My oldest daughter took her first creative movement class when she was two. Ten years later, it is clear that dance will always bring her joy.
For the past eights years she has been at the same studio, with wonderful teachers and friends that have been instrumental in her development not just as a dancer but as a person.
She’s learned that she needs to show up. One missing person in a small group class throws off the learning of choreography, not to mention the choreography itself if it were to happen during a performance. You go even if you’re tired. You commit.
She’s learned that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. She learns choreography with relative ease and has excellent timing, but she struggles with flexibility. She’s learned to identify what needs work and then to work on it.
She’s learned to be organized. Balancing time at the studio and school and still having time to relax and play takes a lot of self-awareness and time management skills.
She’s learned to take care of her body – to fuel it with proper nutrition and stretch muscles and soak in baths when needed.
But I think one of the hardest and most valuable lessons she’s learned from dance happened just this weekend. A week ago we went to a fitting for her very first pair of pointe shoes. She was over the moon excited about this milestone since she learned she’d be starting the pointe program. She oohed and aahed over her beautiful, smooth, shiny shoes. I heard all about everything she learned from her teacher about foot care, injuries, practice, etc. Enthusiasm level: high.
Then came the time to sew the ribbons. The practice she got sewing a ribbon to a piece of felt in class did not prepare her for this. Nor did all of the clothes she’s sewn for her American Girl dolls. Nor did the hours she has spent engaged in other crafts.
The knot isn’t in the right place. The thread keeps getting tangled. The needle won’t go through where it’s supposed to go through and she can’t push it without hurting her fingers and something is wrong with it and with the whole world.
If you’re a mom and you’re reading this you can probably imagine how hard it was for me to resist the urge to snatch away the shoe and do it for her. But I didn’t. I helped untangle the thread, modeled one stitch and handed it right back. In the midst of the irritation I knew this moment must not end in defeat. For this particular child of mine, too much comes easily. School is a breeze; she makes friends everywhere; she swims like a fish and it took her about six minutes to learn to ride her bike at the age of four. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with frustration, so she hasn’t had a lot of experience developing patience with herself.
Tears threatened; feet stomped. Watching her, I had a sudden flashback to myself at that age, so frustrated with my hair that I threw a brush against the floor hard enough to snap it into two pieces. I told her to put the shoe down and take a break and come back. I told her that some things are just hard and you have to figure out a way through them. I told her to breathe. I took a peek at her work and it wasn’t perfect but it was coming along. I recognized this as a test for myself as much as for her. Do I step in and help her with something new and unfamiliar? Or will she get more out of the obstacle if I do not save her from it? I went upstairs to put the baby down for his nap and when I came down she was finished. And because I know she has a wealth of tenacity inside her, I knew she would be. She beamed with the satisfaction of having accomplished something difficult. I hope she remembers this feeling every time she ties those suckers on her feet, and every time she struggles with anything, really. Her countenance had changed entirely when she proudly held up the shoe to show her work.
One down, one to go.