By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services
Dear Dr. Mike,
Our teenage daughter is interested in pursuing a career in ballet. She absolutely believes that ballet is her calling, and unfortunately, she sees everything else as being less important including grades and spending time with her family. When she’s not at the studio dancing, she’s at the gym working out or somewhere counting calories…yes, she’s way too thin too!
My husband and I have tried to talk sense into her, but we get into huge fights every time we challenge her to think through things. Her latest master plan is to take a gap year off after graduating from high school so she can study ballet in New York City. She not only expects us to pay for her year of dance education and training in New York City since we agreed to pay for her college, but she also plans on just showing up in the Big Apple without applying anywhere! We are unwilling to support this absurd plan. We told our daughter that we expect her to go to college and would pay for it in full, but we are not paying for her to hang out in New York City to take ballet classes. It’s not that we have anything against ballet, but we just don’t want our daughter to be a starving artist.
Our daughter is furious with us and told us that she hates us and doesn’t care about anything. We read somewhere that you are the Chief Mental Health Consultant for the Loudoun School of Ballet and Company. So we were hoping that you could give us some guidance on our situation.
Dear Concerned Parent,
Yes, very few ballet students have the talent, discipline, perseverance, and good fortune to have a successful professional career in the field of dance. Yes, a dance career is typically a short one that is fraught with injuries, disappointment, and periods of unemployment. And yes, professional ballet dancers, even at the highest level, don’t make a great living. Yes, yes, and yes, your daughter would be choosing a hard life indeed as a professional dancer. However, based on what you’ve written, your daughter’s passion for dance is high, and as loving parents, you need to figure out a way to support her.
While I think your concerns are valid, taking a stance that’s in direct opposition to your daughter’s strong desire to dance professionally is a bad idea. Look where it’s gotten you. You want your daughter to attend college, and she wants to dance, so I think your approach should be one that aims for compromise.
I think that you should start by asking your daughter to consider attending college and majoring in dance, in NYC or someplace else. In fact, many fine universities across the country offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance (BFA), and several of these schools have great track records for launching their students into top ballet companies after graduation.
Or, if your daughter is already dancing at a high level, and if she doesn’t want to attend college, you could ask her to consider auditioning for ballet companies following her graduation from high school. She may have a greater chance of landing a contract with a regional company than an urban one since the competition would likely be tougher in cities.
I would also consider enlisting the help of your daughter’s current ballet teacher since your daughter likely has great respect for him or her. Your daughter’s teacher likely danced professionally him or herself and had been in the industry for some time, so that person also has credibility and legitimate authority to help your daughter plan for her future in dance. I also recommend that you discuss your concerns regarding your daughter’s low weight and calorie counting approach to food with her teacher since competitive ballet dancers have increased rates of eating disorders.
As parents, it’s our job to protect our children, and again, your concerns are entirely understandable. Remember, though, as parents, it’s also our job to support our children’s dreams and to help them (as much as we can) turn their dreams into reality. Your daughter may or may not end up having a career as a professional ballet dancer, but she will always remember how you supported her (or didn’t) at this moment.