5 Promises To My Daughter the Dancer
by Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT
I shouldn’t have been surprised when my 3 year old asked for ballet lessons.
I was also 3 when I begged my mom to let me take ballet. Back in Phoenix in the 1970s, the only studio in town didn’t start kids until they were 5. But I was so eager to begin that my mom offered to join the class in full dance attire as the “teacher assistant” so she could keep an eye on me.
The studio owner/teacher agreed, and I danced my way through my childhood, adolescence, and eventually into a 10 year professional performing career after college in New York City.
When I asked my daughter what classes she wanted to take this summer and she said “ballet,” I felt a hiccup of emotion. For all of the joy I have derived from dance, anyone would have thought I’d be ecstatic to learn my daughter wanted to take lessons. And itwasexciting.
But it’s complicated.
While dancing was an important part of how I expressed myself, I also struggled over the years with a dark underbelly of body image issues, competitiveness with my peers, the impossible striving for “perfection,” and of course the many hardships that come with life as a dancer.
So I admit, I was not eager to have my beautiful 3 year old dressed in a leotard and tights, lined up in front of a mirror with a collection of other girls, beginning a long journey of comparing herself to others, wondering how she measures up.
I was feeling guarded as I shopped online for her first pair of ballet slippers, leotard and tights. I wondered how she would react if I just signed her up for soccer or gymnastics instead. But once I made the purchase, I was surprised to notice how eagerly I awaited their arrival.
On the day they were delivered, my eyes were wet with tears as I opened the Capezio box to pull out the tiny shoes. I reflected on all that my dancing life had given to me, including leading me to my life’s work in health and healing.
I had taken my final bow years ago. Now it was, literally and figuratively, her turn.
With all of my trepidation about what awaited her in the world of dance, I couldn’t deny that I was also elated. I just had a feeling she was going to love it.
When I mentioned her dance clothes had arrived, she wanted to try everything on immediately. As she joyfully pranced around the house, twirling in her ballet skirt, I made some vows to her and to myself:
1. I will try hard to keep my experiences from coloring hers.
2. I will give her the space to make her own relationship with how she expresses herself with her body.
3. I will support her desire to move to music.
4. I will reinforce the many powerful life lessons she will gain from her dance teachers.
5. I will encourage her to find her own peace with the mirror.
Each Saturday morning when I tell her it’s time to get ready for dance class, her eyes light up, she takes a deep breath in and opens her mouth into a big smile, as if I have offered her a surprise gift.
My little girl, who reliably resists getting dressed in the morning, can’t wait to put on her dance clothes and head to the studio.
While I no longer consider myself to be a dancer, at least not like I once did, dance played a prominent role in shaping who I am today. Whether my daughter continues her dance training for one season, 10 years, or a lifetime, I know it will be a journey through which she will come to know herself.
Indeed, she has already begun.
Once we’re there, she’s always a little tentative when she realizes that I am going to leave and she will join the class by herself. She’s shy by nature. She hugs me one last time, gathers her courage, and hesitantly walks into the studio to join the other dancers.
45 minutes later, she bolts out of the studio to show me her sticker, and walks on her tippy toes with a wide smile.
A dancer she is. May she always be.Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT is a mind/body focused psychotherapist and author. She lives with her family in New York City.