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To Ballet Or Not To Ballet
Just the other day…
While walking to school, a short walk along quiet back streets in rural France, Elliot, age 6, announces that he wants to move back to Canada. Like being shot out of a canon, my feathers are drenched by a tidal wave of guilt. It was largely my decision to leave Canada, family, friends and the gorgeous city of Victoria in July 2016. What’s more, Elliot was not afforded a choice.
Thankfully, it is a very pleasant morning in May. It is warm, with a slight breeze tickling a vibrant green canopy overhead and my feathers dry quickly. I rebound with nerve enough to ask why. Elliot explains that he would have really enjoyed continuing his ballet class. I am gobsmacked.
I anticipate something about how he misses, friends, family, parks, trees, beaches etc. But no, it is his ballet class he attended once a week for the better part of a year that he misses most. The thing is, I had no idea.
It all started when…
A Victoria based ballet company offered free enrolment for boys aged 5 to have a go at ballet. Interest was not a problem for girls, but for boys there was little. Free enrolment was presented to try and bolster male representation. After finding out about it, my wife and I figured why not and Elliot seemed keen enough.
From session to session there was no clear indication that Elliot was enjoying the experience. He always projected an air of indifference every Saturday morning before and after each 45-minute class. When asked how classes went, Elliot would often reply with an unceremonious, good, leaving much to the imagination.
There were clues, however, like spontaneously skipping from one end of our apartment to the other repeatedly for what must have seemed like hours for our patient and very understanding neighbours. Or the nights when Elliot went to bed in his very debonair costume for the end of year performance instead of pyjamas.
When I first shared the fact that Elliot was taking ballet classes with my grade 4 class (nine and ten years old) at the time, there was utter and absolute shock, leaving several gasping for air. Jaws smacked the floor sending seismic reverberations through the school foundations. I half anticipate this reaction due to a prevailing belief that sports like ice hockey, a Canadian institution, are the end all, be all reason to get up in the morning.
Our curriculum program advocated open-mindedness, so I exploit Elliot’s enrolment in ballet as a means to ignite discussion. I attempt to thaw frozen assumptions, and present more to life than hockey, and indeed more to following choices of others.
Quite aside from the fact that hockey is a sport off limits to many given the sheer cost, or the potential hazards for parents waking at ungodly hours to preserve this glacial Canadian tradition, it does take time for others in the class of 20 to take risks, throw caution to wind, and challenge the status quo – but they do. What follows is a healthy exploration of individual choices and the fact that what one may ascribe to may not be, or need not be the same for others.
Over the course of the year I share some of our continuing ballet experiences, recounting among other things, Elliot’s spontaneous skipping sessions or Elliot sleeping in style. Each recount is received with lessening degrees of exasperation and more of curiosity and amusement. Eventually there is a clear majority leaning toward the idea that if Elliot can have a go and enjoy it, then perhaps I too can choose to try things or make decisions that I care about, independent of others. It becomes an opportunity to exhale for many at this tender age between childhood and adolescence.
I tick off the social and health education learning box and reflect on the fact that education is so much more than letters and numbers. It is indeed these fire starters that so often present opportunities to bridge the gap between learning the facts, learning the skills and possible reasons for needing a bit of language and math in the first place.
Back in France and rounding the corner along the last stretch before we depart for the morning, I make the absurd suggestion that we could try to continue learning by practising ballet at home, thinking perhaps YouTube might offer up some outstanding online classes.
Without missing a step, Elliot looks up, smiles and with arms fastened at his sides, he raises his legs up and down and announces, “Daddy, I do know how to skip while bringing my knees up high.” While Elliot lurches along gracefully, I reply that he does indeed know how to skip with the best of them.
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