Ballet Class Disaster–How Far Do You Push Your Child?

Fia’s obsessed with Olivia–the quirky bossy red pig who refers to her little brother as her “little bother.” It’s a great show, with great books. Olivia is adventurous. She wants to be a great artist. She loves her artist’s easel. Naturally, Fia loves hers too. Ever since Olivia came into our lives, Fia has been a painting machine. I love to watch her splatter it about with such concentration you’d think she was Degas, but with the outcome more like Pollock.

Olivia also loves to do ballet. You know where this is going. Fia, of course, also wants to take ballet. She’s been twirling around the house. We have loads of unique tutus in her closet too, collecting dust (one has a funny story behind it if you care to read). I found a place that has the “Angelina Ballerina” classes. They seemed to really know their stuff. Since it’s based on the character from the PBS show–a mouse–it’s supposed to incorporate a lot of “fun” into the class. The age is 3-4.5. Perfect. We signed up for a trial class. The days leading up to it, Fia twirled even more aggressively around the house (taking a few brutal falls along the way). We talked about which tutu she would wear. She kept saying, “Mom, I’m so excited!” I had high hopes that she wouldn’t get shy and clam up at the class, like she does from time to time with new things.

We dressed her in the outfit.

We did her hair.

We arrived.

It was awful.

First of all, every other girl was dressed in pale pink. Second, the teacher sucked. I guess the regular teacher got stuck in traffic so two classes were combined. This woman made them sit on the floor for the first 10 minutes for “role call.” Then she still couldn’t remember their 8 names. Except Fia. She remembered hers because Fia didn’t want to participate and was ultimately put in the corner. This woman lacked any sort of warmth. It was like she was training them for the Russian ballet.

One little girl halfway through shook her head “no” as she ran across the room to her mom, tears streaming down her face. At least she has on pale pink, I thought, cursing myself for not having a “normal” outfit for my girl. I looked over at Fia, her colorful tutu surrounding her as she sat quietly in the corner, totally out of place (this is probably me projecting her emotion on her outfit more than anything). She had this sad look as she watched all the other girls who seemed far more confident, dance around and even plie (plea-aye). It was heart wrenching.

Finally, after I realized she wasn’t going to come out of the corner (the teacher did give the option in a very stern way, but Fia didn’t react. Just looked right through her in that ethereal way of hers), I said forget it. I motioned for her. I picked her up. She looked like she was holding back tears. I know how excited she was about the class, and how disappointed she was– mostly in herself.

“Mama, I didn’t like that class,” she said, her lip trembling.

“I know honey. I didn’t either.”

I didn’t want her to get in her mind that all ballet is bad though. She is a girl who has definite hang ups. Suddenly at gymnastics, she refuses to do the hoola hoops. This, after almost 2 years of enjoying them. Now she sits and refuses. The swimming thing has been an equal challenge, though just last week she started to “get it” so I’m glad I held out. Phil is worried that she will be a quitter. He says his mom always let him quit at things he wasn’t good at or didn’t like. He wished she would have pushed him more. My friend C, on the other hand, has a dad who made her do sports she hated, like soccer. He pushed her too far and she resented it greatly.

So where do you find the balance as a parent? Any insight here?  Of course I want to protect her from having a bad experience, but then I also know that’s life and she needs to adapt. And participate.

I told her we were going to find a different ballet class.

“One that Olivia goes to?”

“Yes,” I said. “In fact, maybe we can even take your Olivia doll with us and show her how great it is.”

I went online and ordered pink ballet shoes, pale pink tights and a lavender leotard. I don’t want her to be a total conformist (thus the lavender) but maybe fitting in look-wise will help give her a confidence boost. We can always use our funky tutus down the road.

This Wednesday afternoon we’re going. A friend of ours takes her daughter and described the class as somewhat chaotic and totally disorganized. It sounds absolutely perfect and right up our alley. Olivia’s too.

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  1. by Nancy

    On March 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    As a much older woman, some of this blog is absurd.(I try to read things from your generation, as my kids are in your generation.)
    A teacher of a supposed to be fun class punishes for a first timer not participating! Absurd, you should have left then. And afraid of being a quitter? At 3+.? She did not like it. Who has to follow through at 3? I see your husbands point, but she is to young to even go there. Later, 7+ is when to possibly say you have to follow through with some sport, or class,since I am paying for it. But even then, kids are experimenting with their abilities and interests. Jill, you admitted to projecting your feelings on to your daughter. She feels bad because her outfit is a different color? She feels bad about herself when you leave? I do not think she felt any of that, she is too young for that much self examination. And as soon as you get home you order her the perfect dance outfit? I have gone on enough. I guess you get my points. I enjoy your blog for the variety of topics and your humor. Carry on.

  2. by Julie

    On March 3, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Nancy – I agree with most of your points although i think you could have been a little less reprimanding in your statements. The teacher and the people who run the program are at fault and 3 is a bit young to worry about being a quitter for life, although I do think it is absolutely right to question the decision to make sure you aren’t simply removing all challenges from your child’s life. Because even at 3 a child can learn that complaining means they don’t have to do something. (I also don’t believe kids should get participation “awards” but that is a totally different subject).

