Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Perfect little cherub mine! What was important about this year? Ooh, too much to really go into detail about completely. A thinking year, rather than a writing one. What am I thankful for? Me. I am thankful for me. I am sitting at my desk, really a makeshift bingo table, surrounded by a mound of paperwork and receipts that I have to pile through, and too soon the holiday will be over and I will have to get down to business. But right this minute as I look at the reflection of the Christmas-treeless house in my toaster (which is on my desk), I am thankful for the people in my life. I am thankful to be able to accept celebrating Christmas without the fru-fru which is associated with it, and instead of looking at the meaning, finding the meaning. I have three pine cones and just two of them are on the tree currently, but the other has not fallen far away from it as it turns out. Pine cones are usually near the pine tree, but sometimes I have found one well away from any pine tree, but I always notice a pine cone-I know what it is. It stands out. I never really understood what other parents went through when a child left home, even to go to a boarding school-same thing really. In fact I have never approved of boarding schools. Once they are gone, there is always another program, another school, another reason, until they are truly gone. Don’t want to think about that! My daughter is finally home on her winter break.
I am trying to get as much out of her as I can and it is not enough information, not enough cuddling, not enough of all that is her-like a lemon that you just cannot keep squeezing because it only has so much juice. I am waited to see if she had it in her to go back, on her own. What she would do. So many questions-NO answers, only action to keep on track, keep moving forward. Sometimes sadly, one can never go back. Only in our minds. That process of looking back is a dangerous one in a way, signalling no new action ahead.
Sometimes it would be hard for a teenager to ever think that one day, they might want to go back to those days when they were with their siblings, their parents, grandparents, pets, their friends, their first loves, their naivete and innocence, but I see it very clearly (almost) now, and rushing over the rocks and coals at 15 becomes sitting on them and looking around at 100. You want to hold everyone, every moment, every nuance, look around, enjoy the tapestry that has been your real-life, cherish those memories. Right now you are busy making those memories. Maybe it is not too wise to look back too soon, for we might get into the habit of it, slowing down, thinking before we act. BAH!!!
She came home for only about 10 days and was fully encased in a stage of adolescence which I remember well-the one where you think the worst of yourself, the best of yourself, you complain, you cheer, you whine, you laugh, you are sick with a cold and things could not seem to be good at all, now or ever, and the next minute is the best time of your life-and she left not even four months ago as my baby girl. She still is though and she wants to say so, she instead says, “Mom, stop babying me.” I do not know what to say to her. I have changed, too. Sort of. But in this particular stage of adolescence you might feel miserable and you feel as if everyone sees the changes too, but they don’t. Your body is changing, you have matured suddenly, as if you just came out of a cocoon, and you are not sure the world is trustworthy or going to let you be what you want to be more than anything no matter how hard you try. Some of the things you have banked on carrying you through, fail the test of time, and you realize you are judged on more grown-up, serious merits, like whether you can deliver, and then, later, with aplomb. Other facets of yourself you have not even discovered yet, let alone polished, and it is often difficult to see those even as they appear day by day. Sometimes you feel you have wings to fly, other days you a a grounded bird.
I remember her speech when she was little, and Barney, the cat, little tiny toys and dolls, the dress-up and dancing-there was a song she sang all the time with a little lisp-“butterfee, butterfee, fee fee aweeee!!!!” and it literally brings tears to my eyes. I am a softy and ridiculous! And now right before my very eyes, as it probably should be, she has to become a young woman-there, while I am here. I do not want to miss any of it, for my own reasons. Entitlement-need I say more? While she has been gone I have let myself go-hair tousled and put hurriedly into a clip, the same shirt for sometimes two days before I notice anything, the same old clothes, food, dinners, shoes, and sights and sounds. Sometimes I do not even look at my nails. Depression, but I have been here before, and occasionally when I do think about it, I am surprised at myself, it not being worse than it is (pat pat pat), and just feeling sorry for myself and enjoying it-and that is okay-to a point. But my job isn’t really done yet, is it? I did say I was an artist, and crazy, for lack of funds does not make me an “eccentric.” It is though I am in mourning or just want to be-now if I could put that to good use. I want to be happy for her, want to encourage her, but a selfish little part of me just stands there stubbornly wanting her to melt down, admit she was wrong and needs me by her side. Quit. I am kidding myself. I find I don’t really want her to do that after all, so it becomes selfish again, and I realize that to be there for her, I have to be there for myself. Like myself, if I truly want her to succeed. The truth is she didn’t even notice. Maybe I was too officious, too smothering, too coddling, too close. Maybe she just knows I love her and feels basically secure !!!! I am sure that is it actually.
I think her mind was on more practical matters. She didn’t even admit to herself she missed us until well into the Fall semester, and then, she said, one day she just realized that she did. She missed her teachers, and me and her brothers, and her father and her cat. Even great-grandma, but she is stable and confident. So we all just miss her, really. She has moved on a little bit. But we are all part of her fabric, intrinsically. But right now, and that is the important point, is that moments should be treasured. All of them, good and bad. They all count for something later and they are all important, I think. Don’t be a would of/could of person. Do it all, if at all possible. Do everything you want to, can dream of. Don’t be shy. Open the door of opportunity.
She wanted to be here, but she didn’t want lectured or prodded or poked and she didn’t want to take ballet class! Her foot was swollen, hurt, she had calluses on the bottom of her feet which she would not let me treat, so I had to sneak lotion on them in the middle of the night (which worked wonders). Every muscle of her body hurt and she was waiting for her achilles and her knee to stop hurting (they did). Sometimes you HAVE to show them that the medicine WORKS. Proof, or they just will not cooperate….She did not last a cup of coffee in the mornings with me, to pump her for information=would not be pumped, and refused to chit-chat about what I wanted to. She was seemingly up before the crack of dawn and busy well into her day by the time the rest of us awoke. She wrote, she watched tv, she cuddled. She needed to do a million of things-nothing at all to my eyes, but little rituals to ground her, so she knew where she stood. She took what she needed from us. She brought up subjects to talk about on her own and finally I got the rhythm and the drift of her a little better. She is light years ahead of me as usual, planning, thinking, doing, busy all the time, growing. I took her to see a few friends and she was different, more mature, more confident-still sweet and nice as usual, but more ladylike. She had a far off look in her eyes sometimes. What was that???
