Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

How unreasonable can you get?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I will take a break from recounting school woes now and talk about something I enjoy almost more than anything else in life: dance. In fact, as you may have noticed dance is the theme of many of the updates this week. I might as well also fess up that I am very partial to dance – as both art and education – and I have every intention of promoting dance and boys in dance on this site.

Now, I’m not a dancer – never got close to being one. But I’ve been a serious student of dance for decades. The dance world being rather open to nonprofessionals, I have had the luck to study with some of the best teachers in New York City and San Francisco. I have also gotten to know many professional dancers for whom I have great affection and respect. I think very few people know how much dancers have to offer not just as artists but as educators.

I still take ballet class a couple of times a week. The other day my usual teacher was away and we had a substitute. As the whole class of mostly over-thirty people waited patiently at the barre or sprawled on the floor, stretching, the studio door opened and in walked the substitute teacher with sure steps and a confident smile. “Oh my God…” I bet the thought went through all our minds simultaneously: “She’s twelve.”

The substitute teacher was a very small young woman with a heavy Japanese accent. “Class is going to be different,” she announced. “Do your own thing if you need – with no distracting others.” She demonstrated with deliberate and articulate movements and she counted the music with total assurance. She would occasionally lapse into very thick Japanese accent, but even when it was hard to understand her words the clarity of her thinking came through. Wow – I thought – wouldn’t you like to have a daughter like that?

I could just imagine her as a small child: focused, disciplined, and with glittering intelligence. Every parent’s dream child. Every teacher’s dream student. I felt a pang: My poor bang-bang-shoot-shoot boy can’t hold a candle to her. As I watched this spectacular specimen with awe I caught myself feeling very disappointed in my son. He would infinitely rather spend an afternoon driving remote-control cars up neighborhood walls than focus for a minute on learning a step, let alone doing a tendu with proper technique. Looking at that little Japanese firecracker with her unwavering command of authority, I faced one of my most secret disappointments: My kid will never be like that.


Sounds familiar?!

But it also got me thinking. What do we expect of our children? What do I expect?


I for one – though I bet this is true of the majority of parents – want my son to be better than me. In everything. Whatever I do, he should be able to do better. And whatever I can’t do, he should learn to do. In effect, I have to admit, he should compensate for all my inadequacies. As I watched the little Japanese teacher with her unflinching air of authority, I thought my son in fact might have to overcompensate for me in a lot of things.

Unreasonable? Rather. But if you listen to your inner parent you’ll have to admit it’s not that unusual. How willing are you to admit that your kid is not, nor ever going to be, the absolute best in everything? And, horror of horrors, how willing are you to admit that he might in fact not even get as good as you are in some things?


Not only isn’t your kid a driven, accomplished youngster like this teacher – I was secretly telling myself – he doesn’t even have enough discipline to stand at the barre like his middle-aged mother, still going for it, still in pursuit…


If you think our secret sense of inadequacy is bad wait till you feel that guilty sense of superiority…!


And, oh, by the way, by the end of the class I noticed our substitute teacher wasn’t that young. In fact, she was well into her twenties – which in dance years, is rather mature.

I told you it was going to be about being unreasonable!



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