How Not To

I’ve been processing this post for weeks, and debated whether to write it or just let it lay in my head and on my heart. But the words keep fighting to get out, so here it goes. I’m going to preface this with a word to my Princess……Please know I am not judging or disagreeing with your decision to try new and different things. Now is the time to explore and experience. Just know these words come from my viewpoint, my experience as a mom, as your mom….

When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was fairly sure I was going to put her in dance and/or gymnastics at some point. Whether it ever stuck or not would be up to her, and I would never force the issue if she straight-up hated it. But I knew we would try it out.  Before she was even born, I imagined her vaulting, swinging on the bars, and in a pink tutu and tights. When she was three, she started a Saturday morning combo class which covered ballet, tap, and a little bit of tumbling. It was adorable. She was adorable. Seriously though, I needed something girlie going on in our lives, outnumbered by men in our house. She made it through one year, and had her first recital when she was four. It was precious, and everything I’d hoped for.

We took the summer away from the studio, and when fall rolled around, I asked her if she wanted to dance again. She gave me a firm yes, so back we went to that Saturday morning class. That year, we met and made friends with another family whose oldest daughter was in class with the Princess. They’re still dancing together. That year, they did a tap routine for recital. I got used to doing the recital hair and makeup, to dress rehearsals, and buying flowers for my budding dancer.

Year-after-year, I would ask the Princess if she wanted to keep dancing. The answer was always yes. Eventually, we added a jazz class. Now, she was also playing competitive soccer. By age ten, she reached a level of dance we were at the studio three or four times a week, and she also had at least two soccer practices a week, plus Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) games. She was a busy little girl. That fall, midway through soccer and Nutcracker season, she told me she was tired. We told her it was probably time to choose between dance and soccer. She couldn’t do both at a competitive level and NOT be exhausted. I fully expected her to choose soccer, as that had been our life for more than three years.  She sat on it for a couple of weeks, and then told me she’d made her choice – she wanted to dance. I made her evaluate that choice for a couple of weeks before we started making any announcements, and she had to finish the season with her soccer team of course. But in February that winter, she became a dancer full time.

I’ve spent twelve years watching her dance, watching her become such a beautifully talented young woman. Every time I see her perform, I’m touched by her strength, her grace, her courage, her ability. I cry more often than not. I can cry just watching her hands moving in class as she works at the barre. This has been our life. I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve spent at the studio, driving to and from the studio, sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes, altering costumes, watching competitions, dress rehearsals and shows. I’ve loved it all. When  your kid does something so intently for so long, it’s not just about her anymore. You develop your own friendships with the other parents at the studio. We definitely have a much-loved dance family. And don’t get me started on her teachers and directors. They’re so much more to my girl than *just* dance teachers.

This past February, the Princess told me she wanted to stop dancing – well, at least stop ballet. I had no words, couldn’t even begin to think when she told me. I told her we were in it until recital as we’d already committed, paid, signed on the dotted line for this year. She’s a sophomore now, almost sixteen years old. She wants to try new things, be more engaged with her school. I understand. But this is hard. She may not believe this, but she is such a beautiful, talented dancer. Her face lights up on that stage. I see her – what’s inside of her – when she dances. And I just can’t imagine not being able to see that ever again.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know how not to be a dance mom. I don’t know how to not be able to watch her do something she’s so good at. I don’t know how not to be part of this dance family.

I watched her dance recital this past weekend. I cried every time she stepped onto that stage, knowing it might be the last time. We’ve spent twelve years doing this. I spent twelve years watching her grow, watching her turn into a real ballerina, a real dancer. At the hour of dress rehearsal I sat through last week, every dance she’s ever performed rolled through my head, from when she was a tiny ballerina in a pink leo and tutu, through her Hairspray jazz number, to being a turtle and lion, and on through her turn as Clara in the Nutcracker, to her solos, duo, and other competition pieces, to her finale as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I could see them all in my mind. So  many hours, so many years.

Who knows what will happen in the next months and years. I know we have to let her choose, have to let her make these decisions. I will have to come to terms with change. She says she’s going to continue with some dance, but we won’t be here again, in this exact place. No more competitions, no more Nutcracker, definitely not nearly as much time at the studio. I will just have to learn how not to be the dance mom I’ve been for twelve years.