Nothing I said to her was correct once we got past the niceties of missing one another and not having a chance to see each other for almost four months. I could say nothing right. She waved her arms and flew back onto her perch if I mentioned the wrong thing, led the conversation away from where she was willing to go, and cut me off if I persisted by flying off thusly to her sanctuary. So, I was forced to entice the little birdie with something to make her stay, keep her close as possible, and I simply gave in-my life to hers, as always, life is too short to argue. It does not have to always be my way, my answers, my questions. I just handed her the lead and said, “ok, you drive.” She is ready. At fifteen. Now I can just watch and put in a word here and there, but I do have to try to be careful what I say. It went much better after that.It was just a matter of who was to be boss, that’s all. I was content to be the neck that turns the head. But, she does have the lead and she knows it.
I told her it was all a phase, which it is, and I somehow think she already knew, but this is for her to know I knew she knew and what little advice I can give on certain subjects-to mothers/fathers or daughters.
She has decided on things, like her height is only going to be 5′ 4″, whether it gets to be taller or not, and her weight is going to be less than 115 pounds. She did really want two leotards and I got them for her. Very pretty ones on her. She bought two pairs of point shoes (not Repettoes!), and she refused everything else-choosing dental floss over the Bun Heads stock sewing kit, which she pronounced a “waste of money.” She said she didn’t think she would do the Winter Workshop at her school because she got back late, wouldn’t be cast in any good roles with those teachers, and because she needed time to work on her schoolwork, money, and she wanted to do auditions for Summer programs. Sometimes she just likes to be accepted, she doesn’t really want to go. She likes the experience, too. She prefers a one-on-one relationship with a good teacher over the three weeks of variety-it’s like a tease sometimes she thinks. Variety. She has certainly had that this year! Oh, and she was very sick when she came home. Flu, fever, tired and stayed in bed (mostly) the first few days.
Christmas Day she got a text from her aunt, whom she has been staying with. It said,”Please call your cousin today and wish her Merry Christmas or something. She is expecting you to.” She slept. Then, about 5pm another text read,” Don’t bother now, she is in bed. I am extremely disappointed in you.” This missive put her into a nearly hysterical spin, and tears, and she said she thought it was entirely thoughtless, cruel even and typically inconsiderate of the fact that she was sick, at home with her family, and apparently she felt safe in her cubbyhole, resenting the interference, the fact that even here, they could get to her. Even now. It almost resulted in her not being asked back and all that implies, but she took control of the situation after vetting and it worked out quite well, thankfully. I think she even missed them a little bit and they her. But she needed a place to go, to be alone, be with those who she felt really loved her and just be alone. Of course she wants us all there. She wanted someone entirely on her side. Me. She said so. What choice did I have????That she wasn’t a full-time politician? Just to be left alone-pretend they didn’t exist for TEN DAYS!!!!. Well…. yes, and no, I thought. It would only take her 10 minutes to make her “political” phone calls and be done with it. But that wasn’t the point, was it? By watching I was learning. No where to go and be alone. Important. But they in turn, are doing her a HUGE favor, taking responsibility for her, and I am grateful, even if she is not (thoughtfully) so.
She is no saint, but she is my baby. She did not have time to win them over, make them a priority and she was realizing that she could not make everything okay, make everyone like her the way she wanted to be liked-she didn’t have time, and even if she did, there were probably one hundred things she would do first, and she doesn’t care if everyone likes her.
I realize they will all take those values with them everywhere they go, that I must have done something right because they really are all terrific people, not just kids anymore. They are not dullards. Some adults or will be soon, and I have to shift gears. But I am not a sports car and I do not hit 60 in under 3 seconds anymore-or maybe I can. Maybe I can hit 60 if I give myself a chance. Maybe I just thought I was a sports car all along-it’s all perspective. Maybe this is the time for me to think of me and I am getting a window of opportunity of my own.
My daughter was having these little fits all over the place and when I told her that she could just be herself, a brat, and do all the things she could not do at her aunt and uncle’s, she just seemed to relax. She didn’t want to talk about ballet, school, nothing that I wanted to hear about-she said she had told me already. She really had, I just wanted to hear it all again. She is 15. 15, and needed to come home and let down for a little bit. Now my mother would have known that-gotten that, much more quickly than I did, or maybe not. Maybe I just don’t think I am a sports car. I might even be more like a toyota-low maintenance, but just goes, even without the oil changes. I am not a car at all! But sometimes I feel like one.
We should all be able to let our hair down at home, be who we are. It is very hard living somewhere else, under a different set of house rules, and surely everyone else to us seems more crazy than we are-there is that. Our normalcy- and it goes to who we really are, where we come from and all that. If we can laugh at it, have some good times, make some friends, take a joke, tell a joke. It’s all part of a topical patois that infects everyone. You can’t help looking around at everyone else, comparing yourselves…. She has had no one to nurture her, kiss her booboos, stretch her, nag her, and encourage her. There is jealousy at home and there, everywhere and she is tough. Support her, even minimally, and she does very well. Quite well. She has been doing it all herself and she is proving quite capable. She can’t be different, but hopefully she won’t read this yet and by the time she does, she will be. That is just the way it is, a little bit of this, of that, all goes into the melting pot, and out comes: “VOILA!” an independent person.
She came home a little lost, messy, tomboyish, rough on the edges and very tired (and sick), but she left like the queen! New coif, shoes, new boots, health and beauty supplies, shmancy leos, new point shoes and a proper wool coat. We broke the suitcase! So she had to take two of mine-and a new bookbag, so that weight can be distributed more evenly (in the future). It seems the next step is to give her a little more control over her own schedule, life and priorities. Help her help herself even further. If only I had a volunteer-but no one takes the place of a mother, really.
