When I was about 7, my mom drove my little sister and me to our first dance class. I sort of vaguely remember wearing a leotard and some tights, but I acutely remember NOT wearing a tutu. (Maybe I was a little bitter about that.)
In that dance class, I learned the following things:
#1- How to point and flex my foot while happily shouting "Pencil point! Fishhook! Pencil point! Fishhook!"
#2- How to sashay across the stage in tap toes.
That's it. That's everything I learned. I never took another dance class again.
(It's a miracle, then, that the modern dance moves I execute while wearing socks in my kitchen look so graceful and balanced. Just ask my husband.)
(My husband doesn't think that my dance moves while wearing socks in my kitchen are the least bit graceful, balanced, or even awesome, even though they clearly are.)
(He's a terrible judge of talent.)
Anyway, now I'm all grown up and so is my little girl. She's got another entire year before preschool, so when I saw a friend mention on Facebook a perfectly adorable and affordable dance class very near our house for three and four year olds, we approached Bug with the idea. She was on board almost instantly, and that's how I found myself the mother of a dancer.
I'm going to be honest--I have fears about dance. Not three year old dance, really, but dancing as she grows up. I worry about ballet and eating disorders and body image and injuries. I worry about hip hop and costumes and choreography that sexualize my little girl. I worry about interpretive dance and how I just don't get it.
I know lots of women who danced growing up, and in every case they are lovely, healthy, well-adjusted people with fond memories of recitals and practices and friendships and opportunities, and I want that for my daughter. I am a mother and a social worker and I worry about things, but long ago I decided that fear alone is not a good enough reason to miss things.
So, on her first day of dance, I'll tell you what I want for my baby girl.
I want her to love the way it feels when she moves her body. I want her to be happy and grateful for the way her legs are strong and sturdy, the way she can run and jump and skip, and the way her feet connect her to the earth. I hope she learns to care for her body. I hope she learns to treat her body with respect, to feed it when it is hungry and rest when it needs rest. I want her to learn to move gracefully, and carry herself with pride. I want her to learn how to sit quietly and listen, and then follow instructions from her teacher. I want her to learn to be the leader, and I want her to learn to let other children have a turn at being the leader, too. I want her to learn to be independent and brave.
I hope that dance helps to teach my little girl that being a girl is wonderful and amazing, and that her world is full of opportunity. I hope she learns that it is a gift and a pleasure to be soft and lovely, and that it is also a gift and a pleasure to be strong and powerful. I want her to know that her femininity and her strength are not mutually exclusive, but are important parts of her whole self. She need not sacrifice one to satisfy the other. I want her to learn to let her natural happiness bubble out of her. I hope she learns to always, always do her best, and learns that being her best self never, ever means making someone else feel like anything less than their best self. She can choose to dance and she can choose to do things other than dancing, and I hope that each of those experiences help her to love herself and love other people, too. Maybe dance is one of those experiences and maybe it isn't, but we're going to give it a try.
So today, we twisted her hair into a little bun and got dressed in the perfect little leotard that Grammy Lu got for her and we took pictures before we left the house. She looked like this:
Just kidding. That's just what she looked like in my mind. Really, she looked more like this:
Bug excitedly marched right into her dance teacher's house and headed down the stairs without even looking back. "Have fun, sweetheart! I love you!" I called from the porch.
"Love you too, Mama!"
And that was that. She's learning already.
I guess it'd be ok if along the way she picked up a little "Pencil point! Fishhook!" too.