The dance studio had once been a warehouse, the mirrored walls and barre not enough to conceal its origins. There was no air-conditioning and the high roof was made of metal. The room was a sauna in the summer heat. None of the children noticed. While the mothers fanned themselves and drank bottle after bottle of water, preschool girls in leotards and flouncy pink skirts tied on their ballet slippers and giggled excitedly together. Another group of girls, these ones more experienced at six years of age, danced in a circle as they chatted about costumes and make-up and how much they’d practiced.
At the front of the room, abandoned by the excited girls, lay a veritable plethora of backpacks, drink bottles, shoes, tights, tap shoes, ribbons, skirts, and fairy-themed lunch boxes.
I’m the mother of two boys. I have never seen so much pink in all my life.
I hefted Little Brother a little higher on my hip, and looked down at Big Brother. He was holding my hand so tightly I thought my fingers would fall off. Was he worried? Intimidated by the glitter and sparkles and giggling girls?
He looked up at me, his eyes shining with the type of excitement only a four-year-old can muster. “Mummy! Look at all the dancers!” His words tumbled over each other, his lips barely able to move past the grin plastered across his face. His voice was strained, not with fear, but with a sheer exhilaration that brought tears to my eyes.
“I know,” I said, fighting back tears and trying unsuccessfully to match his enthusiasm.
“I’m going to go make some new friends,” he said, letting go of my hand.
I looked back over at the girls and their perfect pink ballet shoes and ruffled socks, their white tights and pale pink overskirts, pretty blue leotards and beautifully bound hair. Then I looked down at my little man with his tank top and shorts. “Hang on,” I said, fighting back the urge to flee from the spinning pink perfection. “Let’s just sign in first.”
What was I doing? What in the world would possess me to bring a four-year-old boy to a ballet class?
Big Brother has loved dancing since before he was born. In the last trimester of my pregnancy, he’d be still, unmoving, for hours at a time. But the moment I turned up some music, I’d feel him kicking me in time to the beat. As he grew, so did his love of music and dance. For the last year he’s been leaping and twirling and dancing around the house, desperate for a pair of ballet shoes and the chance to be a star. So when I came across a reasonably-priced dance school nearby I figured that, as a good parent, I should let him have a try; let him explore whether he really wanted to learn ballet, or whether he would be happier dancing around the house to the beat of his own drum.
It wasn’t long before the class started. Fifteen pretty little ballerinas sat down in two straight lines, their eyes fixed on Karen, the dance teacher. “Go on,” I said to Big Brother, trying to keep my voice light. That was all the encouragement he needed. Off he went at an excited skip, complete with pointed toes and a bright smile on his face.
He listened. He did as he was asked. He did some ballet running and some butterfly flying, he talked to the girls (who mostly ignored him), and he grinned excitedly through it all. Meanwhile, I sat on the sidelines watching him with a mix of pride and concern. Would he notice that he was the only boy in the class? Would he notice that he was one of only three boys in the entire building — him, Little Brother, and a slightly older boy playing with a football? And if he did notice, would he care?
Halfway through the lesson the children stopped to have a drink of water and change into their tap shoes. Big Brother hurriedly put on his shoes and then approached the bored-looking older boy who was there with his sister.
“Hello,” Big Brother said. “I’m a boy too. I really like your ball. How many years old are you?”
“Seven,” the boy said.
“I’m four years old. That means I’m a big boy.”
The other boy didn’t answer, just looked down at his ball.
“Alright girls,” Karen called. “Come and sit by the wall. Two straight lines.”
Without hesitation, Big Brother said goodbye and went to join the girls. He may have sought out the only other boy in the room, but did he care that he was in a class full of girls? Apparently not.
At the end of the class Karen said goodbye to us both and told Big Brother that he’d done well. Big Brother beamed like he’d just won a year’s supply of chocolate. “See you next time,” he said.
The he looked up at me with shining eyes. “Mummy! I’m a dancer!”