Jenn Massa – The Joy of Ballet
May 17, 2017
By: Jenn Massa (Brianna, Sophia, and Tristan’s Mom)
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty.
I acted and behold, duty was joy.
One of my favorite poems of all time is Tagore’s “Joy”, although, its meaning has never been more profound until my children discovered their love for ballet.
My husband and I knew nothing of ballet beyond the pure enjoyment of its art and music. But, our three children changed all that for us. They taught us many things about life through ballet. They showed us commitment, sacrifice, perseverance, and the real meaning of love through ballet, and our lives have been enriched because of it.
It may seem that taking the children to ballet classes six days a week is too much for anyone considering the two hours it takes each way by public transportation, but seen with parents’ eyes of love, the decision to commit to it was really quite easy. Commitment to ballet for my husband and me means commitment to our children. It is not a matter of economics (thank you, boy scholarship program) or convenience (did I mention two hours each way?) or passing down the proverbial torch (it’s a mystery to us, really), or having them live our dreams (never crossed our minds), and it certainly isn’t because we just want some time off from our kids (we are not those kinds of parents); it is really a matter of love in constant motion.
Our children, two girls and a boy ages 11, 9 and 7, respectively, love ballet, to say the least. I had the daunting task of finding a dance school that best fit our brood of dancers and at the same time complement our family values; I know, we are a very needy bunch. We have been blessed to have found a ballet home here at Ballet Academy East.
While the kids have been taking ballet for a couple of years at a nearby school and going to ballet camp in the summers, the children’s first serious year of ballet training began in June of 2012 when Tristan took summer classes here at BAE. At six, he was too young to audition for the Summer Intensive with the girls, so to make things fair he took classes earlier in the summer. For an hour and a half of class, the girls, Brianna and Sophie, and I watched Tristan take class with such pride; he could not seem to wipe the smile from his face. For a few weeks, we listened to him excitedly tell us about his wonderful classroom experiences and the corrections he was given by his teachers. It was like a replay of class, frame by frame and with commentary. The girls couldn’t wait for Summer Intensive. When it finally came, Tristan was happy to return the favor by waiting for the girls, as they had waited for him. As long as he could watch their classes and he could put on his ballet slippers and occasionally dance while waiting, he did not complain. Fortunately for him, he was given an unexpected opportunity to join Sophie in her class after a couple of days of dancing when asked, which he obliged all too readily. He was thrilled! That auspicious day, someone very special at BAE unwittingly made a loyal and life-long friend in Tristan. Their first Summer Intensive was very memorable and inspiring, and they looked forward to the next one almost as soon as it ended.
Tristan, who was originally placed in Level 1, eventually joined his sister Sophie in Level 2 in September, and Brianna was placed in Level 4. The kids were excited, but nervous, and yet realistically optimistic. Their goal was not to be the “worst” in class. Secretly, my husband and I wished the same (we too had to be realistic). They gave each other “helpful tips”. They took “notes” for each other, but I had to soon stop them to preserve their dignity and feelings from getting hurt (they are tougher on each other than any teachers, anywhere). Although, my husband and I were up for the challenges of parenting, we were unprepared to parent three avid ballet dancers. Simply put, we didn’t know what to do, except to follow their lead, albeit cautiously.
Our children’s commitment to making every possible class put me and my husband to shame. We thought we knew what commitment meant, but the children opened our eyes to a new level of the meaning of the word. Rain, shine, hail or snow, we travelled to BAE and there was not one complaint. Remember Sandy? They couldn’t understand why they couldn’t go to ballet when they had school (did I mention we homeschool?) To them, it was a perfect opportunity, with not many people trying to make the class, to have a semi-private class with their teachers; real optimists, my kids.
We thought we might be sending the wrong message by seeming to put ballet first. We wanted to make sure they understood that we are, in actuality, putting them first. We were adamant about them understanding that ballet is a reward for doing well in school and that school is foremost. So, on the rare times when you don’t see the children in class, you can assume that we are at home finishing school work that we couldn’t finish on time, because most likely, they spent time showing me things they learned in ballet class, instead.
Not every ballet class is perfect, of course. Some days, I had to dry tears of frustrations (mostly about themselves for not performing to their own standards—another genetic anomaly), but that never deterred them from going to class the next day. We saw these things as tests to their characters. I was delighted to see them develop their emotional intelligence and tolerance (once in a while, there is someone who twirls around too much and disrupts their concentration and makes them cry!) We saw them push themselves (no help from us, for sure) and took pride in their work all on their own. Once inside the studio, some of our old reservations for coming to a ballet school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side dissolve, because they strive in class. They are given enough doses of challenge and motivation, and perfect doses of nurture and encouragement. We especially love it when they tell us their teachers echo the same sentiments we express to them at home. It was as if they were getting double doses of lessons in values. We like the discipline BAE provided and were grateful for the decorum with which they expected their students to behave when in class, as they spill into their lives outside class. We liked it because it goes in tandem with our values; while they were lost to some, they were not to us. We are all inspired by it in some ways (don’t tell the kids, though). At their tender ages, they learned to cultivate good work ethics, concentration and listening skills. They learned to take constructive criticisms with grace and to heart. Most of all they learned to work hard, take pride in honest to goodness work, and earned their place in the world they so love, all on their own, because, after all, they say, “people outside the studio looking in, can tell”.
So you see, our future surgeon, judge and Nobel Prize winner (hey, I can dream too, can’t I?) are learning priceless life lessons through ballet. And, through ballet, we have been privileged to grow with our children. We have been blessed to know and practice love profoundly and always (although it’s harder on Saturdays when my husband and I would rather sleep in instead, but we love the challenge). Ballet is everything to our children, and because our children mean everything to us, we are here on our second year at BAE and grateful to ballet for making us better people. I think we are here to stay, for love, of course, and because it’s our duty, and what a joy it has been thus far.