How safety, better quality of life, affordabilty and reduced racial & political tensions led us to move from the u.s. to the netherlands
My husband and I lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years. I have owned a dance academy there, Degas Dance Studio, since 2010. My husband is a Creative Director for an animation and production studio. So how did we end up selling nearly everything we owned, shipping a 4’x6’ crate with all of our belongings and moving our family (3 kids, 2 dogs and a bunny) to The Netherlands?!
It all began with a vacation in the netherlands
In 2018, our family took a vacation to Europe. Our journey started in London, then we traveled to Paris. Both cities were lovely. We had a wonderful time and each city had its own great qualities. Then we headed to The Netherlands. We arrived in the center of The Hague and I immediately felt an intense connection and fell in love! The first thing I said was, “I could live here forever.” It was as if my Pinterest had exploded right before my eyes! This place actually existed: its quaint charm, incredible architecture, arts and culture everywhere. A hugely diverse population of people from all different ethnic backgrounds were riding bikes, laughing in cafes, and EVERYONE just seemed genuinely happy. We visited the Escher and other museums and walked around the city and parks. We dined in cute cafes and took pictures by the NDT (Nederlands Dance Theater) building.
A feeling of safety
When in Los Angeles, I always felt I needed to pay close attention to my surroundings and watch out for anyone I considered “sketchy”. I was amazed that in the four days we were here, I only saw one person that I thought I should keep an eye on. I couldn’t believe how safe it felt. In my entire life I had never felt that level of calm and safety. It was by far my favorite part of our European vacation. Since our oldest daughter was in high school, we looked at a few college dance conservatories but they were closed, so we only saw them from the outside. We came back home and I never thought it would be a reality that we would actually ever live here.
Could our “Leap” begin with our daughter dancing in the netherlands?
In January 2020, my oldest daughter made it through the extensive video audition and was invited to the live audition for NDT2, their company for younger dancers, ages 18-22. She was on the youngest end. We decided to make the trip, just the two of us, as a last mother/daughter hurrah before college. There were also opportunities to audition for two other conservatory programs: The Royal Conservatoire (Koninklijk Conservatorium) and Codarts University in Rotterdam. In the U.S., she had auditioned for USC, Juilliard, Lines Training Program and a few other colleges. All of these were $65-75,000 per year (for a dance degree!). As a dancer, it would be extremely difficult to earn the money to pay off these student loans.
From the second my daughter entered Codarts, she felt like she was home. She was able to take class with current students and perform her solo. She loved the people, the atmosphere and the work they were doing. The program is highly internationally acclaimed and offers a lot of professional experience and personal attention. They work with incredible guest artists and choreographers from all over the world. During the third year, the students go on tour as a company performing repertoire and the fourth year is an internship with a professional company. She was accepted to a lot of prestigious programs, but Codarts was the one she connected with the most.
changes in the u.s. that made the move to the netherlands even more appealing
In March 2020, the world was turned upside down by COVID-19. My dance studio was one of the first things to close, along with gyms. Then prom was canceled, the schools were closing, grocery store shelves were empty and we were on a full stay-at-home order and lockdown. We all know how this went from here as we all lived it and have our own variations of this story.
Racial tensions mounting
In May 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer. Having two black children (they prefer “brown” because they rightfully argue that their skin is not black), this was another pivotal moment. Systemic racism is an ongoing problem in the US, and racism was a huge concerning factor for my family. Having to have conversations with our son from the time he was 8 years old on how to act around police officers is heartbreaking. He is extremely intelligent and a little outspoken, and this combination could prove to be fatal someday. George Floyd’s murder and the demonstrations and riots that followed brought up so many difficult conversations and sad truths that our children had to learn.
Political tensions also on the rise
On top of dealing with a pandemic, the US was also in a very contentious and divided election year between Trump and Biden. Things were reaching severe boiling points around the country. If the January 6th insurrection was a surprise to you, then you weren’t paying attention! Between the pandemic, trying to keep my business alive and election news, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack at all times, every day.
Lack of affordable housing
Los Angeles had been in an economic decline for 10 years, during which time I had been advocating for the homeless population and trying to create awareness. The last five years had spiraled out of control and the pandemic put even more people on the streets. Housing prices and rents were becoming beyond reach for so many. My husband and I made a very good living and could no longer afford a house we would be excited about living in. Million dollar homes were being torn down; these are fixer uppers?!
Personal safety is an issue
My dance studio, located on prestigious Ventura Blvd., was surrounded by homeless encampments. Twice, helicopters were flying above the studio due to a man with a machete or gun. At the time, my students were dancing outside on makeshift stages, as we were not permitted to hold classes inside due to Covid-19 restrictions. We would bring them inside, casually lock the doors and play a game with them as they maintained the required distance from each other.
