Shall We Dance?

In the time it took for me to close Sophie’s car door, open my own and plop behind the wheel, a conversation had begun in the back seat.

“Oh Sophie,” Annabelle was saying, in her sweetest voice. “YOU get to go to water play today! That will be SO MUCH FUN. Not like boring old dance camp, where I have to work so hard and get tired.”

Pause, then a stage whisper. “Hey Mama, turn around,” Annabelle said, winking broadly from behind her hand, careful not to let her sister see. 

Annabelle knew that Sophie wanted to come to ballet with her — that Sophie always wants to come to ballet with her. Instead, we dropped Sophie at her perfectly lovely pre-school (in her bathing suit and Crocs, ready for water play) and proceeded across town to dance camp.

“I promise you can come and see me dance at the end of the week!” Annabelle said, hugging her sister good bye. I cringed, hoping that promise would be forgotten.

Even if Sophie wasn’t “special” (as previously stated, I hate that word), the week-long dance camp at my mother’s ballet studio would be out of the question. Sophie’s too young. But she’s not too young to take the regular classes offered at the studio during the school year. Those start at 3. And Sophie’s turned 3 and 4 and now 5, without any mention from my mom that she might soon be enrolled. (Yes, just to clear up any confusion. I will pause right now to confirm that, indeed, my mother is a ballerina. An almost 67-year-old ballerina. Pictured here with Annabelle.)

I’ve stopped taking Sophie along to Annabelle’s class on Saturday mornings. Instead, she goes to swimming lessons with Ray. It’s too much torture, chasing her around the studio, distracting Sophie from her goal, which is to get inside a classroom — to dance. I notice other parents staring, and once in a while, one will ask, “Why isn’t Sophie in class?”

I don’t know the answer to that question. I haven’t wanted to ask it. It’s the fundamental question about what it means to be Sophie, and to have brought her into the world and expect the world to accept her.

To wit: Should Sophie have been taking ballet from the time she was 3, along with her peers, Down syndrome (and the repercussions of a kid who would never have been able to follow along at that age, for crying out loud she was barely WALKING) be damned? Or should I admit to myself that there are some things (and here I have to wonder what else might be included — regular school? a trip to Europe? outdoor rock climbing?) she’s just not up for?

How hard should I push Sophie, and how hard should I push her on the world?

What’s best for all of us?

It’s been several years now, and my mom’s barely mentioned the idea of Sophie taking a regular ballet class.  Once, early on, she did say in a very low key way that maybe Sophie just wasn’t meant to take ballet. I know what she meant. She meant that if I pushed Sophie into class (a class my mom doesn’t teach, she won’t take the kids til they’re 8) and she was disruptive, it would be uncomfortable for her as the owner of the studio. I did understand — I do understand — and I haven’t said anything.

But whenever it comes up with Sophie, I feel sad.

It’s not that I think every kid should take ballet. I certainly didn’t dance, except for a few false starts, despite my mother’s insistence that I was born with my toes pointed and perfect turnout. When Annabelle was born with the same, my mother gently pinned her hopes on her first granddaughter, and (heavy sighs of relief all the way around) Annabelle performed accordingly.

I don’t think my girls should do all the same things, or wear all the same clothes (handmedowns aside) or play with all the same toys. Of course not. And I want Annabelle to have things that her own, that are “special” — there’s that word again. She’s just as special as her sister.

But I hate, already, to be denying Sophie something she so wants to do.

Last spring, for a few weeks, we tried a separate class for three little girls with Down syndrome, including Sophie. Everyone meant well, but it really didn’t work at all, and I couldn’t help but wonder (apologies to Carrie Bradshaw), would Sophie have done better in a class with typical kids? Would they pull her up, or would she drag them down?

I will be asking that question all her life, all my life.

This morning — promises forgotten, thank goodness — Ray dropped Sophie at school for water play, and took Annabelle to the studio for her end-of-dance-camp performance. It was easier that way. For everyone.  



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