I never pictured myself as a ballet Mum. I never intended to enroll my daughter in ballet at all, let alone at 3 and a half. But like lots of things in parenting, my child had other ideas. So I had a choice: either to stick with my own pre-conceived ideas about what I expected my child to be or to throw the book out the window and go with the flow.
Ask my daughter what she’s going to be when she grows up and the answer is the same every time: A ballerina. I don’t think there’s much chance she will be an actual ballerina (Hey, my niece wants to be a mermaid, so she’s one up on that!) but as she’s been giving the same answer for about six months I figure it’s time my husband and I stopped rolling our eyes and smirking at each other every time she says it.
Birdy’s favourite game is to play ballet lessons. When my sister was visiting recently, I would come home from work everyday to find them playing ballet lessons, (which was rather hysterical, considering my sister’s never even done highland dancing, let alone anything resembling ballet). Finally I found a class that fit with our schedule and we went to our first real ballet lesson this week.
First we had to buy a leotard. Well even before that, Birdy had to learn how to pronounce it. She practiced saying it even though she didn’t actually know what a leotard was. She just knew it was something you had to have for ballet. Then off we went to the shops. While we were there, Birdy told every person we passed that we were going to buy a ballet dress and a leotard. I mean every person. Other mums. The 21 year old guy serving in the bookshop. People waiting in the toilet queue. Her excitement was completely uncontainable.
When we finally found the dance clothes and tried them on, she was beside herself. Captivated by the image of herself in the leotard, ballet dress and slippers, she clapped her hands together with joy. “Oh Mum I will be so beautiful at my ballet lesson. I’m so excited.” From then on, she proceeded to tell every person we passed that we had just bought a leotard and ballet slippers. She couldn’t have been more excited if I’d just bought her a trampoline.
And so finally we made it to the magical world of the ballet class. I was immediately drawn into the theatre of it all. The costumes, the fancy French words, the play-acting. Even the teachers’ New York accent added to the sense that we were being drawn into an alternative reality, where jumps are referred to as something that sounds like a cooking method, and where grace, elegance, gentleness and patience are the most prized virtues of our time. And it dawned on me that ballet offers something that modern life lacks: ritual, ceremony, peacefulness, repetition, the joy of doing something just for the sheer pleasure of doing it, a chance to concentrate on nothing but physical movement. Both the girls enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment they got from taking part. As soon as the class was over my niece asked me “Can we come back to this ballet class again tomorrow?” She’d sensed that she was part of something special.
I still don’t really think my girl is cut out to be a ballerina. But I love the fact that her eyes light up just at the sight of her ballet slippers. And isn’t that what we all want for our kids? To help them find the thing that lights them up on the inside and lets the authentic them shine out.
What gets your kids really excited? Have they found an activity or interest they really love? Have you had to change your ideas and expectations of what you would like them to do? What was your favourite activity or interest when you were young? Has it influenced what you want for your children?