Saturdays are my daughter’s favorite. Not because there’s no school –although that certainly doesn’t hurt – but because Saturdays are Nutcracker rehearsal day in her ballet class. She literally begins counting the days until the next rehearsal as soon as the previous one ends; she can’t get enough.
The kid lives ballet. She eats, sleeps, and breathes it. From the time she wakes up until the time she puts her head down on her pillow, she is a dancing whirlwind, caught up in her full-time obsession. When she is not in class or rehearsal, she is watching videos of other dancers, swaying her tiny limbs slowly, delicately in an effort to imitate their movements. She learns the parts of everyone in her scenes, reenacting them for our cat, her baby sister, and anyone else who will indulge her. She is, if I may so objectively state, a natural. And she should be because, as they say, she comes by it honestly.
You see, I too am a dancer. I have been dancing since I was my daughter’s age – younger than she is now, in fact. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence practicing, rehearsing, and performing The Nutcracker, as well as countless other ballets. I understand her obsession because for so long, it was mine, too. My family pets and younger siblings were also my first audience. I could be seen practicing grand jetés and pirouettes on the school playground as the other kids played sports or tag with each other. Ballet was not only my life, it was me. It completely defined me as a person.
I danced my way through high school even as my counterparts left the considerable demands of ballet behind in favor of more exciting things like boys and football games. I danced five days a week, sacrificing all other interests and activities that came along. I planned for my future as a dancer, and all that would come with it. When it came time for college, I turned down a full scholarship from my home company, opting instead to move away. I continued to dance, to audition, to perfect my form.
Until one day, I decided to set it down for a while. I stopped dancing for the first time in my life, and I still couldn’t tell you exactly why. Maybe the pressure of it had finally become too much. Maybe I just needed to see if there was some part of me that existed off stage.
Eventually though, I came back to dance because, at the end of the day, I am a dancer. I have other parts that make me, well, me, but without that piece of the puzzle, things just don’t quite fit the way they should.
After having my kids, I began to take class, audition, and perform again on a regular basis. I started exploring other forms of dance, like jazz and modern. I branched out into musical theatre, incorporating my love of singing. Picking up this great passion of mine again, after having put it away for so many years, was like discovering myself once more. I was amazed that my body still remembered how to make art. I embraced the new way that I danced, feeling so much freer and vastly more comfortable in my own skin than I had ever been as a young dancer.
And now, things have come full circle. Seeing my oldest daughter join in my love of this art form has been an incredible, if somewhat surreal experience. It’s like someone hit rewind on the film of my life, with some obvious adjustments.
But there is another side to this passing of the torch – a sadness that I cannot deny. Because just as her star is beginning to rise, mine is beginning to fall. There are fewer and fewer parts for me to play, I realize as I scan the audition notices of the local community theatres. For women, there seem to be precisely two parts that exist: that of the ingenue, and that of the ingenue’s mother. And being that I am in my 30s, neither of these roles is appropriate for my stage of life.
So where does that leave me? Increasingly, it would seem, in the wings. In the lobby, relegated to the role of chauffeur, costumer, make-up artist. Stage mom. Forgotten, unwanted, and unvalued; as a performer anyway. The compliments and corrections in my dance classes become fewer and farther between as younger dancers with the promise of budding careers fill in the space around me. The day of the week that my daughter looks forward to more than any other is the one that I dread the most, because I wish is was me who was rehearsing, enjoying, creating. And, bit by bit, I become increasingly invisible just as my daughter starts to shine.
And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. I mean it’s really just the cycle of life, isn’t it? We are born, we flourish, we may choose to reproduce, and then we fade as our offspring carry on our legacies, or ones of their own. But in the theatre world, as with any realm in which physicality plays such an important role, that cycle, that fading happens much, much sooner than we would expect.
I could tell you that I am learning to dance for myself, and no one else. That I am finding the value in the process (class) and not in the product (performing). That just being able to dance is enough for me. And all of that is true.
But it is also true that I am hosting a whole other set of feelings: mourning the loss of my time as the bright, young, upcoming dancer; anger at the lack of representation on stage of women like me; and bittersweet pride as I watch my daughter stepping on to the same roller coaster that I did all those years ago. A ride that I am reluctant to give up my seat on – for now, anyway.