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This is a yellow tang, I think.I had a great conversation with my daughter tonight. She’s now well into her fourth week at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, and by all measures, is thriving. Straight As in all her academic classes, getting lots of support and praise from some of the world’s best ballet instructors, making friends from around the world.

One of those friends is a boy her age from Russia who sits next to her in math class.

“I think he likes me, Dad,” she reports.

I stifle my first impulse which, as every father of every daughter knows, is to drive directly to D.C., seek the boy out, and have a little chat with him.

“How do you know that?” I ask, innocently enough.

“He told me today that I was pretty, but his English isn’t so good, so he told me I was pretty like a fish.”

How nice it is to laugh with her, my only girl, now growing in ways beyond measure and beyond my reach.

The costs of sending her away are high: the sharp pang of sadness when I pass her empty room in the morning; the absence that fills our house, nearly as tangible as her presence; the difficulty in trying to make our phone calls and texts pass for real face-to-face interaction; the financial burden her education has placed on us all. And yet …

It’s hard not to see how much the world is opening up before her. She’s on the path to becoming the dancer she has long dreamed of becoming. She has classmates and friends from Russia, Japan, China, and other far-flung spots around the world. Such opportunities are rare, and she has worked — and continues to work — hard to take full advantage of hers.

And in the end, isn’t that what we are supposed to do as parents — prepare our children for a world of possibilities and then turn them loose in it? We certainly never planned that we would be doing so with our youngest so soon, but there it is. She’s there. The world is opening up before her. I can only wonder at her promise and potential, catch her when she falls, and pray that she will forever be safe, smart, and pretty like a fish.

(As always, if you’d like to write Claire a note of encouragement or contribute to her scholarship fund, you can do so at One Dancer’s Dream, P. O. Box 11141, Blacksburg, VA 24062)

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The tears have begun, as I knew they would sooner or later.

Sunday afternoon, at the close of a big open house we hosted. Scores of folks — teens and adults in nearly equal measure — have dropped by to welcome the new year, and wish my daughter Claire well as she heads off to the Kirov Academy of Ballet to pursue her dream. The party is winding down, with only a few of Claire’s dearest friends remaining. She’s saying goodbye to one such friend while the parents watch, one set already in heavy coats hovering by the door, and my wife and I at the top of the stairs by the landing. I’ve been streaming cello music the entire afternoon — thank goodness for Pandora — and at what is possibly the worst (or best?) time, a mournful air from a string quartet swells from the speakers. It’s as though scene has suddenly been scored, and for a few moments we are all frozen there — our emotions amplified by the music in a way that it sometimes seems only music can do. The girls are holding one another and crying. It is nearly unbearably sad.

It’s not so much about loss, I don’t think. After all, they are standing here together, and as most hyper-connected teens do, they are sure to be in touch — perhaps even more than they are now.

But yet it is about loss in some way, for surely they understand that they will lose their relationship as they know it. From this moment forward, things will begin to change, and their lives — while still no doubt connected — will be on decidedly different paths.

Later, as I’m running through all the things I still need to do with Claire, I imagine that I can maybe get to some of them next week, and then a moment later I am struck dumb by the sudden notion that next week she will not be here. She will be living hundreds and hundreds of miles away from my outstretched arms, from my face-to-face counsel. She will be taking the first steps on her own path, a path that her mother and I can guide or alter perhaps, but a path that will also be decidedly different.

Thank goodness there was no cello music at that moment. I don’t think I could have managed it.

As always, I am grateful to all of you who have asked after her and wished her well. And, as always, if you’d like to send Claire a note of encouragement or make a gift to her scholarship fund, you can do so at One Dancer’s Dream, P.O. Box 11141, Blacksburg, VA 24062

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Claire dreaming.

My daughter, dreaming.

UPDATE: If you didn’t get a chance to hear Claire interviewed on Studio Virginia, you can find it here. Just look for the show that was broadcast on 11/01/09. Click on that link, skip to right around the halfway point of the show.

We keep a photo of our daughter on our fridge. I can’t recall how old she was exactly, but I know she had just begun walking. In it, she’s just pulled herself up with a wooden barre and is studying her reflection in the mirror. She’s wearing a practical flowered dress with tights, and her tousled hair is curly — as it still is — and red — as it was then. It’s hard to imagine what she might be examining so intently, though I like to think that she’s gazing at her future — more mirrors, more wooden barres.

If that’s the case, then it might explain another picture that accompanied a story in our local paper just last weekend. She’s in front of another mirror, studying her reflection just as intently as before. Her hair is still curly, though it’s pulled up off of her neck, and her practical flowered dress has been replaced by a simple black leotard and pink tights. All in all, it’s a style that’s for more suited for what she has become — a dancer.

