This week was the last week of ballet class for my daughter before the Christmas break. Every year, we give a small gift to her dance teacher and send candy for the other students. This year, my daughter mentioned that no one in the class wanted to give their ballet teacher a gift. "She's too mean" was the explanation.
I had been observing this ballet class since it started in September. The teacher is a young woman who is a professional dancer with a ballet company on the west side of the Twin Cities. She avoids eye contact with parents, she is sharp and direct with the students, and there is a brittleness about her. Whenever I've spoken to her, she looks as if she is about to break. She never looks happy.
She is an excellent dancer. Whenever I watch her perform a combination for the students, my heart literally aches with the desire to be back in a ballet class (after 28 years). But even her perfect technique can't mask the unhappiness I see when I look at this young woman. She reminds me of an ensiform leaf on an iris: tall and graceful, but also resembling a blade with sharp edges and a pointed tip.
She is a stickler for rules. The students' hair must be in a bun, and the bun must be secure. If a student makes a mistake, she will draw attention to it. She once told my daughter that she should know her right from her left by now - something my daughter still gets confused about. I blame her lefthandedness for it. One brave girl once asked her why she was so fussy. I must confess I had wondered this myself. The teacher explained, "When you walk into my studio, you are dancers. You will conduct yourselves as such." No one has asked her another question since.
So, when the subject of a gift for this teacher came up in a conversation with my daughter, she confessed that no one wanted to get her a gift. I asked her what she thought would be the right thing to do. She asked me to get the teacher something - but something small. :)
We went shopping and found a silver necklace chain with little circular charms that go onto the necklace. You can pick different charms, and they are all engraved with a word. We picked four charms for the dance teacher: inspire, spirit, achieve and harmony. I wrapped the necklace, and my daughter made a card for the dance teacher. It had pictures of a Christmas tree, ballet shoes, presents, and a poem: "Roses are red, violets are blue. You are a great teacher, and you rock too." She also included a snowflake ornament that she made out of shiny pipe cleaners and pony beads and ribbon.
After ballet class, my daughter came out of the studio wearing her new dance costume for the spring recital. She was so excited. The dance is Sleeping Beauty, and the costumes are a dreamy confection of all different shades of blue with a long tutu and a sequined top. Beautiful. After she showed me the costume, she remembered that she had forgotten to give the teacher her gift. We walked back to the studio, and the teacher was there alone. Kate gave her the gift bag and smiled. The teacher looked shocked. Then her eyes filled with tears, and she started to sob before she put her hand to her face and turned away from us. She managed to choke out the words "thank you". Kate looked at me, and I told the teacher to have a Merry Christmas, then I took Kate by the arm, and we went back to the lobby.
We were taking Kate's costume off and packing it up, and another dance class came in and was getting ready for class. The dance teacher came out to get the next class, and she was wearing the necklace. And she was smiling.
When we got out to our car to go home, Kate told me, "I'm really glad I gave her a present." Me too.
This holiday season, please be kind to others. You never know what unhappiness is in someone's heart. A smile or a nice gesture from you could make all the difference in the world to another person. And we are all worthy of love and understanding.