Ever since my friend Liz told me about that documentary Race to Nowhere, I have been panting like a dog at a dinner table waiting for news of a screening in my community. For those of you not familiar with the movie, it was made by a first-time filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, who takes a look at what kind of toll all this overscheduling — i.e. relentless academic and athletic pressure - is taking on our kids. She decided to make the film after her own daughter, then 12 years old, was diagnosed with a stress-induced stomach illness.“I was determined to find out how we had gotten to a place where our family had so little time together,” Abeles told the New York Times last week. “Where our kids were physically sick because of the pressures they were under.” I think I literally licked my lips when I read that quote. This was going to offer some prime family dinner fodder.
Until Sunday, that is. Which was the day we took the girls and a few cousins and friends to the New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker and where we somehow managed to know someone (Thanks Nick!) who knew someone who knew someone who gave us a backstage tour before the show. The show that is basically synonymous with Holidays in New York. The show that Phoebe has now seen the NYCB perform five times and Abby four. (That includes the time she was asleep before Drosselmeyer even showed up.) The show that is the subject of one of my most formative books from childhood: Jill Krementz’s A Very Young Dancer. And now: I’m thinking of shutting down this site and devoting every shred of my being to making sure my daughters become professional ballerinas like Stephanie in AVYD. I will sacrifice dinner. I will sacrifice my career. I will sacrifice my children’s childhoods and their stressed-out stomachs. Just let me somehow live out my own fantasy of being Stephanie and I won’t ask for anything ever again. Ever.
We didn’t even meet any of the dancers on the tour, but just being able to stand on the storied (surprisingly spongy) stage and look out at the grand jewel box that is Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theater was enough to make me both giddy…and despondent over the realization that neither I, nor my children, will ever be on that stage dancing with a Cavalier. Is it weird that I’m almost 40 yet still felt like I somehow had a shot at this?
I’m going to assume that you guys grew up obsessing over A Very Young Dancer just like me. When I gave it to Phoebe for Christmas in 2004, I remembered every photograph, every facial expression (Stephanie didn’t even look nervous when the stage manager called from a backstage phone to tell her it was showtime!), the way all the young ballerinas stood so beautifully on their toes even when they were doing something as quotidian as fixing their hair. I read the other books in the series (A Very Young Skater…Rider…Gymnast) but none resonated quite like this one.
Who’s so lucky? My daughters with their friends and cousins on stage at Lincoln Center about 45 minutes before the curtain rose. (more…)