Little Man was just 7 when he opened the envelope. Inside was a crisp £20 note from his Auntie S and it was a birthday present. This was more money than he had seen before in his life, and his eyes opened wide. ‘What would you like to buy with it?’ I asked, and without hesitation, he replied instantly ‘A pair of Tap Shoes’.
To this day, we have never known where he got the idea from. He may have watched something on the telly. He may have been subconsciously influenced by Grandma, who would regularly tune into Strictly when babysitting. He may have just been waiting for the right time, and the right opportunity, to ask us. So we made enquiries, found a dance shop, and he handed over his money for a pair of canvas tap shoes. This was not the end. We then had to find a dance school, and on recommendation I spoke to the principal. He was very welcome, she said, but he would be the only boy in his class, and indeed, there was only one other boy in the school, and he was 15.
I’ve never been one to run with the crowd. I have tried, and failed miserably, a lot of times. I just thought it would be easier, to dress the same, to eat the same, to think the same. Believe me, it’s hard. (I’ve watched the film Stepford Wives in a whole new light). This is not an uncommon phenomena. Many people I know are strong in their convictions and beliefs. One of our best friends decided he didn’t want to be an engineer any more and retrained to become a nurse. People still assume that he is a doctor. I worked for a decade in a male dominated industry, and in meetings run by me, people would turn and ask my second in command for his opinion, and I know a very tall, glamorous blonde who works as one of the few female pilots for BA...
But to have your 7 year old son enter into a world, in which, in his innocence, he would stand out by virtue of his gender, was a real consideration. We discussed it with him gently, and to our surprise, his elder brothers stood by him. Middle Son said ‘If he wants to do it, then let him – you let me do football’. Eldest Son, who was perhaps more sensitive to the situation said ‘He can always leave’. And so it was that Little Man trotted in to the class, and met all the girls.
Fast forward a year down the line, and Little Man is a firm fixture in the school with a lovely dance teacher who understands him. Everybody knows him by virtue of the fact that he is the only one clattering around in the sea of graceful limbs and pink leotards. We have had to forge a path of different clothes, different dances for exams, different jargon, music and timings. Overall, the ‘pink’ mummies have welcomed the ‘blue’ mummy into their midst, helping me through the new language of dance shows. We’re more of a novelty than a threat.
And out of all the kids that come in and out of our house, only one older boy has ever said to Little Man that what he was doing was a bit Gay. But there is no doubt that in standing out from the crowd, Little Man has opened himself up to a world which may not be as cushioned as I would like it to be. In a recent dance show, he came back crying after the opening night, with five more shows to go. Child Protection Laws had dictated that he had to stay behind a screen in a separate part of the room whilst off stage as his female juvenile friends got changed. He had spent his time on his own between a screen and a piano, and had missed his call once as the chaperones had forgotten about him. Despite the matching outfits, the uniformity of the dance routines, the camaraderie, this was the first time, at 8 years old, in which he realised that he was different from the others. He was mortified. But he carried on with the show, night after night, sitting by himself behind his piano with a colouring book, ready to sparkle when he got on stage.
And it’s this attitude, and his dedication and passion to his dancing, acting and singing, that has endeared him to so many. Even the gruff games teacher asked if he would do his tap dance routine one day for the school. His little friends have been nothing but supportive, and of course we are enormously proud of him. His voyage into pantomime is just the beginning of a new and exciting chapter, as is his drama and his impending tap solo for a dance festival. It is an unfamiliar world for us all, into which he leads us, jumping and skipping down the path.
And if he gave it all up tomorrow, we would not bat an eyelid, knowing that the next adventure is not far away.