Saturday was the last day for Sam’s ballet program. The entire school (with children aged from 3 – 7) put on a full 30-minute production as a culminating activity at the Durham Arts Council, called Firebird. It is apparently their 9th year of putting on such an event, but of course it being Sam’s first year ever in a ballet program, it was a first for us both.
I chatted on and off with the other parents in our class and was genuinely surprised that a lot of them were on the fence about being there. It’s the Saturday afternoon of a long weekend; they were only going to be dancing for 5-minutes; they’re three and they probably won’t even remember it… Should they fore-go a long weekend vacation just for that?
I was surprised because I on the other hand, didn’t even think twice about it. To me I felt it was important that we be there and that Sam participate, for so many reasons. It was her first ballet recital, in front of a live audience! From where she started as a shy ballerina, she has come such a long way. Sam loves loves loves her ballet and looks forward to it every week, so I felt a recital would provide us closure for the year. Plus, Sam has (in my opinion) an exceptional memory for a three-year old and I felt that she would remember this experience for all time. So without a doubt in my mind, I knew we could not miss this for the world, even if it was only going to be 5 minutes (well, 3:25 if you check the video).
We’d known for a few weeks now that the 3-year olds would come out at the very beginning as forest animals. Her teacher Ms. Sharon mentioned that they would have some bunny ears available in case we would want that, but the girls were free to choose whatever animal they would like to be (for as long as they stayed in their base uniform of a white leotard and pink tights). Naturally Sam did not want to be a bunny and I, a parent who encourages individuality (as if my daughter needs encouragement in that area, right?) supported her choice. It took a little negotiating, as the first set of animal choices had led me to several obscene and risqué adult sites that I would never have gone to in my wildest dreams (Yes, laugh at my demise). Finally — and thankfully Amazon found a wholesome source — we settled on monkey ears and a tail. Ms. Sharon was quite amused to have a monkey amidst her flock of bunnies, ladybugs and butterflies.
Now the girls had a call-time of 2pm, an hour before the actual show. I took Sam ahead so as to give Jamie a little bit more time to nap. I had the impression that the girls would be with us the whole time and we’d have access to them right before the show. I was expecting everything to be very casual and maybe even a little chaotic with all the parents milling about. Obviously, I did not read the info on the web.
When I walked Sam into the lobby, the receptionist took her hand from me and said, “Okay, we’ll take it from here.” It surprised us both, and I was told I was not allowed inside since the girls had to rehearse and go backstage and get “dressed”. A part of me got scared — my little girl in a sea of other ballerinas, will she get lost? Will she look for me? I didn’t have time to explain to her that would happen. Instead I just hugged her and said, “see you later!” Sam put on her tentative smile and allowed herself to be walked off. Between the two of us, I didn’t know who was more unsure.
In the lobby to distract myself I bought our tickets (apparently even parents needed to buy tickets to the show too) and flowers for my little performer. Then I stood as near to the door as possible so that in case they opened it I could get a good seat for the video (and also just in case I could hear her — just in case she needed me! Just in case.). I saw a 5-year old (I knew she was 5 because of her “costume”) being ushered out by a teenager because she was crying, and that made me stand watch even more alertly.
Two minutes before 3 o’clock we were let into the mini-theatre and I took my seat in the middle. I could hear little girls squealing behind the black curtain. The program director gave the welcome and the introduction, and said that a principle they follow is to not force the children to dance as the stage can seem daunting or frightening for some, particularly first-timers. “So if you do not see your daughter when you think you should, don’t worry, we have not lost them,” she joked. “They are sitting on the lap of one of our teenagers in the back and have elected not to dance.”
I was hoping Sam wouldn’t be shell-shocked at the experience of a dark stage and a strange audience watching her every move. It is a big deal! It brought me back to my very first stage appearance as one of the children who ran to Jesus. I remember it well. I was 7-years old and all I had to do was literally run towards the character playing Jesus Christ along with 10 other children. It was also all of 5 minutes but the “run” felt like eternity. My back was turned to the audience the whole time, but I recall the feeling when we came out for the curtain call and I saw shadows of people filling the seats. It’s quite scary! It’s not the same as riding a roller coaster 4 times at Sesame Place. I can definitely understand how she can do the latter but still get stage fright.
Much to my relief, as the curtain opened and the music started, I saw Sam in her place by the “castle”. She stood up and put on a smile. Then she followed the “Mama Deer” of the forest in dance for their entire dance routine. It was so precious and cute! Of course I was extremely proud; ecstatic actually! I wanted to get on my feet and applaud them when they held hands to leave the stage. (I’ve also probably watched the video about 100 times already). At the curtain call I could see Sam looking for me, and I tried to wave to her in the dark but I doubt she saw me. I think she was taking the entire experience all in, and she even remembered to do their bow with the rest of the cast in the end!
Afterwards they said that we had to exit and wait for our girls in the lobby. Their teen leaders would bring them out to us. I again positioned myself by the door with the roses and Sam right straight for me when she saw me. She gasped in sheer delight and put her hands to her mouth when I handed her the flowers and congratulated her. She wouldn’t stop saying, “Thank you mom! Thank you!” Some other parents and her teachers stopped to say congratulations to her and tell her she did well too, and she demurely replied, “thank you!” to each one. She knew she did a good job and she was proud of herself too. On the way home, Sam said she had a great time and she loved dancing in the recital. She had this tired yet satisfied smile on her face that I will remember for the rest of my life.
All the more I had this wonderful feeling of validation. I am so glad we let her have this opportunity. I’m so glad we prioritized being there for it, even if it really was just 3 and a half minutes out of our lives. How she reacted after, how it made her feel and what she remembers from it all (and what she will remember from watching the video and looking at the pictures) is absolutely, positively priceless.