Madeleine loves to dance. Unfortunately she's had a tough time finding the right fit over the past two years. Some of the common complaints we've heard around here include Ballet is too hard, my teacher is too strict, the classes are too long. Even as my daughter complains she still insists she wants to dance, and I constantly find myself negotiating the fine line between forcing her to stick with it, and allowing her to give up and back out. So it's been a tightrope walk, trying to understand she is a little girl, but not wanting to raise a wishy washy quitter.
So we've moved and shuffled around with dance lessons the past two years, and even as we've made changes I've tried to gently remind Madeleine that longevity matters in dance, particularly with ballet. The students who stay in ballet for a few years, even when they hate it, gain a foundation that influences and informs every other style of dance. For two years she has sighed and blown me off. And then the other night she finally saw firsthand what I've been telling her all along.
We were at a birthday party with some extended family members and the little girls started doing impromptu dance performances. For those of you who have little dancers, it is recital season which means your child is probably leaping around your house at all hours too! Anyhow, a couple of the girls at the party have stayed steady and committed in some of the difficult ballet classes that Madeleine chose to leave a couple of years ago. I watched my daughter watching these other girls dance and soon she began to wilt around the edges. From across the room I saw her slumping further in her seat as the other girls leaped higher, moved faster, and danced...better. When her eyes filled with tears I couldn't take it anymore and I crossed the room to put my arm around her.
I want to go home, she whispered. I leaned into her ear so no one else could hear me. First of all, I told her. It's important that you be gracious about other people's accomplishments. These girls have worked so hard to improve their dancing and I'm proud of them. You should be too. This is not a contest, and you can be happy for your cousins that their hard work has paid off. Second, you don't need to compare yourself and feel badly. You'll get there. You love to dance and that's the most important thing. So, hang in there and it's just a matter of time. If you work hard you'll eventually get there too.
A few minutes later the group urged Madeleine to perform her dance recital number. At first she shook her head, adamantly determined not to be compared to the other, stronger dancers. She looked at me, asking me what she should do. Go ahead, I prodded her. You'll be great. The honest truth is that a part of me cringed even as I said that to her. But we were among family, and I knew that while her less experienced performance might not dazzle, her efforts would. Still, it was kind of painful to watch because I knew what she was feeling. Her pride was on the line. She was trying to clap and be happy for the other dancers, but since they're all roughly the same age she keenly felt the role of being the least experienced and least capable. But even so she cued her music and took her place in the middle of the family room.
I'm completely struck by the grace and courage that children possess and sometimes choose to show us. Evidently I wore it on my face too, because afterward one of the other moms said, I loved watching Madeleine dance, but even more so I loved watching YOU watch Madeleine dance. You looked so proud, she said to me.
I thought about that on the drive home. I felt proud, yes, but not so much about the dancing. I've told my kids a hundred times I don't really care if they want to be dancers, painters or soccer players, I just want them to have something that they work for. Something that matters to them, where they can start off rough and see improvement over time. We can do hard things, I tell them at least once a week. And so yes, I was proud of Madeleine and my faced showed it, but it wasn't for her dancing. It's hard to stand up in front of your peers feeling as though you're the "worst one" but by agreeing to dance Madeleine was saying, This is something that matters to me too, and so I'll do my very best and hope you see what I'm trying to show you.
And she did. And they did.