My girls took part in the dance open day at the weekend. Every couple of years, our dance school hires a stage and spends an afternoon showcasing what each class has been learning. It's all very relaxed. You drop in, find a seat, watch your child's class and maybe a couple of others and then leave.
Obviously we have three girls and the big ones do three types of dance, so I was there for the long haul. I arrived at 12.45 and left at 5.15 having watched my own children and many others perform.
When we first went to one of these shows, the eldest two were 3 and 4. They were excited by the stage, slightly in awe of the audience and delighted in the lipstick. I watched them with pride in my heart and was swept along on the tide of fussing, pre-school mothers. When small dancers skip on to the stage, the whole theatre says " Aah!" simultaneously. There are lots of parents and grandparents all craning their necks to get a better view and there is the whirr of cameras and video cameras throughout the performance. The children either do what they are supposed to do or don't. It doesn't really matter. Some of them wave unashamedly at familiar faces in the audience but as it is not a show it is overlooked. The performance finishes and the parents go home with a keen sense of money being well spent on ballet lessons.
But now I have both older and younger children to watch I see something different. By the time they hit the higher grades, you can see which of the children have a natural aptitude for the dance and who has the confidence to be on the stage without embarrassment. There is also real skill in what they do. I no longer stay to watch dance classes so their progress from year to year always takes me by surprise.
But by far the most rewarding part of the day is watching the older students. Those that are 16 and 17. Their level of competence is remarkable and whilst some have more natural talent than others they all perform the steps with style and confidence. But what is more incredible is that the dance teacher has maintained the interest of these girls throughout the mid teen wilderness years and despite the distractions of boys and make up. The senior classes are as well attended as the junior ones. Anyone can attract little girls who want to wear pink and dance like Angelina Ballerina but it takes a very special kind of teacher to engage with and encourage young women until they leave school.
And so it was with a great sense of awe that I watched these classes on Sunday, hoping that in the fullness of time my girls will attend them and take from them the beauty and poise and sense of belonging and the current students clearly have and that, until then, they will look up to them and look forward to their own time at the top of the school.