I very often use my daughter’s professional career path as a means to understanding my life, and life in general. I guess it’s because I can step back more easily and reflect upon its course with twenty-twenty hindsight.
Now that she’s headed in a different direction, away from ballet toward contemporary movement, my daughter is happier. For sure there have been potholes along the way, but is anyone’s life ever without them?
Choices. We’re always confronted with them. Never a day goes by when we don’t have to make decisions. A dancer’s life is no different and yet, whatever is decided alters her career path without it being obvious at the time.
The first ballet company with whom my daughter trained at the age of 16 had no qualms about her going elsewhere to dance when they were on hiatus during the summer months. At least that’s what the company’s dance school director said. She felt my daughter was a smart dancer who could easily transition between time with the company and time away with others.
It was during the summer that my daughter began honing her ability as a contemporary dancer. She felt combining year-round ballet with several weeks dancing a different movement would make her a more versatile performer. And it did. Yet it seems to have come with a price that was not made clear until the die had been cast, so to speak.
Rather than inform her directly that it would have been preferable for my daughter to spend summers with the company, very subtle hints were made by staff. Nothing definite, just little questions like “Do you want to be here?” Of course the answer was always an emphatic “Yes!” How was she to know they meant…”Well then you shouldn’t be seen by other directors who might want to steal you away?”
Ballet companies have the upper hand in deciding who among their many trainees and apprentices might eventually be offered a position. There are no guarantees. All of them are made to feel they have potential, but none of them can claim professional status until they have a signed contract.
So then the decision for the “wannabee” career ballet dancer is “Does she commit herself to a company who is still undecided about her? Or does she explore the larger dance community not only to enhance her skills but also to begin networking with fellow artists…dancers, choreographers, and yes, even directors?”
My daughter chose to broaden her dance horizons. She never did it with the intent to leave the company with which she was training. In fact she was always excited to return to the fold after time away. With renewed energy and confidence she incorporated what she’d learned during the summer into her performances.
Of course there are always different perspectives to any situation. So while my daughter saw her summers as enhancing her dance, the ballet company’s director perceived them as a sign that she wasn’t fully committed to him. When he let her go after 5 years he said “I decided to let you go instead of others because you’ll have an easier time finding a job then them.” At that point, my daughter was glad to finally be out from under a shadow that had been looming ever since she returned after the summer. She hugged her boss and thanked him for the opportunities she had been given while there. And with that she left the studio, breathing in the great outdoors and the promise of better days ahead.
Others who trained alongside my daughter never ventured off during the summers. They faithfully remained with the company. Of those, a few have gone on to become principal dancers. Sadly though they have never seen the broader dance world firsthand. And then there are all the others who were not even offered positions.
Becoming a professional dancer, especially in ballet, is just as much luck as it is talent and hard work. My daughter was fortunate to make it with the second ballet company she joined.
However the journey is never without its bumps. If one’s career stalls or back slides, then a dancer must decide her next move.
My daughter could have remained another 6 years to see where her career as a ballet dancer would take her. Instead she made the decision to change directions, helped in large part by all that she’d gained during her months off from the companies.
Over the course of her summers, my daughter has met hundreds of dancers on their way to somewhere. She’s also met her fair share of choreographers and directors. And then there are the stars with whom she’s paled around…Ethan Steiffel…Misty Copeland. Of them all, however, the most notable person she has met has been…herself.
Finding oneself in life is something for which we all strive. The choices we make, difficult as they might be in the moment, bring us to our own conclusion.
I’ve often told my daughter when she was a dance student, as well as on her way to becoming a professional…”Enjoy the process. As long as you do that, you’ll never be disappointed in the outcome. Happiness lies in the journey, not in the promise of the ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.’ ”
Did I already mention…
…my daughter is happy…very happy.
(Enjoy more inspirational words at