Ballet – Frivolous or functional?

While I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day I stumbled across a link to an article entitled: 6 Reasons Why Ballet Dancers Make Awesome Employees.

I think I had read it previously, but was good to read it again.

And it got me thinking about a scene I’ve seen played out far too often.

I did not major in dance in college (still kicking myself over that one), but I did take four semesters of dance technique, for credit, during my time there. More than once a fellow student at the college would say to me, “Oh, I wish I could take dance, but my parents won’t let me.”

First off, I was kind of surprised by the idea of my parents “letting me” take anything. They didn’t ask to approve my schedule and I never offered them the opportunity. I guess it’s a philosophical difference in parenting, but I for one was very appreciative (if not then, for sure now!) of the respect they had for their kid, her academic goals, and the college she chose to attend. I’m sure if they had any major concerns they would have voiced them, but luckily we all seemed to be on the same page.

So there was that.

But beyond that… what’s wrong with taking dance?

The overarching theme seemed to be that dance was frivolous. Silly. Extracurricular.

Or, more bluntly. Dance is an “easy A” (it was not… I got B-minuses two semesters… nothing at my school was easy). It’s not a “real” course. It has no practical application.

Basically: It won’t help you get a job and that’s why we sent you to college… to get a good job.

I wish this was something I had only encountered during my own college experience, but I see it with kids I know from the studio who are graduating from high school and going on to college. The parents who were ever-present and supportive of long hours at the studio suddenly want to push the kill switch and put the kaibosh on dance forever after.

It’s like they’re saying, “Well, you’re an adult now, so you must be Serious and Focused.”

It’s true that our studio is not likely to turn out any pro dancers, so pursuing dance as one’s sole academic focus might not be a great option. But dance can fit into adult life in so many ways.

I don’t think any of the dance majors I knew in college were exclusively dance majors. They all double-majored in something else: English or biology or whatever. They have gone on to become a variety of things… some related to dance, some not. But I doubt that any of them regret their decision to study it at the collegiate level and I’m willing to bet that most of them can credit dance with helping them get where they are in the ways the linked post mentions, and probably others not mentioned.

Also… academics are important, but it’s not the sole purpose of a college education. A big part of college is learning how to live independently (assuming you go away to college, anyway). My parents were no longer there to poke a head in my door late at night and tell me I needed my sleep. While they were just a phone call away, they were no longer able to just look at me and tell when I was getting stressed. I had to learn to balance these things out for myself. I learned that I could not just studystudystudy all the time or I would be not only burnt out, but a bore to be around. (I also learned that I could not just playplayplay all the time, but that’s not quite relevant to this post!) Learning to respect the role that my widely varied interests played in my life allowed me to accept that I didn’t have to, nor should I, be 100% committed to any one thing in my life. I discovered that there were, in fact, many intersections among my interests and that they often had a symbiotic relationship.

It helped that I went to a liberal arts college… but even so, I think this is a valuable lesson one could pick up at any school.

As an adult I have a whole new appreciation for the role dance plays in my life. Maybe it is weird that I occasionally need to bust out of work early for a rehearsal or take a day off for a show. But for me, dance is one more piece of keeping my life balanced, and that is as great a life lesson as anything I ever gained from a lecture or a textbook.

Maybe I’m biased because I regret (somewhat) the time I took off from dance. I can’t get those years back and I hate to see a child with existing technique and artistry and potential for so much more be forced to quit simply because they walked across a stage on their high school football field wearing a cap and gown. But even so…

Parents, please don’t close the doors on your children’s passions. Have faith in the values you have imparted. Studying dance (or music or studio art or underwater basketweaving) does not have to be at the exclusion of everything else you deem important. Just as your child balanced it all previously, they will learn to do so without you there. Encourage them… and prepare to be proud of that successful adult they will become.

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3 thoughts on “Ballet – Frivolous or functional?

  1. sldinepping says:

    Your last paragraph sums it up- very well.
    I only wish that MY parents could have had that point of view when I was a girl. I, too, would encourage parents to consider your point of view on the subject.

  2. Emma says:

    amazing, my parents are so encouraging in dancing and lately I’ve understood how important the support is to me 🙂

  3. Terez Mertes says:

    Here, here! So well put. I had the same fortunate experience in college that you had. Loved dancing through my college years. Just loved it. Got that degree (um, on the five-year plan) in liberal arts, unrelated to dance, but in my memory, dance was equally important and nourishing. Now, close to 30 years later, I still stand wholly behind my choices. (And I’m soooo grateful my father didn’t bluster in and tell me “enough of the dance classes already. And he could have, b/c he was footing a large part of the bill. Smart parent. We both got what we wanted, in the end.)

    Loved reading about your experience, Rori! It brought back good memories.

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