Bollywood Dancer or Dentist?

Photo Credit: Naeeme Brahimjee

I was chatting the other day with one of my daughter’s dearest friends from school – I’ll call her Padma. She was telling me how much she wished she could be a Bollywood dancer when she grows up, but her parents don’t approve. They want her to be a dentist.

This is perhaps understandable. If breaking into the dance industry in Bollywood is anything like it is in the United States, she’ll have tremendous competition and very few career opportunities. Her parents also don’t approve of the skimpy outfits. Again, I can understand that.

But as I watched Padma at the table with her friends, she could  barely stop moving to the beat in her head. Her hands danced of their own accord. My daughter tells me that she goes home from school everyday, turns on her music and dances for hours before doing her homework. She has had Bollywood dance lessons for three years, and reportedly, she is very good. I couldn’t help thinking to myself that this girl would not be a happy dentist.

Of course, her parents know her better than anyone, and maybe they are aware of some underlying fascination she has with teeth, but I suspect the real reason is that dentistry is a respectable career with a decent chance for earning a good living. Padma’s brilliant older sister is already attending an elite university majoring in engineering. My understanding is that the main reason the parents live here in the United States is so that their children can have the best education. Eventually, they hope to return to India. Having a daughter set her sights on Bollywood probably wasn’t what they had envisioned.

This conundrum reminds me of the opening story in Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element. He describes the 1930s childhood of dancer Gillian Lynne, whose teachers despaired of her slow progress and inability to hold still in class. Her mother took her to a psychologist, dreading what the diagnosis might be. After spending some time with the child, the psychologist informed the mother: “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”  This was the beginning of a wonderful joyful career for Gillian. She became a prima ballerina with the Royal Ballet Company and later, started her own musical theatre company, working with Andrew Lloyd Webber to create shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

This is a great story, but I know that not every aspiring dancer finds success. Many never make it. Dreams crushed, they have to start over again with something else – perhaps dentistry. But does this mean they shouldn’t try?

When my kids were little, I didn’t stop them from climbing trees, but I had two rules. One was that they shouldn’t climb higher than they were willing to fall. The other was that I would not help them climb any tree, no matter how much they begged for a boost. I figured if they weren’t able to climb the tree by themselves, then they shouldn’t be climbing it. Of course, this meant that they kept trying until they figured it out or grew bigger (and therefore better at climbing).

If Padma really wants to become a dancer, it will be up to her to make it happen. She will have to work very hard, find mentors, do the research to find out what she needs to do, and take the fall if it doesn’t work out. If she isn’t willing to do those things, then chances are she wouldn’t have the determination to become a professional dancer anyway, no matter how much she loves it.

It would be great if her parents got behind her, but they only need to give her a chance. Dreams are always worth pursuing, no matter how crazy. Who knows what amazing things Padma might accomplish? Very often, following one passion can lead to something quite unexpected in another field. But if she lets the dream go, settling for something sensible, she may spend the rest of her life looking for the thing that was lost.  Even if Padma tries it, and later changes her mind, she still will have learned a lot about her self and had a chance to grow stronger – ready for the next passion to pursue.

What about your kids? Do they have any dreams that seem impractical? Do you have the courage to let them try?

 

Source: (page 1-3) Robinson, Ken, Ph.D. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Viking, 2009.
Photo credit: naeem.ebrahimjee via photopin cc

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