Our Tenacious Little Dancer.

“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”

Louisa May Alcott

Today, our beautiful daughter suddenly grew a couple of inches taller when she stepped into her very first pair of pointe shoes and she was up en pointe. This has been something she’s been aspiring towards ever since she first started ballet as an almost four year old eight years ago. Indeed, I remember a time when she was very small and she stood in a couple of plastic cups to get the look (and a bit of added altitude). In hindsight, I probably should’ve got those cups off her feet and been more safety conscious. However, she was so happy, and it was too good a photo opportunity to miss.

In typical Rowena fashion, this pointe shoe fitting demanded a bit of pomp and ceremony. Indeed, quite frankly if she wasn’t twelve years old, I would’ve popped the  champagne, even though I’m not that partial to the taste. Even as a child, I was mesmerized by the theatre of it all what with popping the cork and all those bubbles shooting out like stars across the room with unbridled joie de vivre. Bubbly encapsulates the excitement, the celebration the exquisite preciousness of the moment in a way that nothing else does. You don’t even need to drink the stuff.

However, instead of a champagne celebration, we met up with my Mum for lunch and coffee and then the three of us headed off to Bloch’s for her 3.00pm appointment. By the way, our daughter wasn’t the only young dancer who had to get that very special pair of first pointe shoes on the very first day of the school holidays. The fitter had been flat out all day and we were something like her 11th fitting. Yet, she seemed just as excited for my daughter and for us as the first. As a dancer herself, she knew what this moment was about and really helped to make it special and informative. If there’s one thing I now know about pointe shoes, it’s not to get them wet. I also confess that I’ve also seen my daughter’s feet in a new light.

Helping en pointe BW

We really appreciated the care and assistance we received at Bloch’s Hornsby with the shoe fitting. Naturally, the staff are dancers themselves and I felt that our fitter was handing down the mantle to our daughter. They actually gave her a certificate. She’d joined the club.

Our daughter has been learning ballet for eight years now and she’s worked very hard for the last 12 months doing all sorts of stretches to prepare her feet and toes. Indeed, she needed to have a physio consultation before she could go for her pointe shoe fitting. By that stage, her teacher already knew she was ready. However, she likes her students and a parent to be aware of the physicality of ballet and how the muscles bones and other bits and pieces come together to to produce your swan. Through being more conscious of this physical element and looking after your body, dancers can help prevent injury, wear and tear. Given the difficulties I have with movement, I have appreciated these physical realities through a different window, which has given me an insight into the physical demands of dancing. That it isn’t only about costumes, makeup and hair. After all, injury and being on the sidelines is not just an inconvenience for a dancer. It can mean The End, or simply the end of  dance as they know it. When dance is your passion and raison d’etre, that can feel like surviving your own death. (I’ve gone through that with my own battles.)

_DSC6454

There was so much to learn at her fitting and you can see here that Miss is very focused taking it all in. She hasn’t been swept away by the excitement of it all.

For every young dancer along with her birth and dance families, getting their first pointe shoes is rightly an incredible achievement and time for celebration. While you might see those beautiful pink satin pointe shoes and immediately think of the likes of Degas and his dancers and the professional stage, these young girls are still within cooeee of being the “awkward duckling” who started out. There were no guarantees back then and for us, there were  certainly no expectations. I just dropped her off for her first class and the mysteries of dance went on behind closed doors until open days or the concert. From where I sat, ballet was just a part of childhood for a little girl. A bit of fun. An activity. It had nothing to do with my dreams, unless it came to taking her photo. Now, that was something I understood.

edgar-degas-Little-dancer

Edgar Degas, The Little Dancer. She reminded me of my daughter until I found out she was quite distorted.

