A Picture of Courage

A nervous dad hopes his daughter finds as much confidence in the dance studio as she did on the ropes course.

Ten-year-old Ellie on the Parcours sur Rocher ropes course in France.     Photo: Mike Steere

Less terrifying than ballet tryouts.

Last week I took our ten-year-old daughter, Ellie, to tryouts at a prestigious ballet school. She’d been nervous all week, way more than normal, so I taped some photos to the back of the driver’s seat.

The pics, from our vacation last August, still provide a nice jolt of parental pride, and—I hoped—would fill Ellie with the confidence necessary to perform well at dance tryouts. I mean look at the girl, spidering around on skinny little cables and sheer rock at fatal fall heights.

France does touristy mini-adventures like it does cheeses – robust and mature—and the Parcours sur Rocher ropes course high over Lake Annecy in the French Alps is no exception. But Ellie loved it, even though she had to work harder to reach for steps and holds that were laid out for grownups. Twice she stalled on a short rock-to-rock zipline and had to wait for the guide to help her. She laughed and laughed while dangling over the gaping void.    

Sangfroid for a fifth grader, for sure, and I hoped that looking at the pictures would bring some of it back, or at least provide a brief distraction. When Ellie got into the car, she hooted at the obvious attempt to boost her confidence. Then, for a while, she was OK with a pep talk that went more or less like this:

Dad: “Look where you were. Were you scared up there?”
Ellie: “No, it was really fun.”
Dad: “What would have happened if you spaced out and forgot to snap your carabiners onto the safety cables?”
Ellie: “That would never happen. But if it did, I’d fall and probably die.”
Dad: “And that didn’t scare you?"
Ellie: “Duh, I know how to do ropes courses. That one was awesome.”
Dad: “OK then, can you do what you did on the cliff in the ballet studio? Focus, do what you’re good at, have fun…and to hell with fear!”
Ellie: “Be quiet, Dad.”

Ellie did fine in tryouts and now wears a maroon leotard, the proud uniform of a girl taking intermediate classes at the New Jersey School of Ballet.

She probably would have done just as fine without thrilling memories from the Alps. On the other hand, it didn’t hurt, and it made me feel like I parented at a critical moment.  

Or who knows? Maybe the Parcours was easy for the girl because she’s a ballerina.

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