She went back in good condition, feeling that the thorough rest to her muscles (completely) would put her in good stead once classes started back. People were truly disappointed she did not come to class. No doubt anxious to compare themselves to her. Yet, that is not a bad thing. She just would not be budged and then it was also the money. She needed things. Considering the abilities of all the other dancers she sees everyday, their experience with performance, the requirements of learning new technique, a new mode of thinking, new teachers, new expectations, especially of learning and performing contemporary ballet, partnering, new choreography, and a totally new environment all around, as well as the continued conditioning and strengthening to improve upon the particular attributes and physical qualities of a classical ballet dancer which she deeply aspires to have down pat, and which she does not see in herself (all of the time), she is doing pretty well, well enough to go back for another semester! I think that in itself is incredible! Back into the ring! It is my daughter I am speaking of and not someone else-I need to remember sometimes who she is after all and there is nothing to indicate she would be someone else even after four months. She is a trooper.She is a true fighter. Ahem.
So to round off the old year, I bring a new concept to my blog-the ballet haiku! More haiku should be written about ballet. I am going to get busy, but it is hard to write a meaningful haiku……
Once there was a baby
her arm was broken at birth
she has made progress!
Technically-this is correct haiku form, but prettier as
I truly believe all art should be free. My daughter got in the car today and said (in tears) that it wasn’t fair-her teacher constantly cancels her privates in order to take someone else ahead of her. She said, “It is like I am doing all this for nothing”-meaning variations. The fact is, I don’t know. She quickly made sure I knew she didn’t mean ‘ballet.’ Just privates.
If you have even one, it’s addictive, like you can be better faster, not ahead of everyone else, just better. Someone said, ‘ballet never gets easier, just possible.’ Ballet is an art which you venture into unaware that it will take the rest of your life to understand, study and hone-I did not say ‘perfect.’ You work in privates very hard. As there is more personal attention it is very intense, tiring and deflating in a way. Even though you are getting more corrections, there is only so much you can assimilate at one time. Hopefully, you get better each time (requires actual practice). But sometimes getting better is not being told to get better, but learning to get better or advancing/growing enough physically/mentally to be able to do something or understand it.
It seems it is all about getting better quickly, working out little issues, learning variations-it’s what they do in Russia, right? Wrong. I do not really know what they do in Russia because I am not Russian and I did not study ballet long enough to have more knowledge on the subject. I do feel that some Russians are expert teachers, but teaching, like learning, is also a growth thing, and a practical knowledge thing. With age comes maturity. One is trying to communicate, and one is trying to understand and do. At least in the classroom. There are many great American teachers of ballet. Though Russian technique, the Vagonova method, might be an older method book, and if followed precisely, may result in a certain ability to more easily work the body, I am not so sure the end result is any better than our own mature dancers in terms of freedom and expression.
I have not been completely stunned by Russian dancers of late-not since Lopatkina, and she, too, has her limits. They are all good dancers, but is their artistry better than their training? I look at it as a billion little cells and muscles and they can all be taught to do the basics in any method. But the brains are different. It tells those cells and muscles what to do, or sometimes, just naturally, someone’s cells and body parts just do things differently, uniquely. The x-factor. Not all the students with short backs and long legs, good feet, etc. are going to have that gift. Sometimes it is the awkward or ungainly bunny that has the staying power, drive, and determination to get ahead, and the x-factor. I believe you have to watch this person to see what they will do next. You don’t have a choice.
If you start weeding them out too early, assess them out based on body-type alone, or because they cannot focus all the time, you are putting art through a sieve and retaining what you think are the golden apples. That is not a natural selection process or an intelligent one, but it will get shows put on and tickets sold. The result may not be as amazing, but there will be leads. Shows must go on everywhere. In the meantime, there is a certain kind of person who will wait patiently in the wings and try to be a better and better technician and artist each day. But as the athlete or dancer‘s career is very short by nature, this also requires more than a bit of good luck. And to be be very successful in dance, it requires parents and teachers who coach and nurture these children well beyond their own level of maturity or ability. If your child is not one of these “prodigies” then they do not really stand a chance in this type of environment, but it is up to the parent and the child, in this situation, to determine whether to stick it out, or move on to a better environment, or quit. People do all three.
From this, I am reminded that some people feel that a child, picked as among the best, for your better academies, should have what it takes to survive in class, to get better with everyone else. This is a heavy burden in itself. They should be given the chance to exert their personalities and express themselves in class-they need to do this with other similar students, easily done for the most part. In a given area there might not be enough children to choose from to fill a class each year with boys and girls of a certain body type and ability, I like to call mainstreaming. But that is why we have always had regional companies. Many dancers do not wish to go to a major city and become famous or try to be a big fish in a big pond. Some people just do not like to travel, particularly out of their own country, and do very well in a smaller company, and some even move up after a time. Sometimes it is enough to dance anywhere. Some of the best dancers are in these regional companies.
All of the other possible factors including ability and desire combine to ‘make-up’ for the lack of perfect body types to educate-and let’s not forget artistry. Was Pavlova smart? Smart enough. Not enough is made of these lesser known, dedicated and oftentimes very talented dancers and their voices are not called upon usually to give their advice to young dancers, but they should be, because they are the reality and their paths the likeliest one for most dancers. Dancers trained in the best schools are needed as teachers, more than as dancers. It’s a fact. Like a recipe for what will be instead of what could be.
