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Passion or Passing Phase

Figuring out when to take an activity to the next level

Claire was four when she first asked for ballet lessons. She, like many other little 4-year-old girls, loved to dress up and pirouette around the house. She would watch Angelina Ballerina and try to stand on the very tips of her toes, as if she was on pointe.

After she asked, I researched some options and settled on a program at a D.C. Rec Center. I wanted something laid back that wasn't too expensive in case she didn't really like it and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

I took her once a week, with her other siblings in tow. At times, it required a lot of prodding to get her to go. The class was more of a movement class with a little bit of ballet thrown in. She had fun while she was in class but otherwise complained. After finishing out the season, we decided to give it a rest.

Two years later, at the beginning of this year, she asked again to take lessons. This time, we went to a ballet studio, one where her best friend also took lessons.

When we signed Claire up, she had to have an evaluation to figure out where to place her. The teacher who evaluated her said that the movements came very naturally to her, but that she still lacked the basic knowledge of the steps, so she was placed in a beginner class.

She enjoyed it, but again it often took a lot of coercing to get her to go. It seemed that there was a hump of apprehension we needed to get over each week. However, once she was in the class, she had a lot of fun. When she got home, she would dance around in her leotard and ballet shoes showing off her new steps. We kept at it and the hump seemed to get smaller each week.

Then a month ago, we got a brochure in the mail for The Washington Ballet's performance of Alice in Wonderland and she asked me if we could go. We had gone to see their production of The Nutcracker the last couple of Christmases and she really had enjoyed the performances. We went to Alice in Wonderland and she sat riveted on my lap the whole time.

After the performance, she asked, "Mommy, how are those little kids able to be in the show?"

I replied, "They study at The Washington Ballet School of Dance. It's actually right up the street from us."

She gazed off with a curious look on her face. I said, "You could go there if you wanted too, but you do have to go to an audition."

She nodded with an excited but apprehensive look on her face and said, "Hmm... Maybe I could do that."

The question then for us as parents is whether to encourage her to this next level or stick it out another year at her existing studio.

My husband and I generally take a laid back approach to extracurricular activities, focusing on keeping them fun and not too serious. However, I do recognize that a lot of the fun in an art/sport comes from working towards a mastery of it, often requiring more serious instruction and better opportunities.

For some kids who have a bolder personality, taking it to the next level comes more naturally. They have an abundance of confidence and self-discipline and do not require much prodding. However, for those kids who are more timid in their approach to new things, like Claire, it is harder to know when to push them out of their comfort zone and give them a chance to succeed at something greater or let them hang back and pave their way at their own pace.

Whether to push or not I think ultimately comes down to determining if the pursuit is a passion or just a passing phase. If it's just phase, then as a parent, I'm likely to be heading up the hill first and dragging her behind. Doing this will suck the fun out of what is just an activity to her. If it really is a passion then she is climbing first and I'm supporting her from behind. She might look back at me scared to continue but ultimately needs my support in overcoming that fear or self-doubt, not in determining that it's something in which she has an interest.

In talking with Claire, she seems to be leading me up, so I think we'll audition for the new school and see how it goes. I'll have to be perceptive of the change in position as we climb this mountain. Perhaps, it may be that she leads at first, but then decides this isn't her mountain to climb. Only good communication with her will help me figure out if it's fear getting in the way of pursuing a passion or disinterest in a passing phase.

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