To my Little Dancers
To my Littles:
When I was a young dancer the older dancers were something to be respected; in awe of; and slightly feared. When one spoke to you and was kind she was instantly revered. As a younger dancer I picked up tips by watching the older girls in class. If they were stretching in the lobby before ballet, I found myself stretching as well. When someone’s bun looked especially nice, I tried to make my hair mimic theirs. The behavior, mannerisms, and technique of the “legendary” older dancers, good or bad, copied and pasted their way to my young and impressionable class.
Flash forward four or so years and I am that older dancer. The girls who were my role models are still that, but are also my friends. I’m the assistant/demonstrator for most of the ballet classes, especially the younger classes. If I do a movement a certain way, twelve small leotard-covered bodies unknowingly adjust to mimic mine. If I stay optimistic during a particularly hard exercise or stretch, the rest of the classes matches my attitude. My treatment towards the instructor, other dancers, and attitude about dancing in general is observed by the littles and imitated.
The pressure to be a positive role model is apparent every time a mother says, “She loves having you in class, she just looks up to you so much.” I love hearing that- it reminds me of how I need to act. These girls miss nothing. Girls, I try so hard to be available and a friendly face in your life. I don’t want to be the slightly scary older dancer, who you don’t dare talk to. I don’t want to seem intimidating to you. When you feel comfortable enough to talk to me and ask me questions, I know I’m doing something right.
To my littles- thank you for keeping me accountable. On the days it just seems too hard, or my back is sore from the night before, or I’ve had a bad day, you always expect to see me as I usually am. Your attention to detail as I dance mirrors how you mimic my attitude, good or bad. You remind me to watch my words, facial expressions, and body language just as much as straightening my knees and pointing my toes. I’m proud to be a role model for you, and pray every day that I can improve and be a better one.
It’s not easy to stand in a leotard in front of a full-length mirror, day after day, and not feel like critiquing myself. Our art is centered around making beautiful sights with our bodies. What dancing has taught me, and what I want to pass along to you, is that perfection doesn’t come instantly. It may never come. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to have to work really hard for a long time. The key is to look at yourself dancing in the mirror and not just try to fix what you see, but to appreciate yourself and know that you are beautiful, and that the way you treat people matters so much more than your face or how you look in a leotard.
Someday, this will be you. I can already see the excitement on your face when you’re asked to help in a class a few levels below you. I’m so glad for you. I’m so glad you get to experience their little eyes learning from you as you lead them through dance. Learn all you can, and it will transfer to your littles.
I’m not perfect. Not now, and I won’t ever be. Sometimes, I’m tired. It’s been a bad day, or a bad week. I fell out of a turn, so my ego and hip are bruised. Three classes of littles then a pointe class seems like just too much some days. Then we walk into the studio for ballet and I remember how it felt to have positive and happy older dancers in the studio to look up to. I see the looks from you girls, watching my every move. I have to be there for you. In being there for you, I’m being there for myself.
This doesn’t stop in class. If you need something, I’m here, anytime. I want to know about your life, school, friends. Anything you want to share. Don’t be afraid to talk to me. You don’t have to scoot out of the way when I walk by. It’s important to me that you see me as a friend too.
Parents- thank you for sharing your girls with me. I learn from them every day, and hope I’m the influence you’d like me to be on your girls.
So one last time- girls, thank you. Thank you for teaching me to laugh, play, and enjoy the little things. You teach me patience in every class. You teach me that no matter what I’m feeling, no matter what hurts, or how tired I am, I have to walk into the studio and leave it all outside. My focus is on you girls, not my problems. Thank you for always watching.
Love you girls. Point your toes.