There were several instances where my own kids were with me when a mentally ill, homeless person came into a business exhibiting erratic behavior: throwing chairs, yelling, and being very aggressive. My children regularly had panic attacks if we had to walk anywhere, even a short distance. Our rental home was located in a nice part of the San Fernando Valley. Yet in 2020, our local grocery shopping complex became surrounded by homeless encampments, hundreds of tents, furniture, and debris. As I was leaving the grocery store one night, I noticed a particularly sketchy-looking man who seemed agitated. When I got home there were police helicopters flying above. It turned out that this man had gone into the store with a gun just after I left.
I am an empath, and seeing this level of suffering every day had a great impact on me. There are lots of people with blinders on who can get in their fancy cars, go to their fancy offices and back to their million dollar homes and not notice what is going on around them. But I see and feel all of it.
looking for a better quality of life
The level of imbalance between rich and poor had become catastrophic. We were ready to move out of LA, but where else in the US would we want to go? With the country so divided politically, there just wasn’t anywhere else I had a desire to move to. We started toying with the idea of moving to The Netherlands. Was it really possible? We discovered the DAFT (Dutch American Friendship Treaty.) It was possible! I checked out the Facebook group ‘Americans in the Netherlands’ and asked questions. I spent my days dreaming about a better quality of life.
our daughter took the first leap
In the fall of 2020, the day after her 18th birthday, our daughter flew alone with 2 big suitcases to Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She moved into an apartment with two girls whom she had not previously met (one from Lithuania and one from Brazil). Restrictions for travel were very tight, so I couldn’t travel with her or help her set up her apartment. She was on her own, but we both felt good about her decision.
our family’s desire to move
Tensions continued to rise with the election and ultimately, Biden won. However, the political divide in the US continued to be massive. Given our negative feelings about Trump, but knowing that half of the voters in the U.S. voted to re-elect him felt like a true sign that we no longer belonged here.
By November of 2020, my husband had been working from home successfully for 8 months – something they never thought possible in their industry. The schools had still not reopened and wouldn’t for a full year. And even then, they would only be open for a half-day with half the class. The students would be in masks and not allowed to socialize. My students, faculty and I were dancing outside, in masks, in weather ranging from 42 degrees to 115 degrees F (5.5 – 46 degrees Celsius). We did daily temperature checks and carried barres, mats and sound systems in and out with rigorous cleaning. We were barely able to keep our doors open.
making the move to the netherlands happen
After doing the research and discovering that it was possible for us to move to The Netherlands, my husband finally talked to his company to see if they would consider letting him work from abroad. They said yes! What we had thought was a pipe dream of living in The Netherlands became a carefully planned exit strategy from Los Angeles.
We had monthly checklists for paperwork, schools, moving, selling furniture, and visiting doctors. We had Dutch lunches where we would eat together and watch Bart de Pau YouTube videos and try to learn the language. It was exciting to view our new fully furnished rental house online and have a Zoom call with the owners. Packing all of our artwork and possessions we were keeping into a 4’x6’ crate, it shipped out a month before we left and arrived 4 months later. In the final days before we left, we mostly gave away the remaining furniture to anyone who would come pick it up. Our last night, we slept on the empty floors in sleeping bags. Driving off in a rental SUV with our 2 dogs and a bunny in crates, our family left Los Angeles, each of us with a large duffel bag and carry-on suitcase.
Taking the leap!
Safety, better quality of life and affordability
We arrived in The Netherlands to our new home in late summer, 2021. Our kids ride their bikes to Dutch school where they are in newcomer (taalklass) classes with students from all over the world. They are speaking Dutch remarkably well and will transition to a regular class by next school year. For my husband and me, the language isn’t coming as quickly, but we are taking a class, studying, and we try to communicate in Dutch as much as possible.
Both of us work semi-US hours, but we enjoy having our mornings and early afternoons to go for bike rides and walks in the forest. We love the lush green landscape, canals, bike culture and access to public transportation and travel. Season tickets for three of us to see every show at NDT cost less than I would have paid to see one performance in Los Angeles! We regularly go to dance and music performances and visit museums. Our son is playing field hockey and our younger daughter is in a children’s choir as well as dancing at our new studio. They love the independence and freedom to hang out with friends and ride their bikes alone.
A new dance academy
Shortly after arriving, I opened Degas International Dance Academy in Delft. My students are a combination of Dutch and Internationals from all over the world. They have had unprecedented growth in technique and artistry in a very short time. We look forward to doing our very first full-length Nutcracker production in December 2022. We are currently renting space at TU Delft, and we hope to open our own space in Delft in spring/summer of 2023. I look forward to helping our students achieve their goals and teaching them the ART of Dance. I miss my students and families in LA and it’s a little difficult to run a business from another country, but in the end this was the right fit and choice for our family. We took a LEAP and have never been happier.