You don’t know her

I was downloading performance pictures from Nutcracker this week, and, like any good dance mom, posting them to my social media. It hit me that most of the Princess’ friends have never seen her dance. She lives in two separate worlds….her school world, and her dance world. They don’t overlap at all. There’s an entire side to her that her school peeps have never even glimpsed. I don’t hold it against them  at all. I just find it interesting.

I looked at those pictures of her dancing, knowing exactly what faults she would find and point out, which she would like, which she would tell me to not download. She sees herself critically in the photos. I just see her when I look at them, and I realized, you don’t really know her if you’ve never seen her dance. She bares herself when she’s dancing – her passion, her drive, her emotions, her intent,  her strength, her vulnerability. Every time she performs, I learn something about her, and I think that’s what makes me cry when I watch her. I see her, and I know all the work she’s put into it.

I hope someday her friends get to see her dance. They’ll see a side of her they’ve never known, they’ll maybe understand why she frequently has to say, “I can’t, I have dance”, and they’ll know her better, because you don’t really know her, all of her, unless you’ve seen her dance.

Sewing Ribbons

It’s Nutcracker week, or as it’s more affectionately known in our household, it’s Nutcracker He** week. The Princess has 3-hour dress rehearsals tonight and tomorrow night, a five-hour rehearsal Wednesday night, then two more hours of orchestra rehearsal Friday afternoon before a show Friday night, a show Saturday afternoon, and then closes the week out with two show on Sunday. I’m tired just writing that, and I’m not the one dancing.

This one snuck up on me. Usually, I’m totally prepared. But I found myself scrambling last week, making calls all over the county – and then the southern part of the state – in an attempt to track down her specific brand and size pointe shoe. We ended up having to go with a shoe with one tiny part of the sizing changed, and I had to drive to a store forty minutes away, but we picked up the new shoes this morning. Now I have the pleasure of sewing on ribbons and elastic. No – pointe shoes don’t come with the pretty ribbons attached. Every ballerina has her own particular crazy when it comes to where and how her ribbons are sewn onto her pointe shoes. No, the Princess doesn’t sew her own ribbons. I know she should, but she’s currently upstairs trying to get four hours of homework finished in two hours so she can get to rehearsal. And I’m faster at it anyways. And I’m kind of a control freak. Someday, she will sew her own ribbons, but not today.

I still have to go back out tomorrow to get tights, eyelashes, and toe pads. This is how unprepared I am for Nutcracker this year. I’m so completely off my game. The worst part is that I’m over here saying, “meh” about being completely unprepared. Here’s the deal – this is our sixth time in this rodeo. We know what we’re doing. We know there’s no need to panic. We know it will come together, even if I don’t buy her new tights until the day of the first show. So I’m unprepared and off my game, but I’m completely not stressed. Ask me again tomorrow when I’m sewing ribbons. You might hear a different answer.

Last year at this time, we were wrapped up in her playing Clara. The whole week revolved around her rehearsals and getting her ready for her rehearsals. This year, she in Corps, and it just seems easy. Don’t get me wrong – I’d do that Clara thing all over again in heartbeat. There is something about watching your daughter make the leap to dancing with the big girls, of which she is  now one. The big girls wear pointe shoes, and so I’m sewing ribbons, smiling proudly with the tears forming in my eyes as my baby girl lives her dreams so beautifully.

What she’s learned

I was talking with a friend last week about the Princess’ dancing. I also had a conversation with the Princess about how she’s different than I was at her age. She’s doing more than just dance….she’s learning valuable life lessons, things some of us don’t understand until we’re halfway through life. That alone is worth all the hours in the studio.

She’s learned when you fall, you get back up and keep going. She’s had falls and slips in performances. She’s forgotten steps. She’s gone onstage either missing part of her costume, or with it on not entirely right.  But she keeps going as if nothing is wrong. She gets back up and keeps going. She catches up and just dances, with a smile on her face.  How many of us still need to learn that lesson? Life is going to kick you in the butt every once in awhile. You can get mired down in the dirt where you’ve fallen, or you can pull yourself back up and keep going. You can get lost in what you’re doing, completely lose your way. Look around, find your anchor, and get back on track. Things may not be perfect, but take it for what it is and keep moving.

She’s in 8th grade, and in spite of being at the studio five days a week, she has all A+’s and one A. She hates that one solitary A.  She’s working to bring it up. I kid you not. She’s great at managing her time, and advocating for herself. She’s great at prioritizing. I think I was in college before I worked that all out.