Although I wasn’t so conscious of this at the time, seeing Miss in her pointe shoes really brought home what we’ve all been through to get her there. I don’t think anybody’s road is easy, but everybody’s road is unique with their own particular reasons why getting into those pointe shoes is a personal miracle and a triumph over adversity. Most of you will be aware that I live with a life-threatening auto-immune disease which affects my muscles and lungs. However, Miss has a rare digestive disorder called gastroparesis, which particularly flared up a few years ago and she was barely able to eat. Indeed, she was struggling to get to school or to ballet and she missed months of classes.

Amelia at the san

Miss in hospital waiting for her endoscopy. So brave but she also loved having her own remote control TV!!

As you could imagine, it was very difficult to know quite how to manage the situation. We were very concerned about her actual health and it would’ve been quite a logical decision to cut out dance to focus on her schoolwork. Yet, we’re fighters. We might be holding onto the cliff face by our fingertips and kicking and screaming, but we don’t give up. Indeed, it was only after missing a couple of terms and feeling like all my motivational strength had run out, that I truly started thinking it was time to pull the pin. Her teacher was also very patient. However, dancing is a team sport and it’s hard to manage a team on three legs. So, with the end of year concert rapidly approaching, it was crunch time. As a possible way forward, her teacher suggested that her friend came over and they practice the dance together. I’m so thankful because her friend saved the day. That was the turning point. She picked up the dance. Was in the concert and was back on her dance feet again. Then, the following year, she had a friend at her new school who was a passionate dancer and she also a tremendous encouragement. By the end of that year, Miss decided to audition for Dance Team at the studio and was accepted. She hasn’t looked back and with the incredible training and support from her teachers, is growing from strength to strength. Clearly, with all these dance angels working flat out with her on multiple fronts, our daughter must’ve been destined to get up on those pointe shoes today. It’s been a real team effort.

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Afternoon Tea.

By the way, while we’re talking about life lessons from the road, organization has been another hurdle. While other girls have managed to get to class with a perfect ballet bun and all components of their uniform, all too often Miss could only find one ballet shoe and her ballet bun could well have been reinterpreted as a bird nest of its own unique variety thanks to her superfine hair, where getting the knots out produced spine-chilling screams. Yet, somehow or another, all of this has mostly become a thing of the past.

After explaining some of the hurdles we’ve had to overcome, perhaps you’ll understand why I thought this moment might never come and the tears of joy I held back while we were there as I felt like the happiest Mum alive. Back when our daughter was struggling, I remember seeing a group of older girls who’d just got their first pair of pointe shoes. They were exuberant and clearly this meant the world to them not only as individuals, but as a group. I felt so privileged to catch a glimpse through this keyhole and get an insight into just how important this moment is to a young dancer and what it would mean to my girl. Whatever happened with my daughter and dance, I wanted her to hang in there at least until she’d gone en pointe and  been a part of that bubble. Not for me, but for herself. I could could sense something in her soul, which is becoming more apparent with every passing year. Dancing is her thing. It isn’t her only thing but it lights her fire.

So, now we find ourselves at a new beginning. Once she goes en pointe, she has to learn to dance all over again. Although it is tempting to try to fast forward and think about where all of this is heading, he’s only 12 years old. The world is her oyster and there are still so many forks in the road. She doesn’t need to choose one yet. However, it can be difficult to maintain a balance and keep an open mind when you fall in love with such an alluring juggernaut that you could easily sell your soul to dance in ballet’s fire. Somehow, we just need to keep a level head and maintain a balanced path…at least for now.

After the fitting, she went to stay with my parents for the week taking her beloved pointe shoes with her. If they weren’t so precious, it wouldn’t surprise me if she slept with them under her pillow or close to her heart. They meant the world to her and I’m so proud of her for all she’s overcome, her hard work, dedication and most of all her passion for dance. I am also very grateful to all the people who have helped her along the way, her teachers, my parents but also very much her friends who have been so supportive and encouraging and that’s not something you hear much about in the dance world. She has some incredible dancing mates.

