Caroline has been taking ballet pretty much since we moved to Montgomery. Last December, she got to perform a small role in the Nutcracker, and there’s no reason to believe she won’t be cast again this winter. The director, Elie Lazar, has a knack for choreographing productions that make full use of the city’s relatively small dance community, and he believes kids benefit from participating in real productions. This invariably results in tension around recital time, as he turns that into a real show, too, when most of the parents consider end of year recital performances only last in the long line of things-kids-do-at-the-end-of-the-school-year. The other teachers at the ballet are unfailingly cheerful and patient, balancing out Mr. Elie’s artistic temperament. More important for me, everyone, Mr. Elie included, has always been super with Caroline, and now with Sam.
Children can start creative movement classes as young as 2 ½, but Sam’s hyperactive nature made me wary of enrolling him so young. There was never any question that he would enroll. He’s been begging to join since Caroline started, and Scott and I don’t suffer from absurd preconditioned notions about boys and ballet. I did, however, get him a year past the minimum age. So it was last year, while Caroline’s broken arm was still in a cast, that Sam finally started ballet. He was in a different classroom from Sis, although their class times were simultaneous.
Sam was a pistol. But he loved it. Unsurprisingly, he adored his teacher, Miss Keyana. (Soon to be Mrs. Keyana. Or perhaps already. I know she got engaged, but that period may well have worn into wedding by now.) He would have followed her right out of town, pied-piper style, even after the horrible sugar-high post-Halloween class where all the children behaved so badly that no weekly stickers were handed out in creative moment that day. At the end of the year, the big kids had their recital, and this younger set had a dress-up ballet party that parents were invited to view. And we were allowed to take our own pictures of the younger kids. We had to pay for professional photos and videos of the older group.
Then, over the summer, I enrolled both kiddos in Fairy Tale Ballet Camp, which is broken up into two separate age groups, amounting largely to an “over five” and “five and under” set meeting for 3 hours a day on different days of the week. It was kind of exhausting for Scott and I, as we had Caroline to run into class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as well as Sam to deliver on Tuesday and Thursday for two weeks, but the end result was more than satisfactory. Both of them had such wonderful experiences, ending in a small recital for the parents. These were not the formal presentations associated with the end of school, but that was a relief. Because there was less pomp and costumery, it didn’t matter that we only took two of the camp’s three total weeks, that ballet was only one of many competing demands, and that our kids were overly wiggly and still just a little undisciplined.
It was fascinating to us that even though the two age groups engaged in basically the same activities each week, with an extra day of stuff thrown in for the older set, the camp still highlighted our kids’ two very different strengths and focal points perfectly. Caroline loves ballet in a very holistic way, enjoying the music, the movement, the costumes, and especially the other kids in her classes. In contrast, Sam is hardly aware of his classmates. He’s only alert to the music as much as he needs to be for any one spin across the floor. He’s very restless in the class, but he has somehow picked up every single move Miss Keyana has taught, to the point that he can accurately correct big sis. For my blossoming little romantic, ballet is all about the love affair, all about the dance.
So during this camp, Caroline was deeply involved in making friends and socializing. She watched and enjoyed Snow White because that was the designated activity one day, even though movies in general terrify her. She made caramel apples with her friends, and she nearly freaked out about something relating to her magic wand until a couple of buddies came to her rescue. In contrast, Miss Keyana had to assemble Sam’s caramel apple. He conned Reece into coloring his pictures. And he even got one of the student assistants to do most of the work making his magic wand. He likes the other kids. He enjoyed being with them. But the only times when he was fully engaged with the class were the times when he was dancing. Then, although he never stopped wiggling completely, he concentrated on moving in the right ways at the right times.
Each class put on a final performance, and the best Caroline pics are all from after the show, when friends posed together at random. It was so gratifying to Scott and I to see her pals coming up to her, asking to be in shots with them. She was asking friends to be in her photos, too, but to see them invite her as well, with the same level of enthusiasm as she displayed when asking them, meant a great deal. It meant these relationships were all two-way connections, not just events taking place only in her own mind, which is a real danger for a child who thinks the random people she chats up in the grocery store are friends for life.
The kids will be back in ballet come fall. Assuming his fidgetiness isn’t too much of an issue, Sam will move from Creative Movement to Pre-Ballet. Caroline should be promoted from Beginning Ballet to Ballet Level I. I don’t think Sam will be old enough to audition for The Nutcracker, but it would be awesome if he could, since he begged to be the Mouse King after he watched it last year. Caroline will surely try out for a small role, and, as I said at the beginning, she’s likely to receive one. She loves being one of the small girls in ensemble scenes and doesn’t have aspirations on anything more specific than being a part of the show. When Sam’s day finally comes, I think it will be a different story. He knows exactly what he wants and enjoys. He understands the concept of performance, and he doesn’t just want to be a part of things, he wants to be in the center.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.