When my eldest was three and I took her to Maureen Williams School of Dance to enrol, I had no idea what I was getting us into. Now, thirteen years later, dance school is almost as big a part in all four of my children's lives as school school. We are there every day with one class or another and both my big two are incredibly proud to have little jobs helping out with music and tying ribbons for the younger dancers. Not going to dance is inconceivable and mountains are regularly moved to ensure that nothing is missed.
Every two years Dance School puts on a show. It's a lavish affair over two weekends two casts of principals and over three hundred dancers with a multitude of glittering costumes. Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight from the tiniest child who points their toes and beams at the sea of faces staring up at them to the elegant young women who pirouette around the stage en pointe, the choreography carefully conceived so that each parent gets a chance to see their own dancer.
The atmosphere in the theatre is electric. All the children know their dances and have the confidence to perform even though this environment is quite daunting for them. Backstage an army of mums and dads help out with hair and make up, changing costumes and curtains and provide encouraging words and tissues if things get a bit overwhelming. It runs like clockwork and it is a joy to be part of. When the run comes to an end and the children flop in exhaustion everyone agrees that this must have been the best show yet.
It's hard to explain why dance school is so important to us. There are the obvious things - it's great exercise for both body and mind. It teaches discipline and concentration and it's really good fun. But it's the hidden benefits that are as important. It gives my children a focus to their lives which some of their friends lack. They take from it the confidence to say that they are busy and so not available for kicking about town. They learn about team work and commitment and there are disappointments which have to be overcome. They feel a huge sense of belonging, that they are part of something that is special and worthwhile. But most of all they go to dance school, work hard and come away feeling good about themselves.
I have said before that money cannot buy what standing on a stage and performing to a supportive audience does for young people. Every time a show comes round I watch my children change and grow. When the last costume is packed away and all the photos have been giggled over, they each have a little cloak of inner confidence wrapped around their shoulders and they walk a little taller in their shoes.
We are exhausted. For two weeks we have grabbed food where was can, done homework in dressing rooms and cancelled anything that wasn't dance related. It's a huge commitment for all of us but one that we would collectively walk over red hot coals to achieve.
Next time will be the last show for my Big Ones. They will have achieved their dream to be at the top of the school, the senior dancers. And I will be grateful that dance school has done so much for them since they were tiny that this is their ambition and that, all being well, they will be there to achieve it.