It’s a purpose-built room — ceilings nearly twenty feet high, mirrors covering practically every vertical surface, barres lining each wall and a few freestanding ones in the center of the smooth floor. Twenty-eight young dancers are here, being carefully watched by a matronly Russian woman and an accompanist on a grand piano in the corner.
Madame Lobanova, a former dancer with the Lvov Ballet Theatre, paces the room, her voice barely rising above the piano. She’s watching the girls closely, offering instruction both firm and fair. Sometimes she pokes a stomach or grabs a shoulder, pushing and pulling the girls into the proper position, chiding and smiling and offering encouragement in her broken English.
It’s a scene unlike any I’ve ever witnessed, and a valuable insight into both my daughter’s last three weeks and into the things that make her tick. Her gaze is fixed alternately in the mirror, watching her form, and on the teacher, watching for guidance. Not once in the three and a half hours that we watch does she look our way. She knows we are here, and that we are here for her, but she is driven to do more than please us. She is driven to perform at a higher level, to focus tightly on the curve of her arm, the shape of her feet, the purity of her form.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been learning the hard way that teenagers are curious creatures. At times, they can be maddeningly fickle about serious things. At other times, they can deadly serious about inconsequential things. Sometimes they can fluctuate wildly between those two extremes.
But this is something different. The girl I am watching is my daughter, yes — and I know from having had dinner with her last night that she is, in many ways, the same young girl that we dropped off at a Russian ballet academy in D.C. three weeks ago. But what I am watching now is another version of that girl. What I am watching now is a young person intensely engaged in something she loves, a young person who senses that she has barely begun to tap into her ability, her skill, her art, and her potential.
And she knows that if she wants to go further, she can, but that she must work. She must listen closely to Madame Lobanova and others like her. She must learn to accommodate the tired muscles, the strained joints, the endless repetition of moves and sequences in search of something as near to perfect as she can find. She must be prepared for the long, long hours in rooms like this, rooms built on a grand enough scale to encompass dreams.
In the end, I’m left feeling that my job as her parent is to give her these chances, to clear the path to whatever dreams she holds this tightly, and then get out of the way.