Ever since my two biggest boys were small, I have wanted to give them, among other learning opportunities, the chance to try ballet. I’m not sure why it felt so important, but it has long since troubled me that we steer our children down narrow paths according to gender, with little room for diversity. The polarisation of girls and boys, pinks and blues, seems summed up by our choice (many of us) to send our sons to football on a Saturday and our daughters to ballet. I really don’t mind if my boys decide they love football best and my little girl chooses ballet, but what kind of a choice is it if they don’t get to try out both?
Having held this opinion for the best part of 8 years did not, however, lead to any swift and decisive action on my part. When Owl was about 2 I vaguely enquired about some ballet lessons I saw advertised, but the time and location weren’t convenient and nothing came of it. When he was 5 he started football, and nearly two years later Monkey joined him in the same class. Some months ago, we discovered another football class nearby that takes children from age 3 up so Rabbit was able to join. She has nearly always been the only girl there but it hasn’t bothered her. She has a lot of fun and thinks that wearing football kit is cool (an accolade she only ever awards to boy clothes. “Girl clothes aren’t cool mummy, they are pretty.” I haven’t managed to persuade her that the two needn’t be mutually exclusive!) So far so good, but still no ballet…
Then earlier this year I found out about a free trial ballet lesson at a dance school very near us, aimed at children aged 3 to 6. I signed Monkey and Rabbit up for it and established that it was okay for Owl to join in for the trial although he is too old for the classes. We went along and it was an excellent lesson. Even Tiddler joined in and all four children loved it. I signed the two eligible children up for a term of lessons on Saturday afternoons ( 3 hours after football so plenty of time for getting changed and cleaned up!) Owl was disappointed that he couldn’t join in but he goes to choir at the same time so at least he has something else fun to do. I also told him I would try to find out about ballet classes for his age, although so far I haven’t succeeded (cue overload of parental guilt…)
Still, I was really happy that two of the children were able to try ballet. So, we went along for the first lesson, which was okay but Monkey was upset that he was the only boy, and even Rabbit felt left out as all the other children were dressed in pretty pink ballerina outfits. A quick flurry of bidding on ebay soon sorted that one out, but that only added to Monkey’s sense of isolation. He started to protest about going to the lessons, but I asked him to keep trying, reminding him how much he had enjoyed the trial. I’m sure some would say I shouldn’t have pushed him but my parenting instinct was telling me to keep it going if possible. It was hard though, hearing him tell me that “Ballet is for girls” and watching him get upset about going.
A few weeks in I was beginning to think that we should give it up after all, but we talked about how real ballets have men in them and they have special clothes and shoes for dancing and Monkey started to get interested. Another ebay session later and he now has black ballet shoes which arrived today. I don’t know if they have magical properties, or if it is coincidence, but this afternoon when I asked him to get ready for ballet he handed me a note, said brusquely “Read. This. Information!” and ran out of the room. This is the note.
It was a priceless parenting moment! So if you are a parent of boys and wondering if they should have a go at ballet (or your girls want to do football), I hope this post will encourage you that it is worth a try.
Postscript: this morning Rabbit and Tiddler went to a trial session of Dramabuds and they both enjoyed it. So for the rest of this term they will doing that on a Saturday morning, which means no more football for Rabbit. I think that’s okay, but I hope she will rejoin the boys next term, which might mean taking her to a midweek drama lesson if she wants to continue. And that will lead to more childcare headaches… it is so much more difficult to do activities in the week unless they are suitable for all four children, but there are only so many things one can cram into a Saturday.
Just one more thing: should it worry me that Rabbit was only interested in ballet clothes if they were pink? Perhaps that’s for another post…