Let Them Dance (or Roller Derby, Maybe?)


This is my daughter. At seven years old, she is precocious, brilliant and occasionally bombastic to her brothers. She is naive and innocent, yet has a scientifically attuned mind that occasionally floors her family. She’s a potent mix of potential, imagination, drive, whimsy, creativity, chaos, propriety, expression and innocence. She’s every girl, and she’s utterly unique.

A few days ago, she came home from school despondent, and curled herself into the big  green chair in the corner of my room. Occasionally melancholy, she sometimes worries herself over things she perhaps shouldn’t— I was a little like that as a girl and can sympathize. I used to fret over the state of the world, what would happen if a nuclear bomb went off, and if the Tootsie Pop I had just enjoyed was in fact poisoned and I was about to die. (this was a recurring fear, along with the Kidnapper in The Van who would Follow Me Home From School- ah, yes, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s).

Of course I gently queried her, poked a bit, and finally prodded her out of the chair and back into socializing with her family. It doesn’t usually take much. She insisted she didn’t want to talk about school, and we distracted ourselves with fixing dinner together.  I knew she would tell me when she was ready, and I kept a watchful eye on her.

This morning, wrapped in a warm towel and fresh from the shower, she curled up next to me. Handing me the brush and comb and two purple elastics, she nestled down while I began weaving her damp hair into thick, glossy braids.

“Mom, I don’t like PE anymore.”

Hmmmm… she loves PE. She loves moving and dancing and playing and running. She’s talked joyously about it, up until now. Still combing and weaving her hair, I ask her why, to tell me what happened that would make her stop enjoying something she loves.

She starts to tell me about her friend, a little girl who decided during dance time to mock my daughter, her dancing and her body, in front of the other little girls in the class. She was mortified, and since that day, she has sat by herself and refused to move or take part in the activities. The activity this month is dance. She sadly informs me that she cannot dance, and that she is afraid the other girls will laugh at her again, so she hides.

Hot tears spring to my eyes and my heart roars a mighty mama-roar in my chest, but I try and maintain my cool while I finish her braids. I say all the right things- directing her to remember that when people say things that are not nice, it doesn’t mean they are true. That unkind people are not really friends. That she is capable, and strong, and beautiful and that no one can take that from her. And it all feels so paltry before the castigation and cruelty of 2nd grade girls seeking an inroad to social acceptance by clicking against the odd girl out.

What do you do? You can build them up, make sure they have tools and a solid sense of self, a firm foundation of faith and family and belonging and being loved. And then some wretched cruelty casually flung their way causes them to doubt themselves and their value… and to hide.

Like so many moments in parenting, I fumbled through, wishing fervently for a manual, coupled with prayers for some magic words and soothing balm for her little heart. All I can do is hope I did enough. I kissed the top of head and pulled her hood up to keep her warm as I sent her off to the bus stop and to face her world. It’s still a small and fairly controlled world, but there are already so many from which I cannot protect her. I can only be here, waiting to help, soothe and nourish, when she returns home.

Also, I think some dance classes are in order. Reintroducing her to the joy of movement and of her body before this unkind seed takes root seems like a good idea. Any thoughts from more experienced mamas on dealing with peer rejection and body shaming in girls are most welcome.

Damn, this parenting gig is hard.


8 thoughts on “Let Them Dance (or Roller Derby, Maybe?)

  1. Tracy! I love you and you are doing all the right things. My Nae Nae deals with the exact same. It is detrimental but she (finally at 14) has learned to love her body and herself while taking her own initiative to be a healthier teen. Some days i can see it in her face ie: during softball season, she had a killer arm and a swing to match hit that ball 9 times out of 10, HARD but couldn’t quite make it to first base. there were so many who would mock on thee other teams, make comments when she was up to bat. I like you just showed support, never missing a game always cheering and boosting confidence.”Don’t let the hurtful mean words of an-others unhappy mind pull you down” I would say. “You are amazing, I’m sorry thee good Lord didn’t make them like you.” “People often make fun of or are jealous when someone is actually more talented then they are.” Dance class is amazing idea! let her be free let her build that confidence up in another environment so she might be able to block the hurt from the mean girls who are for some reason hurting more then her and taking it on who they thought was the weaker. She will be so strong and is so strong and lucky to have you as her Momma <#

  2. Oh I detest mean girls! Not to throw anyone under the bus, but I believe this type of picking falls under that HUGE umbrella labeled ‘bullying’. While I don’t suggest the ‘mean girls’ are singled out for picking on your daughter. It might not hurt to call the school, explain what happened and WHY this is upsetting to you and maybe suggest the teacher of that particular gym class give a ‘refresher’to the kids, in a generalized setting, about the different things that bullying can be….mean/snide comments, etc and how they can hurt. A reminder of The golden rule…do unto others as ye would have done unto you 🙂 saying lots of prayers for your beautiful daughter!

  3. Couple of thoughts: a quiet word or email with that PE teacher is in order. Had she/he noticed Abby’s humiliation and subsequent withdrawal from participation? Darn well better have! What steps were taken, or will be taken?

    Dance classes are an excellent plan. Perhaps seek out non-ballet classes in favor of modern, unless you can find a school that isn’t hyper focused on “ballet physique” bodies. My daughter (who is, unlike me, very slim) has taken dance classes for 6 years and it is the rare girl with more than a slight build who continues past a term or two of classes. I think there is some conscious or even subconscious “othering” going on in the ballet classes. Not so much in other forms of dance.

    And finally, how are your socks coming along? I love seeing other people’s knitting. Working on a wrap here and it feels nice to pick up the needles again…

  4. 1. We’ll be avoiding ballet, specifically. Too much mirror gazing and focus on outward beauty and conformity. I’m thinking…. roller derby? Tap? Scottish folk? Rock climbing!?

    2. One Bean-sized sock is done, the next is on the needles.

    3. Thanks for the love and support, one and all. 🙂

    4. An appointment has been made with the teacher.

  5. A modern dance/general movement class is best, if you can find one. And I’m probably reiterating, but you’re dong a great job. Validate her at home, and let her explore her passions, and eventually she’ll realize that the Others are just Stupid (and then become a 13 year old girl and Rant about that on a regular basis; no I have *no* experience with that *grin*). And remind her that even though people treat her that way, it’s no reason to reciprocate. It can be gotten through. And eventually, those girls will move on, and your daughter will still have her sense of self. (I hope. It’s worked so far with me. *knocks on wood*)

  6. Love the post and how you are dealing with this issue head-on. Dance classes have definitely helped my girls and their confidence. Something else to consider when selecting a dance class. I did Irish Step Dancing as a kid and my girls are in ballet and tap. It’s not so much the type of class as the type of dance school you attend. In just about every dance type you will have people make comments about size and shape. I think you may see more pressure to conform to a certain body type in a competition dance school setting – regardless of dance type. My girls’ dance teacher run’s a non-competition school. Dance is to be fun, improve physical health and confidence. And she keeps the mirrors covered for most of the class until the girls get ready for pointe (when they actually need to make sure their positions and movements are more accurate to prevent injury) because she doesn’t want them to get distracted by other things, tutus, size, etc. And she has girls in her classes of all sizes, shapes and abilities. If you were in Utah I could recommend a few places. Good luck!

  7. Modern dance/Creative movement classes are great for kids–fun and very inclusive, in my experience. You could visit a few different studios and observe to get an idea of the environment. Good luck! (I wish I could always think of the right things to say to my kids–you’re awesome.)

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