educational School, Tring Park)

It could be that doing this is not financially or practically possible for all, but it did give us a good look at the schools and what they offer. Details on the funding side will follow in a future article.

Prior research

- We looked on sites such as www.ballet.co.uk, especially the Doing Dance forum (although bear in mind that everyone’s experiences are different and sometimes, for questions, a quick call to the school will help).

- We also looked at the OFSTED boarding school reports, and the ISC academic/vocational school reports. We didn’t know anyone who went to vocational school, but if you do – chat to them as much as possible. 

Photos for applications

Schools (as well as summer schools and associate schemes) often require photos to be submitted with an initial application showing the candidate in a number of specified poses. This can be a bit tricky to get right.

We did at first involve the dance school teacher but it was tricky to request individual treatment during class time. We were also unable to get a professional photographer involved at this stage and the experience was not good as the photos did not come up to standard and it all felt a bit stressed. So we then tried a professional dance photographer and had glossy shots produced. This was very expensive and actually produced the least response.

Finally, and most successfully, we bought a couple of ballet books that used photos of children from the Royal Ballet School and decided to get our son to copy those photos as much as possible. We took the pictures against a nice bright background in my neighbour’s house using their super hi-tech camera. These seemed the most successful, although the dance teacher said they weren’t perfect.

[Note from ed.: it was suggested that BDB produce some sample shots of the usual positions requested on applications for guidance. This is a great idea. We're going to do it as soon as we get a chance...]

Open Days

We visited the schools on open days and audition days, and asked as many questions as possible. Sometimes, the number of boys auditioning was small, and it was a little difficult to get ‘boy specific’ visits or questions answered. This alone was informative. Make sure you see all accommodation and spaces for ‘free time’ activity. Also make sure you see all the academic rooms. After all, there is that side, too.

Audition research

Do a bit of research into audition processes. The London Children’s Ballet has some great advice (here) - and on their YouTube channel (here) they also have some videos of boys auditioning that may help. 

What to wear

We made sure we took not just the required dance uniform but also a couple of ‘back-up’ leotards, shorts, tights, white/black shoes to give a bit of variation just in case the others were all wearing tights or vice versa. Our son felt more comfortable fitting in with what the other applicants were wearing (and they all wear numbers for easy identification so don't feel you need to wear something memorable). Having said this, it was usually shorts that were needed even though the option of tights was on the list, so always take some shorts.

It is important to be comfortable when auditioning (it helps you stay relaxed) so it's probably not a good idea to take bits of dancewear you've never worn before. New shoes are a bad idea, for instance - but shoes should be clean so either break in a new pair at your last lesson or wash a pair you know are reliable.

Before you leave

Check all kit before you leave, and recheck again just as you leave the house so that you don’t find that you are on the train, but the dance shoes are next to the sink drying after that last minute wash! Yes, this happened to us this year. So leave plenty of time to get to the venue. Public transport can be unpredictable, so it is much better for the boy to be there with time to spare rather than rush in seconds before the school staff start presenting. 

If you need a hotel, book well in advance and take advantage of some of the budget hotel chain offers (£19 for a night for 2 people was quite a bargain). 

When you get there

It can be a bit daunting sometimes, as at a number of auditions, children and parents knew each other from associate programs or performing. Don’t get worried by this at all. It has no bearing on the final decisions and although there can be some parents who know everything, there are plenty more who would just like to chat. If you are alone, as we were at first, seek out other ‘lone’ parents and have a chat. We NEVER found this a problem, and always ended up having great conversations, sharing experiences, advice and such like. If you don’t meet other parents of boy dancers very often, this is a great opportunity to find out about new schools, courses, shops etc.

Take a book or something to do if you haven’t started chatting with others. Some of the days are quite long and there isn’t always a lot to do in the surrounding area, or it is difficult to get the transport to places of interest.

A couple of hints - no, it isn’t advisable to try to walk from White Lodge to Richmond on a rainy windy day, and the pub down the road from Tring School seems a good place to meet once you’ve spent 10 minutes walking round the village.


Tell your son to enjoy himself, to smile, to make eye contact with the teachers, to listen carefully, to have fun, to show off his skills, and finally, to have a bit more fun. Showing that they enjoy their dance is very important.

Dance pieces

I have seen people take in props, costumes and prepare complicated routines. Our approach was to use our son's last grade examination piece. It was well practised, almost exactly the right timing and with a good recording on the CD. With his dance teacher’s help, a little twist above the grade level was added in to make it a bit more interesting than the pure examination piece.


Always bear in mind, without being too negative or reducing confidence, that rejections are a possibility (and, mathematically, often a probability). But always bear in mind that auditions happen every year, and boys change, grow and such like very differently from each other. My son on three occasions was not accepted onto ballet school associate programmes, but was accepted to summer schools and now vocational school. If we/he had got down hearted at not being successful at associates/pre-vocational programme applications then we would never had made the applications to the others. This is an important point to note.


- Probably a whole separate article could be written on this. Whether you are a millionaire or unemployed, there will be cost. It just depends on the amount. If you get a dance award, then that’s great and without such support even fewer children would be able to take part in vocational schools. There are a number of rumours that fly around; I would take all with a pinch of salt. Take a look at the reports on the schemes from the government. The latest is here.

- It is very evident that some schools have far fewer awards to give out. Bear this in mind when applying

- If you don’t get an award, or still have difficulties, always ask the school about scholarships and bursaries. They may say no, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get.

- You could search for private sponsorship. This is very difficult and all I can say on this is good luck. The press do like a ‘Billy Elliot boy parents sell house’ sort of story, but it isn’t always in the child’s best interest. However, such an approach does sometimes work and sponsorship may be found. Just make sure all the facts you present are correct.

- Last funding bit for now: the Music and Dance Scheme awards fund different things at the schools. Whereas at one school, the award may cover dance uniform, health insurance and physiotherapy, at others it won’t and you have to find those costs over and above the fees. 

Auditioning for Performances

On a slightly different note, our son has also taken part in auditions for performances. Many of the above hints are equally as valid, but rejections are much more common. It is important to get across that the rejection is not because your son is ‘not good enough’ but just that they are not what is being looked for, for that part, at that time. And yes, that might be because of their hair colour, or height and have nothing to do with their dance ability. Auditions come along year after year. I would say as long as you can make the time to go, you should go. It is always an experience, and if your son does get through, then the performing experience really is what this is all about.

To sum up

The audition process for all the schools, performances and associate programs is hard work, long, and sometimes expensive. Ask the school if you need financial help, be prepared for a lot of waiting around on the days and especially then for the letters, but above all this, try to make the process FUN for your child. They don’t need to know the difficult aspects. The day should be a time to ‘show off’ their skills; to meet other boys interested in doing just what they love; and to have some time out of school (often) for a special occasion.

So, of all the hints, my over riding one is ‘enjoy the day’. 


  1. I'd just like to say a very big thank you for your posting about the audition process. I'm Mum to a 14 year old boy who wants to become a dancer and have found it very difficult to get some insight into the process. Doesn't help that we live in the West of Ireland where schools are at a premium not to mind boys classes!! If anyone can help point us in the right direction I really would appreciate it.

  2. Hi Caroline,

    I would ring the schools and ask them for details - some do video auditions if travel is difficult.

    Then this site and also the 'doing dance' forum on ballet.co.uk are always full of information.

  3. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.