Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Joining The Dance 

Willow’s dance class in town was cancelled due to low enrollment, but we like the non-competitive philosophy, so while we try to recruit other mommies -- from the parent network and preschool parents, mostly -- we're temporarily attending the beginner’s class in East Longmeadow, where the much more suburban crowd sustains a two-studio program with little difficulty.

It’s a half hour drive, but after grandma spent so much time and energy on outfits, and after so much psyche-up, from studio visits to a lifetime learning to love movement and direction, it would feel too much like witholding a promise to not find some other solution. Today, we’re trying the Wednesday class, since it’s a tougher trek on Saturday mornings, and, like her Daddy, Willow’s not much of a morning person. My teaching schedule allows it, so the four of us come together.

Dance for kids ages 3 to 5 (technically, 2.9 to 5, but who’s counting) seems to be primarily about placement and direction. The teacher leads the kids through several line-walking activities, first along the tape, then along the same tape but with a blue construction paper puddle to hop over, then finally through a series of small yellow hoops laid end to end. Marching order counts, and the teacher is proactive enough to give each kid her turn to model the activity. They begin and end in a circle on the floor, feet in the center, bodies radiating out like a multiracial starfish.

The mothers sit in the doorway, in institutional chairs borrowed from the room's periphery, and talk about parent things: developmental milestones, where to get the most darling little jeans. Occasionally, they spot their kids peering at them mid-hop, and call out "pay attention to the teacher!"

In the meantime, the advanced ballet class begins in the other studio. Cassia and I watch from the doorway as the once-famous dancer, back braced against his age, takes a crowd of healthy-looking adolescents through their sped-up paces. After a while, I can feel her squirming in my arms, and I look down to discover her face screwed up in concentration as she tries to point and squat, count and hum all at once. "One", she says, an echo of the instructor, and her bare foot rises towards her knee, pushed out just so, as if she, too, were paying for the privilege.

As a proud feminist daddy of two blond, adorable girls, I have my qualms about all the pink and lavender, the fetish of toe shoes, the unavoidable clique of the dancer. Somewhere in my media literate mind I worry that I will have failed if my kids cannot push trucks like the boys, as if tomboy were the only way a girlchild could grow up truly healthy. And sure enough, from the doorway I can see the way Willow keeps creeping back to the head of the line, pushy and masculine, and though I am happy to see her take correction as the teacher cheerfully puts her back in her place, there is a secret part of me that cannot help but be thrilled at her competitive nature.

But I'm a big supporter of dance. In high school, I took dance for a few terms to fulfill my gym credit -- partially because the very idea of competitive sports brings back hard memories of being the uncoordinated dork in the outfield, but also because, like my younger brother “Spilly”, I seem to suffer from a tendency towards accidental self-destruction, a lifetime of smashed watch faces and overbruised shins caused by what other people would call sheer clumsiness, and I prefer to refer to as “low limbic awareness.”

I was never a great dancer -- yearbook pictures show me hopping like the floor's on fire, amidst a sea of graceful female leapers in leotards. But I liked being away from the testosterone peer group; liked the precision and rhythm, the mind/body work, the comfortable clothes, the self as instrument. After so long pushing the brain as an academic, I miss the athleticism of this, the only sport-realm I ever felt I might actually make my own.

And this particular studio, for all its famous graduates and work ethic, is ultimately one which values the individual over the program. You can see it in the way the girls arrive: serious, but thoughtful, comfortable and without the haughtiness of Hollywood dancehype. The dowdiness of the studio floors and the way the director sits behind her desk in the middle of everything, selling sweatshirts and toeshoes and answering student phone messages throughout the hour, speak to a sense of intimacy over impressiveness which belies the suburban Longmeadow stereotype so prevalent in our own rural smalltown. The pictures that line the walls feature the school’s founders and directors, back in their professional heyday, but their black and white stillness is subtle, and their uniform 5x7 size says what it needs to.

When Willow emerges, with a happiness that will last until about seven steps into the parking area, I consider asking about an adult beginner’s class. But today is about Willow, not me. Some other time, perhaps. After all, just three more months and Cassia will be old enough for the parent-and-toddler class, and I get out of the classroom early enough to join the crowd one day or another, if I wish. Though her mama is, surely, eager to return to the bar herself, there's nothing wrong with being the only Daddy in the room.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:08 PM |

I always had that same desire to take adult gymnastics classes while watching fe... gymnastics had that same dizzying array of pink tulle, with a few little boys in sweat pants thrown in.
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