5 Questions to Ask Before Sending Your Dancin’ Boy to Europe (Part 2)

Will your son dance in EuropeIs your son considering taking a “job” dancing for a European company? Are you and he trying to decide if this is the right choice for him? As a parent, are you trying to determine if he—and you—are ready for him to be so far away from home as he makes the leap into the professional world of dance?

In my last post I offered two questions to help you make the decision. In this post, I continue with three more questions, or things to consider, as you explore your dancin’ boys work options.

3. Is your son ready to work?

Out of the womb of home sweet home or the nurturing environment of a residential ballet school, dancin’ boys who go off to Europe (or anywhere for that matter) to dance are thrown into the cold, hard work world. They begin working at age 17 or 18. It’s a real job. They are treated like adults, not kids, and expected to handle themselves like adults, showing up for work every day on time and performing their jobs, which doesn’t necessarily mean “performing” on stage. In most cases it means simply taking class and going to rehearsals. The pay sucks if they start as an apprentice, but it’s a job.

Can your son handle that? Will he like the fact that dance is now his job? Something to consider because at first, the roles may not be much of anything if there are any at all. Yet, he’ll have to show up, day in and day out, for class and for rehearsal even if he is just an understudy—or has no roles in anything. (And this is the reality no matter where you son may dance.)

Now, working in Europe means working with an international group of dancers. It’s true that many companies in the United States have large numbers of foreign dancers. In a European company, however, the majority of the dancers likely come from Europe and Asia. Your son will interact with dancers for all around the world, which enhances his learning and growth curve—and horizons—in many ways.

The performance season in Europe also tends to be longer—a good and bad thing. While most U.S. companies work between 20 and 40 weeks per year, European companies work most the year. SemperOper Ballet’s season, for example, runs ten and a half months or so. Yet, the company members are paid all year. I don’t know if this can be said for all European companies, but the longer season, which means more pay, and good medical benefits, offer positive reasons to take a dance job in Europe.

4. Is your son ready to dance?

As far as we can tell, there is no way Julian would be dancing, by which I mean actually getting parts in ballets, as frequently if he were in the States. Now, my dancin’ boy and his situation might be an exception to the rule, so I want to qualify this statement by saying that other dancers’ experiences in European companies could be quite different. I think as an apprentice and as a first-year corps member in most U.S. companies he’d likely be stuck in the corps—and stuck in corps roles for quite some time.

Now, Julian did have one corps offer with a regional ballet company in the U.S. right out of SAB where the artistic director had roles selected for him already that were not corps, but that was because he’d previously seen him dance. I, therefore, consider that an exception to the rule as well. He didn’t take that job, though, so I can only speak about the job he has.

Since last November during Nutcracker season, Julian has been given coryphées roles, such as the Russian dance, and this year he has had been honored to have soloist roles, such as the shared part of “Bluebird” in Sleeping Beauty. He also was chosen by three choreographers to appear in the premier of Nordic Lights. In one piece, which was choreographed for SemperOper Ballett by Pontus Lidberg based on the poetry of the 13th century Persian poet and mystic Rumi, he appeared on stage with three male first soloists and a coryphées dancer. The female dancers included a principle dancer and two first soloists as well as a corps dancer and an apprentice.

My husband, Julian and I believe the opportunities to really dance and to share the stage with seasoned dancers in a large company might be better in Europe. Let me repeat, however, that I am basing this solely on  Julian’s experience at SemperOper, and both might be unique.

5. Are you ready to cut the apron strings?

This is a big consideration. It’s a rare parent who is ready to let his or her child go so far away from home. That said, sometimes this really is the best choice for all. If you’ve micromanaged your child’s dance career, cut those apron strings! And rejoice! Let him have his life and manage it, too! And recapture your life at the same time!

Here’s the thing: You can worry all you like about what he’s doing or not doing in Europe, but there’s not much you can actually do to help when your dancin’ boy is 6,000 miles away in a foreign country. When he needs money today, it’s not gonna happen. (A wire transfer takes 48 hours at a minimum). If he’s sick, you can’t cook him chicken soup or take him to the doctor (or even make him go to the doctor). If he get’s injured, you cannot drive him off to a sports specialist, the chiropractor or a masseuse.

As a parent, I can tell you that allowing Julian to go to Europe was actually quite freeing. The fact that he wanted to manage everything himself, for good or for bad, was wonderful, albeit hard.

I did worry a ton the first year, but I soon realized worry was useless. There really was just nothing I could do….about pretty much anything that went on in Julian’s life.  That was a huge change for everyone. And it changed our relationship, but in a good way.

I still worry, of course. I’m completing this post as I return home from my trip to Germany (I started it on the way there), and I left this morning with Julian actually sick in bed with a 101.5 degree fever. He has no food in the house, an 11-week-old puppy to take care of, and needs to be ready to perform on Wednesday. I am, of course, worried—about how he’ll handle taking care of the puppy  in addition to himself, about whether or not he’ll go to the doctor and if he’ll get to perform (and if he’ll be upset if he doesn’t get to do so). But I’ve learned to turn off my worry (at least to some extent)…and to only text or Facebook or Skype with questions and advice or suggestions a few times because I simply can’t “make” him do anything. I’m just too far away to influence anything. And he wants to feel able to handle it himself. (Although, in this case, I’m sure he was sorry to see us walk out the door at 4:45 a.m. as we headed for the airport. He’d probably have like us to stay, cook soup, walk the puppy, take him to a doctor, and generally take care of him. When you are only 19 and sick, you still prefer some help rather than having your parents go back home and leave you alone 6,000 miles away from them.)

So, what do I do in situations like this? I just turn my attention to my own life as much as possible. And for the most part this works. And it releases my time and energy. In fact, I work…a lot. (I’ve just finished my second traditionally published book.)

Are your ready for that freedom? It doesn’t mean you won’t ever get a panicked call or a request for help. It doesn’t mean there won’t be some situations when your dancin’ boy is forefront in your mind and you search Facebook for updates or constantly check your phone for a text. Yet, most of the year, you are off the hook—no driving, picking dirty dance belts or tights up off the floor, waiting around the studio…You aren’t necessarily off the hook financially, at least until your son lands a corps spot.

The biggest downfall to your son working in Europe, however, is that you don’t get to see him dance—unless you spend the time and money to go to Europe. That makes my husband and me heartsick. So we try to find the money to go. When my husband was working in Germany, we managed one trip where I didn’t have to pay my airfare (his company paid), but those days have passed since he no longer works for that corporation. No we have to front the money for both airline tickets. We’ve managed two more trips, and we hope to continue to get to Dresden twice a year.

Every dancin’ boy is different. Every parent is different. Every situation, country and ballet company is different. Nothing I’ve said here is true in every situation. However, I hope this post has helped you with your decision to send your son to Europe to dance.

Image credit: alhovik / 123RF Stock Photo

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