Earlier this month, my daughter, Isabella, graduated from high school.
(Did I really just type that sentence!?!?!)
As you might have heard me mention before, Isabella’s high school journey has been anything but traditional. Two years ago, at 16, she left home to live in Chicago (about four hours away) to study dance with her favorite choreographer and master teacher, Kate Jablonski. She also enrolled in a local high school there to complete her high school education.
With support from our family and the steady presence of my adventurous mother-in-law, Karen, Isabella thrived in her new environment. We missed her at home, of course, and we missed her at my studio.
At MDU’s recital last month, Isabella came home to dance with her senior class and perform her senior solo. It was SO meaningful to see her back on our stage one last time standing side by side with all 18 of our senior dancers.
Like Isabella, many of them had made changes to their dance studies during their high school years. Some pared their classes down to one or two in order to focus on school studies or dance team; others ramped up to the maximum amount we offered. Some went deep with our pre-professional program and some focused solely on our ballet company. Some went all recreational. We even had a couple who chose to attend other studios and programs over the years but found their way back to the studio for senior year. They all went in very different, very personal directions with dance, but there they were at recital: all together, hands clasped, hearts united.
When the music began for their dance, you could see that despite their different journeys, they were still friends … childhood friends who’ve maintained an impermeable bond, who developed and deepened their friendships alongside their shared love for dance.
It took my breath away. What an amazing thing it was to see that dance had created this “third place” for them.
The third place, a concept by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, explains how people seek community in a place that is different than home or work (or for our kids, home and school). Social science tells us that the importance of this third place is key to allowing children to grow into their best selves.
Third place are places where people can cultivate relationships and pursue their passions. They serve to level the playing field by acting as an open, objective place where you can be yourself, explore your interests, and share ideas with others who are like you.
At the studio, the third place means it is like a second home; the place where you can go and always be accepted. It’s the place where you can always expect encouragement, where you can fall safely when you fail, where you get to reach for the stars.
To be the leader of such a place is humbling. And to see its importance in our dancers is downright awe-inspiring.
Some years at MDU, we produce dancers who go on to professional careers—and that is wonderful—but EVERY year we produce great kids. They are great kids who will go on to do great things, in part because of their growth at home, at school, and yes, in their third place: the studio.
This year all 18 of our seniors graduated with plans to attend college. Although that’s not always the right path for every student, it is for these girls, and I believe they are going to accomplish whatever goals they set for themselves. They are quite an empowered group!
Isabella will set off for Chapman University this fall, where she will be a dance major. I am proud of her beyond measure; my heart is bursting that she is living her dreams—dreams that are hers and hers alone. And although she and her friends will likely be finding a new third place as they set off on their new adventures, they know they’ll always be able to come back to the studio.
I hope you’ll be able to give this same encouragement to YOUR dance families and their children. What a profound thing it is for us as studio owners to be at the helm of a child’s third place!