I spent the most wonderful day yesterday volunteering at the dress rehearsal for my daughter’s final ballet performance. I was a runner…taking classes of kids from the assembly area to their dressing room. This is a pretty easy job, once you have the hang of it, so it gave me lots of time to interact with the parents and the kids. But it was one strung out mom that prompts me to write today. You see, she was late. Her daughter’s class had already gone to dress. Part of my job was to make sure that stragglers got where they were supposed to go, so I happily got to know the little dancer (and that her father’s name was John too). When she was ready, I took her hand to lead her to her studio. It was at this point the mom stopped me, obviously concerned that a man was taking her daughter, and asked “Are you really a volunteer? I’ve never seen a dad volunteer before.”
I carefully showed her my clipboard and name tag and reassured her that I was indeed there to help her daughter, not to whisk her away to some untimely end. To be honest, I can understand her concern, ballet is an extremely female focussed endeavor. I have to be careful to refer to all the dancers as kids or dancers and not girls since there are two or three boys dancing in the show. But it was the fear in her eyes that said so much. I don’t know this woman’s history so I don’t know why, but in what is often quite a close, maternal community, a man was an outsider and not to be trusted.
As the day wore on, though, and the other parents and volunteers got to know and trust me, I felt welcomed. It helped that I can commiserate about makeup on 4 year olds, how ringlets just never seem to stay where they’re supposed to, and how tights are dirt magnets. It also helped that, as a man, I could reassure one mom that her sixteen year old who danced a modern dance with….”sizzle”…that her daughter was beautiful and strong and proud unlike some of the comments she’d heard at the competition. It was truly a wonderful moment when happy little girls, eager for their rehearsal would take my hand and skip down the hall with me as we got them where they needed to go. And most of all, it gave me a chance to see my daughter dance, since work takes me away from her actual performance.
In a world where women are becoming truck drivers and heavy machinery operators and MMA fighters, I have to wonder at a bias that says dads can’t be volunteers at a ballet show. I can understand why more dads don’t do it; the ballet is not an easy environment to learn as an adult male. But I’m sad that more dads don’t make the effort and change the perception that dad’s don’t belong. I think that the moms discovered the pleasure in a different perspective, and I certainly discovered the pleasure of being immersed in the Show. Yesterday I came to realize that gender bias has not gone away, but I think that it’s become OK to step through those biases and forge a new path.