Through My Young Eyes

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Through My Young Eyes
through-my-young-eyes

We were about to embark on a family adventure of sorts – part vacation, part work. I had been invited to teach a professional company of dancers for one week in Germany; my husband was premiering in the most important lead role of his 35-year opera career – also in Germany. We were excited about going from a small community ballet school to the professional change of pace and cultural stimulation.

I wanted to make this a special trip for my 14-year-old daughter as well, so we invited her best friend to go along on the three-week journey. My daughter, Lida, and her friend, Gretchen, 13, are both accomplished dancers for their age, and I set about to give them ample opportunity to train, observe and practice with the older dancers I was scheduled to teach. I was determined, since this was an educational trip for them, that I would incorporate learning opportunities whenever possible.

I had some other objectives in mind as well. Now that Lida was getting older and starting to talk about her career aspirations, I wanted her to see how professional dance careers played out in Europe as well as in America. I have spent the majority of my dance and choreography career in Europe, and even though we are all getting older, I still have many professional colleagues in that world who continue to direct, choreograph and teach.

I also wanted the girls to see that being part of a professional company brings you an important sense of belonging – you and your fellow dancers are a special kind of family that work together to bring performances to an audience. Bonds made in this creative environment last a lifetime!

How could I explain to Lida and Gretchen that many dance students in other countries attend boarding schools to become totally immersed in dance and academics? What could I say that would help them understand that pursuing a professional ballet career is all-consuming if you want to make it to the top tier in your field? And…how important were these things to them at this point in their lives?

By showing Lida and Gretchen a small piece of a professional dancer’s world, I was reliving an important part of my own life. For a few weeks, touring the countryside, teaching mature, disciplined dancers and applauding my husband’s exceptional performance, I was once again a part of the creative professional world. I was no longer dance teacher persona, “Miss Ilka,” but Ilka Doubek, professional artist.

Upon our return, I asked Lida and Gretchen what they enjoyed most during our trip abroad – was it meeting legendary choreographer John Neumeier, practicing with the Wiesbaden State Ballet or sightseeing in Tuscany?

“We enjoyed the Pumpkin Festival in the Fairy Tale Garden on the castle grounds in Ludwigsburg,” they exclaimed. “And we really enjoyed the Cinderella Story danced by the Hamburg Ballet.”

Not exactly the answers I expected, but why would I think they’d look at our travels from a perspective like mine? Upon reflection, perhaps the girls were a bit young to understand all that I had planned to unfold before them…and what I might have expected them to experience. As I look back on how it was for me to embark on the world of dance, they can still look forward to the many choices that might be presented to them – very different perspectives indeed.

Although I’m sure Lida and Gretchen learned a lot during our trip and appreciated the opportunity to travel far and wide, this time, the real education might have been for me. No matter what your age, never stop learning about who you are and what life has to offer.

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  • through-my-young-eyes

    We were about to embark on a family adventure of sorts – part vacation, part work. I had been invited to teach a professional company of dancers for one week in Germany; my husband was premiering in the most important lead role of his 35-year opera career – also in Germany. We were excited about going from a small community ballet school to the professional change of pace and cultural stimulation.

    I wanted to make this a special trip for my 14-year-old daughter as well, so we invited her best friend to go along on the three-week journey. My daughter, Lida, and her friend, Gretchen, 13, are both accomplished dancers for their age, and I set about to give them ample opportunity to train, observe and practice with the older dancers I was scheduled to teach. I was determined, since this was an educational trip for them, that I would incorporate learning opportunities whenever possible.

    I had some other objectives in mind as well. Now that Lida was getting older and starting to talk about her career aspirations, I wanted her to see how professional dance careers played out in Europe as well as in America. I have spent the majority of my dance and choreography career in Europe, and even though we are all getting older, I still have many professional colleagues in that world who continue to direct, choreograph and teach.

    I also wanted the girls to see that being part of a professional company brings you an important sense of belonging – you and your fellow dancers are a special kind of family that work together to bring performances to an audience. Bonds made in this creative environment last a lifetime!

    How could I explain to Lida and Gretchen that many dance students in other countries attend boarding schools to become totally immersed in dance and academics? What could I say that would help them understand that pursuing a professional ballet career is all-consuming if you want to make it to the top tier in your field? And…how important were these things to them at this point in their lives?

    By showing Lida and Gretchen a small piece of a professional dancer’s world, I was reliving an important part of my own life. For a few weeks, touring the countryside, teaching mature, disciplined dancers and applauding my husband’s exceptional performance, I was once again a part of the creative professional world. I was no longer dance teacher persona, “Miss Ilka,” but Ilka Doubek, professional artist.

    Upon our return, I asked Lida and Gretchen what they enjoyed most during our trip abroad – was it meeting legendary choreographer John Neumeier, practicing with the Wiesbaden State Ballet or sightseeing in Tuscany?

    “We enjoyed the Pumpkin Festival in the Fairy Tale Garden on the castle grounds in Ludwigsburg,” they exclaimed. “And we really enjoyed the Cinderella Story danced by the Hamburg Ballet.”

    Not exactly the answers I expected, but why would I think they’d look at our travels from a perspective like mine? Upon reflection, perhaps the girls were a bit young to understand all that I had planned to unfold before them…and what I might have expected them to experience. As I look back on how it was for me to embark on the world of dance, they can still look forward to the many choices that might be presented to them – very different perspectives indeed.

    Although I’m sure Lida and Gretchen learned a lot during our trip and appreciated the opportunity to travel far and wide, this time, the real education might have been for me. No matter what your age, never stop learning about who you are and what life has to offer.

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