Toddlers and Tiaras–Soviet Edition

A few weeks ago, I signed up the girls for a free trial dance class at the same place the girls take swim lessons and gymnastics. According to the class description, the “Tutsi Toes” would be moving, grooving and wiggling their whole bodies to upbeat children’s tunes, while learning about rhythm, playing with musical instruments, clapping, improving coordination and having fun. Samantha and Amelia love “dancing” to music at home, so I thought it would be the perfect way to get their energy out whilst learning how to participate in more structured activities.
Amelia stretches before dance class.

I dressed the girls in comfy, casual clothing–similar to what they wear to gymnastics. Imagine my surprise when we walked into class and each of the ten other toddlers were dressed in full-on leotards, tights, tutus and ballet slippers! That should have been my first warning sign, but we stayed nevertheless.

Amelia practices her interpretive dancing skills.

The other Tutsi Toes in the class ranged from ages 14 months to 2 1/2 years, with most of the kids closer to the older range. However, even the fourteen month olds were dressed in formal dance attire. I must admit–they were pretty cute–but STILL. We’re talking about little cavepeople who can’t even utter a coherent sentence or walk in a straight line yet wearing dance clothes that cost more than the entire amount I’ve spent on my own clothing this year!

Samantha’s dance outfit. Let’s just say she stood out.
As the class began, it was clear it was not going to be ANYTHING like the class description. The instructor was straight out of a Soviet-era olympic gymnastics training regime…Russian accent and all.  Svetlana, as I will hereinafter refer to her as, was exactly what you would hope a teacher of young children wouldn’t be–cold, hard-core, and, well, Russian.
Instead of the “upbeat, kid-friendly” music I was expecting, Svetlana turned on some classical and wasted no time instructing us to guide the students into first position, with toes pointed outwards. I had Amelia, while Jake took Samantha and we literally had to force their feet apart for first position, second position and third position. It all seemed a little ridiculous, but we decided to stick it out.
Next, it was time for pliés and arabesques. By now, the girls had realized this was absolutely no fun at all, and started rebelling, wiggling out of our arms, going limp noodle on us on the floor, and screeching, while the other little robots dancers obediently complied with Svetlana’s demands. “NO PLAY. VORK. JUST VORK,” is a pretty fair summation of class.
After the “warm-ups,” Svetlana announced that we would now be practicing the routine the little Tutsi Toes would be performing in their upcoming recital, for those who had signed up. The routine consisted of more footwork, pliés, arabesques, spinning around and walking in a straight line across the stage.
The coup de gras came when Svetlana turned on–AND I AM NOT KIDDING YOU–the Miss America Theme Song and instructed us to help our toddlers walk across the floor, one by one, blow kisses to the audience and wave on the way out. UM NO.
This was quickly turning into an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras and I seriously couldn’t believe the other parents were willingly going along with it. Jake and I looked at each other in abject horror and nearly walked out, but, decided to stay once Svetlana turned on “Wheels on the Bus” for what she called “a leeeetle jazz pract-iz” for the kids.
The most entertaining part about the whole class was listening to some of the parents at the back of the room, who were coaching their older toddlers in the class (ages 2-2 1/2) from the sidelines. Curiously, many of them also sounded and looked Eastern European. “Follow vot Svetalana says!” they would shout from afar. “Votch your feet! Niet! Stop hafing fun and vork! Ve must beat ze Americans!” Maybe not that last part, but you get the idea.
Several times, I had to leave the dance room with a melting down Samantha and sit outside, looking in at the class through the two-way mirror. Amelia fared a bit better, but still threw a fit when we forced her to twirl or walk in a line instead of running over to the pile of hula hoops in the corner. Normally, this would have exasperated me, but instead it reassured me that the girls are normal, happy, intelligent energetic little toddlers who want to run around and have fun–not robots!
                      Sitting in a tupperware lid is WAY more fun than dance class, mom!
Toward the end of class, Svetlana ushered all the toddlers over to the bars, where we were to practice more pliés. We have a little monkey bar set at home that Jake made the girls for Christmas and on which they absolutely love swinging. Amelia’s eyes thus lit up in recognition when she saw the ballet bars, and immediately attempted to do somersaults over them. “VOT IZ ZIS? ZE BARS ARE NOT FOR SVINGING,” interjected Svetlana. Poor Amelia was so dejected!
At the very end, having completed the ballet and jazz exercises, it was time for tap dance. All the students ran over to the corner and donned MINI TAP SHOES. It was more than my mind could handle–so cute, but really? Obviously, we didn’t have tap shoes for Samantha and Amelia, so they had to make due with trying to stomp their feet on the floor to the beat. That was one part of class I think the girls really would have enjoyed, if only we were nice parents and had tap shoes for them!
At the end of class, Svetlana reassured us that it takes a few weeks for most toddlers to adjust to the rigors of her dance course. She proudly pointed to one of the 14 month olds and explained that she had been in the class since she was 12 months old and was now one of her “star students.”
When I explained that the girls did fine in their gymnastics class, which included more activity and less structure, Svetlana scoffed and said, “Gymnastics iz very simple, comrades. Anyvon can run around. Dance iz vay more vork and requires vay more coordination.”
That may be true, but I think we’ll be sticking to gymnastics in the future!
Lots of love,

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  1. Bahahahaha! This cracked me up!