Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

My daughter Liz was a dancer in her youth.

She first started at age 3 in a gymnastics class. I will never know what happened because she was too young to remember, but she was somehow traumatized in the gymnastics class. In fact, the end of the year routine was to be performed to the “Pink Panther” theme; however, Liz’s reaction to the music – nothing short of terror – led the instructor to change the music so that she wouldn’t freeze as soon as the song started. (To this day, if the “Pink Panther” music is playing, Liz will find a way to remove herself far enough away so as to no longer hear it.)

Because of her reaction to gymnastics, the next year I enrolled Liz and Cat in a dance class that was half tap and half ballet. It quickly became apparent that tap was not Liz’s thing – she would spend that entire portion of the class tapping with her hands over her ears – too noisy for her. It’s difficult to perform in a dance recital if you’re busy covering your ears.

So I decided, ballet it is. Cat went along for the ride for a while, but she continued with tap and eventually opted out of ballet.

As we transitioned, I decided if Liz was going to focus on ballet that she probably should be somewhere where ballet was the strong point. A little wary of most men when she was little, Liz wasn’t even deterred by the fact that the instructor was a man – albeit one who had danced professionally in New York. She loved it. She stuck with the ballet, eventually becoming a member of Aiken Civic Ballet and even going on to dance with a group at the College of Charleston.

So when granddaughters started coming along – we have five now – I had high hopes that all my girls would take ballet and love it, just as their mother and aunt had done. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Granddaughter Payton, Cat’s daughter, took ballet for two years, but honestly, I think she was put off by being “on display” at recitals. She liked the dancing well enough, but not “being watched.” She quickly moved on to swimming and Girl Scouts, where she definitely seems happier.

But I was sure Liz’s daughters, Pearce and Clarke, would follow in their mother’s footsteps. And, at first, it seemed that way. Pearce has been in ballet for two years, Clarke for one. And at the recital this year I could already see promise, particularly in Pearce’s performance. (If you haven’t had a lot of experience with ballet, here is what I have observed. Preschoolers doing a tap dance are adorable, whether they know the dance or not, whether or not they are copying the instructor standing in the wings doing the dance with them – if you haven’t noticed, the little ones won’t be looking toward the audience. Rather they will always crane their necks toward one side of the stage or the other to see that instructor. But with all that, everyone loves whatever they do. It’s so cute.)

Ballet on the other hand is a more difficult matter. In my opinion, it takes at least three or four years before you stop wondering if it’s ever going to really look like dancing, before even a parent says, “Hey, she can really dance.” It just takes longer to learn the basics and put them all together. It also often takes that long, as with the tap classes, for the dancers to really learn their dances and stop looking in the wings for the dance instructor.

So I was heartened this year when it appeared that with just two years under her belt, Pearce already obviously knew her recital dance (without watching the instructor) and had grasped the basics that made her really look like a dancer. (No, I don’t think that’s just the YaYa in me talking. I’m fairly realistic about how long it takes for it to look like dancing. But honestly, Pearce was really pretty good for a 6-year-old.)

I was looking forward to following Clarke and Pearce in their mother’s footsteps, dancing all through their school years.

Then Liz dropped the “bomb” on me. All of Pearce’s friends who had been dancing with her the last two years were moving over to gymnastics, and Pearce was joining them. Gymnastics, of all things!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against gymnastics – well, except for Liz’s reaction so many years ago. But I was mentally locked into ballet.

Then Liz started sending me videos of Pearce in a summer cheering camp and then a gymnastics workshop. And I must reluctantly admit, she may have found her niche.

I will say the last time I was in Greenville I watched Pearce on the monkey bars, and her agility is impressive. (Again, I don’t think this is just the YaYa talking, but I suppose there could be some built-in bias here.)

Liz sent several videos of Pearce in gymnastics class, and she was already doing perfect cartwheels and forward rolls (fearlessly on the balance beam, I might add) and walking on her hands for a considerable distance. Liz said, “I don’t think I could ever do that.”

Clarke, barely 4, could decide to go back to dance, I guess. She’s still young. But I have to admit, she appears to be built like a gymnast, so odds are she’ll stick with her sister.

All of this is leading to a bit of grandmotherly advice. Forget what your children did. Leave your preconceived expectations behind, and let your grandchildren evolve into whatever they become (with some guidance, of course), without trying to pressure them into what you think they should be.

I’m now looking forward to seeing where all this takes my Greenville girls – even if it’s not ballet.