“Are you, like, so excited to put your daughters in ballet class?”
It’s a question I hear more often than I ever expected. If you are reading this and know me, you likely asked me this yourself. I probably smiled, nodded with secret understanding, and gave a vague response, like “We’ll see” or “Maybe next year.”
Well, I lied. Here’s the truth. Here’s what I really wanted to say:
“Hells to the nah, I don’t want to stick my girls in ballet class, so they can spend their childhood missing slumber parties and school dances to abuse their bodies in a smelly studio and reward themselves by soaking their bloodied, blistered feet in the burning sting of frigid salt water!”
But that’s not what people want to hear, is it?
Yes, I was a dancer growing up and some might say I’m a tad jaded. In a nutshell, I was given the worst-case scenario for an aspiring ballerina: I had the talent, but I didn’t have the body. At five-foot nothing, I needed to be skin and bones to achieve the fluid lines of classical ballet, but by age 12, I was all curves. To give you the short version, no pun intended, my early teenage years were spent dieting and crying, until I finally gave up on my dream when I turned 15.
Quit dancing at 15 or 16 and it will haunt you for the rest of your life. Trust me.
So when my mother brought up the idea of taking my oldest to see New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, I was more than hesitant. I was terrified. After all of the promises I had made to myself to protect my daughters from the heartbreak that I went through, was I really going to allow her to experience The Nutcracker, of all ballets? The Christmas tree growing to a hundred feet right before your eyes, the dizzying blizzard of tulle skirts circling and leaping during the snow scene, the magical, sticky-sweet candy land of the Sugarplum Fairy? It was practically introducing her to the gateway drug of the dance world.
Had this been a different situation, I might have said she was still too young this year. Maybe next Christmas. But as it happens, two of my nieces were visiting from Argentina, so this was to be a rare family outing. I could keep Violet from going to the ballet, but I wasn’t about to keep her from having an unforgettable day with her cousins. Naturally, I wanted to be there with them, too.
So on the morning of December 30th, my mother, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces, and Violet set off for Grand Central.
From the moment our train left the station, I knew it was the right decision. This wasn’t just about ballerinas; it was so much more. It was putting on a pretty dress with sparkly heels. It was seeing the beauty of Lincoln Center, the three looming performance buildings surrounding the centerpiece fountain. It was sitting in the beautiful theater itself, her shiny full-of-wonder eyes scanning the bigger-than-life venue from the velvety orchestra seats way down below us to the intricate ceiling towering over our heads.
And, yes, of course, it was also about the ballerinas. Their effortless grace, their dazzling costumes, their shiny pointe shoes transporting them from one side of the stage to the other in a whirlwind of spins.
Violet sat on my lap completely mesmerized for the full two hours. My heart did a quick pirouette of its own when, during the Waltz of the Flowers in Act II, my daughter’s skinny arms unconsciously floated up to fifth position, forming a delicate oval frame around her perfect doll-sized head.
That’s when I remembered what it felt like to be a little girl with a dream, to have that tiny seed of ambition plant itself in the pit of your stomach and grow into a passionate goal, to have no doubt that one day you would be the one on stage in the mint green tutu, and there was nothing and no one that could stop you, not even a protective mother who knows genetics will eventually betray you.
My daughters, both of them, deserve the chance to dream.
As for me, maybe I am jaded when it comes to ballet, but at the end of the day, I can’t say I would change the past. My present is a different dream come true and there isn’t a step — or jeté — along the way that didn’t land me here.
As it turns out, both of my girls will be attending ballet performances this summer at outdoor spaces across Vermont. This time, they will see their very own mama twirling in the sunny spotlight, as I just accepted a position dancing with the Farm to Ballet Project for their 2016 season. If 25 years later, I’m still eager to step into that smelly studio and make time-consuming sacrifices just to get that opportunity to dance, maybe ballet isn’t so bad after all.