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Parents Not in Favor of Your Dance Degree? Here's What To Do

Most dancers are over the moon when they get accepted into their dream dance program. But what happens when your parents don't share the same excitement? For some students, receiving an acceptance letter is the start of an even bigger battle: convincing their family of the validity of a dance degree.


Talk It Out

Know that parental doubt typically stems from a place of concern—and a lack of understanding about where a dance degree can take you. Here are five things you can do to get skeptics on board.

1. Find your voice. Share with your parents why pursuing dance is so important to you, says Brooke Ewert, a sports counselor at Rocky Mountain Sports Counseling Center in Colorado. Take care to present every side of your argument with kindness.

2. Learn their fears. Ask why they're apprehensive about a dance degree. You can't address their concerns if you don't know what they are.

3. Be willing to compromise. If they're afraid about your future financial security, offer to have a backup plan. Consider pursuing a minor or a double major in a field outside of dance to meet them in the middle, Ewert says.

4. Don't get defensive. Avoid playing the blame game. Keep the conversation focused on your goals and how they can help you achieve them.

5. Visit the school together. It can be helpful for parents to see firsthand what a college dance education looks like, says Julia Mayo, co-chair of the dance department at DeSales University. Tour the school's dance facilities together and sit down with a faculty member who can answer your parents' questions.

"Parents are going to ask very different questions than the prospective dance major, and I think it helps put their mind at ease about this career path when they can ask questions from the beginning," Mayo says.

Julia Mayo, wearing a gray tank top and brown bob swept back by a black headband, uses her hands to demonstrate a combination to a roomful of ballet students.

DeSales University dance department co-chair Julia Mayo suggests building a community of support.

Philip Stein, Courtesy DeSales

What If They Never Come Around?

Unfortunately, some students may never find the ongoing support they need from their parents, but that doesn't mean a dance degree is out of the question.

Find a mentor. Confide in a trusted dance professor or advisor about your situation. They can be a source of reassurance and guidance if you aren't getting that from your family.

Apply for scholarships. If your parents aren't willing to finance your degree, browse websites like scholarships.com and Dance Magazine's scholarship guide, and check with your school to see what financial assistance might be available.

Build a community. Mayo urges her students at DeSales University to be open with their peers. "This is their community. If they feel like they're not getting the support at home, they can look to their instructors and friends." You might be surprised to find that you're not alone.

Tap into your university's counseling resources. Pursuing a dance degree is physically and mentally exhausting, and it can be especially stressful when you don't have a robust support network. Don't wait until you're at your breaking point to seek help.

Remember why you dance. At the end of the day, you are your biggest advocate. "I encourage dancers to hold firm with what they've chosen to do," says Mayo, "and to continue to acknowledge that they have a love and a passion for dance."

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After years spent training in their childhood studio, it can be hard for dancers to realize exactly how many pathways there are toward career success. The School of Dance at CalArts aims to show its students all of them.

Built with the intention to break barriers and bend the rules, CalArts' interdisciplinary curriculum ensures that students take classes that cover an entire spectrum of artistic approaches. The result? A dance program that gives you much more than just dance.

Last week, Dance Magazine caught up with Kevin Whitmire, assistant director of admission for CalArts School of Dance, and recent alum Kevin Zambrano for the inside scoop on how an interdisciplinary curriculum can make you a stronger artist. Watch the full event below, and read on for the highlights.

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July 2021