“I don’t know what she would do if she didn’t dance,” says the mother of a 13-year-old. “It has let her hang on to her self-esteem and her expression of who she is.” A mother of 10- and 12-year-olds says, “Music is the only place I overruled their vote and forced them to take lessons. Now they are competent and enjoy using music to give voice to their emotions. But I’m still waiting to see if they sell their violins the day they leave home, or say, ‘I’m really glad you did that, Mom.’” Another mother tells us, “The discipline of ballet helps her. She has to learn to accept criticism and praise—and praise is harder for her to accept. The repetition of ballet also has a grounding effect at this age, when everything else is in upheaval.”
Music and dance touch us deep inside. Every culture uses music and dance to communicate its hopes and dreams, past and future, across the generations. They can feed a girl’s soul when she is young and can nourish her through days, months, even years of self-doubt. Girls desperately need opportunities for self-expression and connection with their bodies if they are to resist the disconnection pressures of early adolescence. Dance and music can be extraordinary tools, especially since they are culturally supported ways to “be yourself,” and pay attention to your body and how it feels.
Of course, I must admit that to us our daughters’ ventures in creative expression sometimes seem more like nuisance than nourishment. They’ve taken ballet since before they went to school. Now there are lessons and rehearsals almost every day. In the weeks before Christmas, late-night rehearsals of The Nutcracker lead to exhaustion, days home from school, and bad colds. We scrimp and pay on the installment plan to buy instruments, which may go unused after a year, or to buy toe shoes, which need replacing every few months. Add it all up and ask if it’s worth the price.
The answer lies in the passion they feel for their dance and music. We don’t expect that they’ll grow up to be professionals. It’s always been their decision whether to continue with lessons (witness the lovely, but idle, folk harp in our living room). But there’s also the commitment they show to the activities that survive longer than the initial experimental phase. And the self-knowledge, self-power, authority, and satisfaction that they gain through their struggles and triumphs are truly priceless.
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