That is also why I am sharing our journey via the road less travelled for our daughter to get her pointe shoes.  That parenting isn’t all about bragging rights and showing off about your kids’ talents. It’s also about sharing about the hurdles and difficulties so other girls don’t give up along the way because they feel they don’t measure up. Aren’t good enough without giving it all they’ve got. I belong to the Muscular Dystrophy community and not everyone can get up on pointe shoes or dance in a conventional sense. However, that doesn’t have to stop you from finding a way. Indeed, I’ve done some adult classes myself and have my own pair of pink satin ballet shoes. I think it helps to understand that you’re not the only one who might be going through difficulties and wondering whether to persevere with dance or whether it’s all worth it. No one else can answer that on your behalf. However, we are meant to encourage each other and dance is such an exhilarating experience. It’s worth fighting for.

Do you have any dance stories you would like to share? Or, a story of triumphing over adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I have a strange sense of humour. However, after hearing about how her pointe shoes have paper mache in the toes and are very sensitive to moisture, including sweaty feet, I found I found a great deal of humour in this quote:

“Growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet”
Joni Ernst

So, if you see a dancer with plastic bread bags over er pointe shoes, you’ll know that’s our daughter!

19 thoughts on “Our Tenacious Little Dancer.

  1. Gary A Wilson

    Such a beautiful piece Rowena on several levels. I am not among the audience who “gets” ballet. I’ve tried, but I just don’t have the right genes I guess. I don’t understand the majesty that so many others see, nor do I share the passion I’ve seen from so many girls with it. I do understand the risk of injury and have seen the photos of what can become of a dancer’s feet and toes. Fine. The part I do understand is that, despite, not understanding the catalyst, the love of ballet I’ve seen in those young dancers eyes is impossible to not understand. My youngest (6′ 5″ very tall) son actually enjoys ballet enough and is well-known to the local dance community to have been asked several times to join various shows as one of the few males in tights to help the girls do their thing. I have sat and watched and struggled to understand, but was left being thrilled for both my son and all those various aged girls splashing so much color and passion about the stage. Outstanding Rowena. Thanks for sharing this. As to your own successes. They may not be stage art, but I did not miss the effort and determination you have demonstrated in arriving at the place you are. This is much easier for me to understand, and applaud in this virtual sense, and tilt my head slightly in that mature and quiet manner that tries to say, “Well done Madam, so very well done! You are an inspiration.”

  2. maxwellthedog

    That right there is a wonderful story, Ro and thanks mightily for sharing it. The little one is adorable and, holy moly, has she grown! Amazing since we stay the same age always. You may know it but I can go en pointe too. The sole problem is that I penetrate the floor and end up in the room beneath me. May have to work on the diet a bit more.

  3. Rowena Post author

    Thanks so much, Tom. When I sat down to write about her getting her pointe shoes, I had no intention of reflecting so heavily on that time when she was so sick when she was about nine and ten years old. I used to pick her up from school and she could barely stand up from not eating and she ended up on these drinks the pharmacist recommended and they saved her to an extent I probably don’t even want to think about. Fortunately, she was never hospitalised and tube fed but that is a reaIity for many people with serious gastroparesis. It’s no wonder I felt like I’d been hit by a truck last night after revisiting all of that and yet at the same time, there’s that intense appreciation and gratitude that she’s much improved. I’m also very grateful for all the people, including her friends, who got behind her.
    I’m with you when it comes to pointe work and the only time I even come close to pulling off some of those manoevres she does, is when I have a nasty fall. Ditto for my mum. I’ve last track of how long we’ve been chatting via these blogs but it must be a good five years. I’ve really enjoyed it.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  4. Rowena Post author

    She’s recently had a big transition, as has our son who is now taller than us with broad shoulders. The hair is desperately in need of a trim but is required in its current state for a dance production next week. Not sure if it will happen any time soon though.
    BTW one of my friends might be adopting a year old rescue poodle x who looks like a small version of Sam. Very cute but also quite anxious. This is the friend who belong to the rescue group. They don’t have a dog of their own and this one is a big temptation.
    Hope you’re having a great week.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  5. Tails Around the Ranch

    Best wishes to your friend on this poodle rescue. They make great pets but like all anxious dogs, require as much patience as love. Elsa is still blooming with her personality and may never act like a ‘normal’ dog but she’s such a love, I can’t imagine not having her. It’s been a journey no doubt, but one I am glad I’ve taken. All the best to the little Miss with her production.

