Being The Responsible Adult
For us late party ballet dancers, it’s easy to let ballet be pushed to the side when the going gets tough.
You may have a demanding job*, a bunch of kids to take care of, or a slightly possessive boyfriend. Maybe you do volunteer work on top of it, and then there is always a full email inbox to work through. Or you are possibly buying/building a new house, or going through a custody battle at court. You name it.
Fair. I mean, after all, you have to have your priorities straight, right? So when pressing life issues like making money, providing for your loved ones, giving back, and fulfilling your responsibilities and commitments compete for your time, it makes sense to give that “hobby”, aka ballet, a pass and skip a class. Because - wouldn’t that be selfish, irresponsible, childish otherwise? Wouldn’t you feel guilty about engaging in a hobby, while the rest of your life is blowing up and other people need all kind of important stuff from you?
That’s the commonly accepted viewpoint, I guess. There are those things that a responsible, mature adult is expected to do, and then there are things like hobbies and self-expressive pleasures that are seen as somehow less important.
Well, newsflash, we may have it all backwards, people. Honest question here: How sustainable is it, in the long run, to always cut the play in life?
But again, as adult dancers, we are lucky to join the party. Ballet may just be the thing that could teach us a valuable lesson here.
Who Decides What’s Responsible? - A “Click” Moment
I started to get a glimpse of that lesson right when I took up ballet about 4.5 years ago. Although it almost went unnoticed. Because it started with a small, kind of everyday conversation that did not feel like a life lesson at all:
During the first approx three months of starting ballet, I actually took only one class every other week. A very slow start - which was partly due to the fact that I was still taking lots of hip hop classes, and ballet was more just and addition, a way of building dance-specific strength (check out how I got into ballet and why it took me so long in this article). But the main reason was that my studio offered only one “absolute beginner” class per week, and it was on a Saturday. Which was great, BUT: I was a single mother, and my son, who was seven years old back then, spent half of the time with me, and half of the time at his dad’s (this was when we still lived in Munich). Which meant he was also with me every other weekend - on which I couldn’t attend my beloved beginner ballet class.
Then one Saturday, I was chatting with another girl after class. Just the normal, friendly chitchat between dancers. She was a more experienced ballet student, but much younger than me. I casually told her about my situation, and how it meant not being able to come to class every week.
She looked at me, maybe slightly confused (I don’t know if I am making the confused look up in my memory, but it fits the story), and matter-of-factly asked: “Well why don’t you just bring your son along?”
Click. (That was the sound my brain made in that moment.)
I felt so busted.
I have to add that my son has a physical disability and a wheelchair for that reason. So things tend to be slightly more challenging when “bringing him along”.
But of course that is just a BS addition.
If you have kids, I don’t have to tell you the real reason why I hadn’t considered bringing him along. It was the typical “good mother instinct”: How selfish would it be to go take ballet class, while your kid has to wait for you, possibly planted in front of an iPad/phone, watching videos/playing games. You should instead do something that is good for you AND your kid.
So I looked at the girl, and just as matter-of-factly said: “Yeah, you’re right, I should just bring him along!”
Decide What You Want and What is Important to You
And so I did. From then on, my ballet learning took off - one class per week turned into two, then three etc etc. As I was able to take higher level classes, I had more options, and could take some in the mornings of weekdays, while my son was at school. But I would still take him along to TWO classes on weekends that he was with me. And yes, he would often spend the time glued to a screen. Sometimes he played with other dancers who were waiting for the next class. Sometimes he would venture out around the corner and get some ice cream.
I am still grateful to that girl.
Because the lesson that our conversation taught me went far beyond bringing my son along and not feeling guilty (about the fact that I had an amazing time while he was passively consuming digital media):
I finally understood that it was up to me when and how often I wanted to go to class. Not to my schedule, nor anything else outside of me. If I wanted to take class every day of the week - then this is what I needed to start working on. If that got in the way of work or other commitments, then I needed to find a new way of working, and renegotiate my commitments.
Is that selfish, irresponsible, or childish?
I say no, it’s not.
It’s the only responsible thing to do.
Why Being “Irresponsible” is actually Responsible
It would be irresponsible to cut myself short on something that is so deeply nourishing to me. That puts me back in my body, that clears my whirling mind, grounds me, and keeps me healthy. Something that gives me vitality, spurs my creativity, increases my strength, and trains my self-discipline.
Why would I ever do less of it than I wanted? Why would I let my schedule get in the way of it? Why would I risk feeling depleted from all the “real” commitments and responsibilities? It’s funny how it is more accepted to be a workaholic or a devoted uber-mother - than to be an adult ballerina with serious ambitions.
The World Needs You at Your Best
To sum it up: We need you to follow your passions, to make consistent space for play, to practice gracefulness - so you can be who you are at everything else! This is not about creating some sort of balance in your life. I believe it’s simply your responsibility to find out who you are, what you want and need, and to go for it, no matter what area in your life.
It’s certainly easier said than done. It’s definitely not an easy process to review your priorities, make changes, and negotiate your space. It will be highly uncomfortable, and you might be questioned by those around you. The guilt may keep resurfacing over and over again.
And it can be tempting to give in to the guilt, to push ballet classes aside when the going gets tough. But also, when the going gets tough - you can just as well do ballet.
Every time I see someone else bring their kid(s) to class, I am like “Yasss!” Good for you, cause it takes a lot! You need to get them ready, get yourself ready, bring them, possibly keep half an eye on them while you are trying to focus on class. Now, here in Canada, I have my son all the time, and I prefer taking all my classes during the day while he is at school; it’s easier for me and it gives me energy for the rest of the day. — What are YOUR challenges that occasionally/regularly stand in the way of taking class? Or are you happy with how many classes you are taking? How did you get there? Feel free to share in the comments, let’s talk!
*P.S. If you wanna read more about not cutting your play time short, and get yourself to class despite work turned all against you - check out this cool adult ballerina and her piece on work-ballet-balance!