The minute I hit the “play” button and Claude Debussy’s music fills the room, I am delivered to a magical place.
No longer am I a domestic engineer preparing the Son’s lunch but instead, I am a prima ballerina dancing with the New York City Ballet.
As the musical notes play softly in the background, visions of tiaras, ballet slippers, and pink tutus dance before my eyes.
I sigh deeply as I recognize that most women, at one point or another in their lives, want to be a ballerina.
At the age of five, we want to dress up in leotards and pink ballet flats.
At twelve, we dream of pointe ballet shoes, the kind that allow you to dance on the tips of your toes.
If by the time we’re mothers, we still haven’t achieved our dream, we enroll our daughters in ballet classes so we can live vicariously through them.
They can be the ballerinas we were meant to be but never were.
They can plié, relevé, and jeté.
They can dance in recitals, be the recipients of flower bouquets, and take bows after a performance.
The Daughter will attest to these notions being true.
I enrolled her in ballet classes at the age of seven.
She wasn’t reluctant to go but she wasn’t thrilled either.
Nevertheless, I took her indifference to mean, “If I must,” and quickly signed her up to take classes with Evelyn and Igor.
After only a few lessons, Evelyn told me my girl was a “natural” and graduated her to a higher level.
I excitedly purchased the different color tights and leotard that were used by her new group.
I took her to classes two and three times a week, sold ads to help pay for the exorbitant recital costs, and forced the Son to attend, in solidarity to his sister following
my her creative muse.
I beamed with pride every time I saw a “transformation.”
A surly and rebellious child turned into a graceful and disciplined ballerina; the equivalent of an ugly duckling turned into a swan.
Every time she danced on stage, I was transported.
I twirled next to her.
I stood on pointes and stretched my arms above my head to delicately assume fifth position.
The track changes and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” fills the room.
Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with sadness.
I remember the day the phone rang to inform us classes were suspended.
Igor, who had contracted a bacteria while visiting China, had passed away.
Gone, at the age of 43.
The Daughter and I cried for two days.
Who would dance with us now?
Who would support us while we did a poisson position?
Who would excitedly demand, “Dance like you have wings!”?
Fast forward two weeks and the ballerinas are back in the studio, determined to do justice to everything Igor has taught them.
The track changes again.
Notes from “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” assault me.
The poignant notes return me to a particular dance recital.
For months, the Daughter diligently practiced her dance steps.
Ballet shoes, worn out from so much twirling, had to be replaced.
Three different costumes filled our living room; their sequins and feathers personifying what “girly” girls are made of.
I remember stroking the tiara and placing it on my head.
It didn’t matter that it was too small, it still made me feel like a princess.
The end of the melody brings me out of my reverie.
Impulsively, I pick up the phone and dial the Daughter.
She answers. “Mom, is anything wrong?”
“No,” I say, “Listen to this tune and tell me what it reminds you of.”
Once again, Debussy’s magic reaches the four corners of the room.
“Um…I don’t know. What is that?”
“Honey, it’s Debussy!”
“I’ll call you after work.”
In a state of disbelief, I quickly hang up.
I suddenly realize that perhaps not all girls want to be ballerinas.
Perhaps it’s just the ones who never had the chance.
Note: Names have been changed.