In praise of dance dads

Or, it's great when men pull their weight.

Hello, dear readers --

For lots of you, this is the first email you’ve received from me. Welcome! I am pretty sure you’re here because you liked a viral tweet I wrote this week, about gender, domestic labour, and who gets the resources they need to write. 

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot this week, not only because I’m applying for residencies, which are writing retreats where your expenses are often covered, and all you’re required to do is create work and be in community with the other creators around you (or not: sometimes you can just be alone in a cabin in the woods and write, presumably about being murdered while alone in a cabin in the woods).

It’s also on my mind because I’ve spent most of the week interviewing ballet parents: moms and dads with a daughter or son (or one of each) who takes ballet. I’ve talked to parents in Illinois and Omaha, Massachusetts and Michigan. Some have 6-year-olds who are just starting out in ballet, and some have 16-year-olds who have committed every weekday night to ballet classes and weeks of their summer vacations to sleep-away intensives at out-of-state ballet schools.

It isn’t exactly groundbreaking to point out that in America, we expect more parenting labour from mothers than we do of fathers. No mother has ever described herself as “babysitting” her own children, but that’s still something that fathers somehow think is acceptable. The gap in domestic labour only widens when straight couples have kids: now it’s not just about who notices the paper towels running low and remembers to get more next time they’re at the store, it’s about who notices that the kid needs a few new pairs of socks (and actually knows their shoe size, so they can buy the right ones).

When it comes to ballet, things can shake out similarly, only this time, instead of not knowing the name of their kid’s pediatrician, the dad probably doesn’t know her preferred brand of pointe shoe. In dance culture, dads are imagined to be dragged to performances against their will, or reduced to walking checkbooks:

(I found these shirts in the dancewear boutique at my local dance school, where I sometimes fill in as a substitute teacher.)

Of course, the men I’ve talked to this week are different, because of sampling bias: they volunteered to talk to me, either because they read this newsletter or follow me on Twitter, or both. I’m clearly not getting a representative sample of ballet fathers here. To a one, they’ve been involved, interested ballet dads who have learned lots about ballet by watching and listening to their kids. Having seen ballet training up close, they’ve come to respect how demanding it is, and how hard their daughters are working. They might not understand everything they’re looking at, but they want to, and given how low the bar can be for Good Dadding, that’s not nothing.

Share My Pointe Is...

And sometimes, what they tell me is just precious AF. This week, I interviewed a man whose daughter does ballet and who’s friends with a bunch of other men whose daughters do ballet, and they have a bi-weekly pub trivia team called The Dance Dads. Apparently, they do quite well, because no one else at the pub knows what a grand jeté is.

Pop culture about ballet tends to make a big deal of the mother-daughter relationship: from the movie The Turning Point to Black Swan to Dance Moms, we’ve heard a lot about ballet moms. Who can forget pushy Mrs. Cummings in Centre Stage? You didn’t have the feet, I don’t have the heart.

But dance dads are pretty interesting, too. Especially when they’re doing their fair share of labour. 

That’s it from me. Thanks for reading, and see you next week.


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