Lessons in DancingWhen I was a little girl I wanted more than anything to take horseback riding lessons. Instead, my mother signed me up for ballet.

The barre exercises were boring. We never once got to twirl like real ballerinas did, and at recital time we just ran flat-footed and thumping across a stage. But the part of ballet I hated most was its smell. I could have breathed the scent of horse manure all day long, but the odor of kid sweat and well-used slippers made me want to throw up.

But the part of ballet I hated most was its smell. I could have breathed the scent of horse manure all day long, but the odor of kid sweat and well-used slippers made me want to throw up.

But somehow I ended up with a daughter who’s loved ballet since she realized it existed. At age two, she’d pull her pink dress-up tutu over her diaper and make me hum Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” so she could practice leaps and spins. At five, she started asking for lessons. I hemmed and I hawed and then signed her up for modern dance instead. And all went well until the day she told me, crying, that her teacher had told her not to dance like a ballerina.

The closest ballet studio is a long drive away, reached by winding back roads that lead up and over the dark forested rise of a mountain. The streets surrounding the studio are always snarled with traffic, and the parking lot is always full. The school’s director informed me that although the small market next door doesn’t like ballet parents to park there and parking on the street is off limits too, the folks at the feed store don’t mind extra cars. But to park there, you must grab your small ballet child by the hand and run her across a rush-hour highway in the dark—and that’s why the feed store parking lot is always empty and the illegal spots in the street are always full.

There’s a small waiting room the more seasoned parents have always filled by the time we arrive. The “en pointe” class comes after my daughter’s, so the room is also jammed with tightly coiffed teenage girls stretching their bodies in frightening, unnatural ways. Their chat consists of bunion complaints and discussions of toe pain, which makes me want to snatch up my daughter and run like hell. I don’t, though—I calmly escort her to class, and then, because there’s no place to sit, I leave. The class lasts three quarters of an hour, so I get into my illicitly street-parked car and drive to the market next door, where I buy a cup of coffee and keep a vulture-like eye on cars pulling out of the studio lot.

My daughter is who she is and she’ll be who she’ll be, whether you like it, Mom, or lump it, Mom, so hold your nose, snatch up your car keys, and help her get there.

My daughter’s first ballet class fell on the one day each month parents are allowed to watch. And so I stood peering around the shoulders of other peering parents through a small window in order to get a glimpse of the dancers who are our kids. My daughter learned barre exercises and the five positions, and then the teacher taught the children spot turns. As I stood there watching her glad, giddy spins, I had a realization: The place absolutely reeked of that horrible smell from my childhood. Fortunately, this was followed by another realization, something my own mother, thank God, eventually came to know: My daughter is who she is and she’ll be who she’ll be, whether you like it, Mom, or lump it, Mom, so hold your nose, snatch up your car keys, and help her get there.

My daughter loves her class. “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life!” she tells me, twirling her tulle skirt. She’s never once mentioned the odor.

I wondered whether I’d just been a weird kid. So one day, I asked her.

“At your ballet class…what do you think of…the smell?”

This is the child who complained every day of kindergarten about the stench of the bus exhaust. This is the kid who wants a new lunch box because a wayward celery stalk made hers too “stinky.” This is the same girl who runs, pinching her nose, when my clothes carry the scent of my horse.

“What smell?” she asked.

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1 Comment

  • Laurie Closson
    Posted July 5, 2014 12:05 pm 0Likes

    Susan Krawitz has really hit the nail on the head with her conclusion in Lessons on Dancing, and it was a nice ride through her piece.

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