When I was a kid, there were two times a year my mom let me stay up late: New Year’s Eve, and when “The Nutcracker” was on PBS. I loved dance. I took ballet, tap, and jazz lessons for 12 years, until I went away for college. Being into dance growing up helped define who I am now, decades later. It didn’t matter that I was short, chubby, and didn’t have great turnout. Dance was an escape that provided comfort even during times when (like all kids and teens) I hated my body.
I was lucky that my dance instructors weren’t critical about our appearances. They never spoke about body type. They only cared that we paid attention, stayed neat (Hair up! No VPL!), and put in 100%. The discipline that comes from learning dance served me into adulthood. Dancing was proof that practice was the only way to improve. As frustrating as it is to fumble in the early stages of learning skill, that feeling you get when you finally nail a pirouette is exhilarating.
Of course, I would love if my own kids were into dance, but it’s too early to tell what they may be passionate about. My daughter, at age 8, has been taking dance classes since she was 5, albeit under no pressure from me (I swear). She tried it, liked it, and wants to stick with it. I watch her and she is just having the best time. That totally delights me now, but I know I will just have to deal with the fact that she may move on to something else if her interests shift.
And it's not shocking to me that my daughter took to it so easily: Dance is for everyone. Moving wordlessly to music, performing to my reflection in the mirror, is still one of my favorite things to do. Of course my kids find that hysterical. And here are a few more ways being into dance growing up has positively impacted my parenting:
Yes, it’s a milestone. Add it to the baby book.
My kids have loved bopping to music since they were infants, and I can't help joining them.
It’s a workout we can do together (as long as I get to hold the wand; don't be insane).
My kindergartner and 3rd grader perform in the school-wide themed dance festival at the end of the year. So yes, I happily stand in the sun on the concrete yard for hours watching them in their crepe-paper bows and ties, busting their moves. Last year, the theme was '80s music so I actually stayed and watched the upper grades — starring kids who weren’t even mine — dance. I don't even love kids that much, you guys. Just dance.
My kids aren’t old enough for school dances, but when they are, I can not wait to stand guard at the snack table and embarrass them, like my mother did to me.
I can’t sew, but I'll make an exception when it comes to getting my child’s show costumes ready (though I am no Dance Mom). My daughter is really into dance, and I'm psyched to support her (even if it takes me half an hour to thread the f*cking needle).
I’m never without ponytail holders and bobby pins.
Arts programs, especially in public schools like the ones my kids attend, are always in jeopardy of being cut and that makes me crazy. But at least we are finding ways to incorporate arts education into traditional learning. Recently, one of my daughter’s reading passages was on prima ballerina Misty Copeland. Hey, I'll take progress where I can get it.
When my kids are moving, their thoughts seem to flow more freely. I notice how they pace and twirl when they tell me about their days, and how they tend to bounce out of their seat and stand when doing homework. I get it. When I was in dance class, my mind never got stuck on a worry. There was flow. Children think better when they move.
Ballet steps count, right?