Something must be said for superior training and it all comes down to the best teaching really, and not necessarily the best dancing or the most famous dancers. I think if most of us knew the preemptive, it might change our paths. From the best teachers frequently come the best dancers, but it is not like an egg. You can have great dancers and great teachers from different eggs (teachers). The Russian ideal was created over a long period of time, refined and perfected because the state paid for the education of those dancers. Lots of other pros and cons emanated from that system, too, and it is not something to idealize, necessarily. Certainly a great dancer can add instruction on the nuances of a role, but that does not make a dancer unique, for there would be no artistry if the student exactly followed the prescription of the teacher or the choreographer for the role. It is said a great dancer has a style all of their own, like a painter, or a musician, but as we know, there are schools of art, just like dance. When you see a Russian dancer, you know their school, by certain telltale signs. But a true artist is their own school-we like to think. I cannot help looking at the best dancer and thinking what kind of teacher she will make and whether that would suit her or her parents very well, because that is what is likely to become of all that training. My daughter wants to be a teacher, which is fine, because she can be well on her way before others get the notion. Perhaps that will slant her perspective at a time when it is important. Is that any less of a reason to be well trained. But, in knowing this, do I really need to worry so much?
However, ballet does not stop at the classroom anymore. With performances and events, like competitions, dance immediately goes beyond the classroom to the world, YouTube, major cities, and publications, competitions, the ballet world and beyond. People also claim that ballet is intuitive, a dancer listens to listen to his/her own body and from the outside it might appear as if one dancer is naturally more intuitive than another, even to a teacher, but children learn at different rates. An experienced dance teacher will tell you that you can never tell who will make it and who won’t-there are too many factors. But, if they did know, then there would be no purpose, and no money, from teaching everyone else at all. The parents should quickly ascertain that certain students get more of the attention, praise and are better than their own children at many things. But parents have indefatigable hope and belief in their own children to persevere and improve. If they knew they were competing to be teachers eventually, do you think they would fight so hard, pay so much?
They continue to pay for lessons, and this is frequently at the behest of their children, who improve enough and enjoy the classes and performance enough to still want to become ballet dancers against all the odds, bad bodies, and poor teaching (possibly). Some of them do become great, but the majority eventually quit, never even attending a dance college. I think that is a shame, for one profession is intrinsically as good as any other one. I never hear of many dancers in adult ballet class who were dancers and follow the same regimen they did as youngsters, as older adults. Funny. It is as though they are traumatized, forever, and severed from what they love, convinced that they are failures, rather than embracing what they know and love. So, it is important to think about why we dance in the first place, it is for fame, for glory, to be better than everyone else, or just because we love to. Because how can you have to do something everyday until you are 14-17, and then suddenly wake up and say, I no longer want to do that. I was unsuccessful. I will try something else. To give up what you love must denote some severe setback.
From my perspective there are two majors groups of dance supporters, besides teachers. They are both parents-those who danced as children who now or will or did have children with whom they will not make the same mistakes, or to whom they pass down the art and love of ballet, and there is the other major group of older teens and adults who comprise new learners and whom, without baggage and failure learn to love and dance. So dance is constantly recycled and we build new possibilities and breathe new life into the art form with our children, ourselves and our love or appreciation of ballet. But hopefully, we learn from all of our experiences, as the generations of Russians did, who do not all go on to be great performers, but also great teachers, choreographers, administrators, etc.
Therefore, it is for some a means of keeping in shape, for others a way of expressing themselves and growing, and for others a way of life that is being passed down to them at perhaps a too early age to decide, and in a very competitive and picky environment where many of the positives for a mature person are degraded for the child in an arena of extreme competition. Forget art, it is about survival of the fittest, literally. Money is a big part of that agenda now and not just in America!
By now, my regular readers know that I studied dance for a while, and I began late (as a teenager). But my mother and her mother also danced and had more natural proclivity for it than I did probably. My grandmother could not afford lessons, being one of 12 children. She used to wait for the girls outside dancing class, walk home with them and pick their brains. She taught herself everything this way-everything she knew. She copied what she saw. She sewed this way, did her hair, clothes and make-up this way, and she was very good at everything she did. If she had had a great teacher, there is no question in my mind that she would have been the best. They are necessary it seems. It is also important that as people we value dance and continue to strive at it and to increase the knowledge of it to be passed down. Why is it such a legacy that no other art form is intrinsic to ourselves? Shouldn’t we just sever the cursed limb?
I remember the first book my mother gave me about ballet. It was already a very old book. The illustrations were of a little girl in a leotard with ballet shoes. She wanted to learn to dance. Her parents took her to a ballet class. After the lesson her new teacher asked her if she would like to come back. Her parents put a mirror her room and a barre to support her first efforts. She practiced what she had learned that day-so did I. I read and re-read this book and committed to memory the first positions explained there long before I was ever able to take a dance class. I didn’t start dancing until much later. My mother was not able to afford ballet-even in those days-but I wanted to learn. It was not until much later that I was able to afford dance classes, but that little book, and those days, came to mind.
I was working in high school and I decided that if I wanted my body to be a temple I should start treating it like one. I needed a plan, an outlet, and a safe place, and suddenly the idea of taking dance classes (probably put into my head by my mother) was born. I went to the local ballet studio in Dayton, Ohio, where they had a company, a junior company and classes and I tried to register for the adult class on Friday evenings. They asked me about any experience I had and I had to admit I had none. They recommended that I take some ballet lessons from the local community college before enrolling in their class, which required some knowledge of ballet, so I did. I registered for modern dance and beginning ballet classes. These were held 4 evenings per week.
It didn’t start with a book with my daughter, although maybe it did, and I don’t remember. I bought a lot of books-books represent about half of me. She started dressing up in costumes with her brother when she was very little and they danced! I would have to thank Daffy’s for that, because I could not have afforded tutus and things like that if it were not for Daffy’s in New York. But, it was much later, when I moved from New York to California, that I actually registered her in ballet classes-just three years ago this month. As she remembers it, she wanted to take tap , then jazz, classes with her friends at the local dance studio in Laguna Beach. She was there for the year, but when she wanted to register for more in the Spring, I informed her that I took dance very seriously and I wanted her to learn ballet as a basis for every other kind of dance she was to learn (and modern). If only I had had this opportunity with my sons, who assiduously avoid anything I formerly did! Her friends were treating dance very cavalierly, as a hobby, something anyone could do, and their expectations were not realistic, but it was fun. She liked it. I thought dance was hard work and required formal training to understand and to be good at, not something you did down at the little local studio, putting on recitals and getting on your pointes too early. I told her that if she wanted to take these classes, I would also insist that she take ballet classes from a good ballet studio three days or four days per week. That was the deal. She agreed to try it, reluctantly.
