…Or what dance training has given my daughter (a mother’s point of view).
For my daughter’s 18th Birthday, her friends and I compiled a scrapbook of her life to date. It turns out that it was the best possible therapy I could have ever had. In all their comments and letters and Facebook posts and chats, in their photographs, shared memories and the secret afternoons spent with them, I was given a unique view of her from the perspective of others.
One thing became obvious though…We couldn’t imagine what this girl would be like without dance in her life.
I don’t have a dance background myself; I never went to classes as a child so why did I choose ballet classes for my daughter?
She was clumsy, always falling over, usually splitting her lip and when she did so she would leave a horror scene in her wake! She couldn’t skip either – it was a funny one legged attempt. I thought all girls could skip naturally! I enrolled her in the local ballet class when she was just a tiny three year old!
I was a good dance mum; I made the costumes, supported the shows as a chaperone & matron. I loved watching her dance more than anything. She stood out because she was mine and for no other reason than that. At seven her dance teacher pulled me to one side after her lesson and said “she has something special, a unique quality. I want her to audition for The Royal Ballet School”. YOU WHAT!?
She didn’t get in. It had nothing to do with me sewing her elastic on her ballet shoes and forgetting to take the pins out either! Not getting selected at that audition may have been the best thing that happened to her, ever. She was successful at her next audition and has never looked back since.
So in the very first instance, dance taught her that rejection is not the end, if you keep at it the right opportunity will arise. There have been other disappointments in her training and in her life outside of dance but she has always referred back to that first rejection, gathered her thoughts and moved forward. It was an important life lesson to have experienced so early on.
She has learned to appreciate all people, from all walks of life and from many parts of the world due entirely to her dance network and experiences. After the Royal Ballet she auditioned for The Urdang Academy in London. It took her (us) into London most weekends and London is very different to where we live. It taught her how to read bus and train timetables more by osmosis than actually reading them because at such a young age she clearly wasn’t travelling by herself!
Her first show, at The Place in London, was just a couple of days after the 7/7 bombings, the bus in Tavistock Square exploded just a street away from the Theatre where she was due to perform. I don’t mean to oversimplify things but this brought into sharp focus that not all humans are kind, that life is for living. These were the kind, simple, gentle explanations that you would give to an eight year old. We looked at the pictures of missing people pinned to the railings outside Euston Station and we talked. This was a sad lesson in man’s inhumanity to man. I could have stopped her going, but doing that would have let down her classmates. The entire cast turned up as always, the show must go on. I think the media coverage after 7/7, rather than the event itself, left her with a fear of the underground for a while, but she also learned to overcome that fear. She has engendered a passionate interest in world events, conflicts and difficulties, determined to change the world someday.
I separated from her father when she was just about to start secondary school and at this very difficult time in our lives I know that dance gave her escape. Escape from the troubles at home, escape from the arguments, and escape from me trying to hold things together. Her dance teachers at this point were incredibly supportive becoming almost surrogate parents. Without dance I could have had a very troubled teenager on my hands!
Dance gave her friends; it gave her friends outside of school. So when friendships got tough in the teenage years there was always dance class later and other friends to be with. I am very sure that some of them will be there for the rest of her life. You cannot measure the value of the gift of friendship.
Ah, what about body confidence? I do remember when she was a baby promising myself that I would do all that I could to make her feel beautiful. I didn’t want her to have any of the emotional attachment to food that I have. This is always a tricky subject in the teenage years, but regular exercise had seen to it that she had a neat, strong little figure, yet also had the ability to eat more than you would think could physically fit inside her torso. She still does and I am jealous! She doesn’t weigh herself and eats only when she is hungry, which is quite often! She loves food.
Fitness and stamina come next. This girl has an innate hatred of running for exercise. If she sees runners or joggers she will spout forth a diatribe of why…why would anyone do that, what’s the point? Completely blinkered to the fact that they could be just as passionate about running as she is about dance! Yet during the school years on Sports Day she was a secret weapon for her team; she was always in the long distance races. This girl who hated running would start at the very back of the pack and just keep going without even breaking into a sweat. She only ever ran once a year. To my knowledge since leaving school she has never run again. Dancing for 5, 6 even 7 hours some days gave her incredible stamina packed into a tiny physique. Little did she know that by the time she would attend University the dance day would often be double that.
Does she sound like she was a perfect teenager? Honestly, she wasn’t! But finding a passion early in her life meant that she always had something to work for, a goal or a target. Young dancers are also used to criticism and corrections, they don’t harden to it and you have to be there for the tears and the breakdowns but they do know how to take it. You cannot answer back to your ballet mistress. Dancers have tenacity, persistence, perseverance and every other synonym of determination that you can think of. Dance kept her busy with little time for distractions and unnatural stimulants had no part in her life, she preferred instead the endorphins and adrenaline of performing. For this I am incredibly grateful.
She had learned from a young age to plan time for her homework; I always used the threat that if homework wasn’t completed there would be no dance lesson. By the time she was studying for GCSE’s she was so good at time management that I could just trust that she would just get on and do her school work, I never had to check or nag. At ‘A’ Level she was an expert; she already knew that by studying during her free periods whilst physically at college it left evenings free for dancing and now also teaching.
So this brings us to confidence, at just 16 she could command and control a class from ages 3 to 13+, she could confidently liaise and converse with their parents and was well liked and respected by all. She could travel confidently alone to other towns and cities to take a new class of her own and immediately integrate and socialise with her peers.
There have been turning points and defining moments. She has had some wonderful mentors and role models. She has had dance experiences with many less fortunate than herself and they have been life changing. She worked with Epic Arts (Cambodia) one year and communication was almost impossible initially but within a week there was mutual respect, affection and understanding between all the dancers. This was a major lesson in learning to trust.
Dance has cost me dearly financially, but if it had been a conscious investment I consider that the returns have been priceless.
The girl and the dance cannot be separated.
Lee Ann Womak – I Hope You Dance