To dance or not to dance?

One of my teenage daughter’s few concerns, when our family decided to move this summer, was to find a new studio. After dancing ballet for 10 years, and being en pointe for two, it was important for Shannon to find somewhere similar. We looked at various places over the next few weeks, met with a few directors, and found ‘the one.’ Then she finished out her season in Alabama with a summer production. 

Watching Shannon dance on that stage, for the last time, with the studio that had been such a large part of her life — was an ‘emotional mom moment,’ to say the least. Big tears were shed, “but at least she’ll still be dancing,” I told myself. 

And you, dear reader, already know what came next. Shannon wasn’t happy at the studio here, and confessed to me on the drive home one evening that she wanted to quit. “You mean stop dancing at this studio?” I said, sure that I’d misunderstood. 

“No, Mom. I don’t think I want to do ballet anymore,” she said.

There aren’t many instances that I can say — with absolute certainty — that I handled a situation correctly … but the fact that I held it together in that moment should have earned me a mom trophy.

Although I’m a firm believer in ‘finishing what you start,’ this was an unusual situation. “Take a few days, listen to that voice inside yourself, and trust it to tell you the right thing to do,” I said.

And so she let go of dance. The next week she joined the after-school drama program and immediately fell in love with it and the other students. Her weekly guitar lessons began to produce nightly practice. Shannon thrived, even without dance. And I loved seeing her thrive, even while I mourned the vision of her future that I’d imagined. 

I don’t think I’ve ever ‘lived vicariously’ through Shannon, but for 10 years I watched the time and effort she’d put into ballet. And sure, a little part of me acknowledged the time and effort and money I’d put in. Now I couldn’t help but think of the dance solos she’d miss — but also those solos that I’d miss getting to watch. 

Maybe it was a little about me.

But change is healthy. My daughter isn’t three years old anymore, and I surely couldn’t expect her to keep the same interests: Abby Cadabby isn’t her favorite toy and the “Caillou” phase has passed (thank goodness). It’s my job to give both of my daughters the support and encouragement they need to build their own, beautiful lives, even if it’s not exactly the lives I’ve envisioned. 

I wanted to see Shannon shine … on a stage … en pointe … preferably in a plait tutu. But she’ll still shine in her own certain way; my expectations were just a little too specific. 

And who knows, maybe I’ll still see that plait tutu after all. Following the completion of this big, emotional mom journey (through which I’ve maneuvered quite successfully, if I do say so myself) … Shannon recently confessed to me on the drive home that she missed dance. “You mean, just in general?” I said, sure that I’d misunderstood.

“No, Mom. I think I might want to take ballet again,” she said.

And so, dear reader tell me … what comes next? 

* This column first appeared in The Walton Tribune on December 12, 2020 *


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