Sending your son off to dance in Europe represents a life changing event for both parent and dancer. Therefore, you want to consider carefully if it is a good decision for one or both of you, although the primary person it will affect is the dancer. It must be a good decision for the dancer first and foremost.
Letting my son, Julian, go to Germany to dance was a difficult decision to make, but it was his to make, not ours. He was about to turn 18, and he had auditioned with numerous ballet companies. He had five offers from which to choose—actual corps contracts and apprenticeships, but only one was in Europe. My husband and I tried to provide what we thought was wise counsel, as did his teachers and some other experts. When it came down to the wire, the choice was Julian’s to make. It was his career…albeit a career just beginning, but this one decision potentially could make a huge difference in the direction of that career. Plus, Julian had strong feelings about that career—what type and size of company he would like to dance in, what repertoire he desired, where he might like to be located, how he would like to earn his roles, etc.
Are You and Your Son Ready?
What if your son has that same choice to make? How will you or he know if it is the right one? How will you or he know, for example, if he is ready to make the jump across the ocean?
That might be the biggest question you need to answer.
And how will you know if are ready to let him make that jump?
We didn’t know if Julian was ready or if we as parents were ready….that’s for sure. It’s been over a year since Julian went to work at SemperOper Ballet in Dresden as an apprentice. I started writing this post on the airplane as I traveled to Dresden to see Julian in the premier of Nordic Lights, now as a full-fledged corps de ballet member. With some hindsight, I can say that choosing to live and dance in Europe was the best decision Julian could have made for himself. Although I miss him, it was probably a good decision for us as a family as well. I know he feels it was the best decision he could have made career wise.
I don’t know that any of us was ready, though.
That said, how will you know dancing in Europe is right for your son? Let me offer a few questions that will help you make the decision.
1. Is your dancin’ boy willing or ready to try new things?
Julian was not always so willing to try new things. He didn’t enjoy trying new foods, for instance. We used to have to convince him to switch dance studios, for example, but he always knew in his heart it was the right thing to do, and he would do it. It was the same when he gave up summer camp, which he adored; he knew he had to start attending summer ballet intensives if he wanted to progress as a dancer, so he did what he had to do. It was a tough decision, but he was ready to try something new.
That said, Julian has experienced a lot of change in his life—he attended four elementary schools, he lived in three American states, and he called four house “home” (two just in California). He also attended seven dance schools and had a variety of additional teachers along the way. So, he knows change.
Living in Europe still represented a big and eye-opening change. It was an exciting adventure for Julian. He had to become willing to learn a new language, handle a foreign currency, eat new foods, meet new people…
Although Julian does enjoy languages, I wouldn’t have described my son as someone who welcomed change or enjoyed trying new things. Now I might. He eats many new foods, he speaks German, he handles foreign currency, and he also manages the demands of living and working in a foreign country, like obtaining a visa, renting an apartment and paying rent and utilities.
Maybe your son isn’t quite there yet…but maybe he’s close. Think about it. The year Julian spent at The School of American Ballet helped a lot. He had to manage all his school demands without anyone to remind him when something was due. He got to doctor and physical therapy appointments as well as to SAT and Regents tests—all without his Dad or me driving him there, getting him up on time or in some way helping. We never had to show up at the dance studio with forgotten dance belts or ballet shoes. SAB was preparation for his time in Europe even if it didn’t mean he was totally “ready” to handle all the demands of living in a foreign country.
Maybe your son has had some experiences that have made him ready or almost ready for living and working in Europe. Or maybe he’s just an independent and adventuresome type of kid who would thrive on such an experience.
If your son, on the other hand, is a homebody—wants to come home to visit often from his residential ballet program, never wanted to attend a residential program or a summer dance intensive, or simply isn’t willing to venture out and do new things, a job in Europe could prove problematic. Tickets home aren’t cheap, and time off comes infrequently. His schedule might allow trips home two times a year, maybe three. And it’s an expensive trip to go visit or see him dance. (I know…we are trying to get there twice a year.)
2. Is your son responsible, organized and mature?
This was another tough area. Julian had trouble all through school with responsibility and organization. My husband and I had helped him so much all his life, that we were actually quite worried about him handling his “stuff” alone. To compound matters, once overseas Julian wanted no help from us. He totally rebelled and wanted us OUT of his life. No helping allowed. In some cases this worked out well, and in some cases it didn’t work out at all; he’s still cleaning up the messes.
There are many things to handle when a dancin’ boy goes abroad to dance, such as visa appointments, setting up of bank accounts, paying bills, showing up for class and rehearsals (or letting someone know if you won’t be attending), as well as other ancillary tasks that may seem foreign in more ways than one. I, for one, didn’t have to handle these types of things when I was 18—and not in a language I hardly understood let alone spoke. If you can’t speak a language, and offices are only open when you are “working,” it becomes difficult to accomplish tasks like setting up Internet in your dorm room, finding out how to transfer money from an American bank account to a German account, or even rent an apartment if you decide to stay a second year. It takes responsibility, organization and the willingness and maturity to ask for help when necessary—such as when letters arrive in German (or whatever language) and you don’t understand them.
There’s also the issue that your son will legally be able to drink in Europe. And no one will monitor if he has a girl in his room over night…or when he goes to bed or what he eats (or how much he drinks). There’s a maturity necessary to handle these types of situations well.
If your son decides to go to Europe, whether he is responsible and organized or not, he will likely become responsible and organized over time—out of necessity. He will grow up and mature even if he wasn’t mature—or he will become more mature. Unlike going to college, which places your child in a sheltered environment, going to Europe to dance helps your son become an adult because he’ll be in the adult world working and living—in Europe. By the time Julian turned 19, he had signed a corps contract with SemperOper Ballet and a lease for an apartment in Dresden working with a realtor who only spoke German. He also went to the visa office alone and handled his old and new visa. I don’t know if I couldn’t have done any of those things at that age. He’d also dealt with financial, work-related, co-worker, and housing-related issues—some hard lessons learned.
I haven’t heard stories of other boys who had problems. That doesn’t mean that most young dancers—girls and boys alike–go overseas and handle all their stuff flawlessly and with ease. Maybe they are keener to ask for help—from parents or the people in the companies who are there to actually help them. Possibly that’s how they manage themselves; that in and of itself is a sign of maturity—to get the help you need. You need, however, to assess your son’s willingness to get help if needed, to organize himself, to handle responsibility, and, in general, to rise maturely to the occasion.
Be assured, no matter what, he will learn and grow and become more responsible, organized and mature just by going to Europe to dance.
(Read the remaining 3 questions in the next post.)
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