Dance Dilemma

Now, many of you know that my Hula Girl is a very reserved little girl. Reserved to the point where she is extraordinarily uncomfortable around new people and she doesn’t talk to them for at least 20-30 minutes. Even if they bring her gifts (sorry, Alyssa). It bothers me a lot when other people call her “shy”… she definitely acts that way, but I don’t want her labeled like that forever in her own mind. I generally jump the gun and just explain to folks that she’s reserved and she’ll need a bit of time to warm up. If they respect that, she does well and within a short period, she’s laughing and shouting to them as if she’s know them her entire life.

Another aspect of Hula Girl’s personality is that she is a very quick learner, and she’s a perfectionist to boot. She remembers dance steps after doing them once. She has beautiful technique (for a three-year-old) and makes corrections naturally when her teacher gives them. She can even take what she learns in class and apply them at home- when she teaches me how to dance. She loves correcting me: “No, Mommy, you need to point your toes like this, with your heels together. Look.” Her dance teacher says she has a lot of potential and that she’s really fun to work with because she learns quickly.

For things like dance class, where it’s a weekly event but only for an hour or so, the key for her is consistent exposure. She does really well when the same girls attend week after week with no new students. I try to be really proactive about telling her what changes she can expect if I know in advance. For instance, if A isn’t going to be in class next week, I talk to Hula Girl about it in the car on the way home and on the way back to dance the following week. She likes to be prepared.

We recently had a shake-up in Dance Land. Just before we moved, our dance studio moved, too. Hula Girl would point out the old studio every time we passed it, and look for the new one and shout about its location, too. It took her about four weeks to be able to walk into the new studio and not have to ask me, “Mommy, is this the new studio?” She needs that reassurance.

Then we went on vacation and missed dance for two weeks. I tried to prepare her for her return to dance last Thursday as best as I could by running through her class music and doing a full “class” with her here at home the day before we went back.

And then there was a new girl in class when we arrived. And one of the regulars wasn’t there. Earth. Shattering.

Hula Girl actually seemed to take the new situation kind of well. She walked right in and got on her spot. But that was the highlight of the class. The rest of the time was spent rolling on the floor, assuming first position and then jumping down onto her bottom, crawling like a baby instead of walking on her toes, grabbing the other girls’ hands and holding on so tight the other girls couldn’t make her let go, and shouting all kind of off-topic things to the teacher in the middle of instructions. The teacher had such a hard time with her she even spoke to me after class.

Hula Girl and I had many short talks about it during the week. I reminded her that I expect her to have better behavior. We acted out what to do and what not to do.

So today everything seemed fine.  She told me this morning, “Mommy! I know what day it is! It’s Thursday! It’s Dance Class Day! I LOVE DANCE CLASS!!!!” She knew what she was going to do when we got to the studio, and she knew what expectations we had for her during class. I asked her what she was going to do in class today and she replied, “Listen to the directions and obey. If Miss S tells me to be in first position, I will stand in first position until she tells me to move.”  Okay.

But then. Somehow she just couldn’t handle it. I don’t know what triggered it. One minute she was happily sitting in her spot, waiting for class to begin. The next she was running out of the room crying. She told me she was nervous and that she wanted to go home.

I told her it’s okay to feel nervous and that we’re here to have fun and learn. I asked her if she really wanted to go home or stay in class. She said she wanted to stay but she wanted me to come with her. I asked Miss S if I could sit with her in the corner of the room by the door for a few dances. She obliged. Hula Girl went back to dancing with the other girls and was doing really well, except with a somber face.

I am thinking she was afraid Miss S was going to be mad at her for last week’s behavior and she felt like she had to be absolutely perfect or we’d all be upset. I think she was really feeling pressured by our expectations.

And then… the studio had closed-circuit TV installed so they can shut the door to the studio and parents can observe classes. Today was the first time it was in use. I left the room and shut the door behind me after a few songs and then watched Hula Girl begin to cry and bolt across the room after me.

After a long hug break and a lot of tears, Hula Girl told me she wanted to go home.

So we left.

Once we were in the parking lot, she realized the other girls were staying in class. Then she was very upset because she wanted to be dancing, too.

You guys, she LOVES dance. Absolutely loves it.

It was so hard for her to realize that the choice she made to go home instead of facing her fears at the studio meant that she couldn’t finish dance today.

