The best laid plans of mice and moms are oft gang aglee. Isn’t that how it goes?
We started ballet in a class for children who had turned two this year. In my mind’s eye, this class would involve a lot of movement up off the floor and some periods of free play being that these are, y’know, two year olds. Nope. NOPE NOPE NOPE.
The class is indeed tailored to two year olds. Just as long as they’re girls. (Or rather, just so long as they are developmentally in the same place as your typical two year old girl, but let’s just pretend that I’m a gender essentialist for the rest of this post because it’s a lot shorter to type.) The class involves a lot of circle time and games involving acting out specific motions – rowing a boat, moving like a butterfly. There is a little bit of free dance… and I do mean very, very little bit. Most of the circle time is spent *on* the floor with very few exercises of the moving around the room variety.
I can’t think of a single two year old boy who could do well in this environment. I know quite a lot of two year old boys. Not a one of them could do that much circle time without totally losing interest and running off. Certainly not every girl was participating in every activity, but their issues were not of the “This is boring I’m going to go and just run like a banshee for the next ten minutes” variety.
My own little boy… did not do well. He enjoyed the first song and could do alright lining up to tiptoe and bow… and that was it. After that, he was done. Done done done. Only there was still half an hour of class and most of it was spent sitting in a circle. My attempts to coax him to even just *watch* what the other kiddos were doing (the other kiddos all being girls) were met with tantrums.
After the third class, I asked the teacher if he thought that Paulo would get it. I know there’s an adjustment period, and I could see that he was picking up the movements – he would copy the teacher and start doing the movements on his own, just… not in any way that would really be defined as “participating” – and didn’t know if he would get used to the routine of being in the group or not. The teacher advised me that he’s just not ready. He needs another year. He can’t focus well enough. He needs to be able to communicate more and express his frustrations through speech and not tantrums.
And while I don’t disagree with any of this, the mama bear side of me is infuriated. There are so very few little boys in dance and this kind of expectation just turns it into a vicious cycle. Set it up so that a two year old boy can’t possibly succeed in the class, only end up with exceptional boys, watch as more typically developing boys drop out – lather, rinse, repeat. The teacher spoke very knowledgeably about child development, but I don’t think he realized that what he was describing as the typical path of speech development is true for two year old *girls* but absolutely not for boys. They talk later. They learn to focus later. But their movement…
… I know absolutely without a shadow of a doubt that Paulo’s gross movement skills were the best in the room. And that didn’t matter because he couldn’t focus well enough to show it.
I could really foam at the mouth about the structure of the class and gendered expectations for a long time, but I won’t. I will just say that I still absolutely believe that ballet is something that Paulo could be quite good at and would probably enjoy very much… next year.
Knowing now that the class is set up to cater to the developmental abilities of girls and not just “children” of that age group, my intention is to go back to this same class next year and then possibly have him rejoin his age group the following year. We thought about dropping him down to the class of kids who are just turning two… but Nuno wisely reminded me that when Paulo has been the oldest kid in a room, he has had some… behavioral issues. If that’s still true next year, we’ll start him with the other three year olds and cross our fingers, but my hope is to go back and start in the same place.
I absolutely want this to be something that Paulo will enjoy and if the structure of the class is set up so that he’s just not able to do it, that’s not fair to him. I had a hard time coming to this decision – but really, it’s about him, not me. If he’s not enjoying it and he can’t understand what’s expected of him – the only right thing to do is to wait until he can really fully participate to give him a fighting chance of deciding whether or not he likes it.
And all of my grumbling and fuming about gendered learning and class expectations aside, the teachers we saw and spoke to are truly wonderful and want children to be involved in ballet. Making sure that Paulo would truly enjoy it and be excited about it was absolutely at the heart of the advice to wait. I also do truly believe that the class ended up structured towards girls because most kids who do ballet at two *are* girls, so it was just a natural evolution. Fewer boys means that their learning styles are less fully represented means the class gets structured towards the majority means the class becomes tailored to how girls learn means fewer boys are able to do well means fewer boys take it and so on.
So, one more year and we’ll lace up the ballet shoes again. Well, not these shoes. He will have outgrown them. So, uh, anyone need a size 2 white leotard?