Even at three years old, you are infatuated with movement.
You have been sitting in our laps to hear books about pigs and hedgehogs who dance, have been twirling in our hallways, and jumping with the abandon of a wild rabbit.
You have insisted on wearing tutus since you were two. You were given a pile of old, dress-up tutus and tossed them on over your dresses, leggings, and even pajamas. There have been nights when you slept in two or three tutus, layered one on top of another. The lavender one is quite tattered now, but it is your favorite still. When you wore it to the doctor’s office, she asked if it was a princess dress. But we told her, no, it’s just your “everyday” tutu.
You have been looking forward to dance class for quite a while.
So, I signed you up for an expressive movement class at a local creativity center. We are calling it ballet, but it is much less formal, of that I made sure.
You know I was a dancer. I pulled out my ballet slippers and showed them to you. Tentatively, I put them on and showed you how to do first position.
You were enchanted.
Truth be told, I was enchanted too. But I was also nervous. A sense of over-protection swept over me like the strains of Romeo and Juliet’s pas de duex.
Dance and I had a love/not-love relationship for decades before I finally hung up my leg warmers and pointe shoes, threw away the leotards who’s stink of sweat never fully seemed to get washed out, and gained some weight.
I have no recollection of my first dance class, or if it was my choice to go. I do remember the years of body shame, perfectionism, food restriction, and self loathing. I remember being measured, being told at 15 my breasts were too big to ever be a “real” dancer, and I was way too tall to ever be partnered or lifted. I remember being encouraged to do harmful things to stretch deeper, be thinner. Part of this is an inevitable path of an athlete, but for me it was totally unhealthy and perpetuated years of emotional trouble and poor health.
My wish for you is a love/love/love relationship, not just with dance, but also with your body.
If you only had any idea how beautiful the soft curve of your baby belly is over the waist band of your leotard and tutu. Your knobby knees and the rolls of oversized, pink tights around your ankles take my breath away. They are sights of innocence, of a girl child who has very little concept over how her body looks, other than that it is decked out in her ballerina-fairy-princess finest, and she are rocking the look. Big time.
We feed it lots of healthy choices, and enjoy cupcakes with pink frosting too. This is okay.
We keep it nice and clean with warm bubble baths that make you smell sweet, but sometimes we skip a couple days and your hair gets frowsy and just a bit sour smelling. This is okay too.
Your body will grow and grow. If genetics mean anything, you will likely be tall like the rest of your family. We are by no means naturally waif-like, but we will help you to learn to eat healthily and get plenty of exercise.
I will try to set a good example for you of taking care of my body, speaking respectfully about myself, and practicing moderation in diet and exercise.
I also recognize that you are not me. I will try to be mindful not to project my own insecurities and fears onto you.
What you do with your body is your choice. Always.
Right now you love dance. I’m happy you like dance, and that there is this common ground on which we can connect. It is also remarkably healing for me to watch you enjoy dancing in such innocence and freedom.
Dance is an amazing art form full of complex figures and interesting histories. I have, over the years, developed a respect for dance as I respect the beauty, mystery, and dangers of the ocean. Dance is an athletic endeavor worth pursuing.
Maybe next year you will want to do karate like your big brother, or soccer, or gymnastics. As much as we are financially and logistically able, we will try to support you in discovering all of the physical adventures you can enjoy.
I want you to feel proud of your body. I wish you would always twirl with such crazy, off-center confidence as you do right now. At age three.
You move your body, and it is pure bliss.
It may seem early for me to be worried about your self-esteem and body image at the tender age of three. But we live in this wacky society where people’s notions of beauty are skewed, and unrealistic at times, and where they seep into our own consciousness in subconscious ways.
You don’t have to look like the half-dressed lady on the tanning billboard. You don’t have to look like your pal at school with the long, long hair. You don’t have to look like mommy. You don’t have to look like Cinderella or anyone or anything other than just you.
Watching you in your first dance class, I was beside myself with joy. You went with the teacher without a second thought and you did everything asked of you with grace and enthusiasm. You got a stamp on your hand for doing a great job, and you were thrilled. I watched on the other side of a little window. I took tons of pictures and videos, ever the proud mama.
I have no recollection of my first dance class, but I will never forget yours.