She’s learned sometimes someone else gets what you want. Instead of being jealous or vindictive, use it to push yourself to work harder. She’s learned to set goals, and then ask for help if needed to reach them. She’s learned how to mentor and serve as an example for younger dancers, as is part of her responsibility when you are in a company, performance, or competition ensemble.  Even though dance is fairly individual, you all still have to work together as a team to present the best performances/shows.

On top of all that, she’s learned to dance. She has grace, strength, and incredible posture. She has gained a confidence she may not have developed until much later in life were it not for dance.

They just don’t seem to get it

Most of the Princess’ teachers know she’s a dancer. We discuss it with her team at the beginning of each year so we can shuffle homework as necessary on long-studio days, and so they’re aware of competition dates she may miss school.  So they know, and they’re fascinated. Then they found out she’s Clara in our studio’s production of the Nutcracker, and they’re asking her nearly every day about her dancing. Cue dorky teenage boys.

The boys…..once they got hold of this, they started giving her grief. They don’t get ballet. In their minds, nerd central. And it seems they’ve been letting P know their opinions. They  haven’t been mean about it.  She would be the first to let someone know if she’s been bullied. But they don’t get it. They just think tutus, tights, and classical music. They. Have. No. Clue.

I’d love for them to sit in on just one of her classes. Maybe then they would understand how hard she works,  how much it physically demands to be a ballerina. Maybe then they would commend her rather than tease her.

I guess in my pride over her dance, I forget how many people, particularly teenage boys, see ballet as nerdy or weird. Since dance has become so big with the help of shows like So You Think You Can Dance, I forget not everyone understands the beauty of it, nor the work dancers put into their craft. In my (apparently blind) mother’s eyes, everyone who knows she dances should just be thinking, “Wow, that’s really cool!”

Some of her teachers are coming to see her dance Clara. I think that’s completely awesome. I’m super excited they get to see that side of their student.  She, being a social-status conscious teenager, asks her teacher not to talk about it in front of her classmates. At the same time, she won’t stop dancing, never ever complains about going to class, and doesn’t mind – too much – missing dances and birthday parties when she has classes or competitions. She knows she’s chosen a different, difficult road, but she’s living her dream. She’s just going to do it quietly for now.

I don’t dance

When people find out the Princess is a dancer, they generally ask if I danced growing up. I didn’t dance. I did swimming, gymnastics, cheerleading, and music. I think I remember taking a tiny tots ballet class for a hot minute when I was about three. But I wasn’t a dancer.  I put the Princess in dance because I desperately needed to balance all the boy going on in the house. She started with that Saturday morning ballet/tap/tumbling class. She was three. I didn’t know how long it would last. But after every recital and subsequent summer break, she answered in the affirmative to going back to class.

In those early years, the parents sat outside, literally. We could see the kids, but we were on the other side of the door. It was better that way, easier for the teacher and TA to corral the little heathens ballerinas. And it was mostly for fun, so there wasn’t pressure to have pointed toes, straight legs, perfect hands/arms.

When she decided to quit soccer and focus on dance, we both got a bit more serious. She would look to me for correction sometimes, or to be sure I thought she was doing something right. But after about a year of that, I decided I needed to go back outside the glass again. I’m her mom, not her instructor or director.  And I didn’t dance, especially at the level she’s achieved. These days, even if I stay during class time, I don’t watch. I definitely don’t correct her at all. That’s not my job. That’s what I pay her teachers to do. They know what they’re doing. I’m just the mom, part of the audience. I am the enabler…I drive her to and from. I pay for her classes, private lessons, recitals, shows, and costumes. I bake for the bake sales. I make and sell dance grams at recitals. But for the rest, this is her gig. During class, she is theirs to correct, instruct, encourage, help develop.

Nowadays, if and when I watch, it is as a proud momma. I love to see her dance. But I try not to even look to see if her feet are pointed, her arms are right, her legs are straight, if she’s falling out of her turns, and I definitely don’t talk about any of those things with her, especially during class. That’s not my place. That’s not my job. My job is to love her, to encourage her, to support her, to help her achieve her goals and dreams. I can’t tell you how many times, when I do look up and watch, I am nearly moved to tears. I could only wish to be able to do what she does, and do it so beautifully. She doesn’t need me to pretend I know what I’m talking about, tell her how to fix things. She needs me to love her. And that’s totally easy.
Edited to add: Trust me when I say, I am not perfect with this. There are days I’m watching through the glass and find myself mouthing at her, “Point your feet!”  It’s a work in progress. But I just remind myself, she has teachers. I just need to be her mom.