Dancing with My Daughter

Have you ever wanted your children to do the things you never had the chance to do? Most of us try that on the young, unsuspecting, budding ballerinas and football stars when they are still unsteady on their feet from learning to walk. I was out there yearning with my whole entire being for my daughter, Katherine, to become the dancer I had only dreamt of in the small living room of the three-bedroom ranch of my youth. I was affording this precious, timid, three-year-old daughter the opportunities for the possibilities I never had.

Since I entered college in the fall of 1975, I began dance classes in earnest and never looked back. Throughout college, my years in New York City, years at SUNY Albany, New York, and eventually when I settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I have taken ballet and tap classes. I have my scuffed and ripped up tap and toe shoes as constant reminders of my dreams since I was about five. I believed my daughter, Katherine, would love it, too. Why wouldn’t she? When she was newborn I would bring her to my dance classes. Settled into her comfy car seat, she would sleep or look on as I moved across the floor of the dance studio with the other women in my class. Even when she screamed to be held, I would quickly get her, position her on my hip and proceed to do whatever steps I could with her bouncing along with me.

When Katherine was three, she could finally start her first dance class. I had her there with the most wonderful tutu I could find for her. Katherine was always less than interested and hung back with the other girls with tears in their eyes and mothers who had stars in theirs. While Katherine had her dance class, I would have my own. After a few years, the women of my dance class became a part of the dance recital at the end of the year and also the holiday season performance. We were about 12 women who loved dance and had the best time. I wanted Katherine to have the same passion. She did not.

The first year she was to dance in the recital, our women’s group had a dance right after her three-year-old group tapped their way to Good Ship Lollipop. During dress rehearsal, both of us looked so great! At least, I thought so. We had the most amazingly wonderful woman, Luisa, who was our nanny for eight years. She was sitting in the audience to comfort Katherine, who didn’t want to go up on stage. Luisa was the steady force in Katherine’s life to be there for her come what may. Luisa was silent and loving with Katherine as I was trying to coerce her to take her pretty ballerina self up on that stage with all of the other little girls hopping around under the scary lights and big expanse of stage. Katherine never shied away from saying “NO!” to me and this time was no exception. This frustrated me to no end. “Katherine, I’m getting up there right after you! It’s so great!” Nothing from her. She crossed her arms in protest. Finally, encouraged by her dance teacher, Michele, and the other little ones up on the stage, Katherine joined the others on stage. Once she was up there, I took off to be with the other ladies in my dance. The night of the performance, Katherine was in two cute and funny dances. I watched her first one and part of the second one. She promptly decided after that recital that dance was not for her and went to tumbling instead.

Through the years, she and I have gone to many ballets at Benedum Center where the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs. We look at each other and she shakes her head. She knows what a nut her mother is and how there was a time that I wanted her to love dance as I did. So much so that I wore her on my hip dancing as though my life depended on it. Sometimes with the emotional ups and downs of motherhood, it did. Let’s talk about it.

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© 2016 by Debra Whittam. All Rights Reserved