Friday, November 18, 2011

Ballet Class

I took my 2-year-old to ballet class for the first time. I was sure she was ready for it because she loves imitating the moves in that old Sesame Street clip of kids in dance class, and doing the “Snuffle Shuffle.” But when I tried to prep her by showing her selected YouTube clips of “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake,” she watched in a silence that I was sure was pure enthralled fascination, but could also have been a blank and uncomprehending stare – and then after 5 minutes yelled “Watch Oscar!” So maybe it’s just a love of Sesame Street.

I personally had watched the clips in, yes, enthralled fascination, which was also filled with nostalgia. My parents had taken me as a child to “The Nutcracker” every year – and every year I had dreamed that I could do it too. In fact, for 10 or so years of my childhood and adolescence, I spent 1-3 days a week trying.

When asked about these endeavors, I have a standard answer: “My parents knew I was going to be tall, and they wanted me to have good posture. So they sent me to ballet class.”

Tall I definitely turned out. If you looked across a row of girls in the class, I was easy to spot – I was the aberration shooting up out of the even horizontal line of their heights. (Good posture is more debatable.) I also inevitably turned out in ways differently than perhaps my parents envisioned – religiously observant of Judaism, for one.

Now I’m the parent, and I find myself projecting. What skills, values, and character will sending my daughter to ballet class draw out of her? For that matter, how will she be shaped by being sent to Jewish Day School? What other educational experiences should – or shouldn’t – we as parents instill into her to influence how she thinks and acts?  

If observance of Judaism complicates a girl’s practice of ballet in the long run, the religious implications of sending a 2-year-old to dance class may be slight. She doesn’t understand that there will be a big recital at the end of the year that she won’t attend because it’s on Shabbat. She also wouldn’t understand the difficulties inherent in an invitation for a playdate at a classmate’s house. Unlike me, she doesn’t pay attention to the parents trying to engage me in conversation about the rationale and means for getting a head start on Christmas shopping.

But someday she will. I can’t help but play it out in my head.

Ultimately, though, I come to realize that nurture only goes so far. My daughter is blessed with her own personality, reasoning and logic skills, and has her own likes and needs. From what I can tell as of right now, she’s the leader who doesn’t care if she has followers, who enters a room full of kids watching TV and, instead of sitting unobtrusively in the back as I might, marches up and positions herself in front of the very first row. I think she’ll do fine.

More importantly, I believe that it’s necessary for one’s identity to engage in the process – the experience – of working through these questions for oneself at some point.

For now, I just got great nachas from watching her eagerly prancing around doing her darnedest to imitate the instructor’s every move. She came out of class beaming, her first words, “I did it! I DANCED!”

She’s probably going to be tall, and it’d be great for her to have good posture. I also want her to have self-confidence and strength in her own identity and abilities. I believe in her, and I want her to believe in herself.

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