Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Risk Worth Taking

Sasha at 12 - Photo by Deborah Downes
By Kim,

As my daughter Sasha left ballet class a couple of weeks ago, an older dancer told her she needed to check the “to learn” list. The Nutcracker casting list had been posted, but since it was tacked to the senior company board, lowly apprentices like Sasha assumed that no one at their level would be named there.

Confused, she glanced at the list and saw “Bullock” listed as an understudy for Snow, a major routine performed by girls two levels ahead of her. Further down her name appeared again as an understudy for Waltz of the Flowers. And AGAIN for Chinese Tea, only that entry stated she gets to audition for the actual part. All of this was in addition to the two roles she had already been cast to perform.

Sasha thought there must be some mistake, but the artistic staff congratulated her. They had decided she was ready to be pushed beyond her official level.

At that moment it became apparent to our entire family that Sasha is being groomed to move up the company ranks and that her teachers, many of whom were professional dancers, see real potential in her.

After one night of elation, a new reality set in. Nutcracker season does not usually start until mid-October for younger dancers. For Sasha it started immediately with a rehearsal lasting until almost 10 PM. On a Tuesday. Thursday’s schedule was the same. Her entire Saturday became a tangle of classes and rehearsals. Overnight her hours in the studio jumped from an already grueling 10.5 hours a week to 20, and we all knew this schedule would intensify as performance time neared.

We also knew the insanity wouldn't end with the Nutcracker. She will likely be asked to learn more challenging roles for the rest of the dance season. She will almost certainly move up a level at her next audition, maybe even two by the end of the summer.

A recent example of Sasha's art
I ache as I watch my child struggle to keep up with the dance schedule, all Pre-AP homework, and the time-consuming assignments for her gifted art class. She has no life outside of these things, and she’s worn too thin to reach her full potential in any of them. She’s exhausted. I’m exhausted. We are ALL exhausted.

I also ache when I see her watching last year’s Nutcracker video to block out choreography at home. The only time she fully comes to life anymore is when she wears her beloved pointe shoes. Ballet has become a part of her soul over the last five years. Without it, she would flounder to find her way in a world that suddenly stopped making sense.

Exactly how I would feel without writing.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've questioned the moms of higher company members about how their children survive. A surprising number of them had the same solution. Find a school situation that adapts to their schedule. Virtual schools, home-schools, condensed-day schools—there are more options out there than I had ever imagined.

I was resistant to the idea at first, but one astute mom said something that especially resonated with me: “Our children are not typical teenagers. They’re focused, disciplined, and have the training schedule of Olympic athletes.”

If you told me a year ago that I would pull my daughter from a fantastic school and an art program in which she has exponentially grown, I would have scoffed. My husband would have scoffed even louder. But today we had a meeting with the director of a virtual public school and have decided to enroll her there for the remainder of 8th grade. She can continue to develop her artistic skills with a private teacher. She can complete all her schoolwork before going to the studio. If she thrives under that system, and I suspect she will, we’ll let her continue. If not, we’ll reassess in the spring.

What does all this have to do with writing? Admittedly, not much on the surface. However, I recall thirteen years ago I took a big risk and left the corporate world to raise my children and write full time. If I hadn't done that I would have spent the rest of my life wondering if I could have made it as a writer. Not knowing would have been my greatest regret. If I can offer my child the same opportunity to follow her dreams without sacrificing the quality of her education I’ll consider it a risk worth taking.

What about you? Have you taken a great risk for your art? Have you been happy with that decision?


  1. Excellent point, Kim! So many would end up living with regrets. You're doing the right thing, just as you did with your own writing journey. What a talented family! Congrats to Sasha, and kudos to you, too. Hang in there!

    1. Thank you, Vaughn. It is definitely a tough choice, but if we are going to try an experiment, this is the year to do it because she would be switching schools next year anyway.

  2. She'll be absolutely fine with the school modifications. For health reasons, I attended formal school on a part-time basis for years. It used to take me less than an hour to perform the work which was taking my peers an entire afternoon, plus the commute time. My own mother--a teacher--was astonished to see how much of school learning is co-opted by busywork and the ongoing need for discipline.

    She's a fortunate young lady to have your support.

    And yes, I left medicine to give my kids a better life than they would have while I was working. It took a while to give myself permission to write, but without being at home, I'm not sure that day would have ever arisen.

    1. There definitely is a lot of busywork, especially because of all the state mandated tests. She will still have to do those, but at least we get rid of commute times and condense her days. She's a bright girl and has a lot of self discipline. Even tonight, knowing she is switching schools on Tuesday, she insisted on staying up after dance to study for two tests that aren't going to matter. It will matter to HER if she does poorly on them.

  3. Life's about relationships, and the process to realize our soul's desire. Good for you, Kim, to seize this opportunity for Sasha! Eighth grade can be an impressionable and formidable time. LOVE that visual you posted on FB of Sasha's smiling vertical split!!! In 7th grade, I kept my award winning artwork safely hidden in my closet... and the reason I didn't major in Art during college was that I didn't have an art portfolio. I'm still trying to figure out if my strength lies in graphology, poetry, writing or drawing...?!

    1. It had to be done, Betty. It was the only way to let her pursue her dream, keep art in her life, AND let her have a childhood.

  4. I am happy for Sasha that you have made this decision.


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