Parenting and Playwriting
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The ballet bug bit me hard as child. In true "I can do that" fashion, at age three I stood in the doorway of my older sister's ballet class mimicking their combinations until the ballet mistress surrendered the age limit and ushered me into the class. In what I consider as the series of love affairs I had with various art forms as a child, ballet was the first, the longest, the most passionate and most heartbreaking. I didn't know it at three, but by thirteen it became apparent that my broad shoulders and thick thighs were better suited to Soviet era East German swimming, or perhaps pulling an ox and plough across a frozen field in Czechoslovakia.
Nevertheless, I'm not bitter about my doomed affair; in fact, nothing stirs my blood quite like the soft knock of toe shoes on a wood floor during a piqué. And so I admit, I may have exhibited a little too much enthusiasm when Laura, four, expressed a passing interest in taking a ballet class this summer. I enrolled her in a very low key class at our local recreation center, where the preschool ballerinas performed their relevés at a homemade bar, while the high school girls practiced volleyball on the other side of the gym. Despite having to duck the occasional stray volleyball, Laura fell in love, and while you'd think this development would please me, we have a little problem.
There isn't actually a ballet studio in town. There are the rec center classes offered in the summer, and there's a quite nice dance studio downtown, but the dance studio doesn't offer ballet. Well, they claim to offer "ballet, tap, and jazz" but based on their recitals, the only sort of "ballet, tap, and jazz" they offer is the kind you find in Vegas. At a strip club. And lest you think I'm being prudish, picture for a moment your kindergarten daughter dolled up like Jon Benet Ramsey wearing a black leather halter-top doing splits.
The Stripper School of Dance is, by all accounts, exceptionally well run by a dedicated and professional staff. It's quite popular among the girls in town who dance in competitions across the state winning multiple trophies against other little girls shellacked to the nines and dressed like strippers. It is apparently, a thing. A thing that teaches the girls discipline, flexibility, teamwork, and hip thrusts.
And really, what's wrong with a hip thrust? Nothing. In the hands of Bob Fosse, it's something quite divine. And the makeup? All performers wear makeup—although perhaps not quite so much. While I admit I'd prefer a more demure costume for my preschooler, I don't really think a black leather halter-top is the first step down the road to prostitution. And a dog collar really is more punk rock than stripper, when you think about it. I mean, come on, my daughter will not actually become a stripper if she enrolls in this dance studio, right? I'm sure many of the girls who attend the Stripper School of Dance will become doctors and anthropologists and physicists and heck, even theater artists. Even if some of them do become strippers, the world being what it is, we shouldn't blame the school. Women become strippers because they are desperate or uneducated or exhibitionists or gonzo-journalists—not because they go to school for it.
So what's my problem?
My problem is this: I believe the arts can shape a childhood as powerfully as a parent. I believe hours spent dancing shape your perception about your body for the rest of your life. I believe the weekends you spend writing and performing a play with the neighborhood kids teach you a confidence in your own innovation that will never leave you. I believe practicing the violin, trumpet, piano, or banjo every morning teaches you a discipline stronger than the belt. And I believe that if you teach a girl when she's four that her body is valuable because it is decorated and on display, you've taught that lesson for life.
Or maybe, I am just a prude at heart. What do you think? Would you enroll your kid in such a dance studio?
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As someone who danced as a child in an age, I can't help but laugh as I read this. Young children dancing these days can be very sexualized and project an air of pageantry, which I personally feel like is over the top. However, first hand, I can say that learning how to make shapes with your body, learning how your body moves, and use your body to work with you (not against you) to achieve self-expression, is something advantageous to any young girl--no matter what she is wearing.
The other piece of this is the costs of the "costumes" which makes taking a "dance class" completely beyond an extravagance into an unthinkable, unaffordable dream for many. Stick to your guns Catherine, and get a great "mommy and me" class together where you can both practice/play and enjoy all the positive benefits of moving to music. (And remind me to show you my Dancing Duck costume photos from 1964 when next we are together...)
Catherine--Maybe there's some other parents in town who feel the same way you do. Maybe you could get a quorum for a "traditional" ballet class and see if the school will offer it. Or hire a teacher yourselves--someone who can teach traditional ballet in the stray corner of a gym?
Monica [email protected]
What's really strange about this phenomenon is that the costumes/make-up is for the parents. When I took ballet and we did our recitals oh so long ago, we just bought a little skirt that kinda dressed up our usual pink leotard. But nowadays, the school is providing what they think WE want, the halter tops, makeup make it a performance. So more of an emphasis on the final product rather than on the learning for learning sake that was a surprisingly important part of ballet (or of any art form really). I'm hoping my girl shows natural athleticism as a soccer player so I don't have to make this call! Loved the article.
Nope, I wouldn't.
But would you go to an actual strip club with your writer’s group? : )