Write of Way by Mary Lou Sanelli

Thursday, November 01, 2018 12:02 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


Last week, I arrived in Port Angeles to teach a choreography class. I’ve known the director since she struggled with the idea of opening a studio. Her dance journey has been like witnessing a beautiful becoming.

It’s been a long drive from Seattle. I’m eager to stretch, but I’m so taken by what happens next it literally stops me in my tracks. A little boy watches his sister’s ballet class as intently as someone viewing their own version of joy. He copies every move the girls make. I know his excitement, his readiness, as well as I know my own.  

His mother is lost in her phone. So I tell the boy that I hope he takes class, too. This prompts a sudden lift of mom’s chin. I say what I am thinking anyway, “Boys make wonderful ballet dancers!”  

Not in Port Angeles,” she said, as if ballet isn’t something her son should get too close to. The boy looked at me, at his mother, back at me. He jammed his fist into the palm of his hand. It was like watching a leaf wilt on the vine.

I’ve grown used to arriving in studios where I can feel as if every move I make is not just visible to the parents but spotlighted. But even so, I know—and knew then—that I had to say something more. It wasn’t an overwhelming feeling, more like a ripple in a larger pool of ripples. But I could not have predicted what was about to come out of my mouth.“You are a natural born dancer!” 

The boy smiled happily, if tentatively, stopping for a quick look at his mom who seemed a little stunned. The truth is that all children are natural born dancers. It’s only later that we learn to suppress the desire to move to the music we hear. 

I know what it means to simply accept what I am called upon to do: teach a good class. And I do this. But I suppose what happened that day is that the belief that only girls should take ballet leaned a little too far in. Until a huge part of me screamed, “Don’t say that! Dancing is for everyone!” 

I would not have put it like this, of course, but I had a deep sense that this bias would help shape this boy’s future.

There is a magic inherent in a dance studio, in being surrounded by people who look like they’ve found what makes them feel most alive. I think this is what the boy wanted for himself, to move enjoyably through space. But I suspect he may have to learn to do it in other ways, most likely on the ball field. 

And I cannot know if playing ball will make him as happy as dancing seemed to make him. Any more that I can know why his mother was so offended by it.

But if I let myself remember what must have been happening in this little boy’s mind to make him look so happy, I suspect I found his mother’s response asked of me something that I found impossible to give—silence.

Mary Lou Sanelli

Sanelli, a writer and speaker, lives in Seattle. She is a regular contributor to Dance Teacher magazine. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

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