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Gymnastics, Ballet and performance

I originally wrote this as a part of a personal essay I'm submitting to Brain, Child, so the tense is different than usual.


My body tenses as I watch my daughter round the circuits. After only 4 weeks of gymnastics class, she will not perform well on the quarterly assessment. What I was thinking to put her through this? My daughter jumps on the trampoline and laughs when told to freeze. She jumps up and down and claps her hands while waiting her turn. She performs a front flip with some coaching, but she clings to the teacher on the bars. Does she know she’s being tested? Doesn’t she care? Class is over. The teacher hands my daughter a purple ribbon and the test sheet with a “Great job.” I’d heard that so many times. And everyone gets a ribbon. I want to spare her being cut, because she didn’t made the grade.

As a child, I loved ballet class. My arms formed awkward angles due to my disability, myoclonic dystonia. But my lower half felt graceful doing ballet.

For the year-end recital, the entire class would perform a simple dance together. I was proud of my costume, just like the others, but made with my mother’s own hands. My leotard slid smoothly across my back and my tutu jounced as I glissaded.

A day before the recital, my ballet teacher called my mother: “I’m concerned about your daughter performing. I don’t want to feel her uncomfortable.” My mother assured her, “She’s fine. She’s looking forward to it.” After a long silence, my ballet teacher said. “Well, I’m worried she’ll feel embarrassed.” My mother responded sharply, “It sounds to me like you’re embarrassed, not my daughter.” My ballet teacher softly replied, “Yes, I don’t want her to perform.” I never took ballet again.

My daughter drops the paper without a glance. Then she strokes the ribbon. Purple is her favorite color. I pick up the test sheet and stare at its expanse of empty checkboxes littered with few stars. My daughter chatters excitedly, “I love gym! I want to do it again!” The other kids in her class are older and bigger and have taken gym for much longer. She tries to imitate them and if she can’t do something, she just waits for the teacher to help her. I want to defend her, but she doesn’t need it. She seems happy to try her best.

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