When Natalie started dancing at age three, I nurtured high hopes that she’d be the center-stage star that I never was. She’s always been an interesting-looking, attractive child, so she had that going for her. She loved putting on productions at home and has, by age 10, compiled hours of raw video footage of these various theatricals. Heck, Jimmy even constructed a stage in the basement for her. So when she showed an interest in dance, I was hooked.
Early on she stood out as stronger in her class. She was quick to catch on to things, and I figured that whatever she might lack in natural ability we could easily make up for with focus and maternal time investment. When she was asked, I encouraged her to join dance company, the competitive dance group, and she did so, enjoying being challenged in classes and being part of a group that had to meet high expectations. However, by the fifth grade it was clear to me that prima ballerina she would never be. Don’t get me wrong–she’s made great progress and I love to watch her dance. However, the very natural confidence that thrust her onto the stage to begin with seemed to thwart any efforts on my part to push her to get better in her free time at home. All the girls who were advancing were doing so because of time spent stretching in front of the TV and taking extra gymnastics classes. She had no interest and jealously guarded her playtime which was, interestingly, mostly spent putting on more productions. At this stage she was at the dance studio 4-5 nights per week, happily. I’d attempt to probe for any feelings of disappointment of generally being in the back row, not participating in any extra ensembles or solos, but none ever surfaced. How, I wondered, could you be so dedicated to something and not desire to be The Best? I had a niggling notion that this question had more to do with my own neuroses. So, I let my concerns ride and watched with increasing anxiety as she became more and more firmly ensconced as an ensemble player.
Unsurprisingly, my concerns were laid to rest in the car. One day we were driving somewhere and she asked, “If you could play any part in “Wicked,” which would you choose?” “Well, of course I’d want to be Elphaba!” I said, “who would you want to be?” I expected her to pick the comic lead, Glinda. “Nessa,” she said. “Nessa?” I asked, “the secondary character in the wheelchair? Well, why?” I practically sputtered. “Well,” she said, “Nessa’s still an important part, she has a few lines and a few times when she’s most important, but the whole thing doesn’t depend on her, but she’s still a part of the show, which is really the funnest thing.”
Facepalm. It took a musical theater metaphor for me to finally understand my daughter. People were so busy likening her to me that I missed this vital way in which we are different. So alike in our stream-of-consciousness flow of language, sarcastic wit, and appearance. So different in our motivation. She was doing dance because she liked IT, she liked being part of a group. She was doing it to please herself. She wasn’t doing it to get ahead or be The Best! My god the child is in a mentally healthy place. It’s taken years of therapy for me to even approach a similar mindset!
Better understanding through musical theater, and conversations from the back seat.