Saturday was parent observation day at eight-year-old Julia's ballet class. I hadn't had the chance to watch her in class since she started at the metropolitan ballet school downtown, though I had certainly noticed that the technique she deploys in the nearly nightly dance performances she puts on the living room had much improved over the last year. Watching her among the 20 or so other students, I could see why. While many of the 7-8 year olds were flopping around in the way that little kids with limited attention spans tend to do, and then having trouble going through the directed exercises, Julia was paying very close attention, and had some of the better technique in the class. The showed all the signs of being a girl who took her dance very seriously.
In some ways, this is a bit of surprise, as getting her out the door to ballet class every Saturday morning is invariably occasion for complaining, foot dragging, and complaints that the classes are boring and she wants to go back to the neighborhood arts center (which I am sure does provide more fun classes, but based on the annual recitals does not turn out a very polished product.) Indeed, that very day the complaining had been such that MrsDarwin and I had privately agreed, "This isn't worth it. If she isn't interested in the better classes, the local ones are cheaper and less disruptive to the schedule."
We have no particular desire to be "dance parents", but MrsDarwin and I do both have a strong tendency towards the, "If you're going to do it, you should do it well," line of thinking. Thus, since Julia has the talent to benefit from higher quality lessons, it seemed like the natural thing to put her in them, and it seems frustrating that she prefers the lower quality class instead.
On some topics, I think it's arguably worth it for parents to cite authority and worldly wisdom and force the issue. Looking back, I kind of kick myself that when I was leaving parochial school at the end of 5th grade and my parents asked, "Do you want us to sign you up for piano lessons through a teacher while you're homeschooling?" I declined because I didn't enjoy practicing, and my parents (taking the line that they weren't going to force a kid to take music lessons when he didn't want to) didn't force the issue. I can still, at the most rudimentary level, puzzle out simpler sheet music on the piano, but despite several attempts to revive and develop the skill through self study, I can't play the piano to any degree. And I wish I could. (MrsDarwin, on the other hand, kept up piano lessons for ten years and plays very well.) One of these days, I'd like to go back and actually take lessons. And, with that in mind, I have a certain hesitance to let the kids off just because they don't like the tedium of good lessons.
On the other hand, while playing the piano is a skill that, once mastered, can be maintained and enjoyed all one's life, it occurs to me that ballet is something that virtually no one does past their teens. I don't necessarily imagine that, talented though she is, Julia is slated for a career in professional ballet. And short of that, most girls put away the shoes by the time they are out of college and never dance ballet again. And if that's the case, and she prefer the local lessons which are more fun and have her local friends in them, then perhaps there's really no reason to force the issue.
After all, no one is making her dance, even if she does know when to come in.