I’m not sure why it was my dad’s job, but every Saturday, he took us to dance class at the YMCA. Saturdays with Daddy were wonderful to begin with. I don’t remember all that we did, but Daddy was far more lax than Mom was. Our hair didn’t have to be straight. He didn’t care how much toothpaste we used, and he favored sugary cereals. Our only regret about certain Saturdays with Daddy was that he preferred the Looney Tune Show over the Smurfs.
Saturday ballet class was a preschool (and possibly kindergarten) adventure that we never truly loved. We loved the idea of being ballerinas. We loved the leotards (even if they were black), the tights (which we would have preferred to be pink), and the little black shoes that Daddy didn’t even make us change out of to go outside. Class itself was another matter.
I don’t remember there being any mirrors in the YMCA gym. I might have tried harder if there had been mirrors. A good mirror can entertain a child for hours with little else needed. But there were no mirrors. There was a bar, however, that was roughly shoulder-height for me and ear-height for my sister. Every class, we would try to somehow perch our legs up there and stretch—painful and boring, in my preschool opinion. Then we would line up and begin moves. I remember counting positions, which always seemed a lot like moving our feet like clock hands except we never got to the time to do anything. Position one, heels together and feet in a line even with our bodies, always made me wobble. Position two, which let us separate our heels slightly was like a breath of relief, but I was still wobbly. Position three, the juxtaposition of our feet touching but pointing in opposite directions, always made me feel that someone was trying to break the clock or go back in time. Either way, it wasn’t working for me. Once again, fourth position allowed the feet to separate just long enough that I didn’t fall, and fifth position, the position that makes your legs an isosceles triangle with your feet as a double base…suffice it to say that I never mastered fifth position. Eventually, we would progress to actual pliés and arabesques. Those I could do, but I could never remember any order to them. Besides, the whole thing seemed very suspect to me. I had watched “The Nutcracker.” Those dancers leapt. There was no leaping in Saturday morning YMCA dance classes. None at all. Unless, of course, you count the teacher who put hula hoops on the floor to keep us in our spots. Against her expressed wishes, I remember leaping from hula hoop to hula hoop. But I never remember doing any directed leaping.
One thing, however, was wonderful about dance class: the dads. No mom, it seemed, would be caught dead taking their daughters to ballet. It was a job for dads. I don’t remember what time the class was, but it was early enough that I clearly recall the waiting room full of droopy-eyed dads, slouched on the benches and occasionally massaging their as-yet-unshaven chins. We little girls would stream out of the gym and swarm over our fathers. Much like ants over branches, our swarming was a very three-dimensional thing, climbing on and over our fathers’ slow-moving bodies as they gradually moved back into life.
Now, I cannot imagine any little girl out in public in only a leotard. Someone would be slapping some shorts on her at the very least. But in the early eighties, preschool outfits were not overtly sexual, and few worried about the impropriety of dancing outfits. Our dads shoved our arms into windbreakers and, as inefficiently as raking leaves in a windstorm, directed us out to our cars.
Once my sister and I were buckled in, Dad pulled out of the Y parking lot and turned left on 286. He went about a mile before turning right into the parking lot of the old Mister Donut and Baskin Robbins. Still in our leotards, tights, and ballet shoes, we would join the line of other dads and dancing daughters waiting to order doughnuts. Ballet was worth the stretching to know that those powdered sugar rings were waiting for me.