What to Do When Your Parents Aren't On Board with Your Dance Career

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Spike Lee has been quoted saying, "It has been my observation that parents kill more dreams than anybody." That's a pretty heavy statement to make, but it is very true for many people.  It may even be the case for you...if you let it. When I announced to my parents that I would be moving to Los Angeles to pursue a dance career, it wasn't received well at all.  While my mother is extremely supportive of my career now, she made it very clear in that moment that she did NOT agree with my decision.  I forget a lot of the details, but I remember my tears and disappointment very clearly.

My mother felt like the BA in psychology that I earned from the quite prestigious and expensive Spelman College was a waste of money.  She said I could have gone to a local school if I wanted to become a professional dancer.  I think she felt a little helpless because she mentioned not knowing how to help me achieve a goal like pursuing a career in the arts.  She was also concerned about me moving to a city where she couldn't just hop in a car and reach me quickly.

In my defense, I've been dancing my entire life.  Seriously.  I was born, I started dancing only three short years later, and I've been dancing ever since.  And when I got to college, my mother told me not to major in dance, which I didn't do.  Instead I majored in psychology and managed to maintain my performance life by joining cheer and step teams.

In my mother's defense, she had already suggested that I pursue dance seriously before college.  She suggested that I audition to attend Houston's High School for Visual and Performing Arts, but I wanted a traditional high school experience.  She also asked if I'd like to attend any intensives or training with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre's outreach programs, but I knew early on that wasn't for me.

So there I was....emotions running high, tears streaming down my face,  fighting to be heard and for the chance to follow my heart. 

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Looking back on that moment, I can understand why my mother responded the way that she did.  She worked very hard to help protect and provide for me and my brother, and I'm sure she had dreams of her own for us, like most parents do.  Not to mention, my parents both came from very humble beginnings, and they found their success the traditional way...by going to school and getting good jobs.  And even though most of the women in my family have been dancers at some point in their lives (including my mother), no one had ever decided to pursue it as a profession.

It's always been important to me to honor and respect my parents, and up until that point, I had always done what was expected of me, which was not necessarily always what I wanted for myself.

I have no idea where the strength came from, but I am so grateful that I mustered up enough of it take that leap of faith anyways.  And by the time I actually moved to LA, my mother was right along side me packing bags, hitching my car to a trailer, and driving through the night across the country towards my dreams.

Here's what I think helped her jump on board.  I made a plan.  I respectfully stood my ground and set a plan in motion to achieve my goal.  I started saving for moving expenses, found and secured an apartment, and put some money away to hold me until I found work in LA.

Not only did I make a plan, but I shared it with her right away.  I really think this helped her to see how serious I was about the choice I'd made.

So if you're on opposing sides of an issue with your parents on what to do with your life, I offer the following advice.

  • Be respectful because chances are they're coming from a loving place.
  • Make the choice that's best for your own life. If you live your life as a people pleaser, you'll never find the fulfillment you could truly experience otherwise.
  • MAKE A PLAN. Do the research, seek the help, do whatever it takes to show exactly how serious you are about your dreams.
  • Move forward with your plan.  If your parents decide to cut the purse strings because you chose your own path, that's all the more reason to keep going.  It'll force you to stand on your own two feet, and it'll make the payoff for all your hard work even sweeter.
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With every fiber in my being, I encourage you to never give up on your dreams. The road towards creating a consistent and successful dance career is a tough one, but it is possible, and it is worth it.  Many people, maybe even your parents, won't understand, but they may not be meant to.  Just stand your ground, and carry on in the direction of your dreams.

What is your parents vs dream story?  How did you get through it?

Comment below, and share The Working Dancer with your dancer friends.  Encourage them to join the movement.