In My Ohio

On the Ballet Class

photo courtesy of google images
Darren C. Demaree

It was as if I had become an honorary citizen of my daughter’s most active daydream. She was wearing pink. Everything was pink. Even her hair, which her mother had turned into some sort of origami design that was trapped to be forever immobile by the same power that was keeping me glued to my plastic chair, had been tied up with a pink bow. Now, the sheer intensity of the ballet/princess scenario caused me to black out several times, but here is what I remember.

Not one of the girls stopped looking in the giant, room-length mirror in front of them. Even when they laughed and talked with each other, they were looking straight ahead at themselves in the mirror. There were whole exchanges that took place where, from a distance, it appeared they were discussing the future with their mirrored selves. I asked my wife if all the of the girls were friendly with each other, and though she answered my query, she too appeared to be transfixed in the mirror by thoughts of whether or not she should be keeping her most recent pixie cut of a hair do.

I looked into the mirror myself and in this context I appeared to be the wolf in whatever fancy was playing through their young, storybook minds. If I had howled, it would have only quickened their prancing. They would have combated me with hair flips and tutu pulls, their cycle through foot positions and basic steps would have surely felled me.

Once the instructor asserted her beauty salon authority over the barely listening group of twelve or so girls, their motions appeared to have some direction, but that was only a frame for what they really wanted to do, be a ballerina. You see, when the dancer is four, very little of being a ballerina has to do with actual ballet steps. Being a ballerina is all in the preparation and execution of the visual of being a ballerina. They hesitate to spin all three hundred and sixty degrees, for what if they could no longer see themselves as what they always imagine themselves to be?

Now, my daughter seems to be a slightly serious (always doing “her work” which is writing poems like dad or drawing pictures) and slightly silly (laughing hysterically at jokes she can’t remember to include you in, but were still damn funny), but put in this dream-reflected reality she was hopelessly ballerina. It would have been off-putting if she hadn’t been so incredibly happy, thrilled really at this idea that she was one hundred percent beautiful and elegant and playful all at the same time.

I have no predetermined goals for her, and if I were to venture a guess she probably won’t become a princess or a ballerina, but something about this process made her feel whole. She was in motion, all of her, even her imagination, and that really was awesome to witness. We have this little rehearsed thing we do together where I ask her, “What kind of girl are you?” She responds every time with “Strong girl. Smart girl. Sweet girl.” It’s our thing and I started teaching it to her to make sure she would know what I felt were the most important things for her to remember. I want her to grow up believing she is strong enough, smart enough, and kind enough to exist in any scenario.

At first glance it didn’t appear like a ballet class would be the place for her to show me that she was all three of those things, but for every glance she directed at the mirror she would also give her mother and I a look of determination. For every hair twirl she did, she would also make sure to mouth the steps her instructor was giving them to help memorize the routine. Even when her mind was obviously lost in the ballerina character, if one of her friends fell or took a misstep, she would help them up or help them get back to where they belonged.

At the end of the class all she wanted to do was play basketball in the gym, and a few of the other ballerinas joined in as well in some hilarious attempts to run around in stocking feet, dribbling the ball into the bleachers, and throwing the ball about half of the way towards the basket. She appeared to be out of her ballerina trance at that point, but even when she appeared lost in that mirror she was still a strong girl, a smart girl, and a sweet girl. She was my girl, and even though I had trouble seeing her smile through the volume of pink, I couldn’t have been any prouder.