Having survived two consecutive decades as a dedicated ballet dad, I've collected some tidbits of wisdom over the years. With apologies to David Letterman, I've loosely organized these pearls of wisdom into roughly 10 simple—and not so simple—rules and guidelines of being a black-belt ballet dad. Some are obvious. Some are challenging. Others can be downright impossible. But that's the price you pay when you sign up for the emotionally charged position of ballet dad.
The first rule sounds easy: Be there. Always be there. They say that 80 percent of life is showing up. I love the simplicity of that sentence. Just show up. Sounds easy, right? Well, not so fast. Life gets in the way. I'm no billionaire, or even a millionaire (is thousandaire a thing?), so that means I work for the man—busy 80 hours a week busting my hump to keep a family of seven clothed, fed and educated. But all whining aside, I get it. It is crucial to show up; attend as many performances as humanly possible, especially the ones she specifically asks you to attend. I know from experience that it will haunt you forever if/when you miss a biggie, and watching it live-streaming doesn't count!
Another rule: Hold your breath while she's onstage. I've learned that doing so somehow magically imbues her with confidence, poise and grace. I have proof: The only time my daughter ever stumbled was when I was breathing, so I implore all you ballet dads out there, just say no to breathing. Oxygen is way overrated anyway.
And NEVER EVER forget to bring flowers, even when she tells you not to. Don't ever fall into that trap!
Another key rule: Always keep the dream alive. Do everything you can possibly do to invest in your daughter's dream of dancing. Never downplay the significance of dance or discourage her from advancing to the next level. Always be a pillar of support for her dream(s). Try to summon a perverse pride when you tell your friends you pay $100 for a single pair of ballet shoes that last less than two weeks!
OK, here's a tough one: As a father, your sworn and instinctual duty is to protect your little girl from experiencing pain—at all costs. Well, where ballet is concerned, you pretty much have to let this instinct go, 'cuz your little girl cannot avoid the pain of ballet. Can you imagine standing on your toes for eight hours a day, on purpose? The pain is sure to come raining down in several forms: physical, emotional and psychological.
First, the physical demands of ballet are simply unreal. Dancing on pointe just mangles the feet. You will stand helplessly by, hearing cries of pain and anguish as ankles swell, blisters burst and muscles ache. Your ballet-dad duty: Deliver an endless supply of foot massages, ice and sympathy. Rinse. Repeat. And learn all about the magical wonders of Second Skin and duct tape!
Beyond the physical challenges, perhaps even more daunting is the psychological stress of dance: Ballet is equally physical as it is psychological, maybe even more psychological at times, says my daughter. The world of ballet is a cacophony of callousness, nefarious nepotism, rejection, delicate egos, favoritism and egregious brown-nosing that would make even a hardened politician blush. I've seen this up close and personal: "Dad, I got a horrible part. Why do they hate me?!" "That girl is way better than me; I'll never be as good as her." "I feel fat." The internal psychological battle wages on, and it can be easy for her to slip into a chasm of negativity. It's your job, ballet dad, to throw her a lifeline and pull her out of that chasm. Often that can be achieved with a big warm smile, a reassuring comment or two and a prolonged hug. I've found lots of high-end sushi can be helpful, too.
As a rule, I never embroil myself in the politics of ballet. To me there's ZERO upside. I live by the simple rule: Let the coaches coach. I watch in horror those who do NOT follow this rule!
I saved the best rule for last: Always bask in the joy of watching your daughter dance. I will never be able to adequately express the depth of pure joy I experience when I watch my daughter perform. It truly is one of the most surreal and enjoyable experiences in my life. As a complete softy, I always don a pair of dark sunglasses to conceal the tears that well up in my otherwise macho, weathered face.
But all kidding aside, this is when ballet pays you back, BIG TIME. The joy of witnessing a ballet performance always FAR exceeds the financial and emotional investment you have made over the years. This is when you finally get to reap the rewards of being a ballet dad. Remember to always get great seats; bring an entourage of as many friends and family as you possibly can; shower her with hugs and flowers and praise after the performance; and always have dinner reservations immediately after the show because she is likely STARVING!
So to recap:
1. Just be there!
2. Hold your breath during her performance.
3. Bring flowers.
4. Support her dreams, or else!
5. Ice, foot massage and sympathy. Repeat as often as necessary.
6. Let the coaches coach.
7. Get great seats and bring an entourage.
8. Bring dark sunglasses in the event of spontaneous weeping.
9. Make post-performance dinner reservations nearby.
10. Relish in the moment of each performance—let ballet pay you back.