Dance Like Your Inner Child is Watching

When I asked my toddler boy what sport he wanted to do the coming school year, I was a little surprised by his response: Dance. The summer was fast approaching, and I thought that perhaps his answer would change before the next school year. After all, he’d only had one dance recital through his school and was probably just answering that way because it was fresh in his mind.

Over the summer both our son and daughter played soccer. While my two-year-old daughter was scoring goals and going after the ball like it was a matter of life or death; our son twirled in the field and sang songs to himself. Our son’s Taekwondo classes were better received but capturing his attention was very hard earned somedays. Swimming and gymnastics were met with even less enthusiasm. Overall, the preparation and fighting to get out the door took longer than the actual activity.

While our daughter cheered every time we pulled into the parking lot for an activity for our son, he whined about how he didn’t want to go. We worried that we would not ever find an activity that he liked well enough to not complain about going.

When it came time to register for dance, I asked our son to rank all the activities he had done over the summer and to pick a favorite. He didn’t have to think about it at all and promptly answered that “Dance” was his favorite. Then I asked if he wanted to go to a dance academy or do the dance at school; to which he replied “both.”

The registration for dance classes at the academy was a bit more everything than I imagined. It was expensive, confusing, and fast paced. The spots filled up as quickly as they were posted. I had no idea what class to put him into, I contacted his dance teacher from school, and she recommended hip-hop.

After much effort, I successfully registered both our five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter for dance classes on the same day with a half hour in-between. I paid for their costumes for their four scheduled recitals and guessed at their shoe size, since dance shoes are sized by how the designer was feeling that day and doesn’t follow any logic.

The sheer number of emails I received from their coach should have been an ominous warning that dance is indeed a serious sport. Instead of reading the sometimes-multiple emails a day, I forwarded them to a folder that I knew upon creation, I would never open.

When the day finally arrived to start dance class, my husband and I foolishly went together as a family, directly after picking up the kids from school. Right away, it was clear that we were the odd ones out. Our children where the only ones not wearing dance gear and we were the only parents that did not seem to know that we couldn’t enter the academy but that we were expected to sit in the hallway, on the cement floor, until our child’s name was called.

That first day of dance was rough for both my husband and me. The noise, confusion, the hordes of little girls doing splits in the hallway dressed like they should be on tv; it all felt overwhelming. We decided right then that we would not come together again, it was simply too much.

After a few weeks we started to get into a rhythm that required lots of driving and operating on a very tight schedule. Thankfully, the kids both tried their best to be fast getting ready and never complained.

Parents are not allowed to watch the older kids; we could however go watch our 2-year-old daughter who clearly loved dancing. She watched the coach intently and tried to do everything she did. By the third class we had her in a tutu that riveled the other children and she was fully in her element.

Our son, however, didn’t talk much about dance. He said he liked it and never complained about going but didn’t say much else. Last week we were notified (by email) that the parents could come watch the last five minutes of his class. I missed this email and was unaware. I also missed his coach’s call out into the crowded cement hallway. Along with one other lost mother who was as bewildered as I, missed the slim opportunity to watch my son’s dance class demonstration.

Afterwards, my son came running out of class with tears running down his face. He was devastated that I didn’t come to see him dance. I apologized profusely and vowed that I would do my best to never miss an opportunity to watch him dance again.

Once home, I painstakingly went through the dozens of unread emails, signed up for the academy’s app on my phone, and committed to myself to set aside my discomforts about being a dance mom and to simply do better regarding all things dance related.

Last night was dance night. My husband and I ran ourselves ragged picking the kids up from school and getting them dressed in dance gear. My husband cooked while I chauffeured the kids individually to class, back home, and then repeat. To make things more challenging, it was also storming outside, and everything just took longer.

Our daughter’s class was first, and she was glowing from the moment we pulled in the parking lot. She marched her way up to the check-in desk and then sat down in the cement hallway to change into her dance shoes. When her dance troop was called, she raced into the studio, with me tailing behind struggling to carry shoes, coats, water bottle, and the weight of my own prejudice about dance.

