Dad’s Corner: A Haunting Dance

By Peter Könnicke
© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

For a moment I was in shock. Now he wanted to dance, my son informed me a few weeks ago. I couldn’t help it—in my mind’s eye I saw him in white tights and a tight white tank top, tip-toeing around and moving his arms graciously He also wore make-up. Oh my god! What had I done wrong? Wasn’t “ball” the first word I had taught him? He had been on soccer fields when he was still in a stroller. His first pair of shoes was from Nike. His first TV show was a boxing fight. When he was 3 he got a basketball hoop that we glued to the door of his room. For hours I had tolerated the banging noise from him throwing the ball against the door. He was 4 when I gave him his first snorkel so that he could go for a dive in the bath tub. At the age of 5 we gave him a mountain bike, at 7 I sent him to a judo class, at 8 to a soccer club. I really had done everything to make him a proper boy.

And now this! He said his teacher had talked him into joining the dance class. Who is she? She is supposed to teach him how to read and write, and, okay, she might also take over the sex-ed issue. But to talk him into dancing? That is going too far. My son said that therefore he would not have to take music lessons, because those who dance don’t have to sing. Unbelievable! A music career was what I had in mind in case his career as a professional athlete failed unexpectedly. But how is this going to work if he doesn’t even learn how to sing properly at school now?

The school then wrote us a letter explaining the dance project. The two dance teachers’ names were Kathi and Ludovic. This was far from comforting. The two were said to be working at a theater at which groups from all over the world were performing. So what? Through dancing, the children would learn to express their feelings, they claimed. This can be achieved even better in judo, I thought. Then came the crucial sentence, however: They did not want to do ballet! Significantly more relaxed, I continued to read. They wanted to teach modern dance, which allows for all kinds of movement, ranging from rolling over the floor like the waves of an ocean to high jumps like an astronaut in space. (As a child I had wanted to become an astronaut as well.) They could also write their names with the body while dancing. “Go for it,” I finally said.

After the first dance classes I urgently wanted to know what they had done. (Trust is good, control is better.) He had been a tree blowing in the wind, my son reported.

“Show me!”

He raised his arms above his head, tensed his body and swayed back and forth like a pendulum. I thought it looked good. Then he demonstrated dance moves expressing how to sneak up on someone. I liked that one as well as I—expert that I am—noticed that here the calf muscles were stretched while the hamstring was strengthened at the same time.

I became less suspicious, thinking the whole thing will be okay, and stopped asking questions—until my son made a brief announcement a few days ago: “I am not going to dance anymore!” It was too cruel, he said. I knew that he wouldn’t be able to change subjects in the middle of the school year, and was about to start the usual sermon: You don’t quit prematurely what you started. You have to get through it even if things are getting tough. Things that don’t kill us only make us stronger. It’s only over when the referee blows his whistle. The opera isn’t over until the fat lady has stopped singing!

Then I remembered the argument we recently had about his computer games. They have names like “Empire Earth” or “American Conquest.” I normally just heard the nerve-racking sounds when my son was sitting in front of the computer. Once in a while I would hear an ambitious voice call out: “We are being attacked!” My son then clicked on a figure that, when activated, chased away the opponents. Once the peace was restored he continued to build temples and shops, cultivate fields and send trading ships to sea. I thought this was harmless until his teacher told me that some first graders liked to gather around my son because he was telling them such great horror stories. The subsequent talk was not funny. I felt guilty, but nevertheless we agreed on the following: No more computer games. With tears in his eyes he handed them over to us. For a few days now there has been a self-made picture at his door: “Violence-free zone!”

Finally, I began to understand that it was not the physical challenges of dancing that were “cruel” but the figure my son was to perform: a ghost that is attacking a night guard. I promised to come with him to his dance class and to have a close look at the scene. If it really was cruel, I would go and talk to his teachers. The ghost indeed attacked a night guard. This, however, did not look cruel at all. He moved graciously and easily. He was floating. Almost as in a ballet.

This article was written by Take The Magic Step™ team member Piet Könnicke, a writer for a newspaper in Potsdam, Germany and a lifelong runner.