If you have been reading this blog or if you know my family at all, this will not be surprising to you. I’ve written about it here before, most recently when she was invited to take part in a three-week intensive session this summer with the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. That experience did more than open my daughter’s eyes to her potential. It opened a door to her dreams.

My daughter dreaming ... still

My daughter dreaming ... still

You see, not long after she returned home — still humming from the vibe of being around so many who shared those dreams — Claire received an invitation to join the academy’s selective year-round training program. It’s an opportunity that only a handful of dancers get each year, and one that has brought our entire family a constantly shifting stream of pride, fear, joy, anxiety, and more.

The pride part is easy. How could a parent not be proud of a daughter such as this? One that has such an innate grace? One that lights up a stage, whether she’s singing or acting or dancing? Or, especially, one that– even at such a young age — has such a clear-eyed focus and drive to live her dream, to become what she has always imagined becoming? It’s an amazing thing to behold, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Yet we are also faced with the hard fact that our young daughter, so much a part of our lives every day, will no longer be living here, that part of the cost of this opportunity for her is, in no small way, a loss for us. To be honest, there are times when I find myself surprised by the notion that our house will be without her, and it brings me up short — like the shock of cold water — and I find myself wondering what on earth we could be thinking. She, too, I think, has this same reaction from time to time, as she imagines how much she will miss her friends, her dog, her mom and dad, and her best friend — her brother. This parting — coming in January — unsettles us all.

There’s another cost to this opportunity, one that can be more readily quantified and measured. As it is a full-time residential academic and ballet academy — replete with not just some of the world’s best ballet instructors, but also accompanists, staff counselors, a nutritionist, a registered nurse, a physical therapist, teachers, classrooms, and more — the annual tuition exceeds what we might have expected to spend to send her to any number of private colleges. Such costs are not easily managed, at least not by a family like ours.

Yet dreams lead us where they will, and sometimes, if we choose to follow them, they lead us where we might not otherwise choose to go, and require us to make choices we otherwise would not make. This is what it is like for our family now. And while we are committed to this path and overjoyed at the opportunity our daughter has been given, we are also more than a little anxious about where it will lead us.

We have been blessed by many who have wished us well, and who have been moved by Claire’s drive, by one dancer’s dream. If you are so moved, we would greatly appreciate knowing that. And if you know someone else who you think might appreciate this story — someone who loves dance, or who believes in the power and potential of young girls, or who simply loves the idea of dreams coming true, please take a moment to share this post with them.

We’ve set up a scholarship fund for those who may be inclined to help Claire reach her dreams, or just would like to send her a note of encouragement.

One Dancer’s Dream

P.O. Box 11141

Blacksburg, VA 24062

Thanks again, and stay tuned. There will be much, much more to this story.

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ballerinaIt’s a purpose-built room — ceilings nearly twenty feet high, mirrors covering practically every vertical surface, barres lining each wall and a few freestanding ones in the center of the smooth floor. Twenty-eight young dancers are here, being carefully watched by a matronly Russian woman and an accompanist on a grand piano in the corner.

Madame Lobanova, a former dancer with the Lvov Ballet Theatre, paces the room, her voice barely rising above the piano. She’s watching the girls closely, offering instruction both firm and fair. Sometimes she pokes a stomach or grabs a shoulder, pushing and pulling the girls into the proper position, chiding and smiling and offering encouragement in her broken English.

It’s a scene unlike any I’ve ever witnessed, and a valuable insight into both my daughter’s last three weeks and into the things that make her tick. Her gaze is fixed alternately in the mirror, watching her form, and on the teacher, watching for guidance. Not once in the three and a half hours that we watch does she look our way. She knows we are here, and that we are here for her, but she is driven to do more than please us. She is driven to perform at a higher level, to focus tightly on the curve of her arm, the shape of her feet, the purity of her form.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been learning the hard way that teenagers are curious creatures. At times, they can be maddeningly fickle about serious things. At other times, they can deadly serious about inconsequential things. Sometimes they can fluctuate wildly between those two extremes.

But this is something different. The girl I am watching is my daughter, yes — and I know from having had dinner with her last night that she is, in many ways, the same young girl that we dropped off at a Russian ballet academy in D.C. three weeks ago. But what I am watching now is another version of that girl. What I am watching now is a young person intensely engaged in something she loves, a young person who senses that she has barely begun to tap into her ability, her skill, her art, and her potential.

And she knows that if she wants to go further, she can, but that she must work. She must listen closely to Madame Lobanova and others like her. She must learn to accommodate the tired muscles, the strained joints, the endless repetition of moves and sequences in search of something as near to perfect as she can find. She must be prepared for the long, long hours in rooms like this, rooms built on a grand enough scale to encompass dreams.

In the end, I’m left feeling that my job as her parent is to give her these chances, to clear the path to whatever dreams she holds this tightly, and then get out of the way.

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