My children all go to ballet on a Saturday morning, where twenty pre-schoolers are (for the most part) quelled by the hypnotic effect of a musical bear.
I find the ballet parents as fascinating to watch as the children. Clutching miniature coats and shoes they perch on chairs at the back of the room, mouthing encouragement to their prodigal child as it lumps past in supposed butterfly mode. It pains me that my own off-spring show none of my childhood aptitude for dance. They leap about with the grace of an elephant seal, intensely concentrating on mimicking the teacher, yet somehow producing something entirely different in response. Ah well, it’ll come. At least they do as they’re told.
There are children in the class who have no sense of discipline. They don’t listen. They don’t do what they’re told. They stand when everyone else is sitting and they sit when… well, you get the idea. Their parents smile on indulgently, while I sit on my hands and refrain from marching over to hoike the little ASBO-in-waiting out of class.
Several of the children clearly don’t like ballet. Some spend so long sitting on their mother’s lap each week that I wonder why on earth any parent would want to repeat the experience for an entire term.
The highlight of the class for me are the parents who are determined their child will get their money’s worth out of the session – even if that means joining in themselves…
Over the last year I’ve watched grown men dance and prance their way across a school hall, a significantly less enthusiastic toddler trailing in their wake. I have a hunch these parents secretly enjoy it – there appears to be little resistence to the small hand tugging at theirs when the music starts. The mothers make me smile; they adopt wry expressions and an air of forced insouciance, the occasional rolled eye as if to say “how tedious, what a pain, how embarrassing”. Yet this casual not-trying-too-hard approach is entirely undermined by their own physical performances. Because these women – the product of a decade of ballet classes themselves – these women really try. They point their toes, they stretch their arms in the air and swoop down with theatrical abandon. They flick their hair as they twirl on tiptoes and curtsey as if it’s the closing night at Covent Garden. I suspect that if you were to remove the children entirely at that stage, the mothers would continue, pirouetting to a crescendo with a self-styled expression of bored indifference on their faces.
One mother was so carried away last week that she not only joined in with the closing chorus of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, she performed equisitely selected harmonies with such extraordinary operatic power that one by one the children tailed off and sat open-mouthed and silent as the vibrato rattled the windows.
“She’s in the operatic society.” Another mother whispered to me. You don’t say.
I have yet to be called upon to coax my children onto the dance floor. Annoyingly independent, they have no need for my encouraging lead, no desire to see me perform. It’s wonderful they’re so confident, but perhaps it would do them good if I just joined them for the last bit. I can still do the most marvellous pas de chat…