Rachel Ferring-037-Edit

Dancer : Rachel Ferring
Photo by : Geek With a Lens

Inevitably, every summer I run into parents outside of the dance school who tell me that their child is miserable because they, the parents, have decided it was a good thing for their child to take the summer off from dance.   These are, by the way, usually the same parents that end up complaining that their child did not get moved up a level when all his/her friends did.  When I then explain it was because all of his/her friends had taken classes over the summer, I usually hear, ‘well it’s not my child’s fault that he/she didn’t take classes.  I made him/her take the summer off.’  I then explained that we are not punishing the child at all, but we are also not going to punish the kids that took summer classes and improved while their child stayed home and regressed.

The above annual conversations started me writing an article on the importance of summer study:  To Take Summer Classes or Not.  In the middle of writing that article; I began to think about exactly what these parents were saying.  I also began thinking about a recent question I received from a former student of mine who is now teaching herself, ‘How do you feel about parents that refuse to let their child use their talents and make a career out of dance? ’ Before I knew it, I was writing a whole other article.

Firstly, I don’t comprehend why you would make your child take the summer off from dance?  If it’s a financial thing, I totally understand, though there are always alternatives to expensive study away from home which I wrote about in that a fore mentioned article.  Financial reasons at least make sense to me. It also makes sense to me if the child feels overwhelmed and wants to take the summer off.   Other than that, I just don’t get why you would make your child give up their passion for a whole summer.  Furthermore, why would parents do the other thing I hear a lot: parents making their child try different activities.  What if the child is happy with the one they have chosen?  Is it because society today seems to believe that it’s better for your child to be ‘well rounded,’ which usually means being mediocre at five different activities than to be really dedicated and proficient at one? If your child wants to try something else, great, I would encourage that, but if they’re happy with the one activity they have chosen to dedicate their time to, why make them give that up or cut back on dancing to try something they don’t think they’ll even like.

The truth is that I understand that not all my students want a career in dance.  In fact, most of them just want to have fun and I’m fine with that, but what about the handful that do?  Those children can become obsessive when it comes to dance and I know that can be frightening for parents to see their child so single-minded at such a young age. However, here’s something parents need to know that their children obviously already do, dance is a young person’s career.  The life of a dancer usually spans from the age of 18 or younger to usually only the mid-thirties, if they’re very lucky. If they don’t dedicate themselves to it early enough, their chance of a career goes down significantly.  Other kids across the country take upwards of twelve classes a week on top of rehearsals and study all summer long.  When your child comes across these students in an audition, they understand these other dancers will be more prepared and therefore get the job or get the slot in the summer program.  If dancers want to be competitive, dance almost needs to be all consuming. The world of dance is a very competitive place and you must put in the work in order to reap the benefits.

I hear so many excuses from parents about why they don’t want to support their child’s dream of dancing professionally.‘I know my child is really talented at dance, but it would be a shame for her to be a dancer because she is so smart.’ ‘The life of a dancer is so hard and it’s such a short career.’ ‘I know he’s talented, but the odds of him having a dance career are so slim.’ ‘She’s so used to the lifestyle we provide her; she could never live on such a small budget.’  ‘I don’t want to have to support him financially.  I want him to have a career he can make money at and support himself.’  These are all valid points except the first one.  I know as parents you want your child to be healthy and happy and financially stable.  The point is that they can be all those things and still have a career in dance.  Will it be a struggle?  Yes, of course, but any career path will have that!  If your child wants to dedicate their life to dance, chances are they know it will be difficult, they know they will probably have to change career paths later on down the road and they know they will never get rich dancing and yet they still want to pursue the career.  If they have enough drive and talent to do so, why squelch their dreams?

When I read the beginnings of this article to my mother, she laughed told me I should add to my original title: The Rewards of Letting Your Child Be Dedicated to Their Art and said, ‘why would someone want to steal their child out of the spotlight?’  As we talked, she did admit that she thought my dance teacher growing up was a bit insane when she told my mom I needed to take eight ballet classes a week at the age of eight, but she said, ‘I tried to trust her judgment; I mean, I didn’t know anything about dance. I signed you up, sweated when I handed over the payment and held my breath. You loved it. Did I think it was a bit much for an eight year old?  Truth be told, yes, but you seemed to thrive on it.’

I told my mother that I appreciated all the support which came with the sacrifices her and my father made for me to pursue my dreams from my father taking on extra coaching and summer jobs to pay for my classes, my mother spending countless hours in the car driving me to all my lessons and auditions, giving up family vacations and dinners out to pay for pointe shoes and summer programs and volunteering endless hours of their time helping at the dance school.  She laughed again and told me it was so rewarding as parents to see their child light up inside when they did something they loved to do.  She wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world and she was happy to make any sacrifice she could to give me the opportunities she did.  Besides, she told me, ‘our early investment paid off big time.’  She was referring to the fact that my parents didn’t pay anything for my college education since I got full ride between academic and dance scholarships.  After college, I got several different jobs in my field, bought my own home and car, paid my own bills and they haven’t had to support me since.

The truth is that the career of dance and the arts in general, is a difficult path and not all people make it, but the chances of making it go up exponentially when the parents support their endeavors. I have seen many parents make very fair decisions when it comes to this and there is a lot of room for compromise.  I do not mean that they have opened their check book and started supporting their starving artist.  Some parents agree to let their child go to college for dance if they agree to minor in something else.  Some parents have told their child that they have so much saved up in a college fund and they can use that money to pursue their dance career instead, but once the money is gone, it’s gone and they are on their own.  Some parents agree to support their dancer for one year, but if they can’t make their career happen in that amount of time, they have to go it on their own or go to college.  Some parents encourage their child to take the professional dance contract being offered them as long as they take a few online college courses each semester or start pursuing their yoga certification or real estate license in their free time.

I would encourage all parents to support their children’s aspirations and ambitions, especially if there’s a chance of them becoming an actuality.  Being a professional dancer is not just some pie in the sky dream, it can be a reality and it can be just as rewarding and challenging as becoming a doctor or lawyer, especially when you have supportive parents behind you.

Side Note: If you are a young dancer struggling in a less than supportive environment, you might want to check this out.  http://tinybuddha.com/blog/7-things-to-remember-when-people-dont-support-you/  Remember the only person you can please is yourself and no one lives your life, but you. ‘This above all: to thine own self be true.’ Best of luck and keep dancing and pursuing your dreams.