When she was 10, my daughter told me she didn't want to go to college. Keya had just danced in the Joffrey
Ballet's Los Angeles production of "The Nutcracker." Tiring
rehearsals, poky wigs and stern ballet mistresses hadn't discouraged her.
Keya did a pirouette, stretching out a slender
arm. "I'll get a degree," she said reassuringly. "I just want to dance
first." She already understood that the physical peak for dancers is about
16 to 28 and didn't want to waste time.
I was silent. It's common knowledge that American
kids need higher education to get ahead today. Yet here was my daughter,
jeté-ing away from convention.
Ironically, in the late 19th century,
my great-great-grandfather also defied tradition. He fought for the right of
women in India to be educated, even opening one of the first girls' schools
there. My grandmothers were educated. My academic parents stressed the value of
education. Keya's father and I went to college. We assumed she would
Now she's 14, a high school freshman with 11 years of ballet training. She still wants to dance professionally.
PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kaumudi Marathé
Her father, Sanjiv, insists on college. But over time, I've begun to consider education differently.
We steer academically inclined children toward degrees and careers in engineering,
technology, medicine. Must young artists, dancers, musicians, follow the same
trajectory? What about other methods of learning, like apprenticeship?
Our family searched for balance together. Keya
eats healthy and keeps up her schoolwork. She's auditioned for and attended the
Joffrey, Boston Ballet, ABT and Princeton summer dance programs. We facilitate
this learning and give her opportunities to see professional dancers perform.
She's pleaded to study online or at home so
there's more time to dance, but we put our foot down, not wanting her to narrow
her focus too early or burn out. We also refused rigorous "competition" style
dance training that could injure her.
Wherever Keya travels, I'm certain she must do what she loves.
She's gone from saying, "I only want to dance at
New York City Ballet" to "There are a lot of great companies that suit my style
and will give me what I need." I've gone from listening lovingly to her
fantasies to acknowledging her reality.
For now, though Keya likes history, science and
English, she doesn't want to study them further. Ballet is what she loves. And she's really good at it. Her teachers—people who've made dance their life—tell me she
has the physique, the focus, the endurance and the "fire in
the belly," all reasons to finally consider full-time dance programs and internships.
Sanjiv frets about Keya's physical wellbeing,
financial prospects and the brevity of dancers' careers. Injuries are an
occupational hazard that she's willing to endure. The number of well-paid dance
opportunities is increasing. And her heroes, NYCB's Wendy Whelan and ABT's
Misty Copeland, have proven that careers can be long and fulfilling.
'Ballet school is my college,' she says.
Today, we understand that our daughter will find
work in dance: in ballet, on Broadway and the film industry. After that, she
can teach, choreograph, design costumes, write about dance.
"Ballet school is my college," she says.
"OK," we concede. "But you need to apply to regular
universities too, just like your classmates. Keep your options open." If she
hasn't been offered a dance apprenticeship by graduation, she can start
college. If she has, she can give dance a shot.