Fit and Funky
When my daughter Abrielle was 4 years old, I enrolled both her and her 5 year old sister Samara in a dance class called “Fit and Funky,” a combination of jazz and hip hop class for the pre-school set. To me, it was a blessed 45 minutes where these two very active girls could get out some of their energy and I could visit with my friends whose daughters also were taking the class.
Each week, Abrielle would excitedly attend class only to proceed to stand in the middle of the dance room, unmoving, for the whole time. The teacher, who was lovely, patient and creative, did her best to include Abrielle in the class. But Aby would shyly shake her head no and continue to watch the class. At the end of the class, Abrielle would rush out of the room and give me a huge hug declaring “I wuv fitty funky.”
At the end of the eight-week session, Samara was excited to re-enroll in the class. I suggested to Aby that maybe she should sit this session out (you know, since she hadn’t once moved a muscle in the whole two months she was there, I thought this seemed like a fairly reasonable idea.) A shocked look passed across her little face as she screwed her little nose up and begin to sob, “But I wuv fitty funky!”
So I did what any self-respecting parent who was setting good boundaries with their kids would do: I gave in.
In part, I reasoned, it was 45 minutes of precious time I was able to chat with friends. As a stay at home mom of four girls under the age of five who only had help a couple hours a week, this was one of my “free” afternoons. That three quarters of an hour was supremely important to me.
But I also saw how much this meant to my daughter—she “wuved fitty funky”—so I went with my gut and re-enrolled her.
I spoke to the adorable-and-somewhat-baffled-but-still-very-patient dance teacher who agreed to let Aby take the next series of classes and off she went to session two of Fit and Funky.
The first four weeks of session two was the same story. Aby was as still as a post, not moving so much as a muscle during the class and coming out of the lesson proclaiming her undying love for her dance class.
If I were a less over-whelmed mother, I might have wondered if something was wrong with my child. But by this point I had lowered my standards of parenting success to “if they were all alive by the end of the day, relatively clean and having eating something that involved nutrition” I was a super star. Besides, she was four years-old, this is supposed to be about her enjoyment and her play, not some sort of pre-Broadway training ground.
But on the fifth week, something magical happened: Aby broke into dance.
And I am not talking about a little wiggle here or there, but full on, on-beat dance.
At the end of the class, Aby came out just as happy as she had the other twelve weeks. I praised her participation and couldn’t disguise my amazement. I blurted out, “Abrielle, why did you suddenly start to dance?” Chugging down her well- earned juice box she paused for a moment and matter-of-factly answered: “I finally knew all the steps.”
I finally knew all the steps. Well, all righty then.
For three months, this preschooler watched and observed and then she felt ready to dance. And if her teacher wasn’t so kind and patient, and I hadn’t been so willing to allow her to do the class (for somewhat selfish reasons, I acknowledge), we might not have discovered three very important things about my daughter: first, she learns by observation; second, she needs time to warm up to new situations and third, she loves to dance.
Ironically enough, Aby went on to dance for several more years, transitioning into rhythmic gymnastics (where she won a junior Olympic title) and then back to dance at a highly respected dance company in her middle school years. High school brought her heavily into musical theater, leading her to win two National Youth Theater awards as Best Actress in a Musical which involved singing, acting and yes, dancing. After getting a semester of college under her belt, she has decided to take this spring off to take auditions and master classes to follow her love of acting, singing and dancing. Aby is pursing her passion and her dreams and while that is terrifying to watch it is exhilarating as well.
“Finally knowing all the steps” is still a need of Aby’s. For as brave and passionate as she is about many different things, she still retains part of that four year old who like to observe before jumping in.
Aby wasn’t the only one who benefited from Fit and Funky; here is what I learned as well:
- Give your kids time to let their passions and talents unfold. Don’t be so quick to judge if the activity or sport is “their thing.” Beware of concluding math is hard for your child because he struggles for a bit. And don’t be hasty and forecast the likely outcome of their ultimate success. That kid who is a struggling Level 4 gymnast, might end up being your best Level 10 gymnast down the road.