If I had waited another year, or not had my convictions about ballet and dance, perhaps she would have fought me on it-and won-as my sons did. But she didn’t, so I (hurriedly-I have two older children-you have to strike while the iron is HOT) called the local studios and researched them on the Internet to find a class appropriate for her from a reputable school. I think it is very important to look very hard for a child’s first ballet studio. Their philosophy is crucial for your child’s positive outlook about dance and especially themselves. I did find one studio on the Internet which advertised and upon calling I found that they had a level class that was appropriate for her age. That’s about all that I can say positively about it. The good side was that we possessed this impulse to register, we had some money-my grandmother had given me-and she was willing to try. Beyond that, this world was very foreign to me, and this was a pre-professional school. Admittedly, she (and the other students there) had a lot of flaws, but they had been working on theirs, were approaching it from a level of professional preparation, and whether all of them had the design or facility to become professional dancers, the opportunity was there to try. This was more than a bit intimidating for us. For me. In all fairness my daughter did not have this perspective. She was naive.
When, over the telephone, the co-director from this school said to me, “You don’t expect your daughter to have a professional dance career, do you? She is starting very late”- I should have left it, left perhaps, but she must have gone on to say something else, sometimes words just popped out of her mouth, and I think she was saying that, if I did, and she knew I was, that we would have to work harder than everyone else, and we would have to see. She would have to take more classes, and this became an issue later. This person was very knowledgeable about what it takes (now) to become a ballet dancer, and a professional dancer, but their school typically did not force movement or extra classes on students because they burnt out. This came up in a later discussion, but at this point, I cannot lie, I took her meaning perhaps in the wrong way, or perhaps she stated it somewhat differently than she meant it. But we went anyway.
She enrolled her anyway, and the tuition was much higher than the little dance school in town, but not unimaginable to pay for quality ballet education. I waited to see what the teacher was like, and my daughter went to class. I will say that an unlikely pair, these two directors were actually very professional and delivered a really good dance program for students. Their productions were beautiful, and they provided many opportunities for advancement. There is the studio politics, which they try to keep at a minimum, I suppose. It is probably much more of an issue with families who have more serious intentions for their daughters, where the children may or may not have what is required to become professionals. Parents like that want a guarantee that their children are going to have the best chance, first pick of the roles and plenty of opportunity, before they make an investment or while they are doing it. It did not result in my daughter, at her level being denied prime parts, of course she was not ready. She had parts, she took class, she learned about the ballet studio from the ground up. She had a phenomenally nice and caring first teacher, Ms. _________.
We were definitely not in that market, either, and through sheer differences, are likely never to be. By hook and by crook, we have managed to avoid a lot of those arguments, and pitfalls. We have not become (as so many have wished us) carrion of ballet on the roadside. But, I did have a very difficult time making friends there. It was very cliquey. But the directors were not the ones controlling that, and after a while, the parents (sort of) lightened up and were a tiny bit nicer or at least took the attitude of, “Well, I do not want you here, but if you are staying, then help.” But it is not until much later that you even begin to understand this and can develop a sort of callous against it, or toward it. In many cases, they mean to make you leave, want you to leave, and the children (and parents) will sometimes actually say it. It is a very emotional environment. But still, you can talk, and make friends, watch your children grow, become involved, stay busy, if you can handle the heat. Some parents there were really nice from the start, and some were in a position, or trying very hard to get into a position, to help control their children’s careers and opportunities even further, and some were never around. Even though I like that type best, it is not conducive to running a ballet studio where so much is expected it would take a King’s ransom to afford and most ballet tuition just does not cover it, so putting up with parents, inviting them to volunteer and dealing with them is usually necessary. There is the argument as well, that you need to be there for your child.
I thought, who was she to say at that point what potential my child had, or what path she would take in dance? I literally kept this in my mind, did not tell my daughter until fairly recently, and it went on the list, rightly or wrongly, of reasons to find somewhere else to study, eventually. It was a decision-making factor, however she meant it or well-intentioned she was. In fairness to her, she never brought it up again and does not remember having said it now, so after all this time, I am forced to let it go, as she probably was just having a case of verbal diarrhea, thinking out-loud, and let’s face it, being truthful. We had no idea what we were coming into and she did start very late nowadays. Much has changed since I was a little girl, or even a big one. We were literally NEW. Some people say they are NEW when they come from another studio, switch forms of dance, some even lie about their age or training. Determination is a major factor for learning dance and any limitations taught or observed, in my opinion, are a harbinger for disaster of art and teaching dance education, once in the classroom. And you will find, left alone in the classroom, most of these political issues fall away, so you have to back off. Anyway, that was not the reason for our leaving almost 2 years later.
Perhaps if my daughter did not have the negative experiences that she did she would not have been challenged enough to keep dancing. At least that is how I see it now. She was a natural in many aspects and she loved it! She loved to dance. It was a new world to her. She really wants to be successful in dance, and has her own unfiltered vision of how that is going to be. Even then, she eventually developed her own critique of the school and the teachers-saw whatever they did and judged them. This had somewhat of an influence on me because of course, I was very naive about it, and yet, wanted her to be happy where she was, felt she could be taking more classes, and needed to have more performing experience or attention. If there were things that went wrong, or unfairness (in her mind) towards other people, she judged immediately those in the position to act as adults, keep their silences, and treat children decently and fairly. She made her own decisions about that. I was the driver of the car, but at a certain point you become just that and you guide your children, approve or disapprove, but they fill the sails!
