When Your Family Doesn't Support Your Dance Career

Noelani Pantastico in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

When she was 11, Noelani Pantastico's family moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, five minutes from the famed Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Although she had no prior training, the school offered her a scholarship based on her potential.

Yet Pantastico often had to fight her way to the studio: Her mother needed help at home, and felt it wasn't fair to the other five children to let Pantastico train six days a week. She was routinely late for class because she was waiting for other parents or a teacher to pick her up, or for her mother to give in and drive.

But the CPYB teachers saw her incredible promise and helped any way they could. “Darla Hoover was my mentor—she became the ballet mom I didn't have," recalls Pantastico, now a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet. “To this day, I don't have a close relationship to my family. My family are the people I work and dance with every day."

A lack of family support—whether financial, emotional or both—can be a major hurdle for young students and professional dancers alike. Dance is often viewed as a hobby, and well-meaning parents frequently encourage college while discouraging dance.

Parents may desire a more stable or lucrative profession. Or they simply fear the heartache of seeing their child struggle for a career they don't fully understand. But dancers who keep pushing for an artist's life, despite familial strains, find the payoff is worth the struggle.

Callie Manning in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, courtesy MCB

The problem often comes down to money, since dance training does not come cheap. Tuition, summer intensives, pointe/ballet/jazz/tap shoes, tights and leotards can add up to over $100,000 by the time a dancer becomes professional.

“I did feel a sense of guilt; the pointe shoe expense was much more than my family had," recalls Miami City Ballet principal soloist Callie Manning. “I made shoes last longer than I should have just so I wouldn't have to ask for another pair." Like Pantastico, Manning was on scholarship at CPYB, where scholarship students had weekly chores (such as cleaning floors or bathrooms).

Bernard Brown. Photo by Benjamin Brooks, courtesy Brown

Many students whose families can't finance their training learn to be self-sufficient, stretching their resources to cover what their scholarships don't. Lula Washington Dance Theatre dancer Bernard Brown was a scholarship student at Idyllwild Arts Academy and at Purchase College, where he worked in the campus mail room. His work allowed him to buy his own shoes and dance clothes. He unscrewed taps from tap shoes so he could take character class, and washed tights by hand every other day.

“I realize now that my work outside the studio set me up with real life skills," he says, “but at the time I just tried to blend in. I didn't want everyone to know I was a foster kid from South Central L.A."

Some dancers simply struggle to defend the viability of a professional dance career. It can be short-lived. It rarely pays well. It is insanely competitive for women. And many people don't respect men dancing professionally.

When Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Jeffery Duffy told his estranged father he was training seriously in dance, his father responded, “Ain't no money in that; it's just for girls."

Jeffry Duffy. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Hubbard Street

Instead of letting the discouragement stop him, Duffy says, “it enabled me to work hard, to say to him, 'No, I'm doing this and I'm going to be really great at it!' " (Fortunately, Duffy's mother and brother were willing to sacrifice whatever was needed to help him get there.)

Dancers can sometimes find the support they're missing at home by bonding with their teachers. For Angeli Mamon—the first female dancer offered a PNB contract after being discovered in the company's DanceChance outreach program—two of her teachers at the PNB School were willing to do what it took to help her succeed, like helping her audition for summer programs and offering career advice.

“It wasn't until I was hired into the PNB corps that my mom realized this could be a career," says Mamon. “But she still wants me to go to college."

Angeli Mamon in Le Corsaire. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB

All too often, parental doubts can be too strong for dancers to overcome. Lauren Cohen, a ballet professor at University of Houston, saw her family's support wane the closer she got to a professional ballet career. “My parents didn't understand what I was doing because they weren't there and didn't ask questions," says Cohen, who lived and trained at The Washington School of Ballet from ages 13 to 17. “They appreciated dance and loved to see me, but never viewed it as a career, just an extracurricular activity on steroids."

Hounded by injuries and teenage uncertainties, Cohen let her parents redirect her toward SATs and college applications. She has long since regretted not pursuing a full-time dance career. Five years after giving up dance, Cohen's husband encouraged her to re-embrace it, and she's since performed with modern dance companies.

“If you've invested a lot of time in dance and you love it, just try it!" says Cohen. “Don't worry about failing. That will never lead to growth."

The key is to focus on the ultimate goal, not financial uncertainties or parental deterrents. Now one of PNB's star dancers, Pantastico feels that her childhood hardships made her stronger and more in charge of her own life. “If you seek out the people willing to help you, are open and generous with your heart," she says, “the hardships will not get you down!"

Get more Dance Magazine.

Show Comments ()
Rant & Rave
Jessica Lang's Her Notes, one of ABT's few recent commissions from women. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.

"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.

Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Cloud in Beth Gill's Catacomb. Photo by Brian Rogers, Courtesy Gill

Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.

"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."

Keep reading... Show less
The inimitable Alicia Alonso, now 97, remains at the helm of Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Photo by Leysis Quesada, Courtesy BNC

On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.

Dance in Pop Culture
Participants show off their plié. Screenshot via YouTube

We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)

Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?

SELF decided to find out.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching
PC Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
92Y Harkness Dance Center is hosting the first festival dedicated to dance films captured on mobile devices. Photo by Adam Grannick, Courtesy 92Y

Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.

Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Lisset Santander is adding more contemporary works to her repertoire. Here with Jarrett Reimers in Christopher Wheeldon's Fools Paradise. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
James Samson in Three Dubious Memories. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company

For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.

But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.

Keep reading... Show less
via Instagram

The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
The power dynamics and working environments in dance can leave women vulnerable. Photo by Soragrit Wongsa/Unsplash

When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.

Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.

Keep reading... Show less


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox