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“Shoes, Mommy. Shoes.”

My toddler begged me to put on my dirty pink flats. I didn’t want to, but there’s no other way she will watch the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on YouTube.

“Sha-sha-sha-shoes, Mommy,” she whined.

Only once when she was just 17 months old did I show her scenes from The Nutcracker. It was mid-September, and for four months, she insisted that we watch ballerinas and twirl in the living room while I wear those shoes.

My daughter is too young to know that I’m no ballerina and have no business calling myself a dancer. Right now, for her I am the Sugar Plum Fairy who changes her pants and teaches her everything she knows about dance. Eventually, she’ll discover that I know very little. She might even be ashamed of me.

I always wanted to learn how to dance, and by the time I found out that there might have been a chance for me, it was already too late. My first dance teacher said it was a shame.

“You really are a natural,” she told me.

I tried not to cry because I believed her. My emotions choked my gratitude. To fill the silence, she asked me to look in the lost-and-found crate outside the door. For two weeks, she had been trying to convince me to take some shoes that a real ballerina had left behind.

“Take those. I’m sure they would fit you. They’re good shoes. Use them in your classes in Texas.”

I remembered a few of my friends explaining the rite of passage of earning pointe shoes when we were in late grade school. At 23, I received my first good pair of ballet flats. I will never dance on pointe. Like my instructor said, it’s a shame I started when I did.

Being called “a natural” pierced me. The high compliment fell from my instructor’s mouth and shattered at my feet. Like my belated entry to the world of dance, those words were overdue. I turned 30 before I realized that all those hours I spent hours locked in my room stretching and pushing my body to bend made my body feel right. With no one looking, I was free to let my limbs speak through nameless movements with a structure and rhythm of their own. That I could communicate beauty and art with my body never took root, and it should have. Continue reading “Dance Lessons”