She had just turned eleven at this point and the way I was taught-my mother had been a dancer and her mother before her, going en pointe much before 12 would mishape the feet, damage the bones and muscles, shortening the life of the dancer’s primary tools and career. There is much to learn before going onto pointe, however, and my daughter has had her share of problems. We bought the regulation white demi-skirt, ballet slippers and white leotard. I will always be glad we started there if only for Ms. ______ and the white outfit, but also because when I look back, it wasn’t as bad as all that. Maybe that was the moment of truth. A lot of the inspiration for parents to spend a good part of their lives driving their children to ballet, washing leotards and tights, attaching elastics and ribbons to shoes, buying shoes and the other accoutrement that attend ballet MUST be borne from the vision of our children actually in the dance class on the stage performing. I missed that class. I admittedly was more concerned with what could take place mentally in dance, as it had for me, forgetting that my own daughter was an entirely different animal and I did not have the perspective of say a grandparent, or mature dance practitioner. This is very important in ballet actually, and I believe has a tremendous amount to do with children quitting or not continuing ballet, not putting enough into it to succeed and parents being involved with certain aspects of ballet training that they shouldn’t thus slowing the development process. It took me a long while to adjust-I am still adjusting.
Learning is taking place, and even though it is not traditional learning, it should be traditional ballet discipline and movements. For me, I was in rapture at her in her first class. She could have been Pavlova, Margot Fonteyn or Cynthia Gregory standing there in her first class. She seemed to have their natural deportment and grace. Compare it to when you first lay eyes on your child and that wet baby is the most beautiful treasure you have ever seen in your life. This was right up there, as an experience, for me, and I had not seen or felt that, to that degree, before. I never thought about it much at all. I have a feeling this happens to a lot of mothers-maybe all the hopes of what they can become lie in ballet, discipline and it is though we say, “there,” is where she will be safe, where young ladies belong, the best environment for her growth, development, comportment-as a women-where she will find her strength. It is OUR imagination that sees ballet as their calling and possibly, their savior. We want all the attributes that we fantasize about projected onto our children: the grace, beauty, sylph-like litheness, slender bodies, costumes, roles….it is how we are sucked in, moved. But in the end, although no one else really ever understands us, it is just about the best thing you can do for your child-in my opinion. Whether I am in that league, and there is of course, a lot more to it, it dawned on me, that competition and jealousy are your enemies in ballet, and now I realize they may be your only friends. That is not what I foresaw for my daughter, and I did not see her flaws at first, how much hard work she would need to put in, and how that hard work would have to be held up continually with no breaks, how expensive it would become, or that it was exclusive. In may ways, the co-director should have said more, a lot more, but that only proves that either she wanted my money, or she had hope. Hope, in the end, is all you may be left with.
Although there is nothing at all wrong with this, we often have to ask ourselves if they have it in them to succeed and their pains are our pains, making it, I am finding out very difficult for us to watch as they learn, and yet making us prouder than we have ever been if they do just one thing right. This becomes each and everything as they follow a syllabus, graded or not, for each achievement mirrors the other obstacles in life they have to take down, and day by day, we grow ever more confident of their abilities to be successful in life, if they continue to do so. Ms. ________ was the primary ballet mistress and how kind and wonderfully encouraging she was! We also project onto the teachers the values we espouse, imagining we have a clue as to what makes the dancer tick, binds us with the studio or its directors, the teaching process, or our child for that matter, and I often see parents butting in, trying to tell the teachers what to do, “helping” out, and how often these efforts by the parents anger other parents, and how petty jealousies ebb and flow, how much drama the parents bring into the studio, themselves. This must be very frustrating for the teachers as teaching ballet is no less an art than dancing it, and it requires much more patience, concentration, communication and a special, unbreakable bond between the teacher and the child-one that I warn should not be undermined by the helpful or protective parent. If there is something you cannot tolerate, tell the teacher about it privately and NEVER communicate this with your child unless it is to assist them-and think this over very thoroughly before doing so. Sometimes we pass on to our children our own fears and protectiveness and this can hurt them understandably as they need to form their own opinions and experiences. This, however, in ballet, is pretty much impossible as we are so selfish.
Putting up my daughter’s very long, thick hair was an exercise in itself, but like all the disciplines of dance, this becomes easier and then the dancer takes over, adding this skill to her ballet accomplishments. A good bun is remarked upon even by teachers (I remember mine was pronounced “beautiful” by Ms. Schwartz and I was very proud). A sloppy bun-sloppy dancer! It sounds priggish and judgmental, but this basic discipline serves the dancer well, and to support the teacher in their role as leader does your child no disservice. Command attention and respect for the teacher! Focus. Straighten your seams. Sew your own ribbons. One by one, these “exercises” add to the installation of discipline and direction, taking the young girl and leading her into womanhood, responsibility and grace. They also learn dance etiquette from all of the other students, so I am really for a firm hand by teachers in fraternity and humanity. I really do not like slovenly teachers for beginners, professionals or no. They seem to have no self respect. How can you teach that without it? No matter the parents, the children are what is important. Respect for the teacher, timeliness, cleanliness and a host of other things that you could not teach them at home easily. So why come into the dance studio at all? You have to trust them, right? In all, a dance studio is a very nice home away from home. It becomes like another family for them, and as they grow, they realize, it is a small world, which the outside world has hidden from them, and which if you are not careful, your child feels more comfortable in than the real world. This can be a good place to be these days, though, and it does protect them from some of the experiences associated with youth today, but not all. It is important that they have outside friends and social activities and experiences. They should be encouraged to continue school, no matter how ‘serious’ they become.
There was much made of the brand BunHeads in the stores, so I bought a lot of other little things like pins and sewing kits, etc..that were not available when I was young. I may have spoiled her just a little bit by buying things I wish I had when I was a child-this is probably a mistake, but I enjoyed it much more than she did. She only loved dancing, and accessories decorate her person, but she is just as happy sweating away in her favorite torn leotard, failing to be able to locate a new one like it. I only had two or three leotards the whole time I studied dance and although I recommend a stoic dance ritual, focusing on the technique and not the costumery, there does come a time when “dressing up” is part of the social environment, and preparation as a dancer, a sort of “coming out” which the dancer learns from her peers. Humorously, this might result in periods of awkward hairdoes, too much make-up, and bizarre colors and styles of leotard, but it is a phase and a sign, that the dancer wants to be an individual, a sort of rite of passage for female dancers and get pictures because chances are this elementary phase disappears eventually and there burgeons a young woman, replete in her formality and seriousness, bound for eventual maturity and grownup qualities and the little girl is put far behind her. You will want to remember these days.
