For years, I took dance class. Pretty much involuntarily. I was the short, lumpy girl in the back line who was forced to be there to get some exercise. Ironically, I often opted to skip class and wander across the parking lot to the drugstore, where I would browse the notebooks and buy a Snickers instead. I did not love dance, but as the parent of two girls, the lure of seeing a recital featuring my little darlings in sparkling tutus wandering about the stage was too much to resist. So, when they were old enough, I dutifully signed each of them up for lessons.
My older daughter never really took to it. "I just want to be in the recital because I like the attention," she admitted to me after I signed her up for another year. Clearly, she’s a budding psychologist, if not a dancer. With my little one, however, it's a different story. I march her off to class a bit sluggishly on Saturday mornings, me with no makeup and a big coffee, her changing straight from pajamas into her leotard. I send her pony-tailed head into the dance studio, and promptly spend the rest of the hour chatting with my friends and ignoring the hallway’s broad “peeking” window covered with cheap and barely open blinds. Other, more eager parents gaze through the slats like paparazzi, and hover and fuss about whether their kids are going to get it together for the recital. They lament about why the teacher hasn't taken the time to put a video of the dance on YouTube so they can make their children practice it at home. They look at me strangely when I suggest that the best part of the recital is watching a kid who wants nothing to do with the dancing part stand on stage and wave to their mother. Me? I sit with my back toward the window and make jokes with my friends about the People of Walmart.
This week, though, my usual conversation buddies were out of town, and I took a few minutes to linger at the window and watch my daughter during class. She was standing directly next to the teacher, invariably attentive. Her hands were on her hips. Her kicked-back foot was balanced on the tip of her tap shoes. She was holding her position, gracefully, as she waited for the music. She wasn't suffering through the class with a forced shuffle-step march like I had. She was confident, and when the music started, she shook her diminutive hips right on tempo. She’s a dancer. I recognize it now, because I used to look in wonder at the slim, muscular girls in the front row of my dance class who knew all the steps. They would come directly after school and stay for hours at the dance studio, changing from one leotard to another and complaining about when they were going to do their homework as they squeezed into their toe shoes. They WANTED to be there. They LIKED it. They were dancers. In the recital, they were posed and smiling airily into the spotlight. I was in the back, frantically trying to keep my substantial beige bra tucked under my costume’s pencil thin spaghetti straps.
Don’t mistake this for a speech on low self-confidence, mind you, I was talented in plenty of other ways, but as I watched my daughter, I finally understood the joy she gets from an hour at dance. I think this is what runners must feel – the pleasure of controlling your body, of moving it and using it, of being intentional and beautiful with your muscles. This is what people talk about when they refer to the flow and endorphins of exercise. I’m not much of a running person, so I faintly recognize that feeling, mostly from spending a day at the beach or walking to lunch or eating two hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts in a row. Out of my pale and writerly loins has sprung a dancer. She’s very happy to be in class, always knows her cue, and may one day complain about her homework as she weaves the ribbon of her toe shoes around her calf. Meanwhile, I will still be the one ducking out to go to drug store, browsing the notebooks, and buying a Snickers. There’s something, though, that I can finally say that I really enjoy about dance class. When the recital comes, that beautiful pony-tailed dancer in the front row? The one who knows all the steps? She’s going to raise her face to the spotlight, smile airily, and then wave to me.
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.