Harvard vs. the Unknown

IMG_0602When I was about eight or nine, my dance teacher at the time, Miss Joan, looked at me hard and asked me if I wanted to be a dancer. Looking down, afraid to meet the intensity of her gaze, I meekly shook my head yes. I had never uttered the words, “I want to be a dancer” out loud. Some things are too close to be spoken.

For a long time I thought everyone was like this. Everyone knew the blueprint of their becoming. I recognized my dancerness early on as a mere fact of my birth like my sex and the color of my eyes. Miss Joan’s question surprised me.  I didn’t think I had a choice.

In my single-minded pursuit of  dancing, I quit high school at seventeen, got a GED, and joined a company. At that time, I didn’t give much thought to going to college. Now, at 39, I have what amounts to roughly three years of college credits that I acquired from three different universities in a higgliddy-piggliddy sort of fashion, going to school here and there during lay-offs or periods of injury when I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I always managed to learn something that brought me to greater self-understanding, although it was an expensive way to learn about oneself. This year, I finally paid off my student loans, bringing my credit score back up to positive numbers. Thank god for the two universities that actually employ me!  I will probably finish my degree at some point because I hate to leave loose ends. It messes with my need for simplicity.

But I don’t want to get into the positives and negatives of today’s colleges. That’s a worthy topic for another blog. What I do want to talk about is what to do if you’re a dancer who has to choose between college and joining a company.

First of all, let me say that it doesn’t have to be either/or. There are many programs now that will allow you to work gradually towards a degree at night, on-line, or whatever. But ballet, more than modern or other dance forms, emphasizes youth. Especially important is the time between ages seventeen to about twenty one when you are expected to join a company.

Many parents of prospective freshman approach me to ask what I think is the best route. They are torn between the seeming security of a college diploma and the uncertainty of dancing for one’s dinner. They want to lay out a clearly cut path for their children that leads to a safe and beautiful place. They are afraid that their child will fail.

But failure, I mean the crying-on-the-bathroom-floor kind, is an inevitable part of any life. So is risk. What terrifies me more than failure is that someone will not fulfill their talent, their blueprint. That someone will have to face death not having delivered their light into the world. We will all die, but will we dance our dance? On some days, it’s because I have a garbage can full of failures that I dance.

My advice to the parent is that they allow their child to follow their own heart, at which point  the parent usually says, yes, but shouldn’t they get their degree first? Now, I am a sort of put-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket-kamikaze-kind-of-girl, so I say, well, that might make you feel better (to the parent) but, in ballet, as I’ve said, time is of the essence. The having-something-to-fall-back-on approach won’t necessarily help your child in this situation. I emphasize that  it’s important for the young artist to spend several years focusing on their art and to realize that each person’s path is unique. Just because it is not well trod doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it yours and yours alone.

For some, college after high school is best. For others, it is not, and if you or your child falls into the latter group, know that you are not alone. Believe me, Harvard will be there, and if it isn’t, then the world will probably have changed drastically to one in which Harvard and the like will have been rendered unnecessary.

I like college. I just don’t think it’s the promised land. I don’t believe in a promised land at all, which is just another way of saying that nothing is guaranteed. I do believe that there is a wisdom inside each heart that is far superior to any external authority, and that we should spend more time teaching our children to put faith in that.


4 responses to “Harvard vs. the Unknown

  • Ally

    It is the “crying on the bathroom floor” type of failure that has made me grow soooo much in such a short period of time in my life–particularly dance. It was failures in life and those unanswered questions that drove me to crave the expression that only dance could fulfill within me as I started seriously training a few years ago… and the failures along the way with dance– auditioning, having teachers who had no desire to teach older learners, and the handful of people who did not believe in my dreams and told me I was silly for pursuing this– that have helped me to keep going . Contrary to most, the my failure is what has kept me pursuing dance. All of the failed auditions, really hard classes, the combinations that were filled with challenging steps have sent me back to the studio with new perspectives and I am thankful for them all because now I see that failure is a way of helping you keep on the path to where you are supposed to be. No placement before its time… but right on time the success will come as long as you are not too judgemental of yourself and the process.
    The cool thing about failing is that when you are at the bottom you have nowhere to go but up, and that idea is what is keeping me in the game.

    Thanks for your post Tai.

  • Elena Dominguez-Bartley

    Hi Tai….as always your work as your hart and thoughts are great and often deep…….let me rephrase it, too deep…and that makes you ..you!!!!
    I have a 15 year old daughter Cristi , she loves to dance….loves it…as a dancer myself some times I do question her love for it…or maybe she loves our stories and our past!!

    How ever you can not say do or don’t…even tough she lacks of the very thing that she will be judge by the first audition, the first class or the first casting….Gifted Physical Talent….but after seeing her for a moment in her modern class last night (she want to go modern…ballet without turn out is toooooo painful!) I will have nothing to say…I know exactly how she felt and enjoyed those very few moments of the combination…poor thing she is being touch by the same monster we know….and I love it then and I always will…..I have no regrets in choosing what I did and still do!!!!
    I hope she is a lucky as we are in knowing what we love so early in life.
    Love ya!


    • taijimenez

      Elena, that is so beautiful. I always found that passion compensated for physical challenges. I wish her the best. She will find her way. So good to hear from you. Love, Tai

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