    BUT…I completely understand Jill projecting her feelings onto her daughter (and it sounds like she does too). We all do it. As long as you realize that is what you are doing it’s okay. And there is nothing wrong with getting her daughter a new pretty outfit with a splash of originality. The reality is that from a VERY early age children who express originality are separated from the group and they CAN most certainly understand this is happening. There is also something to be said for thinking of the class as a “class” something deserving of a bit of formality. When she finds the right class for her daughter where it is fun AND challenging, she will also begin to learn that certain situation require different behavior and approaches – something you are never too young to begin understanding so that an individual’s originality and creativity can be truly nurtured.

  3. by Lauren

    On March 4, 2013 at 12:31 am

    3 year olds definitely know what’s going on. When I was in preschool, I knew when I wasn’t dressed right or my hair wasn’t right. I was in dance classes for 3 years. I hated them but I thought I had to keep going for my mom even though she told me I could quit at any time. I just wanted to make her happy. You’re definitely doing the right thing by taking her out of that class and having her try another. Right now she’s probably really straightforward with her opinions, but when she gets older look for hidden feelings. I used to keep my hatred towards certain sports to myself because I didn’t want to let my mom down, so I certainly try to keep my children from doing that.

  4. by Cheryl

    On March 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I find myself in similar situations with my three year old. A lot of times my daughter did not like the classes at first but we kept going and now she has a blast. We do gymnastics and dance. My daughter loved dance but not gymnastics as much. I explained to her that I paid for a certain block of classes and we would do those and once they were done we did not have to continue. By the end, she was begging me to continue. That was a year ago. We did have the advantage of starting out in Mommy and Me though, so I was down there with her. She is starting to not enjoy it again so once the classes are done, so are we. Anyway, my point – keep going. Fia is not quitting if you are trying different classes. This one was obviously not a good fit. You’ll find it!

  5. by Bookcase Plans

    On March 12, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Good blog you have here.. It’s difficult to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  6. by Marina

    On April 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I think you did the right thing by finding another class. Those Ballet Classes can sometimes be a “snob” club. I don’t think this is setting your child up to be a quitter. Ultimately what are the chances of her becoming a prima ballerina? Very few make it.

  7. by Alida

    On April 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I appreciate your honesty, and also the realization that oftentimes we find ourselves projecting our identities onto our children — e.g., the quitter thing…perhaps that’s your husband’s issue, not your daughter’s. I think you are right on to provide your child with lots of different experiences, and then she’ll be in a better position to choose when she gets older about which ones she’ll pursue. I know with my son (born Aug 28 2009), sometimes he’s really gung-ho about an activity, and it changes once the activity’s begun. Other times I convince him to try something that he’s not excited about, and he ends up loving it. I think that at 3-4, it’s largely a social and emotional benefit to engage in group activities; so whether it’s soccer, ballet, figure skating and/or twae kwon do, these experiences will help your little one to be more confident and (probably flexible too) in the future. Hats off to you for addressing this issue — it’s always a balancing act, and sometimes we might not know how far is ‘too far’ until we’re reflecting back.

  8. by Julie

    On April 15, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I agree, with the way the instructor acted, I would have left. Finding a different ballet class was also a good idea because you don’t want to let one bad experience prevent your daughter from trying something out that she could end up loving. How far you push depends on your daughter’s behavior. With something new, it’s always good to give it a few tries. Both of my daugthers are in ballet and started quite young. They are now 3 and 4 and this is their 2nd year. My oldest jumped right in, but my youngest took 2-3 weeks before you warmed up to it. Even now, every once in a while they will just not be up for it. I know they enjoy it because they bring everything they learn back to our house. Just watch your daughter and see if she grows interest and is more willing to participate after 2-3 weeks. You will know whether or not to keep going. Good luck!

  9. by eva

    On April 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    If u push, u push, i u dont push u dont push, where is the balance, well evidence base research show than everything else remaining equal,it takes about 6 weeks of routine for the human body to adapt to change, give it that long and if she still hates it,push it a bit more, may b 3 more weeks, to account for standard deviations, and try something new…she can always go back, and at this age, exposure is key.
    Good luck.

  10. by Christina

    On April 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I didn’t read the other comments, but my daughter is also three.

    My daughter loves Irish dance (my husband and I are very much into Irish music of all sorts, as well as fantasy, folklore, Halloween, and things that aren’t the ‘norm’, so I understand you wanting your daughter to not conform completely), and she’s starting Irish dance in September, but we wanted her to be used to the class structure, so we decided ballet/tap would be nice in the summer. We research everything thoroughly (more than we should, probably.), and we found the Irish dance place that seemed great online, good reviews, the times of the classes were perfect for us, etc, so we went to meet the teacher and see a class. Perfect. We then searched for ballet, we looked at what they learn, how they teach, what they have to wear. Most of the schools have a certain uniform (which explains all of your pale pink girls), some schools are designed for training professional ballerinas, some are just for fun, and most seem to be in the middle. Find one that fits you, find one that fits your daughter. We brought our daughter to a trial class, and she’s extremely observant (my husband and I are both that way), but the teachers made an effort to include her, and they were having fun (the teachers, as well as the students). We didn’t stress out about our daughter being a ‘wall flower’ or anything like that, because she wasn’t being one, she was just taking everything in, and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s the whole reason we’re doing the summer classes.
    If you find a place that you are comfortable with (you like the teachers, the methods, the school), whether it’s ballet, pre-school, language classes, give your daughter a bit of time. If she’s absolutely upset, let her calm down a bit and try again. She can sense your anxiety, and she will create her own from that.