Two or three days a week we see them there, legs stretching, arms reaching, jumping and spinning with such an appearance of ease. Two ballet dancers, a duet, partnering in rehearsal and preparation for their big day on the stage.
My son watches them with rapt attention. He is almost six, just completing his first tour through pre-ballet, while visions of performing in our local Nutcracker dance in his head. Classes, tights and shoes are expensive and homeschooling two kids on one income turns budgeting into a difficult, delicate dance. But this is his Dream, and how can I tell my twirling, effervescent child that we can’t afford his Dream?
We improvise. His ballet school trades with me – all his classes if I keep the studio and bathrooms tidy. I need to work about 20 minutes, 2-3 times a week to keep up my end of the bargain. His dreams are worth that, and so much more. I don my rubber gloves, and shoulder my broom. The benefits are far better than I imagined.
Because we homeschool, this new task can fit into our schedule easily – we show up early to his class and he helps me restock the toilet papers. He holds the dust pan while we sweep. He is learning a lot more than dancing. He is learning that we must work for our dreams – and that the work won’t always take place at the barre. He is learning about finding creative ways to achieve; that payment can mean so much more than the easy swipe of a credit card. He is learning how to clean a bathroom.
While we sweep and scrub, our local ballet dancers work for their dream. The male principal dancer has been selected to participate in an international ballet competition. He and his ballerina rehearse together for hours every day until toes ache and shoulders clench with fatigue. They really, really want this.
Sometimes my ballet boy doesn’t help me clean up. Instead he sits, as close to the window of the studio as he can get, eyes following every movement. Here he will be for the 20 minutes or more while I clean. I tidy up the lobby, scrub the toilets, and sweep the floors. I know they see him watching. He was thrilled to his fingertips when the ballerina, in satin pointe shoes and pink tutu, smiled at him. The day they rehearsed in costume he wriggled the way only an enthused five-year old can wriggle for joy. Both costumes had sequins.
This quiet watching is a learning time also. He is learning movements; at home I watch his awkward imitations improve from his observations. He is learning how hard a dancer must work, how they repeat the same dance over and over in their quest for flawless motion. He is learning that boys and girls are beautiful when they dance. When we talk about pointe shoes and how they ache, he learns that the beauty and the dream come with a price.
Because we homeschool he doesn’t arrive minutes before his class, to be rushed into his tights and hurried along to the studio. Because we homeschool he has the leisure to watch. I know he learns a lot in his class with his friends and that he loves his teacher. He gets some of that peer socialization and group dynamic experience that everyone always seems so concerned about. His class is fun and developmentally appropriate. He gets to stand on his tiptoes and spin! His class rehearses a caterpillar dance for the recital and his costume has pink wings. Class is fabulous.
And I am grateful for the lack of money that drove me to clean up hairpins and sweep fragments of protein bars, readying this space for the next onslaught of dancers. I am grateful for the flexibility of a homeschooling schedule and a supportive ballet school that allows me to trade, with my son in tow. We are learning so much more here than mere tendus and sautés.
The male dancer lifts his ballerina over his head as she trembles in her arabesque. I hear my son’s intake of breath and I pause next to him. He looks up at me, eyes wide:
“Mama, do you think I’ll ever be strong enough to do that?”
I tell him yes. Then I go check to make sure I have extra rubber gloves. I get the feeling I will be spending a lot of time at this ballet school.
Taylor Rutledge is a homeschooling mom, an herbalist, and a writer. Her children’s growth and adventures give her lots to write about and plenty of opportunities to herbally treat childhood injuries and illnesses. She lives in the Willamette Valley in Oregon with one husband, two children, a baby in the belly, and assorted pets and livestock. She writes about her life and experiences at http://www.anotherdayanothermom.blogspot.com.