I vowed I would never sleep in a parking lot in order to enroll my child in preschool. I always felt that was rather ridiculous. As a former teacher, I know what's truly important in those preschool years and there are a whole lot of places, including my family room, in which that type of learning can take place. I found perfect preschools for all three of them and never once stood in line to register.
I must confess, however, that this year will mark the first year in many that we will not sleep in a parking lot to register Exhibit A for Mrs. M's dance class. Mrs. M has been teaching ballet for thirty years. Her philosophy is that she builds little girls, and then she builds dancers. For the little ones, each of her classes starts with circle time. Eventually, this evolves into "girl talk". Don't tell the dancers, but it's really the same thing, they just feel more grown up about not sitting in an actual circle. She asks each little lady to share something special with her... something about her day, a success she's had at school or elsewhere, a special treasure she's brought with her to share with Mrs. M. As she converses with each of them individually, she makes them mindful of their manners, asks them to speak up and use good eye contact and models active listening. She teaches them early on to thank her for the class before they leave and to extend that courtesy to all of their teachers... and the world beyond. She thanks them, too, for their enthusiasm, a job well done, for loving to dance.
The day after my friend's daughter's first class with Mrs. M, she woke up and made her bed because Mrs. M told her class that it's good to help mommies. She was three at the time and now, at 6, has made her bed every single day since then.
When Exhibit A struggled with some body image issues I talked to her but could tell she thought I was just giving the required mom speech. I enlisted the help of a gal pal who Exhibit A adores and who, coincidentally, was a dancer, and I asked our pediatrician to mention it in passing at Exhibit A's check up. It wasn't a huge deal. It was a few tears shed over a comment someone made that was benign, but she misunderstood it. However, I don't ever want body image issues to rule her life and I felt very strongly that I wanted to nip it as soon as possible. I still felt, though, that Exhibit A wasn't really internalizing all the things we were saying, so the thought occurred to me: call Mrs. M.
"Mrs. M... I am struggling with something and I was wondering if you could help me. I know you've probably dealt with this many times with some of the older girls..." and I went on to explain.
Her response? "Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I'll handle it."
And she did. I don't know exactly how, though I have a general idea... I don't know when... but it became a non-issue.
Mrs. M is so popular that getting into one of her open school classes requires careful planning and a willingness to brave the elements. Registration is held at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. People start lining up Friday afternoon. The line winds around the building and then some. People bring movies, snacks, cards, grills, coolers and settle in for the night. The kids love it. The parents complain bitterly, but you bet your sweet bippy they wouldn't miss it. At 6 a.m., Mrs. M shows up with donuts, for she knows that the crowd is there for her and, in all her humble graciousness, she wants to thank them for their love and support.
This year marked Exhibit A's first year in company and, as such, we will forego open school registration. She'll simply audition her way back into whichever companies wish to have her. I can't say that I'll miss the parking lot experience, but it does feel somewhat like the end of an era.
As I mentioned in "The Smile", it was recently parent watch day at each one of the seven classes Exhibit A takes. While most teachers just show you what happens in their classes on a weekly basis, Mrs. M approaches things a little differently once the girls make it into company.
At the beginning of the year, she informs them that they are to select a 3 minute piece of music and choreograph a dance to it. They are to find their own costumes and practice their dance until their feet feel like they might just fall off... for she will be requiring that they do their first ever solo and they will have no direction from her. They are to take the knowledge they've gained from her and other teachers throughout the years and shine.
Exhibit A asked me to burn a CD for her. That's the only thing I ever heard or saw of this endeavor until last week.
At parent watch day, which for Mrs. M took place over two consecutive classes in order to have enough time, each dancer performed her solo that was 5 months in the making. Parents and special friends were invited, and the girls' company big sisters came out in force to support the girls. Each one performed her dance and then Mrs. M provided feedback of her own before asking the dancer's parents and big sister to comment, then other company members were invited to to chime in with their thoughts.
Exhibit A is not the nervous type. She took the stage with the confidence that I've grown accustomed to over the years. She smiled and announced her name, age, school and provided the title and composer of her piece of music and then, she began to dance. I was awestruck. In my wildest dreams I never imagined it would have looked the way it did. I couldn't believe that she had choreographed and rehearsed this alone, in her room, in between dance classes, flute practice and maybe even doing some homework. I had, of course, known that she had come far as a dancer, but that was under the direction and choreography of her teachers, in their classes, on their stages... a far cry from "find music, create a dance, dance". It was beautiful and inspiring. Afterwards, Mrs. M told Exhibit A how proud she was of her. Exhibit A was the only dancer about whom there was no constructive criticism, just a long list of positives about the use of space, making her movements match the tempo, and owning the stage. Her big sister's comment was that even though the music was repetitive, Exhibit A chose different choreography for each refrain to keep it interesting. I was so proud I thought I might pop. My comments reflected that. Immediately afterwards, Exhibit A asked me to burn a song onto a CD for her. She's already starting to work on next year's dance.
The solo was an important moment in her development as a dancer. For me, though, it was an opportunity to see that my child not only has a passion, but also a gift.