When I was young, I was a tomboy. I had short hair. I wore the boys’ uniform to school. When playing make-believe, I was either Batman or, strangely, a character called Jim. Although I grew out of wanting to be a boy, I was never what you’d consider a “girly-girl”. I did play with dolls, but I was strictly against pink, I very seldom wore a dress, I’m still not into decorating my house and my makeup application is atrocious.
Despite my efforts to not be distracted by the other sex, I fell in love young and got married in my early 20s. Not long after I had a son, and not long after that I had a daughter. My son, being the oldest, dictated most of the play, which revolved around trucks and digging in the sand. That was until Christmas, not long after my daughter turned one, when someone gave her a doll. It was all over. Though she still liked mud and getting paint smeared, she was very much a girly girl.
From an early age, my daughter loved dresses and pink and could put an outfit together better than I ever could. She also declared from the age of three that she wanted to do ballet – to this day I have absolutely no idea where this notion came from. I persuaded her to do gymnastics instead, and for a while it satisfied us both, but the nagging to have a go at this ballet thing kept coming.
Finally, when she was about four and a half, I gave in and found her a dance school. From that moment my plan to develop a tomboy in my likeness was over. Before I knew it, she was the lead in her age group’s dance troupe and her teachers were requesting she do “solos”. To the uninitiated (which I totally was), this means private lessons to learn dances that she would later perform at eisteddfods. By herself. From the age of 5. With makeup – and a tutu.
For many mothers, I’m sure, this would be normal – accepted even. Perhaps desired. But me? I felt like I was dying a million deaths. My husband and I even questioned whether the dance school was struggling financially and would offer these lessons to any sucker who would pay. However, after entering a few eisteddfods and winning several times, it seemed that the child could dance.
We did embark on a ten month trip around Australia when she was 8, which changed a few of her ways. She went back to accepting her brothers hand-me-down clothes and stopped wearing dresses as much. But in everything she did, in every movement, there was gracefulness and rhythm.
After our trip, we moved to a new town and found a new dance school. She was straight back into it, showing a memory for dances and an ability to perfect the moves in no time at all.
I am astounded by the fact that I am now accomplished at “ballet buns” and application of make-up on Miss Nearly 10. Some days I hardly recognise myself and wonder how, a tomboy like me could have reared such a feminine, graceful young soul. To be just nine years old and to have a passion compatible with a talent amazes me. She dances like an angel and often brings a tear to my eye.
And while some days I think we couldn’t be more different, other days I realise we’re built from a similar mould: the complete love and inner joy she shows when dancing - it reminds me of my boldness and zest for adventure.
They often say that children are here to teach us and in that regard my daughter has taught me that sisu comes in lots of different expressions. Everyone is different, and passion is the important thing, not the physical expression of it. And while she may not grow up to be a dancer – and being such a hard industry, a part of me hopes that she doesn’t – the strength and peace she finds in something that is far outside my experience dumbfounds me every day.
While we can, we will support her in her girly ways.
Rowena Backus is a mother of four children and a school teacher living in rural Australia. She was invited to contribute this article after sharing incredible photos of her daughter dancing.