Six month ago, Big Brother excitedly started dance lessons — a combination of ballet, tap and acrobatics squeezed into a one hour class every Saturday morning. He was mostly interested in ballet, but was willing to give tap a try, and hoped to progress on to jazz at some point.
I’m not going to lie — there were some teething problems.
A few weeks after Big Brother started, he came out from his lesson and said, “I don’t want to do dancing anymore. A girl keeps hitting me.”
I took a breath and counted to three before I asked, “Hitting you where?”
He pointed to his arm. “Here. And on my chest. And on my face.”
“Which girl?” I asked. Calmly. But he didn’t know her name and he could only describe her as being shorter than him, with long brown hair. So that left about 12 possible suspects.
I didn’t push things with him at that point, we just went home and talked about other things. The next day we talked and he told me he did want to go back to dancing, but he didn’t know how to make the girl stop hitting him. So I went into action.
First I called the teacher and talked to her. She hadn’t noticed anything (obviously), but said she’d keep a special eye on them the following week. Then I talked to Big Brother about being assertive and standing up for himself. “No one ever has the right to hit you,” I told him. “No matter what. It’s never okay for someone to hit you.”
I told him to stand up straight and tall, and hold his hand up in a stop gesture. “Talk as loud as you can without yelling,” I said. “With a nice, strong voice say, ‘Stop hitting me.’”
We practiced that each day for the rest of the week. The back-up plan (in case it didn’t work — I was kinda making it up as I went along, after all!) was that if she hit him a second time, he should go and tell his teacher straight away. At his next lesson, I hovered around the studio, peering in windows and watching. All the girls wanted to stand next to Big Brother — apparently he’s quite popular! — and the moment the teacher’s back was turned, one of them slapped him on the arm.
Big Brother turned to face her, puffed out his chest, held up his hand and said, “Stop hitting me!”
The girl looked stunned. She took a couple of steps back. Then nothing.
As the next dance began, I noticed the girl had managed to be next to Big Brother again. But she hasn’t hit him since.
For months, things went smoothly. Big Brother got his uniform, his ballet shoes and his tap shoes. He was having a great time. Then, out of the blue, he said to me one night, “I shouldn’t do dancing anymore.”
“Oh. Why not?” I asked.
“Because boys don’t do ballet.”
Some questioning turned up the reason behind this sudden revelation. Someone at either dance class or school had told him that only girls do ballet, and he’d thought about it for days before mentioning anything. He seemed quite set in his desire to stop doing a “girl thing”, so I didn’t argue with him. I told him that dancing should be fun, and if he didn’t want to do it anymore he didn’t have to. I didn’t try to convince him that lots of boys do ballet — that would have just put him in the middle of a “my friend says” vs “my Mum says” conflict. So instead, I talked about our family doctor.
Our family doctor is female. She’s an older woman with a European background. She’s got a fairly thick accent, a welcoming smile, and a clear love for small children. We’d visited her recently for a check-up and Big Brother really liked her.
“Did you know,” I said (clearly having picked up some of his bad habits), “that not too long ago, people thought women couldn’t be doctors?”
Big Brother frowned. “Really?”
“Yes. People thought only men could be doctors.”
“And did women have to be nurses?”
“That’s right. But our doctor, she felt in her heart that she wanted to be a doctor — even though people told her that she couldn’t be.”
“So she could feel it in her heart?”
“Yes. She felt it very strongly in her heart. So when people told her that women couldn’t be doctors, she didn’t believe them. And sometimes that was really hard because lots of her friends didn’t think a woman should be a doctor either. But because it was in her heart, she worked hard to learn how to be a doctor.”
His eyes were shining. “And then she became a doctor, even though people thought she wasn’t supposed to?”
“That’s right. She felt it so strongly in her heart that she wouldn’t let anyone else tell her that she couldn’t do it.”
We were silent for a few minutes, both of us thinking. Then Big Brother said, “I think I will keep going to dancing.”
Just kidding. There’s no third roadblock. There’s just a five-year-old boy with a love of music and dance. A five-year-old boy who brags to his classmates about getting to have dance classes on the weekend. A five-year-old boy whose co-ordination and balance have improved dramatically over the last six months.
We’ve got the end of year concert coming up in a couple of months. Before moving into those preparations in earnest, though, there was the in-class exam.
He did well.
To quote Big Brother: “This is a picture of me with my first ever trophy in the whole, wide universe. It says ‘Dance’! Can I cuddle it when I go to sleep tonight?”