Ballet shoes

I have to buy a leotard and tights for my daughter's first dance class. Any solid color, they say, but I have been too scarred by Sweet Valley Twins book 1, where Jessica gets positively ruined by her (French) ballet instructor for wearing a purple leo. I cannot relegate my daughter to the fate of Jessica Wakefield, so I veer towards the pale pinks, the blacks, the neutrals.

Her hair must be away from her face, which is perhaps my biggest challenge. My daughter, she who barely had any hair until she turned two, now has fine, shiny hair that falls out of barrettes and slides out of rubber bands. I cut her bangs short, her hair into a bob, but then I'm lulled by visions of the princesses she loves and let it all grow out. Now, she spends most of her time tilting her head back and pushing her hair off her face so she can see. I beg her to let me tie it in ponytails. Like all of toddlerhood, sometimes I lose the battles. 

Yesterday, when my almost-three year old woke up and I opened her bedroom door to greet her, I was struck speechless by her. She has become a big girl, and it happened overnight. Her pudgy toddler legs have elongated and thinned out. Her round toddler belly is shrinking. She holds real conversations now. Each weeknight she grabs my face and asks me "Mama, how was work?" with genuine interest in her voice. Then she brushes my own hair, not fine and shiny like hers, off my face so she can kiss my nose. 

And soon I will dress her in a leotard and tights, in ballet shoes and buns. Saturday mornings will become our special time, where she and I leave the boys behind. What if she hates it? I wonder. What if she eschews the things I loved as a kid? The dance classes and recitals and, best of all, the competitions. The backstages with their haze of hairspray. The turned ankles. The hours, the days, the years. 

But, I then think, what if she loves it? 

Dancing shoes

astonish-me-by-maggie-shipsteadI'm reading a book set partly in the ballet world (Astonish Me, Maggie Shipshead) and eavesdropping on three young men, dancers too, on the A train tonight, talking about how their new choreographer actually respects them, how this dance is different from the others before it. How this choreographer saved them from walking out that day, from quitting dance altogether. Dancing is a commitment. If you ask me I'll tell you I was a dancer as a kid, but as an adult it's pretty clear that what I did back then wasn't dance, it was mime. Routines, memorized. Sometimes when the lights were just right, bouncing off the sequins dangling from our headbands, it was more than that, maybe, but only sometimes. At my tiny dancing school in New Jersey in the 1980s, dance was a jazz warm-up set to Janet Jackson; a series of back walkovers set to (still inexplicably) an old, slow, sad song called "Send in the Clowns." Dance was French braids backstage, blue eyeshadow, long rides in our minivan, clouds of hairspray. Dance was missing out on school field trips to Ellis Island because there was an important dance competition in rural Pennsylvania, and we needed the day for travel.

I was a dancer until one day I decided I wasn't, and that was that. Preteen me realized I was never going to be a professional dancer, so why continue? High school me realized I was never going to cheer in college,  so why continue? I suppose that's just who I am; I wake up sometimes and realize something that had been a part of me has broken away in the night. What did dance bring me, I wonder. Besides great memories and a flair for being onstage, what did all those years do for me? So what that I still perform tap routines when no one's looking? Was it worth it?

I've still never been to Ellis Island, even though I've lived in New York for years, and the answer is still yes, will always be yes.