I baulk at the thought that I might share any similarities to the ‘dance mom’ you see on reality TV shows. I’m the complete opposite of the competitive and demanding mothers that push their children into the spotlight.
But then there’s the mum in me that has cried (tears of pride and joy) at recitals and encouraged visitors to our home to sit and watch the DVD of Millie’s starring moments on stage. So maybe I am a little more dance mum than I realise.
There’s something about seeing your daughter in a pink tutu that turns any mum to mush.
Like all mothers, everything I do for my daughter is to make her happy. Twirling about in a pink tutu is definitely when she’s at her happiest.
Millie was about two and a half when I enrolled her in a pre-school ballet school. A friend was taking her little girl along so we thought we’d come and check it out too. Millie was a few months off becoming a big sister and I thought it was important to give her the opportunity to have an activity that was all her own. I was tickled pink that Millie seemed to love it instantly. She followed her teacher’s instructions, pointed her toes and stood in front of the weekly audience of parents, despite never doing anything previously without me holding her hand.
When I enrolled Millie, I was pregnant with her younger brother. Finn has been at every one of Millie’s ballet classes from bump to a teeny newborn to a busy two-year-old watching on from the stroller, pacified with snacks. He used to tap his feet in the pram and clap along to the music so it wasn’t really a surprise when a former dance teacher recently told me that I should take him to dance lessons too (his tippy toes are pretty good).
Millie wasn’t too keen on taking part in the end-of-year recital in her first year and although the photos of her in costume would have been irresistibly cute, I didn’t force her to do it. Taking it slowly and not putting any pressure on her has meant that she has always been excited to go to ballet each week. I think it’s important not to put unrealistic expectations on your ballerina, to just take pleasure in seeing their freestyle moves and the delight on their face.
I did years of jazz ballet when I was at primary school and returned after a hiatus when I was about 13 and then another stint again when I was in my late teens. Dancing has always been something I was able to return to and leap back into it as if I’d never left. I wish I had the time to do an adult dance class nowadays (but never say never!).
I still have my very first dance concert costumes – my favourite is a slinky cat leotard and tights, complete with a tail and cat ear headband. Our dance came smack bang in the middle of the Cats musical phenomenon of the 80s. Seeing the tiny costume now brings back so many memories, treasured recollections of lessons while my mum watched proudly from the sidelines and of the excitement I felt while waiting for my turn to dance in concert.
I was so nervous before seeing my own little girl on stage, although I didn’t need to be. It was at the end of her second year of ballet classes. Watching her beaming smile as she danced onto stage for the first time was one of my proudest parenting moments so far. I felt exactly the way my mum must have felt while watching me at Millie’s age.
Millie is currently completing a term the Australian Ballet in new Dancing Story classes, which offers a dance and literacy experience to explore ballet stories through dance. She has loved every minute of it and relishes the challenges offered by a new dance teacher and in a new environment.
Dancing has given Millie confidence, it’s taught her to follow instructions, to listen, to improve with practise, to work as a team and encourage others. But most of all, dancing makes her smile and that always brings out the smile in me.
My tips for parents of tiny dancers
- Find a ballet school that offers a more relaxed environment, especially in their beginner years. Some schools allow parents to participate in class with their toddlers and others have an open door policy where parents can sit and watch. It doesn’t have to be strict or stressful!
- Invest in a pair of proper ballet shoes. They help protect little toes, offer grip on the floor and still allow the dancer to spin and twirl.
- Take ALL the photos. One day you’ll look back and realise how tiny they were and your little dancer will love going through them and reminiscing about old classes, costumes, and friends.
- Take your dancer to a Storytime Ballet performance to see the Australian Ballet dancers in action. Specifically created for children, they will give any aspiring dancer the perfect introduction to ballet.
About the Author
Natalie Esler is a Melbourne writer and mum of two. She left the fast-paced and deadline-driven world of newspaper journalism to tackle the even faster pace of motherhood (and a current stint as a dance mum). She has written for Babyology, Mum’s Grapevine and Mamamia and blogs at Millie Mummy Melbourne. Follow Nat and Millie’s adventures on Instagram at @milliemummymelbourne