I could not resist-but this did result in my daughter asking for many things she did not need. Black is the true color of your beginning dancer’s wardrobe, and until it is deemed that he/she has reached a level to merit some other color (or the studio has designated levels by color), they must get used to it. Usually, some studios relent and give the dancer’s one day a week to wear a colored leotard. You must think of this as you would of uniforms in private school-the emphasis is on the learning, not the wardrobe. As you must also remember it is easier and less distracting for teachers to view the girls in identical wardrobe and clothes for correction of mistakes and proper use and development of muscles. For me, now, important in considering a school, would be the deportment of the other students, the professional attitude of its directors, and knowledge, but perhaps most importantly, that the children are not injured and that there are proper corrections going on constantly.
There is much more flexibility in balletwear than when I or her teachers studied, you can imagine and we cannot help but to compare our own experiences with what is going on around us. I have even had the professional dancer, and even those with children, who are also dancers, expressly tell me that things have changed drastically in formalism, training and the world of dance since they were in school. It has become much more competitive. There is certainly an emphasis on gymnastic training and innate flexibility. Even of different parts of the body, not just splits, but say, back, and or feet, curvy and not straight. These aspects are hugely controversial, too, and despite these judging points, dancers continue to be successful who do not possess all of these traits, and injuries continue which cause some dancers, who would never have a chance, to be the replacement for one who had all of them. Just life and chance, persistence and dedication, and teachers. Not Descartes, but I dance, therefore I am a dancer even before I began to study the art form known as dance, I was a dancer. Dance to me is the study of ones self, the limits and abilities of the body and the mind. This I reinforce with my daughter daily, so believe me she doesn’t ask for much anymore! Sad in a way. I feel this is very important….really. As she gets older, I realize that perhaps it will come, and perhaps she is a bit of a different kind of dancer, and I am glad, either way, that she takes joy in ballet, whatever her reasons.
Likewise, practicing what they learn in ballet is very important. It is a fact that the more you dance, the better you get. You cannot expect to become something if you take a class and leave. Dancers think about dancing 24 hours per day. Some people work very hard in class and then do nothing in between. Some work more outside class. Some take privates, study other forms of dance, gymnastics and a myriad of other disciplines, too. Some are not sure about ballet. Everything changes all the time and it is common for the parent to be in one mind and the student to be typically of another with respect to their training and wishes. Who knows more is very difficult to say, but you can rarely separate the two ideologies until the dancer matures, comes into her own, progresses. I believe ballet is its own discipline and a strict and jealous master. She believes that, too, perhaps more than I do. Once asked how she prepared for surfing, what exercises she did to strengthen for surfing, a champion surfer said, “surf.”We have discussed what made me dance, why my daughter took a ballet class, but what kept her there? She did, and I did by taking her. But her happiness and zeal for learning drove me to it, forced me to endure it, and then, only begrudgingly, did I take a sort of pride or happiness in it, when I happened to catch an improvement in a step, a jump, an expression or a force-then I was truly pleased.
These two elements are key-and I know a few mothers who take their daughters to dance and the daughters do not apply themselves. They do want to be there, but they do not want to work and they do not want to become professional dancers! You cannot make someone a prima ballerina. They have to do that, they have to have it all, not you, so stop kidding yourself that when they are 14-15 they will not quit, get a boyfriend, do something else, and it can happen anytime, maybe unwittingly. All that work and labor and emotion down the toilet so you say, but it becomes part of them forever, and no matter your broken heart, they may find another career more realistic, or they may just decide that they are not really interested in working against their flaws anymore, or they are moved to do something else. Whatever the case, I think you will find they are improved as a person by the experience of ballet school. You might be best advised to find another pastime and let them do their thing, see what comes of it and not take it so seriously, for you will not matter in their or the world’s final assessment and decision. Letting go is hard, but I recommend it, eventually. I think that my friends are right in bringing their daughters regardless of the outcome, because children test you in so many ways, even threatening to hurt themselves with actions that they are aware will hurt you, too. But, if you hang in there, you send your child more positive messages than negative ones by your example and different kinds of positive reinforcement.
What makes people dance? I mean study dance, be drawn to it everyday, choose it as a way of life, a vocation, an avocation? What is it that calls to so many people on so many levels from so many walks of life and backgrounds, to know more, learn the language of dance? It is the only art I have ever known that encompassed all of me. It is usually because they are good at it. I have never known anyone to like anything that they were doing poorly in: math, sports, music, even socializing-you name it. Students who are good at it always find someone who is better. This is important because we learn, from those better than us, by watching. Also, if we are good at something, we feel rewarded by our efforts in it. If something is continually disappointing, then we lose interest. This is very self-evident in ballet. Perhaps parents getting involved in it and pushing their children into it, keep the rest of us, and our children from finding out that it is , not for them, as we are forced to wait to see if our own children have what it takes, aside from the politics, the same children getting the roles, and we would or they would realize more quickly how hard they need to work and exactly what they DO need to succeed. If you hang around enough though, your child does gets better, those children will sometimes drop out, body types change, interests do, too. So much can happen, just like real life, that you have to see it through,persevere. Much of this is up to teachers who interact with us in class and do not criticize too much, but rather give us things to work on regularly and pay attention to us as in, “You can do better!” and not, “You are hopeless.” But do not expect this to work-sometimes the tough tact is required for certain children to succeed and they like it. Other children do not like to be told they are wrong, cannot bear failure, and must be cajoled into liking it. No child is hopeless, in my opinion, but I am sure a lot of good dance teachers would disagree with me. There are many snobs, but be thankful, in a way, for the schools who take only certain students, protecting you from a too-submerged technique, because they could also be saving you a lot of money, and if your child still continues to dance, one day, they will be in the same classes with many of those students, and finally, they may exceed those students in some abilities or in their career. It’s all about the dancing and Keeping on Dancing! It’s funny, but there is definitely something to not quitting and continually working toward your goal. More about that in another post.
