Most days as a mother are tasking for me. I am pulled in a million different directions while being mentally, physically and emotionally challenged. There is an epic toddler tantrum to my right, a frustrated pre schooler struggling with sight-reading to my left and a fussy baby in my arms. But there are also the countless moments I have experienced as a mother that are so effortlessly beautiful my heart could burst with an immeasurable amount of happiness. My toddler running through the house in a dragon costume using his arms to ‘fly’. My pre schooler independently reading his first short book and the look of triumph on his face as he says, “The End”. My baby girl snuggling me as I rock her to sleep in the nursery. Motherhood is a lot of brutal work mixed with a lot of gratifying beauty. My experience as a student of ballet and a professional ballet dancer was similarly all-consuming, exhausting, difficult, and indescribably lovely.
When I decided to stop dancing at a professional level to become a full-time mother, I naively assumed I was hanging up my pointe shoes in pursuit of an easier chapter of life. In retrospect, it was pretty laughable to think my life as a parent would be less physically demanding, less emotionally involved, less mentally challenging than my life as a dancer. Before I had children of my own I didn’t understand how physically draining nursing an infant could be. I didn’t anticipate how mentally challenging toddlers testing boundaries could be. I didn’t comprehend how emotional I would become over the health and well-being of my children. Thankfully, I was more prepared than I knew because of my experience as a ballet dancer.
There are common challenges I’ve experienced both as a ballet dancer and as a parent. The pain I experienced while dancing on blistered and bleeding feet would prepare me for the cluster feedings of nursing a colicky infant. The heart ache of not being cast in a role I had hoped for, would later prepare me to accept my short comings as a parent with grace and humility. The mundane ritual of ballet class every morning would prepare me for the and often thankless and redundant routines of parenting.
Ballet is an endless pursuit of perfection. The ballet dancer is expected to consistently better themselves even at the highest ranks of professional companies. This always improving, always evolving mentality is incredibly useful as a parent. The list of what I can do ‘better’ is as infinite as a parent as it was when I was a dancer. I’m constantly trying to be better for my kids: kinder, more patient, more understanding, a better teacher. As a dancer I was always working toward more as well: more strength, more grace and elegance, more pirouettes, higher, more sustained jumps…the list never ended.
Training to become a professional dancer is a slow burning, decades long marathon of sweat, blood and tears. Raising tiny humans is literally and figuratively similar. There is a lot of redundancy while studying to be a ballet dancer. We practice the same movements in the same order, day after day, week after week, year after year. We rehearse the same choreography for months at a time for a single two-minute competition or performance. Parenting is similar in the sense that we often feel like we are stuck in a never ending hamster wheel of repetition and routine. The results of these repetitive routines may at times seem fruitless, until we see small and simple progress, which over the years becomes very big and very important progress. As parents we turn the alphabet song into the sounds of each letter, into the blending of syllables, into the stringing of many words together to form a sentence and finally into reading a cohesive story. Teaching a child to read, like many tasks entrusted to parents, takes years to teach a child. Similarly, every movement of the ballet vocabulary takes years to master. The slow and steady efforts I learned as a dancer offered me invaluable perspective and patience as I parent my young children.
Parenting and ballet are both, in their own right, art. Art is art for the sake of making the world a more beautiful and meaningful place. So many of the things I have mentioned in this post are about the gritty reality of parenting and the ballet dancer. The reason I worked so tirelessly a dancer and am so fiercely dedicated as a mother is the reward of the work. The results of the work of the parent and the dancer are so incredible it’s nearly indescribable. The feeling of seeing my babies hit milestones like crawling, walking, reading, excelling in academics, and acquiring social skills is the most wonderful feeling in the world. The feeling of performing a sold out performance at the Kennedy Center and hearing the applause of thousands in approval of your hard work is equally rewarding. So as I am on my millionth load of laundry this week, and I’m telling my pre schooler for the billionth time not to smack his younger brother in the face with nunchucks, I can’t help but smile, because through ballet I was groomed for parenthood and I’ve got this. I know if I can accomplish difficult tasks while wearing a tutu and tiara, I can most certainly handle a toddler meltdown while shopping at Target. I know I was made to do hard things gracefully whether it’s in the ballet studio or in the walls of my own home.
Photo Credits: My friend Adrian C. Murray. He is the greatest photographer and has the most beautiful social media accounts I’ve ever seen! You can follow his instagram account @adriancmurray