- Observe your kids to understand how they learn best. Some kids can jump into activities with little thought. Others need to step back and observe before participating. If your child is the latter, don’t assume that means she isn’t interested in participating. It might just mean she needs more time. If you are instructing a group of kids, try to assess how each child learns best. Some need to watch, others to have things explained verbally and others need to feel the action to understand best. Tailor your teaching to encompass all three kinds of learning.
- Listen to your kids when they say they are enjoying something without judging what it is that they are getting out of it. Simply because the value isn’t clear to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t to them. Allow them to dabble and to learn on their own terms. So what if they are not particularly gifted in an activity? If they like it, encourage them to develop their skills. You never know where it will lead them.
As Aby pursues her dream, I often think back to that little dance studio and wonder if I had responded differently, would Aby be where she is today? Would she have had all of the years of enjoyment and life lessons that come from pursuing something that she feels passion for and that is hard? Would she have had the confidence to express her desires of which activities she wanted to do? Would she have discovered her talents and passions?
Maybe. Maybe the Fit and Funky experience wasn’t as pivotal as I am suggesting it was. Or maybe it was.
That’s one of the mysteries of parenting, teaching or coaching, you never really know which moments or events make an impact on a child’s life.
Wow! Just imagine if you had not re-enrolled her. Great job Mom!!
Thanks, Bianca! It might have really been dumb luck on my part but I am glad it worked out for her! Thanks for reading it and taking the time to comment! Best, Anne
Love it. A great story and example to learn from. Thank you.
Thank you so much for reading it and commenting! Best, Anne
I love this story so much! Right now we are taking a break from activities, partially because it seemed everyone loved the idea of classes but hated the idea of actually making it out the door to attend the classes, but makes me wonder if I should renew my thinking on kids’ activities. I’ve definitely got one “observer” and one “jump right in” kiddo, and not everything is set up for both of those types of personalities. I’ll have to do some homework & do some more observations, thank you for your sweet story. Way to go, kid and way to go, mom!
Thanks for your kind words! I completely understand the activation energy to get out of the house can be tough! And good for you for not over scheduling your children. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Best, Anne
Loved this post! I have two-year-old twin boys who learn very differently and your story was a great reminder to me not to jump to conclusions when it comes to their individual talents and interests.
Thank you so much Carolyn! Twin boys…wow, you are a busy lady!
my son has struggled for years to communicate like all other kids – but he took his time, and he’s getting there. All in good time, hey? Thanks for sharing x
Thanks much for your kind words. Good for you for understanding your little boy. He is lucky to have such a great mom!
I recently took my kids to my home country for 3 months so they would learn the language. They both could understand it mostly and speak a little. My older daughter more so than my younger son (he turned 4 while we were there). They attended kindergarden there. My son behaved similarly to your daughter. For 4 weeks he refused to speak any German whatsoever. He even refused to repeat a sentence so he could order ice cream. I resigned to the fact that this trip wasn’t going to have much of an effect on him. Then, from one day to the next, he spoke in full, mostly grammatically correct sentences. Turns out, he just waited until he could speak properly. Blew me away. From then on, my kids exclusively spoke German until 2 weeks after we got back to Australia.
Hi Alex! What a cool story you have as well! And what a gift you are giving your kids by helping them become bilingual. Thanks for reading my blog and sharing your story with me. Best, Anne
I love this so much. The three points at the bottom: going back to reread those now. Thanks so much for sharing.
Oh thank you so much! I am really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to comment! Best, Anne
My older daughter is the same..she loves her weekly ballet class but for the first year almost never participated. She would often just stand and watch but then as soon as we got home she would bust out the whole class moves! I kept going because she said she loved it..she is 4 now and finally takes full part 😉 i feel it is so very important to respect our childrens learning styles, specially when they are different from ours!
Good for your daughter and you for sticking with it! You are totally right–it’s hard for us when our kids approach things differently than we do. I hope your little girl enjoys dance for many years to come. Best, Anne
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Thank you so much! Best, Anne
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My daughter was kicked our of a Kinder dance program when she was 3 because she had too much energy. I was mortified! I enrolled her in gymnastics when she was 6 and by 11 years old she was a level 10 training elite, and had many achievements including 6th all around at regional and nationals. Thanks Kinder dance, lol!
Hahaha! Overly strict dance teachers refer more kids to gymnastics than they realize, I’m sure! Best of luck to your daughter!