I could have been harsh about it and refused to take her back to dance. Instead I told her we will try again next week and I took her to Starbucks and got her a pumpkin spice steamer (which she ADORED) and we talked about her feelings and our expectations and what will happen next week. I assured her that I am extremely proud of her for being able to tell me how she feels and for sticking with the choices that she makes (even though she really didn’t have the option to change her mind this time). I focused on the positives- “You did what you said you were going to do today! We went in the studio, put on your shoes, and you sat down on your spot just like we talked about!” I really encouraged her and let her know that if she’s wanting to stay in dance, I will support her and help her feel comfortable there in the best ways I can.

We are going back. We’re going to go early and see how the camera system works. I’m going to show her how I will see her the entire time. We talked about how the camera is like Skype with Ama and Papa- even though they’re not here in the room, we can still see them and hear them. That resonated with her a bit. She relaxed a bit and said, “Oh. You will see me the whole time!”

If, however, she struggles next week, we’re not going to waste money or anyone else’s time. We’re going to take a break.

And this, my friends, is why I really don’t think sending her away to preschool just for the sake of “experience” is necessarily a good idea for her. It will be quite traumatic, and for what purpose? Just for me to get a break? And if I plan to homeschool for real, the experience will be absolutely unnecessary.

Ay, yi, yi. It is difficult to find the balance between supporting her emotionally and challenging her to expand her horizons. Anyone else have experience with a painfully (dare I say it) shy child? Any tips?


  1. Kristy said,

    September 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t have parental experience – my boys will open up to anyone, which is somewhat alarming to me but does make many social situations nice and easy. As a girl, I was painfully shy with people I didn’t know, and I did take that label with me for decades, so I like how you try to be proactive and avoid that situation where someone calls her shy in her hearing. I think you did awesome to praise her for doing what she said she was going to do and not dwelling on the “bad parts.” I totally wouldn’t do preschool in this kind of situation. Both my boys did, but personally I don’t enjoy it and don’t think they get a lot out of it to carry with them. Yes, they are sociable little boys and can make friends easily, but I saw that happening before preschool. And I don’t think if they had been more tentative that putting them into a new social environment would have helped matters. But that’s just knowing them and their personalities.

    • September 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      Affirmation feels nice. 🙂
      Is there any one thing that really helped/hurt you as you were growing up feeling like that? Were there any coping strategies that you used to help you be brave in situations like these? I want to try to build up her emotional toolbox as much as necessary… but I am not and was not ever shy, so I don’t know what exactly to do/say/require.

  2. Kristy said,

    September 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    At her age, I don’t remember any coping strategies I used. From an adult point of view, I think learning a list of strategies would be great. Like, to make a new friend at ______, do these three things. When you are feeling bad at _______, try these three things in this order. This would be combined with talking about what to expect in different environments, like you already do. Including the idea, when appropriate, that she might need to expect surprises that she wasn’t counting on.

    There were two things that hurt, I think, as I was growing up: 1.) Hearing people call me shy (which I don’t remember, but otherwise how could I have labeled myself as shy?) or make “a deal” out of it. 2.) I grew up in a restrictive environment in terms of church (it’s actually mentioned in cult books now) and church school and I think we kids were expected to be more mature than we were. There was corporal punishment as well. I was afraid of saying/doing the wrong thing.

    There was one thing that helped: my extended family. I had a loving, extended family that I was around quite a bit, and several relatives who would sit down with me and listen to me talk as much as I wanted. Very encouraging and good listeners. I think I am actually NOT shy at my core and I opened up big-time to these kinds of people. Because of this, although I labeled myself shy, I also had this other side to me. When I went to college, I just decided I would not act shy anymore. I acted that way until I believed it. 🙂

    • September 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing some of your background- it really does help. Especially the last bit- we have been working so hard with all our family to make sure Hula Girl and Gelato always have a feeling of security when talking with extended family. We want them to have support and know they can open up to anyone in our family safely. You’ve just given me even more reason to do so!

      • Kristy said,

        September 27, 2013 at 7:36 am

        I know mine were a blessing! 🙂

  3. Jeremy Irish said,

    September 30, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I don’t think “shy” needs to be a value-laden term; it’s a personality thing. Like “outgoing” or “funny” or “excitable.”

    “Introverted” might not seem as unappealing?

    • October 1, 2013 at 7:59 pm

      I like it. Introverted. I just feel like there is such a huge bias against being “shy” in our culture- it’s looked down upon and so many people I’ve talked to think that if someone is shy something must be wrong or the shy person must be a weirdo. We emphasize exuberance and value those who can stand being in the spotlight. Ya know? I just don’t want her to grow up thinking she’s weird or has anything wrong with her just because she happens to have a personality trait.

  4. October 4, 2013 at 10:35 am

    […] are experiencing a bit of a dilemma regarding our dance class. After class last week, it became apparent that Hula Girl was getting […]

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