Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fun Or Excellence: Walking The Tightrope Of Kids Activities

Way back, when princess #1 was only 3 years old, we did what every family in America with a little girl does: enroll her in ballet.

Who can resist teeny tiny ballet slippers and tutu's and dreams of toe shoes and applause?

Princess #1, age 3 in her first ballet class
I sure can't.

I always, always wanted to take ballet as a child.  I was never able to, so for me it was a no-brainer which activity to begin with my oldest.

Fortunately for us, almost 7 years later, she's quite good at it.

I'm finding we're coming up to a cross roads, however, and it's giving me much to think about.  I would love some feedback on my dilemma:

When first choosing a dance school, our main priority for our 3 year old was that it be fun, age appropriate and not at all hardcore.  We certainly weren't looking for a stony faced Madame who beat the harlequin dance floor with a staff in time to the music while barking out "Pli√©! Relev√©! Rond de jambe!" to a group of cowering, pink cheeked 3 year olds. 

That expectation of "fun" has served us well the last few years.  Princess #1 has come to love ballet, and enjoys expressing herself through dance.  There comes a point though, where "fun" just doesn't cut it anymore.  I mean, I suppose if you want to continue to pour money into an activity without any expectation of progress or perfection, then that's one thing.  But we don't have the money to do that.  In other words, I want something to show for it.  Does that make sense?

I am NOT a pushy stage mom, and I actually have no dreams of stardom or Hollywood when I think about my princesses.  In fact, I don't want fame for them at all.  But I do want progress.  I do hope that the time and dedication put into this opens doors in the future.  I do desire for my girls to learn what hard work, discipline and devotion to an activity means, and how that can influence their approach to life in general.

Princess #2, age 3 in her first ballet class
Because of those things, I find myself wondering at what point do you stop looking for an activity to be fun, and start looking for it to push a little harder, demand a little more effort and require a little more dedication?  At what age are those things appropriate?

I think these questions apply to more than just dance, but any activity that a child/family chooses to pursue.  And I think that every family at some point has to ask themselves, "What are we wanting out of this?  Where do we want this to go?"  The dilemma, for myself anyway, I think lies in deciding when these questions become important.  We live in an era where child prodigies are created and groomed from an early age.  Where fame, a la Dance Moms, is easily within the grasp of anyone who is willing to pay the price.  I wonder, is there room for those of us who perhaps do not desire that sort of life, and yet still wish to pursue excellence with our children?

I feel like I'm all over the place with this, and I have more questions to ask about families who choose to pursue that excellence, but I'll save that for another post at another time.

My friends, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.  Walking the activities tightrope with your children can be a tricky journey.  

PS.  just as I hit publish on this post, I received an incredibly well thought out note on this very subject from a friend who is a collegiate theater teacher, who knows a thing or two about demanding excellence and at what point should that begin.  I hope to share her thoughts about this with you soon!  


  1. Thank you so much for you very sweet comment. Made me feel better. Your girls are adorable, I bet they keep you busy.

  2. I totally understand where you are coming from.  I think dance might be a little different than other things because in soccer you really can only put them in soccer and then let the coaches teach them as the years go on and then maybe get them in high school soccer.  Dance has a bit more of a progress oriented feel to it that seems to distinguish it differently from other sports at a young least in my opinion.  I say as long as your daughter continues to enjoy what she is doing then challenging her to put more into it is a great thing.  I think I will be open to my gal dabbling in things until she decides when she is old enough like junior high what she wants to pursue more aggresively.  I kinda worry about rushing the little girl out of her at times...but, a neighbor of mine has a daughter who is 11 and has been dancing for years and she is UH mazing!! She loves it and I think she will actually be doing it professionally before long.  So it all depends on what you feel comfortable with as a mom.  I think it is so different from person to person huh.  I love ballet:)

  3. I totally get your questions and dilemma, but I think there is a LOT of variability from kid to kid and family to family. My girls (10 and almost 8) have been trying out all sorts of activities since they were three. They have done ballet, gymnastics, soccer, ice skating, jump rope,  swimming, and probably others I am forgetting. I kept seeing friends' children find their passion and get sucked up into an activity. One friend's kids (same ages as mine) are both amazing soccer players - doing the most challenging league and getting picked for hard-core practice sessions. Another friend's two daughters (similar ages to mine) do swim team 6 days per week and LOVE it. I kept wondering when my girls would find their "thing". I think Elise has finally found hers. She is really loving jump rope. When she first started, I had no interest in her trying out for the team. I knew it was a year long commitment, and my kids have never stuck with an activity for a full year. After a while though, I realized it was becoming more. I thought the team could push her, challenge her, and she would have fun. She tried out, and all those things are true. I don't think she could have or would have successfully done this before now at age 10. I waited until she was ready though, and things are going wonderfully. She is progressing MUCH faster than she had been, is working hard, practicing more at home, taking it all seriously, and gaining SO much self-esteem in the process. It has been so good for her. Nina is still floundering around trying to figure out what she enjoys. Now that I see the change in Elise, I'm more confident I'll see that in Nina at some point as well. I think for other kids, that "thing" just clicks earlier, and they are ready for the challenge and pressure of a more serious studio/team/coach. I see those kids on Dance Moms and am in awe at their skills at such a young age, but I'm guessing that along with having moms who put a lot of pressure on them, those kids were just ready for that environment at an early age. It sounds like your oldest princess is probably ready for a more serious studio, or a dance team, or whatever environment would push her more. If she is anything like Elise, she'll really benefit from it.  Good luck!

  4. I think at the ages of your #1 and #2, ballet is an excellent discipline for learning to control their limbs, work their muscles, walk with beautiful posture, work hard and physical exercise.  They will likely not become prima ballerinas, but to step it up to something more serious and academy-like would probably be useful.  My A goes 4 days a week as a nine year-old and there are other activities I want her to pursue, but she loves ballet, so I am riding it out. 

  5. We are discovering we're at a stage where ballet is becoming more "work" and is less "fun".  I know some parents would allow their children to quit when they start whining about it not being "fun" anymore, and in some cases that's ok I think.  However, I know my girls, and I definitely sense that this is an opportunity to teach them that just because something's not "fun" doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing.  And that sometimes something takes alot of hard work and effort before the reward of accomplishment is felt.  So we're riding that out too.  #1 in particular doesn't seem quite as swayed by the hard work, she's just a perfectionist and gets annoyed when she doesn't do it perfect the first time.  Another post for another time on that one I think.  :)

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