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A Dance Lesson for Mothers

Photo by: Shutterstock

Anyone who has studied ballet, or any ballet-based form knows that some people won the genetic lottery. They were born to dance. They still have to work hard, but if they receive good training and are passionate and smart, they will achieve enviable, textbook lines, beautiful execution, and brilliant and sensitive artistry. They will have a career.

Others, unfortunately, may have the same intelligence as their more physically gifted counterparts, but are more suited to be bricklayers, or the mascot of a hoagie restaurant.

Seriously.

Several months ago, during my spring break, I somehow summoned the wherewithal to get to ballet class. I took it with a woman – a Chicago legend — I’ll refer to as Madame B. Any dancer in Chicago swears by her. She has trained many in leading companies, and is counted upon to teach class for companies such as Ailey when they come to town. She is a straight shooter who has no problem calling you out for not working your ass off no matter who you are.

While adhering to strict technique, she insists that everyone from the ABT level ballerina, to the modern dancer, to the dancer past her prime (ahem!), works hard and works correctly.

I consider her my ballet mom. I only wonder what my career would have been like had I met her in my teens.

Anyway, after class, Madame B began scolding a young man for his poor attendance. He had a litany of excuses – his jobs, rehearsals, blah, blah, blah.

Then he started in on his not exemplary, yet far from hoagie-mascot body.

“Stop it!” Madame B said. “Margot Fonteyn had no extension. International ballet star Ulanova had no neck. International ballet star…” She continued to list the flaws of people who, despite their physical attributes, made it big in ballet.

“Yes, but…” the gentleman continued.

“But, nothing!” said Madame B. “You take class like, ‘Oh, I don’t have any feet,’ ‘Oh, I don’t have any turn out,’ ‘Oh, my butt sticks out,’ ‘Oh, my legs are short,’ ‘Oh, I am fat,’ ‘Oh, look at my big thighs,’ ‘Oh, look at my short neck… and what about my broad shoulders?’ Then you never enjoy it, and you’ve spent the whole class worrying instead of working. What good is that?”

No different from what I was doing with motherhood, I realized as I sat eating lunch with my chirpy, sweet little girl, feeling unable to fully relish the moment.

Many moms wish to God they could inhabit someone else’s motherhood. Be that perfect mom with a fab house, gorgeous clothes and a hot bod. The mom who crafts and cooks everything from scratch. One of those women who was born to mother — who with three kids can still cook for/run errands for/advise a friend with new babies all without breaking a sweat.

As a dancer, I had been a master of negative thinking, and as a mom, I was repeating the mistake. My internal momologue, (pardon the pun) included some combination of the following:

  • My house is a shambles.
  • My clothes are style-free.
  • My life is a car going 100 m.p.h. and I am hanging on to the door handle.
  • My body looks like Barney’s – not the store.
  • My kids eat like they’re in a carbohydrate commercial.
  • I couldn’t get the kids out of the house/in bed on time with a cattle prod.

No wonder I couldn’t mother happily – not like in a fairy tale, with birds chirping around my head – but merely contentedly.

I needed to be genuinely happy with what I had. My beautiful, intelligent, healthy, happy children. My handsome and tremendously supportive husband. My loving home. My amazing group of friends. My creativity. My career.

Me.

Sure, we moms could do better at certain things – cleaning, cooking, disciplining, organizing or even relaxing. But the heart of the issue is acknowledging and accepting our “Mom M.O.”

Like the spitfire dancer who knows that adagio work isn’t her forté, but knows she can make it work, the Chaotic Mom needs to realize she is organized enough to get her family where they need to be. Almost Pigpen Mama needs to know her kids have fun at home, and her house is a fun and relaxed place. Frazzled Momarina needs to stop apologizing, and have confidence in her abilities.

And she needs to remember when thinking about that mom who seems to have it all and do it all… she may be enviably fantastic, but in dance, as in motherhood, nobody is perfect.

Keesha Beckford is a former professional dancer who is currently teaching master dance in the Chicago area. She blogs to keep her creative juices flowing, and to explore the question “How does she do it?” for herself and other moms in the arts. Please visit her blog, Mom’s New Stage.

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