Julian moved to Germany this week, boarding a plane at 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning August 8 with his father. I sat in the car outside the airport and watched them check in. I didn’t drive away until the bags—four (including one of his dad’s) and a carry one—were checked and they headed for security. Of course, I wiped away tears as I watched and as I maneuvered the car out of the airport. This move marks the culmination of all the years of my son’s dance training. When he arrives in Germany, he will begin his career as a professional dancer for Semperoper Ballet in Dresden, one of the premier European ballet companies.
Ironically, the following weekend I drove north over the Golden gate Bridge for two business-related events, one of which took me all the way up to Santa Rosa where my son, and actually my daughter, too, spent many happy summers attending Jewish camp. Julian loved camp; we used to say he lived for camp, waiting all year for the month or two in the summer when he could attend. Yet, camp was one of the first things Julian had to give up to meet his goal of becoming a professional becoming a professional dancer.
By the time Julian hit middle school, the other serious dancers were spending their summers focused on dance—attending summer dance intensives. He wanted to go to camp—Camp Newman, a Jewish camp, more than anything and to keep attending until he was a Counselor in Training (CIT) and then a counselor, but he knew that he had to switch gears if he wanted to keep up–to succeed–especially in the world of ballet. It was only at camp that he felt accepted for who he was, where he had friends, where he could be himself, where he had girlfriends, where he could relax and do something other than dance—and be accepted as a dancer among non-dancing girls and boys.
Jewish camp gave Julian such a strong sense of Jewish identity. He went on to joing BBYO (B’nei Brith Youth Organization), a Jewish youth organization, and he attended meetings and activities “religiously” every weekend. There he found a replacement of sorts for camp–Jewish boys who accepted him and became his best friends. The organization would often also have parties and dances with the girls chapters, and his first “real” girlfriends were also through girls he met via these connections.
Here’s a promotional video for the camp you can watch to see what it was like and what other kids say about it…you can sense why he might have loved it so much. I cried while I watched.
As I finished my talk on Sunday to a group of aspiring and published writers, Julian was asleep. When he woke up the next morning was beginning his career as a ballet apprentice. All those things that he gave up may not be forgotten—the friends lost when he stopped attending summer camp, but giving them up will have been worth it in the moment when he enters the dance studio for his first day of rehearsal for Semperoper Ballett.
As I drove north toward Santa Rosa, I remembered every summer that we drove Julian to camp, leaving earlier than necessary, arriving sometimes an hour before the camp gates opened. We would wait at the gate for them to let us in rather than leaving. Julian couldn’t wait to get there. And had to be the first one on the grounds—that’s how much he loved going to camp. What a hard decision it was to stop going and attend that first American Ballet Theatre summer intensive instead. And camp was just one of the many things he gave up.
But that decision got him where he was going. Before that he gave up gymnastics. He gave up soccer. Over the years he gave up many a play date or birthday party, and I can’t even remember all the activities and social events missed due to dance commitments. Male dancers more so than female dancers give up so much to get where they’re going in their careers. They never spend the time with their male peers doing “boy stuff.”
I know you parents reading this experience the heartbreak of these losses with your sons. You male dancers reading this feel the pain—or have felt the pain. But you give it up or gave it up for good reason because it gets you where you want to go. Just look at Julian.
After three days of logistics, he will, indeed, enter the Semperoper Ballett studio to dance. And not long after that, he will grace the stage of Semperoper, one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe. He will get to perform and audiences will get to see him. It will all have been worthwhile.
Camp will be a distant, pleasant memory. Professional dance will be his life.