The other day at school I was asked if I would play in a teachers vs. students netball game at lunch to give the Year 6 girls a bit of practice before an upcoming gala day. A quick "No", and eyes diverted, I quickly retreated to my room. Unlike most women my age, I have never played a game of netball in my life. Actually, I have never played any team sport. Growing up in my house it was ballet and music…..And that was it. I never really showed any interest in anything else and both my sister and I grew up dancing, playing instruments and singing.
I’m not begrudging any of this. I bear no teenage, victimised angst about never having stepped foot on a netball court, but I do love that although Miss 12 has pirouetted and jete’d down a similar path, she has also gotten involved in netball and even had a crack at the school touch football gala day last week. Trust me, if anyone had mentioned touch football to me, I would have broken out in anxious hives and waddled my duck feet very promptly in the opposite direction!
My beautifully well rounded daughter had her creative little eyes opened this last week however, when we attended yet another dance eisteddfod. These are not rare in our house and we were predicting this one to be no different to any other.
Miss 12 was competing over the weekend, in the group sections. She adores going to ballet and has made some fantastic friends who share her passion for all things creative. The girls work hard in class, whilst having a lot of fun. Miss 12’s ballet school provides her with some amazing role models, both in and out of the dance studio and we love that her chosen ballet school focuses more on the creative experience and the love of dance than the “Dance Moms” style competitive nightmare, that rears its ugly head in so many competitive children’s sports. (Note I said compettitive children’s sports, not just dance. I have learnt over the last few years that every sport has it’s nightmare SUPER competitive parents. It just seems that dancing is the stereotype that everyone likes to pick on and TV shows like Dance Moms do nothing for this. But trust me, although I am very lucky in my daughter’s sporting teams, I have seen some “sporty” parents on the other sideline who would give any “Dance Mom” a run for their money! Ok, off my soapbox now ;)
The usual dance schools were there. Miss 12 ran into some friends that she had made over the years from other dance schools, ran up to them with the excited 12 year old squeal and gave them all a big hug. The session started and the same girls that we had seen grow from the tiny tots section to 12 years and Unders danced in group after group.
However one thing was different. There was one school, who had travelled a fair distance to come, (I later found out our little eisteddfod was really just their dress rehearsal for bigger and better things!) who were head and shoulders above the rest. As a seasoned dance competitor and now mother, I was pretty impressed with their technique, syncronisation and stage presence. One thing did not sit well with me though and watching these exceptionally thin 12 year old girls dance, albeit beautifully, I just felt uneasy.
They swept the pool and rightly so. Their dancing was about as professional as a group of 12 year old girls can get. And Miss 12, who danced her little heart out, walked away astounded that there were dancers with that level of skill, that were also her age.
During one of the breaks I got talking to one of the mums from this school, as we washed our hands in the ladies loo. Normal small talk, “Are you from around here?” and “Which dance school does your daughter dance with?” led to a fairly in depth discussion with this mother about the level of commitment these girls were required to make.
This woman had quit work to, not just travel with her daughter to competitions and eisteddfods but also, to allow her 11 year old daughter to be home schooled so that she could dance pretty much on a full time basis. Her daughter danced most mornings, came home for her afternoon of “other school,” only to return to the ballet studio for another lot of classes. She said this was pretty much their daily routine. She said that it was not compulsory for the girls to do this, but that a number of them did. I felt a little sheepish when I told her that I would only allow Miss 12 to do two afternoons of ballet, as she also did netball, music etc.
“Her teacher lets her play sport????” was the response I was met with. This woman was astounded that Miss 12’s ballet teacher let her play any sort of sport, as it was so bad for her technique. She told me how the girls had to watch what they ate very closely and that their classes were exceptionally strict with limited (what I would call) fun. To tell the truth the poor woman looked exhausted but summed up the conversation with, “But I guess that’s what it takes to compete at this level.”
Yes, I thought, to compete at a country town eisteddfod.
When Miss 12 expressed her disappointment that night over not placing in the section she had competed in that day, I told her about the dance school that she was up against. About the extreme focus that, not only these girls had to have, but also their parents. Their ENTIRE life was wrapped up in the hope that their 11 year old might one day become a professional dancer. I am by no means a pessimist, but I am a realist….the chances of every one of those girls in that group becoming a professional dancer are slim, to say that least. As well as being realistic about the situation, can I also mention that THEY ARE 11! and already deciding (or being persuaded) what they are going to do with the rest of their lives.
Miss 12 was in shock. (The no Maccas was the bit that really shook her!) and when we had finished our conversation I was relieved to hear that instead of wanting to become one of these girls, she actually felt sorry for them. Sure, she admired their skill, their technique and watched in awe as their Senior groups performed that night, but when I asked if that is the life she would want as an 12 year old, she smiled at me and said, “Nah, I think I’d rather just be a kid.”
And that is what I realised these kids were missing. I was impressed with their discipline, their commitment and of course, I couldn’t look past their exceptionally high standard of technique. But these kids were missing….being kids. When did our quest for high achieving children get to the point where we were willing to let them miss out on just that...being children?
My daughter is a talented girl. She dances beautifully and often places in her solo routines. But she also gets great results in Maths and English, loves to play netball, flutey toots her heart out in the school band and loves a giggly girly sleepover with lots of lollies at midnight and bacon and egg rolls for breakfast.
So thank you to her amazing ballet school, that alongside fostering beautiful ballet technique and high standards, also fosters her creativity, her love of dance and her enjoyment of all things ballet. Thank you for fostering in her a well roundedness that tells her that she is and always will be beautiful and worthy just the way she is and just however she turns out. Thank you for being a role model that teaches her to work hard….at everything, not just ballet. But most of all, while you are teaching her all of this…..
Thank you for letting her ‘just be a kid.’