When I was two and a half my mum took me to dance class. There was a little dance school in the Cheshire village where we lived run by a formidable Madame. She must have been at least a hundred years old, or so it seemed to someone of my tender years. She wore long black skirts and carried a stick with a brass knob that she banged on the floor to beat time.
So when my eldest was a similar age I rang the dance school here in Ilkley. A friendly chap answered the phone. "Can she take direction?" he asked. I had no idea but it seems that she could because she's still going to class eleven years later, as are all her siblings. Between them they spend about ten hours a week at dance school (http://mwsd.info/default.aspx). It's a real home from home for us.
Every two years, the school puts on a show in the King's Hall, the spectacular Victorian theatre in Ilkley. The first time we were involved my eldest was three. She skipped onto stage dressed as a ladybird or liquorice all-sort or some such costume chosen to delight and for a minute or so her class pointed their toes and pirouetted to the resounding approval of the audience.
Fast forward to this weekend when the biennial dance show hit the town again. Now all four children were taking part in various numbers across various disciplines with multitudinous costume changes. There are around 350 children involved across six performances with over 700 individual costumes. It is run with military precision, each child receiving clear instructions as to where they should be, when and with what.
Whilst the Principal coordinates matters back stage, her husband zooms around the venue with a clipboard and a microphone. He knows the name of every child and generally some entertaining fact about their mother. He greets everyone with a cheery welcome as they enter the vast building, often somewhat awestruck by what they are about to do. He marshals his army of mother helpers who spray unruly hair into styles suitable for ballerinas and apply stage make up to little cheeks. No one ever raises their voice, except perhaps an exasperated mother at their own child. The pervading sense of calm excitement cascades from the top downwards and you rarely see a nervous looking child.
And then the lights drop and the show begins. Class after class hits the stage, each child donning a fantastic costume. The numbers are choreographed so that every dancer, no matter what their natural talent, gets a turn at the front of the stage. The show flies by with a traditional ballet in the first half and more upbeat routines to familiar hits in the second. Very rarely does anyone forget their dance and any mistakes are covered ably by the older members of the cast who assist the younger ones through every aspect of the show, from entertaining them whilst they wait their turn, to dancing on the edges of the stage just in case someone should have a momentary lapse of memory.
Of all the events my children take part in it is my far my favourite. And I cry every time. I cry tears of pride for my own children and for the fact that they are part of such an incredible venture. I cry for the triumph that each dancer feels as they stand on stage smiling and collecting their applause. I cry for the fact that there are so many teenagers involved who choose to spend their spare time dancing when they could so easily have given up. I cry for the inevitable group for whom it is the last show before they venture off to university. But mostly I cry for all the hard work by the Principal and her husband for whom this incredible spectacle is the culmination of months of planning and practising. And I am grateful, more grateful than they will ever know.