  6. scooj

    A truly inspirational story and your honesty I find most moving.

    My mother was a ballet dancer and went to the Royal Ballet when she was only sixteen. She danced professionally for a few years, until my sister and I came along.

    I hope your daughter achieves her goals. Reach for the stars.

  7. Rowena Post author

    Thank you very much, Scooj. I am a fairly open person but this story is incredibly personal and it brought back a very difficult time for us when she was really sick. I used to pick her up from school and she could barely stand up. I almost felt compelled to share what she (and we) went through as though someone else needed to hear it. It’s very easy to see the tutu and the beautiful dancer without knowing what it took to get there and the struggles which had to be overcome.
    Wow. That’s amazing about your Mum. That’s a huge achievement. A friend of mine went to the Royal Ballet, which was a big thing for a 16 year old Australian. My grandmother studied at the Royal Academy in London in the 1930s and was an international concert who had seven children and continued working either as a performer, music critic or teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium. My Mum was her pupil which is how my parents met.
    I am trying to keep a balanced and level head about my daughter and dance. There need to be some expectations. Reaching for the stars while also keeping in touch with the earth. She hasn’t quite got to the point where she’s quite at the top but she’s doing very well.
    Thank you very much for your interest. It’s must appreciated.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  8. New Journey

    OH my, she really is growing up…I never have been part of a ballet family, or really understand it all, the clothing, slippers, etc. This was a most eye opening, mother loving post. Your little one is really turning into the most beautiful young woman. I am so proud of her accomplishments, it takes great will and want to be a ballerina. Plus a great support group to help make it happen, well done Mum!!! I can understand your pride in her. Great pictures. I only wish we lived closer so I could attend her appearances. xxx

  9. Rowena Post author

    Thanks, Scooj. Your family sounds very similar. Do you find there”s an obsessive trait through your family? I found out my grandmother used to practice for about 5 hours a day and as a child didn’t need to be asked to practice. I could write all day and not think twice about it. The same with the research. I’m now needing to collate my writing. Do a lot of editing and get something out the door. Yet, I keep needing to write. Really have to try and push myself through with this and get on with it. Have more faith perhaps. Focus. I’m working on it.

  10. scooj

    Not so much obsessive as determined. I think I might have obsessive tendencies, but they don’t translate into hard graft, more like collecting or archiving or documenting or exploring kinds of things.

  11. Rowena Post author

    Book collecting is probably my greatest sina nd I really am trying to get reading. I scour the op shops, sometimes hoping to find specific books and I can be lucky, but you can take what you like at our local community s\centre where we go to Church and it’s not uncommon for me to arrive home on Sunday with another five or so books for myself and the family. Picked up Jaws last week.

  12. Pingback: Our Tenacious Little Dancer. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  13. Rowena Post author

    Thank you very much, Roberta. My daughter does what seems like every type of dance, although just within that dance studio context. Her strength is probably in contemporary and she loves acro. However, ballet underpins all of that and so she needs to have a good grounding in classical ballet. She’s only 12 but lately she’s been talking about people “not being classically trained”. I find it rather funny. I’m just grateful if I can stay upright these days. I’ve done a few adult classes and absolutely loved it.

  14. Rowena Post author

    Wow! Keep at it. It’s so exciting, although they have to start from scratch when they go on from. Or, at least I think that’s what happens. That said, she’ll be performing at the end of year concert in her regular ballet flats. There’s a transition process I guess.
    I did some adult classes for a couple of years, but they weren’t held this year, which was a pity. I really enjoyed it.

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