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On the Absurdity of Ballet Class for Toddlers

'I cringe when the teacher talks about glitter and then hands out wands'

Published on: December 12, 2017


Somehow, my daughter ended up in a ballet class at the age of not-yet-three. I don't know precisely how this happened. Well, yes I do. She comes to pick me up from my own adult ballet classes with her Daddy and she has said since she was 18 months: "I want to do that."

Mystery solved. I can deny her nothing. So she is in "ballet class."

The author's mother in ballet class.

Ballet class for three-year-olds is ridiculous. My own mother was a dancer and she wouldn't entertain the idea of any structured class before a child reached the age of six. Children are children but once, and to her it was a lot of nonsense to be parading around in chiffon and twirling and using silly names for steps instead of the appropriate French terms just so that toddlers could better digest them.

I peek through the glass door sometimes while my child solemnly studies the teacher's movements, eyes the other children suspiciously, and, I think, suspects the whole enterprise of kiddie ballet is beneath her dignity.

Or she loves it and that's just how her face looks while she is paying attention. I sit there with the other mothers (nannies) and try to chit-chat. No one answers, so I am left to muse for 45 minutes a week on the nature of art, discipline, age-appropriateness, dignity and chiffon skirts for three-year-olds.

On the plus side:

  1. We have somewhere to go after nap time. The day is long with a toddler (especially one who sleeps very little) and we need something to do. We love the playground (well, she does) but, you know, it's fun to go somewhere with elevators and civilization.
  2. She is learning that there are times in life when we should listen and follow. I guess this is a good thing. I believe in that as far as manners and decency, but whether this type of structure is otherwise useful or beneficial to a three year old is an open question.
  3. I heard a little girl in the class say to my daughter the other day: "What is your name?" I held my breath. My daughter told her and then said, "And what is yours?" By George, she's got it! She is making friends! All by herself!
  4. Photos. Who can resist a photo of a child dancing? She will love to have them when she is older.

On the down side:

  1. Ballet for toddlers involves lots of references to magic flowers and watering plants and birds flying. It is not ballet, it is organized infantilism. I cringe when the teacher talks about glitter and then hands out wands. Can this be good for a growing girl?
  2. Could it ruin her understanding of what ballet is for when she is older and able to make a real decision about whether she'd like to give it a go? Art is the opposite of nonsense, and I worry that she may associate dancing with baby talk and treats at the end of class. Ick.
  3. We should always be in the park. We should be outside for as long as life permits her to be. She is not yet three. Savage free play awaits. You can't collect acorns inside the walls of a dance studio. A dance studio is potent with feeling when you are older: it is a place of comfort, of torment, of familiarity, of sweat, of success and of failure. Why is this place necessary for a toddler? It isn't.
  4. My mother wouldn't approve. It always comes back to that. She was a competitive figure skater by the time she was 10. She was doing TV commercials before that. She led a terribly structured and grueling life at a tender age and she had no say in the matter at all. These ghosts rise up when I see my free-spirited toddler attempting fifth position and bourree.
The author's daughter in ballet class.

I am always mindful of the line: I must not care whether she finds this pursuit valuable as she grows up. I don't really worry that I could ever be a stage mother. I was a child actor and my mother never stopped telling me I could stop whenever I wanted, that I might enjoy a more normal life without memorizing lines for auditions and changing in the back seat on the way to a callback at Warner Brothers; without seeing the dozens of photogenic blond girls lined up to read with the casting director or waiting endlessly for a call from my agent to deliver good news —  a call that, more often than not, didn't come.

Still, I don’t want to overreact.  For 45 minutes a week, my child lines up and dances to music and who knows what she thinks of it all but how bad can it be for her? I trust that time and maturity will work out all the big decisions. For now, I have the photos. I do love the photos.


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