It's "watch day" time at the dance studio. It is the time of year when parents are invited to come into classes and watch their dancers in action. No fancy costumes, no impressive choreography, just "a day in the life of a dancer".
I still remember watching her when she was three. She would bound across the dance floor with endless energy and very little grace. What she lacked in that department, however, she certainly made up for in enthusiasm. Often, she would kick her legs so hard and so high that her ballet shoes would go flying through the air. We had better success with tap shoes, which can be securely tied, and the smile that spread across her face when she realized the amount of sound she could produce from her feet in them is etched in my memory forever. Learning to dance was about wiggling hips and imaginary trips, playing the freeze game and stretching, twirling, stomping, and tip-toeing enough to learn basic body awareness and controlled movements.
Through the years I've watched her grow as a dancer. I've seen her strengths emerge. I listen to her spout off names of moves in butchered French, a far cry from the "ice cream feet" or "butterfly time" with which we started so many years ago. I see how she walks into each one of her classes focused, ready to work and in perfect harmony with whatever type of dance she must perform. I see her use her space in ballet studios, stick landings in acro, pull the audience into the fun of a jazz piece and interpret music with a maturity far beyond her years in modern.
This year, however, something has changed. During her first class this week, a ballet class, as she took her spot on the barre and began going through the required stretches, I was almost overcome with emotion. For suddenly, standing before me was no longer a little girl taking a stumbly trip to Cinderella's castle in dance class, but, rather, a young woman with grace, poise and determination. She moved with amazing fluidity, making it look almost effortless. At one point, as she balanced on the toes of one foot and opened up her arm, she gazed out beyond her hand and caught my eye. Her expression changed ever so slightly but she continued going about the business of her technique drills. What I saw in that moment was the same special smile I had seen a thousand times before, the one that first started with wiggles and giggles and flying ballet shoes, the smile that has turned twirls into pirouettes.