My three daughters and I recently attended the ballet recital of a favorite cousin. The boys were understandably more excited about a volleyball match with dad so it was just the four “ladies” primping and preparing to be dazzled over tutus and tiaras pirouetting their way through the story of Sleeping Beauty.
We had a lovely time and my niece performed beautifully. My littlest girls particularly liked the theatre seats that automatically fold under their light weight, leaving their tiny feet the only part of their bottom halves visible. My youngest giggled every time the seats squeaked in that funny way they do. My oldest daughter, however, was quietly and seriously attentive and I noticed an intensity in her attitude that began to concern me. That quiet focus continued in the car and at home and I suspected she was somewhat unhappy.
She had danced ballet for the same school for three years and loved every minute of it. She never wanted to stop and dance filled her dreams but her dad and I ultimately decided, for various reasons, that it was to best to find a different outlet for her. In spite of the fact that she has had phenomenal success in other activities since then, particularly in athletics, she has never lost her desire to be a dancing princess. Her melancholy that day expressed that sense of loss and also possibly a little envy. She saw the beauty of the dancers and began to compare. The pretty skirt she had picked out to wear suddenly became plain and her confident demeanor began to droop.
I have an intense personality and tend to become passionately attached to any activity we are currently involved in. When we were in dance, I loved dance. Consequently, I was a bit surprised at the recent recital to discover that I don’t actually love dance. What I really and passionately love is my daughter. She is no longer a ballerina nor would I like her to be; but I want her to feel as beautiful as her cousin looked in her sparkling tutu and flowered hair. She is that beautiful already but is entering that age when doubt begins to creep in.
My daughter is now a young athlete and I have no trouble becoming enthusiastic about competition and sport. Athletic skill requires a coordination and grace of moments combined to produce a particular and purposeful action. Like ballet, movements are carefully orchestrated to a purpose and a well-executed athletic movement can certainly be described as beautiful.
There are dangers inherent in both sport and dance. The culture of dance (where physical beauty is an absolute standard) can exaggerate and overemphasize the female tendency to focus on physical appearance. Narcissistic tendencies are common. The culture of sport, on the other hand, can neglect femininity entirely and pressure a young lady to adopt more masculine tendencies (not all of them healthy even in males).
I know there can be a healthy compromise in athletics but it is increasingly difficult when a culture as a whole devalues the feminine virtues. A girl who is modest, gentle and compassionate has become the minority in sport where vulgar language, violence and mean-spiritedness has become common. To be fair, these negative characteristics are also frequently seen in the most beautiful of ballerinas who dazzle audiences with their grace on stage and then drag on their cigarettes while spewing profanities in the green room.
The solution is in the heart and character of each little girl and her home. If she comports herself with modesty and humility and grace at home, she will not have difficulty bringing it to her talent venue. Femininity does not exclude a courageous and competitive spirit on the field or court but it places limits on improper expression. Femininity is not automatically generated by beautiful costume but is revealed through offstage character.
As my husband and I held our daily late-night conference after the recital, I confessed that I thought our daughter was the most beautiful girl in that entire theatre, on stage and off. My unbiased opinion, of course. The wistful look in her eye did not detract from that beauty but added to it as I recognized her character going through some growing pains. My own heart stretched along with her until I thought it was going to break.
In my adult life, one of the greatest obstacles to fully trusting God has been my own feeling of worthlessness. I was conditioned by this culture to estimate my value by what I saw in the mirror. Haunted by my countless exterior and interior flaws, I have at times intentionally distanced myself from God. Please don’t look at me, Lord. There is nothing worth seeing. If I can raise my daughter differently, I will. If only it were as simple as choosing the “right” activity.
The issue is not ultimately about the choice between one physical activity over another but rather about a mother’s desire for her daughter to grow up secure in the knowledge that she is loved and confident in her identity as beloved, good and beautiful. Not in the narcissistic way of a worldly ballerina nor with the “I rock!” mentality of a secular athlete; but with the joy-filled confidence of a daughter of the King. The details of the journey are a little more complicated and frightening at times. Fortunately, I have a daughter who still loves to hold my hand. I’m sure I need it just as much as she.
Copyright 2011 Melody Lyons