Saturday, December 28, 2013

Just Keep Going (or what I'm learning from my daughter's ballet journey)

So, I have five kids. Three boys. Two girls.

Four of them study ballet.

And, when I say study...I mean study. My oldest son and daughter spend countless hours trying to perfect technique, line, form. My youngest daughter and son are in it more for the fun, but they work hard too. My middle son...he reads science books and writes middle grades fiction.

Now, you may be wondering how I  am so.....blessed as to have four children who all enjoy classical ballet.

It all started with this one.

She has always been busy. Really busy. The kind of person who, if left to her own devices, will quickly attempt to take control of everyone and everything in her path. She is a leader. No doubt about that, and I admire her for it. She is strong, feisty, kind and helpful.

But, she is busy and I am not.

I like to think things through, plod along at my own pace. Which is not to say I don't move forward, but simply that I don't move forward at my Sassy-girl's break-neck speed.

When she was two, Sassy said she wanted to dance ballet.

But, she was busy, and I just couldn't imagine my busy girl enjoying something as slow as ballet.

When she was three, I signed her up for gymnastics. Along with being busy and eager, she was also very flexible, so she moved quickly from recreational gymnastics to pre-team. She liked it and she was good at it, but while other little girls in the gym threw double back handsprings and begged for second and third and fourth turns on the equipment, Sassy would dance to the music playing over the intercom.

When we  moved from the east coast to the Inland Northwest, Sassy was seven. She was still asking to dance. I gave her a choice - gymnastics or ballet.

She chose ballet.

I signed her up for a ballet class at a classical ballet school. No competition stuff. No shaking her butt or shimmying into tiny little mid-drift baring outfits. Just ballet. Walk into class, hair scraped into a tight bun, body encased in a leotard and pink convertible tights. Nothing exciting or busy about that. Just stand at the barre and do the same thing over and over again.

I figured she'd quit at the end of the year. I thought she'd take a couple of classes and beg to go back to the gym.

By the third or  fourth week, I was called into the office and told that Sassy would be moving up to the next level of ballet. Even more serious, this level contained girls a couple of years older than Sassy who had all been dancing for several years.

So, up she went. To the next level.

She was rather a mess.

Sure, her teacher said she had talent, but she was always slightly off...a little ahead, a little behind. She was too energetic. Too excited. Too everything.  I got called into the office several times to discuss this....problem. Finally, I told Sassy that if she wanted to play, I'd take her to the playground. If she wanted to dance, she'd better settle herself down and get to it.

And, I thought she'd quit.

But, she just kept going.

We are five and a half years and three more kids into this ballet thing.

This week, Sassy has some time off, but her brothers have rehearsal, so she heads into the dance studio with them and spends an hour running through her Fairy dance for Midsummer Night's Dream. Then, she works on the ever elusive arabesque en pointe, and I shoot picture after picture which she soundly rejects has horrible.

Except for this one.  Which she said was okay but not great.

And this one...which we both think is cute.

A friend saw the pictures and said Sassy was a natural.

Sassy laughed, because she knows something she didn't know when she was two and asked to be a ballet dancer. She knows that there is nothing natural about what she does. Every day, she spends a couple of hours turning out at the hips, standing on the tips of her toes, moving her body into positions that most people can't achieve. While she does have a natural sense of movement and certain spark that goes a long way in conveying theme and story, she does not have the flexi-feet that her some of her friends possess. Rather than a long delicate figure, she has a long strong build. Just look at the muscles in her shoulders and legs. Those aren't from lifting weight. They are from dancing.

Talent is great, but it takes a lot more than that to be a ballet dancer.

Especially when female dancers with talent and facility are a dime a dozen.

This is the year when my daughter has realized that there are a lot of very talented very beautiful girls out there, and I really thought it might be the year when she decided to give in and give up. Ballet, after all, is hard work.  Being a dedicated dancer means giving up time with friends. It means missing out on birthday parties and sleep overs. It means saying no when you really want to say yes. It means giving up a lot.

To be blunt, it also means being passed over for parts because your legs aren't as thin as someone elses or because your feet aren't as bendy. It means that when you are twelve and look like you are sixteen, you need to try to dance like you are sixteen or people will think you aren't trying.

Sassy has learned all of this, but she still keeps pushing.

In the face of everything, she still has a deep passion for dance. She loves it the way I love words. To her it is music and expression. It is feeling and emotion.

It is work she loves.

Even when she's tired and discouraged and wondering where it's all going to lead.

She still keeps going.

Joyfully even!

Which is why when I am tired, when the next book seems impossible to write, when the words won't flow and the ideas are all locked up inside, I think about what Sassy said to me this past summer. She'd had a tough day. A friend had been told wonderful things about her future as a dancer and Sassy had simply been told what she needed to work on. She cried. Which is something she almost never does.

I said, "Sassy, do you want to stop? Is it even worth it?"

She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Of course it is."

"So, what do you want to do?" I asked.

"Mom," she said in all her twelve-year-old wisdom. "I'm just going to keep going the way I am. I'm going to keep working hard and I'm going to keep trying. Someday that's going to bring me to the place I'm supposed to be. And wherever that is, I'm going to be much happier there than I will be if I quit and end up nowhere."


She's a busy one, that girl.

But, she's a smart one, too, and I'm learning a lot from watching this journey she's on.

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