My mother was a dancer most of my life. She got into dancing to cope after my dad left. She drank alcohol and popped pills of all types, and then rationalized her behavior because she went to dance class. Whenever a doctor would suggest stopping drinking or taking handfuls of unnecessary medications, she responded with she was fine because she danced. Parent conferences? No, she had dance. Help with homework? No, she had dance. Any sort of behavior that resembled a functioning parent? No, she had dance. Dance of course was a symptom, not the problem. But burrowed deep within my inner child was the equation that dance equaled neglect.

It wasn’t until my children were both drawn to dance like a moth to flame, did I realize how much distain I had for dance culture in general. And it wasn’t until last night that I realized dancing represented my lost opportunities as a child. Once realized, it all became comical. My forty-two-year-old self was allowing my inner child to throw a tantrum over decade’s old hurt from a person who is no longer living.

A tear welled up in my eye as I watched my beautiful, smart, strong, baby girl, shake her stuff and baby shark with the best of them. She was focused but would occasionally come over to get “a drink of water” and smile at me because she knew I was watching her. By the end of class, she was running over to give me hugs and high-fives as she cleaned up. On the way home she happily sang songs in the car.

A quick turn around and I was back in the car driving my son. He was holding his shoes because he didn’t want to get them wet, even though it had stopped raining. With minutes to spar, I frantically got his bright red hip-hop shoes on, and we ran inside. There were many more people than there was just thirty minutes prior. Both of us quickly became overstimulated. We waited in line to check in, right as his coach came out to call the students in. He froze. I panicked. Just then the only other boy in his class, reassured him and they ran in together. I checked him in and took a deep breath.

The curtains that cover the observation window into the dance studio have a small space at the bottom. I couldn’t stand in front of the curtain, lest I receive the scorn from one of the coaches. The mother who had also missed the observation the week before was sitting on the cement below the window peaking upwards. She informed me that she heard about the sin of missing the three-minute dance preview the week prior the entire car ride home, so she was determined to make sure she didn’t miss any opportunity to see her two kids in the class dance. I quickly joined her and for the next twenty-seven minutes I cranked my neck to spy a glimpse of my son dancing.

At first, I thought my son was causing trouble because he was stretching out his shirt. I was expecting something like “Cornholio” from Beavis and Butthead and prepared myself for the worst. Instead, he dropped his stretched-out dance t-shirt over his shoulder and danced with complete self-assurance. His outfit now looked like something straight out of the eighties as his bare shoulder shimmied and rolled while he strutted his stuff.

Just as my neck and back were beginning to ache from my ridiculous viewing position, the observation curtain flung open. I jumped up and was the first one visible as my son turned around to demonstrate the dance for an upcoming recital. His smile was ear-to-ear, and everything felt right in the world. Both my children found absolute joy in dancing. So why not I?

Group fitness has never been my scene. A few weeks ago, I stumbled into a dance class that was geared for older people but open to everyone. I had some fun with it, enough to want to go back, but didn’t think much else about it. I certainly didn’t view it as dancing but as fitness to music.

After experiencing the joy of my children dancing and accepting that I have some ridiculous prejudices about dance in general, I signed up for the group dance class for this morning at my gym. While going to this class wasn’t anything special, my attitude was, I was there to dance!

For forty-five minutes I danced for my inner child. I danced for my own children. I danced away from the childhood pain and replaced it with hip thrusts and zombie walks. I laughed as I danced. Those around me, many of which were women in their seventies and eighties, laughed as well. We had fun and were silly as we rehearsed our Halloween dance. We shouted and stomped and smiled. My inner child jumped up and down with excitement as I ungracefully but confidently strutted my stuff. She watched with wonderment and joy and together we found gratitude between twirls.

Today, I will dance like my inner child is watching. I will find time to be silly and have fun. I will rejoice in my children’s enthusiasm for dancing. I will make time to support, encourage, and watch our children dance. I will be the mother I always wanted and never had.

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