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Our Daughter the Dancer
Penny poses before a recent ballet class
Penny poses before a recent ballet class
Our Daughter the Dancer

When Penny was a baby, her dad danced with her all the time. She was tiny - five pounds when we brought her home from the hospital - so he could hold her in one arm. Peter twirled her around the room with dips and bounces and frequent kisses on the forehead. Penny's namesake, her late grandmother, had grown up in New Orleans, and Peter compiled a CD of New Orleans music as a tribute. Whenever it happened to be playing and he walked in the room, he swooped Penny into his arms and they danced. Louis Armstrong. Galactic. Dr. John. Jazz, zydeco, gospel, funk. In the beginning, Penny's big blue eyes widened with every twirl, as if she might burst into tears. Within a few months, though, those same eyes lit up when he placed her in the crook of his arm and began to sway. She giggled, and then, months later, clapped. Eventually she learned the sign for music. And we learned that she loved to dance with her dad. When she turned five, I decided it was time to sign her up for a dance class. A friend recommended a local studio, but when I looked at the schedule, I hesitated. They had classes for 3-4 year olds or 5-7 year olds. I didn't want to put her with younger kids. But I couldn't imagine her holding her own with first and second graders either. So I signed her up for a local community center's "creative movement class." It wasn't what I'd hoped for. As far as I could tell, the kids ran around the room with scarves for an hour. Penny never told me about what they did behind closed doors. She didn't seem interested in dancing at home anymore. So in early January, we switched to the 5-7 year old class. There were only three other kids enrolled, but Penny was the youngest, the smallest, and the least experienced. And she was the only one with Down syndrome. The teacher left the door open so I could watch. I sat in the doorway, holding hope and fear inside my chest, like a package I was nervous to open. The fear began to dissolve as I watched a little girl who paid attention and listened and worked harder than anyone else in the room to kick those legs and point those toes. Step together, step together, crouch, star. She followed it all. Hands on hips. Hands in the air. I had underestimated Penny, not just her abilities, but her tenacity, her resilience, her strength. That day at dance class wasn't just a victory for Penny's present. It was a victory for her future. It gave me reason to let go, again, a little bit more, of my fears. And to hold tight to my hopes for her. She came home dancing that day, and she hasn't stopped since. [Amy Julia Becker is the author of A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.]

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Kate Truesdell, United States, CT
2/15/2012 9:53:28 PM
I love this story!

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