Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Dance Lesson for Mothers

Photo: Cheryl Mann

Anyone who has studied ballet, or any ballet-based form knows that some people won the genetic lottery.  They were born to dance.  They still have to work hard, but if they receive good training and are passionate and smart, they will achieve enviable, textbook lines, beautiful execution, and brilliant and sensitive artistry. They will have a career.

Others, unfortunately, may have the same intelligence as their more physically gifted counterparts, but are more suited to be bricklayers, or the mascot of a hoagie restaurant.


Several months ago, during my spring break, I somehow summoned the wherewithal to get to ballet class.  I took with a woman – a Chicago legend -- I’ll refer to as Madame B. Any dancer in Chicago swears by her.  She has trained many in leading companies, and is counted upon to teach company class for companies such as Ailey when they come to town. She is a straight shooter who has no problem calling you out for not working your ass off no matter who you are.

While adhering to strict technique, she insists that everyone from the ABT level ballerina, to the modern dancer, to the dancer past her prime (ahem!) works hard and works correctly.

I consider her my ballet mom.  I only wonder what my career would have been like had I met her in my teens.

Anyway, after this class I took so long ago, Madame B began scolding a young man for his poor attendance. He had a litany of excuses – his jobs, rehearsals, blah, blah, blah. 

Then he started in on his not exemplary, yet far from hoagie-mascot body.

“Stop it!” Madame B said. “Margot Fonteyn had no extension. International ballet star.  Ulanova had no neck.  International ballet star.”  She continued to list the flaws of people who despite their physical attributes, made it big in ballet.

“Yes, but,” the gentleman continued.

“But, nothing!” said Madame B.  “You take class like, ‘Oh, I don’t have any feet,” “Oh, I don’t have any turn out,” “Oh, my butt sticks out,”  “Oh, my legs are short,” “Oh, I am fat,” “Oh, look at my big thighs,” “Oh, look at my short neck,” “And what about my broad shoulders?”  Then you never enjoy it, and you’ve spent the whole class worrying instead of working.  What good is that?”

No different from what I was doing with motherhood, I realized as I sat eating lunch with my chirpy, sweet little girl, feeling unable to fully relish the moment.

Many moms wish to God they could inhabit someone else's motherhood.  Be that perfect mom with a fab house, gorgeous clothes and a hot bod.  The mom who crafts and cooks everything from scratch. One of those women who was born to mother -- who with three kids can still cook for/run errands for/advise a friend with new babies without breaking a sweat.

As a dancer, I had been a master of negative thinking, and as a mom, I was repeating the mistake. My internal momologue, pardon the pun, included some combination of the following:

  • My house is a shambles.
  • My clothes are style-free.
  • My life is a car going 100 m.p.h. and I am hanging onto the door handle.
  • My body looks like Barney’s – not the store.
  • My kids eat like they’re in a carbohydrate commercial.
  • I couldn’t get the kids out of the house/in bed on time with a cattle prod.

No wonder I couldn’t mother happily -- not like in a fairy tale, with birds chirping around my head-- but merely contentedly.

I needed to be genuinely happy with what I had.  My beautiful, intelligent, healthy, happy children.  My handsome and tremendously supportive husband.  My loving home.  My amazing group of friends.  My creativity. My career. 


Sure, we moms could do better at certain things - cleaning, cooking, better disciplining, organizing or even relaxing. But the heart of the issue is acknowledging and accepting our “Mom M.O.” 

Like the spitfire dancer who knows that adagio work isn’t her fort√©, but knows she can make it work, the chaotic mom needs to realize she is organized enough to get her family where they need to be.  Almost Pigpen Mama needs to know her kids have fun at home, and her house -- provided it is vermin free -- is a fun and relaxed place. The frazzled momarina needs to stop apologizing and to have confidence in her abilities.

And she needs to remember when thinking about that mom who seems to have and to do it all... She may be enviably fantastic, but in dance as in motherhood, nobody's perfect.  


  1. Great post Keesah! Man, can our minds and superego's play a nasty game with us. Comparisons, not measuring up, doubting ourselves, beating us down (even as we're getting compliments). And when we're doing that, we're not present. I agree with you, it's a dangerous slope. Dancers are notoriously self-critical, but I'm sure we're not the only ones. I've been trying lately to live like my kids do - in the moment, not concerned with what they look like, free to be silly at the drop of a hat. And while I haven't succeeded just yet, it's made things a wee bit more light around here.

    1. Thanks, Gina! What's up with the beating ourselves down even as we're getting compliments? The hanging on to the one bad thing our kids did, or some mom said at the park?

      I wish there were a quick fix for not letting go of one's standards, but caring just enough to be competent and happy. Heavy sigh.

  2. Great post! It is so easy to assume that the apparently "perfect" mother is really perfect, but we need to be realistic and realize that while she is effortlessly pushing her stroller with one hand, not a hair out of place, drinking her Starbucks, her kitchen sink is probably piled high with dirty dishes. :)

    1. Laura, yes! And let's get metaphorical - making it one's job to be THAT mom means that there are some very dried-on dirty dishes in the sink of of one's soul :)

  3. I LOVE this! I really needed to here this today. I've been imagining that my husband's pissed at me because I've been focusing more on work and less on the house. But that's just it, it is my imagination, it is me that is actually upset at me, not him. But I need to realize it's okay. It's okay. xoxo

    1. So happy that this post spoke to you! I think we care so much about being a great mom, that we are way, way too hard on ourselves. If we talked the way we do about a friend's parenting, we'd be societal outcasts!

  4. I really needed to read this today! I am so hard on myself when it comes to my performance as a mother and domestic engineer. I spend so much time worrying about the trivial things (like the dishes hanging around in the sink and stains in the carpet) that I miss out on just enjoying the moments with my kids. I am going to try harder to focus on what is important, which is spending time with them. As long as the house would pass a sanitation check, the rest of the mess can sit a minute while I enjoy a guilt-free playtime with my kids.

    1. Amy, it really is true. We need to realize that a clean house is worthless if we can't enjoy ourselves and our family inside it.

  5. I so enjoyed reading this! I have not been to ballet class in 4 years, and now I'm in my 40's. My tendonitis from pushing myself too hard all of those years is still a factor. I do miss it though, especially reading this! Madame B sounds like a dream teacher. I think I was pretty lucky with teachers, but there was always that one, who could only give you genetic corrections, that you could do nothing about.

  6. Courtney, go back to ballet class if it doesn't hurt too much! You'll have an entirely different perspective - it will be focused diversion, instead of something to beat oneself up about. Madame B is a dream. She has made so many things make sense to me alignment wise that no one ever could before!


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