don't walk, dance!


Last week I had the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I sat on the floor in the local gymnasium, often with one hand clamped over my mouth, and giggled as quietly as I could. In front of me, four little girls stomped around the room, arms outstretched, legs flailing, their eyes torn between watching the teacher gliding gracefully around the room and watching themselves in the floor to ceiling mirrors. Too often the mirrors won out and near collisions seamlessly became part of their routines. To the sound of lush orchestral music, they were beautiful princesses waking up after a long sleep, wicked witches cackling over their cauldrons of poisonous soup, young maidens collecting berries, and evil hunters, forever doomed to not see the deer prancing behind them.

Yes, my daughter has started ballet lessons. It is a complete turnaround from only a few months ago, when she knew, without question, that there was nothing anyone could teach her. And now…the look of wonder on her face at that first trial lesson was a joy to behold. Her legs might have been bent when the teacher’s were straight, and she might have looked more like one of the seven dwarves instead of snow white, but she loved every minute of it.

I’m still not sure of the catalyst. It might have been the thought of the floaty pink skirt she was (rightly) convinced she would get to wear. Or perhaps it was because she thought another girl from her kindergarten class would be there. Or maybe it really was the realisation that it might be nice to learn some new moves from someone who would probably know what they were talking about. Whatever the reason, just lately she seems to have embraced the whole concept of Learning New Things.

This is a big step for a little girl, but also a big step for her mother. Where previously I or her father were the established fonts of knowledge, now we must share our crowns with her kindergarten teacher (a woman so wonderful that this is a concession gladly granted), a music teacher and now the lovely ballet teacher, a nice woman who wafts into the gymnasium as if on the stage with a royal ballet company instead of in the company of a raggle-taggle band of kindergarteners.

It’s a tough realisation that we, the parental unit, are no longer at the absolute centre of her world. Where she once looked to us as the experts on Just About Everything and took what we said as gospel, now she tells us when we are wrong, or very kindly shares her knowledge in the hope of improving our own skill base. Recently we’ve been cautioned on how to cross the road, told the best way to hold a knife and fork and instructed on Mars and its relative size to Jupiter.

We are by turns proud and desolate. Isn’t this what we want for her? Independence, confidence, social skills (and the ability to execute a pirouette) will all come in handy when she is a grown-up. But the thought of becoming redundant already at this early stage is sobering, and we suspect our still elevated positions as experts on Just About Everything will sink lower and lower as the years pass. We cling to the increasingly rare times when she tells someone about our feats, glowing in her publicly stated admiration for our bubble blowing ability or skill with a frisbee.

I have no idea if she will continue after the first few months, but if, for now, she enjoys it then that is enough for me. And if, in the meantime, she becomes familiar with some beautiful music and gets practice in following directions and copying the moves of those around her, then it will also have been worth it. I am under no illusion that this is the beginning of a lifetime of frothy skirts, leg warmers and bloodied toes. It’s not that I have low expectations, rather that I think – at this age – her journey should mostly be one of exploration. I’m very happy for her to learn a little bit of discipline and grace along the way, but if she decides after six months she’d rather try kung fu or nothing at all, then that’s fine with me.

As we walk home from that first lesson, my daughter twirls ahead of me on the footpath, before suddenly stumbling and ending up on her bottom, legs in the air. I rush over but before I can say anything she looks up at me and says that now she is a beetle doing ballet instead of a little girl. It strikes me that the opportunity to be a beetle doing ballet or a wicked witch cackling over her cauldron is rare once we become adults, and that she should enjoy this while she can, unencumbered by too much self-consciousness. I know the day will probably come when she will no longer wear pink (please, come soon!), when what her friends think and do will trump any desire to pretend to be a beautiful princess just waking up, and when her father and I will be relegated to those who know Very Little At All.

So for now she will keep going every Friday afternoon, dressed in her pink skirt (and pink everything else) and I will come to pick her up just a little bit early so I get the chance to peer in through the glass door and watch the graceful teacher gliding ahead of a bunch of eager little girls, arms and legs going every which way. I’ll try not to giggle too loudly, but I know it will be hard, in part because they look so awkwardly sweet, but also because I think of me at this age, and I wish I’d also had the chance to pick imaginary berries and then twirl across the room.