Saturday, March 12, 2005

Slipping the ballet post in under the troll's nose

When we were trying to figure out whether to sign Mermaid Girl up for gymnastics or dance this spring session I asked her which she wanted to do. "I want to dance on a stage," she said firmly. So dance class it was. After asking around, we went with the prep dance program that's attached to the arts college where Renaissance Woman works; we get a discount, and the teacher for the youngest kids sounded (and is) excellent. Plus, we liked that it was rigorous and structured; as you may have gathered, MG is way into the frouffy stuff, and we wanted her to get the picture that dance is real work and not just tutus and fluff.

The big catch: the class meets at 3:30 on Fridays, when both of us are working. So we hired one of MG's preschool teachers to drive her across town and get her changed into her leotard. (She undercharges us by a ridiculous amount, but even so it pretty much eats up the discount.) Then I fling myself across the bridge and pick MG up when class gets out at 4:30.

I have about three draft versions of this post saved, all of them trying, more or less unsuccessfully, to describe the sweetness and poignancy of peeking in the window at the class, all those little girls in matching pink leotards and socks, hair up in buns and ponytails (oh, and one boy, in white T-shirt and black pants), all so totally focused on the teacher, skipping and plie-ing and identifying the parts of the foot and beating out prescribed rhythms on their little tambourines. (They have a drummer, not a pianist, for the music-- a sweet young guy named Ben, with a bongo and ankle bells.)

The teacher corrects them when she wants them to stand or move differently (though she has never, ever, commented on a girl's body shape or size, and if she did we'd pull our kid out like a shot) and gives out praise sparingly, but it's very potent when she does. Once she told our girl that she did a good job lifting up her knees when she skipped, and I swear for the whole next week MG was skipping around the house every chance she got, hands on hips, knees kicked up as high as humanly possible, blathering on about how her teacher said she was the best one (I can't believe her teacher would actually say that, especially with other kids around, but that was certainly the message received.)

The class is in an old building, with noisy pipes and a slow, creaky elevator to the 3rd floor. Us moms sit on benches in the hall, politely jockeying for space at the two little windows as the college dance majors brush by us in their ripped tank tops and sweats. The bulletin boards are covered in notices for internships and summer programs and auditions and jobs teaching dance to kids. Sometimes I look in the windows at the other studios, where the college students are dancing like their bones are made of rubber. Like "body" means a whole different thing to them than it does to me.

This week I got to take MG over, since her regular preschool teacher was on vacation. So for once I was there for the whole class. Not only that, I happened to be looking in when she was chosen to be the Leader for the drumming-and-marching portion of the class. She stood up, very serious, listening to the teacher's instructions, then started marching: one-two-three-four, then stand still and bang on the tambourine one-two-three-four. One by one, the teacher called the names of the kids MG passed as she progressed around the circle, until she was leading the whole class around. I could tell she was so overcome by the awesome responsibility that she couldn't quite keep track of the rhythm she was supposed to be drumming. At one point she looked up and saw me watching and started marching over towards the window, until I gestured back over to her teacher and she re-set her course. I swear my heart swelled two sizes, watching her at the head of that line, so proud and conscientious.

But the end of class was even better. Every week they all stand in a circle, holding hands, and then they drop hands and plie and finally bow while chanting in unison: "Thank you, thank you, thank you very much." Then they extend their right hands to the drummer and applaud. I know this sounds incredibly twee, but the graciousness and cuteness of it totally gets me every time.

This week, one girl was trying to get into the circle but wasn't being let in at the spot she wanted. I could see, but couldn't hear, that the teacher was trying to get it worked out, telling the kids near that girl that they needed to drop hands and let her in. While all this was going on, MG dropped the hand of the girl next to her and made a little gesture, like "come on in here, you can hold my hand." Even though she's not especially friends with this girl. No one else saw, and the other kids worked it out on the other side of the circle, but I told her later that I'd seen it.

Then, to top it all off, the teacher passed out fliers about the end-of-year performance, and they are indeed going to get to dance on a stage. They'll just be demonstrating their class work, but it will be on the college's main dance stage, in the late afternoon, with an audience. We're going to invite Uncle Skaterboy down from Vancouver.

I asked MG if she was excited and she looked slightly queasy and said in a tiny voice, "a little nervous." It's hard to tell how much of the nervousness is real and how much is what she thinks she should feel. But I am thrilled. Totally, utterly thrilled, in the most shameless ballet-mom way. It's embarrassing, but it's true. My kid! On a stage! I'm all aflutter.

But even happier about that little gesture she made in the circle. (Am I really? Yes, I think so. Yes. A compassionate ballerina. That's my girl.)


Blogger Anna said...

I'm fascinated by the idea of ballet classes to drumming.

I love that MG made that gesture too...that's wonderful. I don't think any of this is too cute at all; I'd be just as proud and thrilled as you are.

Keep us posted on her performance!

11:16 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

Ha! She's so awesome. I know it's sort of sad and wrong somehow to feel like you know a kid from the internet, but I'm all proprietary about MG like I am about my friends' kids. She is the best! She is a supergenius!

9:00 AM  
Blogger RHD said...

That is just the sweetest thing ever. All of it! Are you going to bring a bouquet of flowers for her after her performance?

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb post.

Sometimes you get a lot of comments on posts which have can't-fail subject matter but which I think are your usual quality fair but not any better. MG's 4.5 birthday, for instance--a great post, but just one of many great posts.

But this post is better.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, that was me, Angela. Could you tell or were your mystified but thrilled? Is it less thrilling that it was just regular old me?

5:51 PM  

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