In my household exists an aspiring ballerina. She is young, but dedicated. Neither my wife or I know anything about ballet.
In fact, I think my first ballet was also my child’s first. Someone got us free tickets to the Nutcracker. This little girl was hooked.
Knowing nothing of schools or reputations we sent our little one to the neighborhood rec center. It was great. The kid was five.
One day, while we were playing at the please touch museum, a local ballet academy gave a small promotional performance in the museum’s theater. The flier they left behind looked legit and it said they gave scholarships.
I took my little girl to the try-outs, mostly because the place she was at didn’t have any fliers. So obviously this new place is better. Right?
There were at least a hundred little girls with numbers pinned to their chest. They stood in rows while we parents huddled against the walls. It was tryouts but there was no real dancing. Two women, one with a clip board, would go to the children one by one, inspect their arches, look at their knees, rotate their hips. The groups were given some basic instructions and asked to follow along, one, maybe two steps, and that was it.
We got a letter a month later congratulating us on our acceptance.
That is how we came to the Rock School for Dance Education, and unknowingly gave up all the Saturdays for the rest of our lives. They have a strict policy about missing class. It is simple, don’t miss class. The first year it was twice a week, then three the next, now we do three times a week plus rehearsals.
Pretty strict for a bunch of little girls in dance class. But then again, I had no idea what, or rather where, my little girl was enrolled.
Everywhere claims to be good. All the other parents, the one’s who drive over from Jersey every day, say it is the greatest, but the cynic in me always wondered if they were just trying to reassure themselves.
I liked it well enough, but really, my kid was little. I would watch class during the one week when parents are allowed to do so, and the little girls and boys would stand up straight, go up on their toes, bend their legs, put their arms up in the air, rinse and repeat.
I know enough, to know that I know nothing, so I cannot judge. But then again, judging aside, I did find it interesting that this place where my girl was taking dance class, had dorms.
I should have thought a little more about that.
Then came the school’s production of the Nutcracker.
I struggle to find the correct comparison for what I saw. I came expecting a recital. The kind where doting parents clap and cheer for their child and endure everyone else’s children.
I have been to dozens of high school musical productions of varying quality, been to high school football games in the south, coached football against a private boarding school with the budget of a junior college, and I have never seen a production of any sort that matched the Rock School’s Nutcracker.
I had to keep telling myself these were kids.
Now the little kids were obviously kids, complete with small ones picking their nose and one little boy yelling he had to go potty mid performance, but then there were the principals. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the like, they not only killed the cynic in me, but left me in awe. These were kids, from first grade through 12th, and it was better than any age similar thing I have ever seen in any context; period.
There were plenty of other existing signs that should have kept Mr. cynic at bey.
They have an alumni list touting kids who go on to Julliard, all sorts of division 1 colleges, and more in line with what they do, ballet companies. Principal in the New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, dancers in every major company in the country, as well as Paris, Dresden, Berlin, and on and on and on.
The lead in Fame.
See for yourself. (click here)
Then there was this little documentary that made a big splash at Sundance.
First Position follows a number of kids to and through the American Grand Prix, the big ballet competition for young folks.
Three of the kids they followed in the film went to the Rock.
And then there was my little girl.
My little girl is still little. Little enough that to assume that she will grow into one of these professionals would be presumptuous, and the folks at the Rock know this.
That is why it is on my list of places I love. Because they know she is a kid.
Because they know she is a kid, they treat her in a way that allows her to love to dance. They are strict, they are serious, but while walking around the lobby waiting for classes to get over, I get the vibe from those who work there, that they actually like kids.
I have been around coaches, art teachers, even dance instructors, who were once great. They were and are gifted in their craft, but just got old. No longer able to do what they once loved, they are forced to endure the existence of young people in order to make a living.
That’s not the Rock.
No the place is not heavenly bliss, it can’t compete at the level it does and be all bliss. But I love it.
This last year, my third, I sat near the front row of the Nutcracker. A woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked if one of the girls was mine. I proudly pointed her out.
“Oh she’s still little. Does she like ballet?”
“Oh I’m so sorry.” she consoled patting my shoulder.
Not the answer I was expecting.
“That one is mine, (pointing to the Sugar Plum Fairy) we moved here from Oregon so she could go to the Rock.”
“We just drove here from about ten minutes away,” I replied a little embarrassed by my ignorance and good fortune.