Readers often ask me about this area of a young dancer’s training. I am aiming this blog post at both students and their parents, and I hope to answer some of your queries.
When a young aspiring dancer is successful in an audition to a vocational [boarding] school it is unlikely that the first thought that springs to mind is the one of having to leave home. They are overwhelmed by excitement and simply can’t wait for the new school year to arrive. That’s how it was in my case anyway.
Whether to accept the place or not doesn’t seem an option to the student. At first, all they think is that their dream has come true. So it’s down to the parents to support the achievement, but also to make the right decision for their son or daughter – one that could potentially set them on the road to a career as a professional dancer.
Being doubtful and not knowing what to expect is entirely normal. Just remind yourself that the opportunity to train vocationally has been offered because someone has seen potential in you. With enthusiasm and determination you will manage to confront the many challenges ahead, of which homesickness is certainly one. If this life is not meant for you it will soon become evident. However, I am also a strong believer in second chances and it could just mean that this is not the right time for you.
Homesickness doesn’t take long to hit a ten-year old, I know from personal experience. It was probably harder moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language but what got me through the first few weeks of struggles was my ambition. I had worked hard to get there and I wasn’t going to let this feeling overtake me. I would remind myself constantly of the reasons why I had left home and how it was helping me to achieve my dream.
Just as students can miss their home, family and pets, parents can also strongly feel the loss of their child. I was lucky that my parents managed not to influence me – either to stay at school, or to return home. During that first year we spoke on the phone three times a day and I often had a list of things to ask and to tell them about.
What helps is frequent ‘positive’ telephone contact, writing and receiving letters, displaying pictures in rooms/dormitories and having someone to talk to. [This may be a house parent, a tutor, or an older student.] Visits are important too, but saying goodbye more often makes it tougher and may mean it will take you longer to get used to the distance. At weekends in particular, keeping busy and avoiding others who are homesick is important.
I can assure you that when a young student remains focused and optimistic, homesickness passes quickly. It is now six years that I’ve lived away from home to pursue my training and these days I probably don’t keep in touch with my family as much as I should. That proves that ‘being a teenager’ is normal amongst us dancers too!
Photo taken at my last summer show in Italy before starting my training in France [September 2007]