Our 5-year-old daughter is a ballet jock. Elise keeps her pink leotard and ballet slippers on after class, when she has an ice cream cone — two scoops and extra sprinkles when she's with me, some diet for a ballerina — and often wears her dance clothes to bed.
In the morning, she'll strap on her ballet slippers, say "Watch me, watch, watch," and do arabesques in the kitchen.
Ballet is a sport to Elise. I think she likes the jumping, moving, sweating and competing, as much as the pink and bows.
Elise appeared in her first ballet performance a few days ago. It was not some humble school production, with children just twirling around as snowflakes, but an original ballet called Preparation for the Ball, with music by Prokofiev and choreographed by her ballet teacher, Ms. Kramer, who has sent several students on to professional companies.
Elise played a mouse.
In the weeks leading to her show, she did rond de jambes and pas jetes in the halls of our apartment, which left me dazzled, proud — and a little wistful. Clearly, she has fallen in love. If she occasionally lets me tie her slippers, or leans on my shoulder to step into her tights, it's only because she senses how much I want to feel useful.
I have a father's adoring, uncritical love for Elise. If she belches, I think she sounds like Beverly Sills.
But Ms. Kramer, who loves her, too, teaches truths a father finds hard to utter, like, "No, that's not good enough, do it again." It reminds me that children not only need good parents, but teachers, coaches and friends.
The night after Elise's show, I took her to watch the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago dance The Nutcracker. Their performance was joyous. Elise is still too light to keep a theater seat down, so she stood, entranced, for most of the night, occasionally turning to ask me, "How they do that?"
The next morning, our whole family went out for breakfast, and who should be sitting across from us but two of the dancers from the Joffrey, Allison Walsh and John Mark Giragosian. They were kind to Elise, who was shy at first, but wound up doing arabesques around the table, as if to say, "We're teammates, aren't we?"
All this week, I've been thinking about the reception after Elise's first show. At one point, we couldn't find her. She and a couple of her friends had taken their brownies and snuck back onto the empty stage, where they leapt, pas jete-ed, and exalted in the beaming bright light.
She saw me and shouted, "I'm gonna jump!" and took a sudden, running leap off the stage into my arms — a real tour de force. It was one of those moments that can happen in this season, when a parent is joyful that life has put them exactly in that spot.