This year, my youngest daughter decided that she wanted to try something new and she doesn’t want to dance anymore… for now. She wanted to try cheerleading. She’s been dancing since she was 2-years-old. I started to feel her pulling away from dance last year. I tried to resist. If you could see her do ballet, she is a natural; graceful and refined but she longs for something different.
She’s trying to escape the shadow of her sister and is tired of being referred to by most as simply, “Little Bella”. At school, everyone constantly compares her to her big sister. They mistake the 2 of them all the time. They call her by her sister’s name. People have asked if they are twins, despite the fact that they are 2 years apart and look very different and have even more different personalities. I don’t see it. I never have. I see Bella and I see Gabi.
But Gabi has been feeling dwarfed by her big sister’s shadow. I was the big sister so I don’t know exactly how this feels. But I am sympathetic to her challenge.
Bella in the past 2 years has been diving head first into the deep end of ballet. She loves it and she wants to move forward. She’s in the youth company and she’s dedicated to the point where she has dropped every other extra-curricular activity that she was involved in. Bella knows that ballet is a sacrifice but she doesn’t mind.
Last year, Gabs wanted to do the same. Well, she wanted to be with her big sister. She joined the company and she was there a lot of hours for a ten-year-old. I was afraid it would overwhelm her. Yet, in the deepest recesses of my heart, I had daydreams of the two of them dancing Russian in Nutcracker together. I know it sounds stupid.
By the middle of last year, Gabi was overwhelmed and she quit the company before the 3rd production. I had to let her because she’s the one doing all the work but it hurt. It wasn’t what I had seen for her future. I know ballet is not forever for them but I really wanted to see them perform together on stage.
Then this summer, she told me that she was not doing Youth company and she wasn’t sure that she even wanted to dance. She wanted to cheer with her friends. Bella used to cheer but she’s always been more of a ballerina than a cheerleader. There is a big difference. Both take a lot of work but it’s different.
Anyways, Gabs told me that she was only going to do 1 of her recommended 3 classes and she was going to do pointe and tap. I knew, in my heart, this was letting go. She had one foot in each world. I’ve been watching her cheer and she loves it. Whether it is being with her friends or just the freedom to be loud and unrestrained, she seems happier. She looks like she can finally exhale.
But she is such an amazing dancer. She is one of those people with so much natural rhythm and grace that it is almost a shame to not dance. She is one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve ever seen. Her lines are exquisite. Plus, when you are dancing, you are the star. Even when you are part of the corps, you are still dancing in a spotlight. Cheerleading is being the support for a team. It’s being the woman behind the man and that makes me cringe, just a little bit. But she lights up.
She was doing both. In fact, she insisted that she audition for the Nutcracker this year when I was sure that she would want to sit this one out. She cheers at games a couple times a week and then there is practice plus her dance classes. But she was adamant about auditioning.
Recently, the cast list went up and when she saw that she was assigned a part that she has done twice previously, one that she did not do last year because she had leveled up, she was heartbroken and there was nothing I could do.
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I tried to explain to her tiny heart broken into a million tiny pieces that when you straddle too many worlds you do them all disservice. You can’t give half the effort and expect twice the results. You have to give the dedication and hard work to move forward; to move up. It’s so hard to explain this concept to someone so young.
After a long, long cry she came to me and told me, very maturely, that she doesn’t want to dance anymore for now. She feels overwhelmed doing cheer and ballet because both schedules are demanding.
On the inside, my heart was breaking because I feel like she is making a mistake. I feel like she has a gift for ballet and she is throwing an opportunity away but then I remind myself, it is her gift to do with what she may. I can’t force her to do the work and I don’t want to make her hate it.
So, I told her that she can take the year off. She will still be doing barre work and bands at home and at the end of the school year, we will reassess. Maybe she’ll realize that she misses performing and dancing. Maybe she will be glad to have it off of her plate but either way, I will always be here to support her and love her.
But, in my mamma heart, I still have big dreams of my girls dancing Russian together on the stage together. For now, you can find me on the football field cheering on the cheerleaders, at the ballet cheering on my ballerina and at home telling them both that they can be anything they are willing to work hard for and nothing worth having is free. I’ll keep leading by example and hope that’s enough.
Either way, it’s not about me. It’s about them. My hope is to raise good, hardworking, honest, self-confident girls who feel like they can come to me and talk about everything when they need to. I will listen and try not to judge. Make good choices girls but also, I will be here to guide you because that’s what moms do…even when we’re letting you choose. We let go, even when we want to hold on tighter.
The bottom line is we can’t force our children to do anything that doesn’t bring them joy and expect them to excel at it. They have to do the work and we have to respect that. But we can hope.
What have you had to let go of and let your child make the decision for themselves?