The circle of life is a pirouette, it really is. While preparing for Matilda’s first ballet class this week I found this photo of me from 30-something years ago, about to head off for my own very first ballet class, way back in 1979, aged 5 years. (For a closer view of this stunning image, scroll to bottom of the post).
Ever since I knew I was having a girl, way back at 20 weeks gestation, I’ve been subconsiously preparing for this day – the day she heads off to ballet class. It’s one of those things that little girls just do. Not all little girls, but for those girly girls who love all things pink and pretty, as Matilda does, there’s an inexorable pull towards ballet class, or at least some kind of dance class. She jumps around mimicing dance moves from Hi-5 all the time, she points her toes and does spins and claims to be a “very good” ballerina. She even makes up her own dance routines. At three! Somehow, innately, the language of ballet has permeated her consciousness. One of life’s undeniable truths, it seems, is that little girls love to dance and they long to be ballerinas.
So, when a friend of mine mentioned her cousin teaches dance classes to her daughters in the living room at home I prised open the door of opportunity and shoved my daughter through.
Daughters and the dance
I would be lying if I denied being one of those parents who is re-living their own childhood through their children. I’m guilty as charged. I’m trying to make their lives perfect, using my own childhood as a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid. It’s lunacy, because nobody can predict how certain experiences will affect each different child. Some children rise to challenges, some are daunted; some thrive in the spotlight, others wilt. So while I spent most of my youth, up to about 15 years of age, fervently wishing I’d continued with my dance classes, I can recognise – on a rational level – that my daughter may not be similarly afflicted. She may not love the discipline and rigour of dance classes the way I remember loving it as a kid. She may not adore the applause the way I did, she may not love being the centre of attention the way I did. She may wish to be free of the discipline of the music, the stretches, the exercises, the commitment. I loved the glamour and magic of it all. But she may not.
And that’s okay.
Yellow polka dot bikini
When I was a kid I plied my way through dance class for a couple of years, before we moved interstate and money got tight. I recall vividly my first Christmas dance recital. We were little girls wearing yellow polka dot bikinis – remember the ditty from the ’60s, a hit by Connie Francis? “She wore an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini…” I remember rehearsals, I remember putting the bikini on, which Mum had sewn giant red sequins onto, I remember the first thrill of seeing the audience, the lights, the music and completely forgetting my moves, before shuffling off, stage left, behind the girl ahead of me who had clearly not forgotten her choreography. It was a heady time.
Spotlight not for some
My experiences are a guide only. I can use lessons learned in my past to help my kids, hopefully. For example, this week Fin was given his first assignment. He must prepare and deliver a speech for the class. The talk must be on a topic that fits the theme “All about me” and while I don’t think there’s a minimum length, I’m sure it should be at least one or two minutes. When I read the assignment sheet I was excited. THIS was something I could really help Fin excel at. As you can imagine, I’m reasonably confident making speeches or addressing groups of people. I did debate club for years in high school, coached by my mother who helped my team to many overwhelming victories (until the grand final in Year 10 where the adjudicator, appearing to all to be thoroughly intoxicated, awarded the win to the opposing and completely outclassed team, amid much controversy).
But my sensitive, shy and introverted six-year-old son failed to see the thrill of the challenge. When I mentioned he’d have to give a talk to the class his bottom lip quivered. “Why?” was his plaintive cry. He could see no redeeming features to standing in front of his peers and, with all eyes on him, addressing them on a topic of his choice. There was no instant image of success, of confident delivery, of meaningful points and well-timed hand gestures. He was intimidated.
Mum – dancer, debater
So it’s my job to prepare him. And I will. We’ll choose a topic together and pick some points out that have resonance for him. And we’ll draft up a speech and we’ll rehearse it, and we’ll rehearse it and we’ll rehearse it. Because I know that once he gets up there and feels all eyes boring into him, he’ll be grateful for the rehearsed lines that pop into his head. This is something I can help him with.
And likewise with Matilda and her desire for the dance. It may be fleeting, it may be brief. But for as long as she wants to do it, I’ll drive her to classes and sew sequins onto her bikini and help her pirouette across the stage without forgetting her moves. That’s what mums do.