'If' turns to 'when'
Any parent who sends their child to ballet school accepts a strange peculiarity. This is something non-negotiable. Whereas kicking a child out of a more conventional school requires some effort involving countless meetings, reports and opportunities for redemption; the ballet parents accept that it could all come crashing down at any moment. Our children do not automatically qualify for entry into the next year of school. Never mind injury, weird growth spurts, or accidents involving stone staircases, our children might not be progressing satisfactorily in terms of the technique, strength and artistry of classical ballet. They might not be asked to enrol for the following year.
From the school's perspective, I understand. They are in the business of producing the next generation of ballet dancers. If a child is no longer able to fulfil the requirements of a demanding profession, then there is little point in continuing with a vocational training. It is probably in the child's interest to continue with a different form of dance; or even a different creative impulse altogether. Or they could leave, continue with ballet, and then have a celebrated career despite the upset and failure of their teenage years. Many stories are told of successful dancers who were kicked out of various schools. Exceptions and urban myth ripple.
From the child's perspective - and that of the family - it is devastating. The investment of many years appears to be squandered. A dream is quashed and a whole new value-system must evolve. I imagine that it can only lead to a crisis - for the child, and, I imagine,for the whole family. A difficult transition must be negotiated and a new identity considered. Where does a child go on to, once he or she has spent their lives devoted to the rigours and beauty of ballet? How can they feel anything but discarded, rejected, or abandoned? They leave with the feeling that life will never be the same.
The effect of this pressure is a strange superstition and linguistic policing. We correct ourselves whenever we hear ourselves begin a sentence with, "when you are in year ..." or "next year you will ..." Instead we have conditioned ourselves to say, "if you are still there in year ..." and "perhaps, next year ..." We fully except the capricious nature of his education, but in many ways, this is no way for a family to live their lives. Uncertainty is a lodger; she has taken up residence in the spare room.
Then, everything changes. The letter arrives. He has been awarded another place for another year. We catch ourselves beginning with "if" and hastily turn it to "when". We relax into a temporary secure future. In less than six months, uncertainty, superstition and future-tense fascism will again be in residence.
Next time is all about coming home.