What definition of dance do you want for your children? Do you have a past affinity for dance, or rue lost opportunities or dreams? Do you want them to dance to be the best or to most enjoy the experience of dancing and learning and discipline? Do you want them to compete? Do YOU feel competition is the key to being noticed and being successful in dance or does your CHILD? Or do you feel the expression of dance is most important, the vitality and slow transformation of the body into an instrument capable of responding to directions to express beauty, emotion and strength or are you of the opinion that your child can do anything you MAKE them do? Children aim to please, but to demand too much of them, even if successful can mar them for other things in life, as in “parenting.” It is one thing to believe in your child’s best abilities, but it is another to hound them about things you perhaps want for yourself, as a justification of yourself as a parent, as in having the BEST children, better than anyone else. I believe a lot of people think like this and they send their children to dance, trying to find the perfect place for their children to succeed, but I have also seen the work of ballet take over and transform those parents into believers of ballet in general, and to sort it out. And if you kept the parents completely OUT of the studio, politics and business it would be a possibly better place-usually, but dance and ballet would not rise to level of importance in your community or the world, this way, in the ways that it has. Dance needs communicators and instigators, and activists or advocates. Agitators. There is a useful place for everyone in the art, I believe. Sometimes it comes down to finding your own best use. When we realize that we are all doing the same things it is laughable, really, but some people don’t like to be laughed at either. After all, the children aren’t bothered, why should we be?
This is how I found the dance studio environment, thirty years after giving up dancing, with my then eleven-year-old daughter and the answer is I was (completely) out of it, on the wrong foot, so to speak, and she was in it, trying to get on the right foot. Shame on anyone hindering her. But, what to do is puzzling, how to help them the best you can, parent etiquette, how many classes to take, what path, what supporting classes, what schools or teachers, what physical issues are there, what injuries, and a lot of other coverable topics that would clearly help parents to refocus some of that energy in a positive way. A no hands policy is just as bad as one of driving the car of your child’s life completely. A balance is sometimes hard to find and maintain. Her experience seems to be very very different than mine as I remember it. Can you separate the two parts of your own effectually? She has come farther than I did in a fewer number of years. She is solely dedicated to dance. I was not. Is this what I want for her, really? Is that, or should that be, my choice? The answer to that might be the key to everything. What about the rest of the family, financial circumstances, time? Could I have been mistaken? Was I in denial about what I needed to do and what is required of me as a parent? Am I still useful? How can you help and not be a hindrance to your child and to everyone else?
In many places ballet has become a competition-based pursuit, like gymnastics and ice skating were and continue to be. Sometimes the competition has become the basis for everything a studio does and that goes to the training as well. But you will be very hard put, in an advanced arena of teaching, to find one that does not do some competitions or tolerate students who have that desire. It has been a way for good teachers with good students to get noticed in the competitive selection process of higher education institutions like the Bolshoi or the Royal Ballet School, and helped to provide their students the consideration of companies and the world at large. A way to help students of ballet. A resort, or last resort. Also a response to parents who have demanded those guarantees, how will my child succeed if no opportunities exist for them in the field of dance without training at one of the elite schools, or from those who do not wish their children to have to leave home, give up education, etc. Jazz dance competitions have always been this way, but what about ballet? Are there two kinds and if so, is one better than the other? Has dancing changed or are dance classes at a lower level school always so political and performance selection focused? Competitions provide a student with an opportunity to show off their particular performance skills.
My mother always warned me against “performance” studios. Why? Are there some bastions left of excellence in the art of dance? Yes, many, in fact, now is probably the best it has ever been in this country, or the world, to find a reputable and caring place to study ballet, to have the best training, and the best possibility of achieving your goals in dance. Whatever may be said about the studios we have been involved with, they took my daughter and began or continued her in her path of excellence in dance, so there I did not err in my judgment or choices. They have all been exemplary in their way. They did care about her, but I may not have handled the situation correctly, or they may have left off communication misinterpreting our departure, etc. It takes work on both sides. Some studios may not be willing to go that far to keep your child, so my motivation, and hers, is to find someone who is willing to work with you. Some parents do not have that problem for many different reasons. You do have to guess and factor and plot and try, for your child.
In this environment, how do I communicate to my daughter the art of dance over scholarships, competition and “winning?” It is possible that this has been futile, because in the end, if she continues, this will inevitably be a required part of her training and to dissuade her entirely would be to her great disadvantage and she might even be missing an important part to her components as a dancer. The point is, I do not believe there is just one way. Successful studios continue to both promote competition and others to deny certain forms of it. These attributes are widely variable, not mutually exclusive and complex-each studio is different, and may change. I think to take a position one way or the other, without regard to waiting until your child’s future in dance is commenced, would be a mistake. Some considerations will not apply to you then and more questions will arise to ponder, make no mistakes! Keep your eyes wide open and your ears. Judge less, do more. Wait and see. Be proactive.
There are many other issues to discuss about ballet and I hope that this first post of our continuing saga in ballet will be helpful to those starting out. I mean to set the environment for an open communication for individuals to comment with their opinions, advice, and to share their own experiences and insight at length. I will not condone and do not mean to expiate against the virtues of one studio over another, for each has their place and merits consideration. While I might say things about the studios my daughter has been involved with, I intend to give no names, and to protect them from unverified slander, even from mysylph. While each of us may have our own experiences, they are personal, highly emotional and there are two sides (at least) to every story. They have helped my daughter on her path in ballet. Hers is not an easy one, for them, for me, or most importantly, for her and our situation is very particular-so is yours. So, let us rest in giving them the benefit of the doubt and let our own experiences and goals be the guide. They are all hard-working and provide good training.