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You love to dance. But does your son have to, too?

EW’s senior associate editor introduces ballroom dancing to her young son, but worries that she’s taking her own passion for the sport too far

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Freyda Tavin

You love to dance. But does your son have to, too?

My children, ages 7, 3, and 1, are young enough that I still pretty much decide what we’ll be watching on TV. Of course, as a reviewer of kids’ movies and shows, I bring home scads of screeners to check out. Some are good, but more than a fair share of them are crap with a capital C. And I like to watch the material with them because sometimes that’s the only way to appreciate what tickles their youthful fancy. My seven-year-old son is particularly skeptical when I bring out the work pile; he likes to inspect every DVD case. ”Is it scary? Does it have guns?” are the two questions he’ll usually ask, with more than a smidgeon of hope in his voice. When we’re not getting my work done, there are some older films that they return to again and again (like my three-year-old’s fixation with the endangered owl caper, Hoot).

Last week I decided to try something out on them to see if they’d show any interest. And I asked them about it on a Thursday night, normally a no-TV night in our house (the first-grader can only indulge in that and other electronics Friday-Sunday). ”Hey kids,” I said with more than a smidgeon of hope in my voice, ”anybody want to watch children dancing on TV?” I could have said, ”Anybody want to watch America’s Ballroom Challenge?” but hey, I’m no dope — I know that would’ve been greeted by blank stares. ”Yeah!” they all screamed — well, at least the older two did; my younger daughter just clapped her chubby little hands because she thought it was an appropriate response.

And there we were, like four ducks in a still pond, watching a recording of America’s Ballroom Challenge. In high def, no less. Big flashes of sequins and tight black pants and puffy shirts as I fast-forwarded past the grown-up dancers and went straight to the junior exhibition dancers. There’s an 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl doing the samba. Swiveling hips, legs moving like lightning, graceful yet incredibly energetic. All eyes were glued to the screen, and the only interruption was my son asking repeatedly, ”How old are they?”

It’s not completely out of the blue that I spring this type of content on my offspring. There’s always music playing in our house; when I pick the kids up from school, there’s usually salsa or flamenco blaring in the car, and they can discern which is which when asked. My husband and I took ballroom dance classes in college and occasionally brush up on them. We’ll dance in the living room and teach steps to whomever is clinging to our legs, if they’re interested. The kids have even gone to some of my performances (I started studying flamenco about 10 years ago and occasionally dance with other students), and love to watch their momma on stage.

It just so happened that when outdoor soccer ended for the winter, I was looking for another activity for my son. I had been taking salsa lessons with my husband at a local studio when the owner mentioned that she had a Wednesday afternoon ballroom class that was in desperate need of boys (so desperate are they for male partners, that boys dance for free). So every Wednesday, I take him and three of his soccer buddies to the Silva Dance Academy, where they rumba, cha cha, swing, and waltz. Where else would they learn to interact with the opposite sex on such a fitting level? They even have monthly socials where, feeling very grown up, they dance under a disco ball and colored lights and actually ask a girl for her hand in dance… sort of. ”We just go over, point to a girl, and she stands up,” was how one of his friends reported the delicate procedure. Close enough.

Sometimes I feel the teeniest bit guilty about fostering (or is it foisting?) my affinity for dance on my children. If they gravitate toward something, shouldn’t it be their choice? But what if they didn’t find it in time, I sometimes wonder. It’s not like I’m itching for my son to enter competitions one day. What I hope for him is not the stiff, white-gloved charm-school waltzes or the spray-tanned, spandexed rumbas of ballroom dance shows, but something in the middle — like being able to dance with a girl at a party or a wedding. And if TV can help us in furthering that goal, so be it. Plus, if he knows all these dances by the time he’s 11, he might be confident enough to persuade friends who don’t think it’s cool to try it.

What about you? Was there anything you hoped your kids would go for that didn’t take? Or were you ever forced to do something as a kid that you were grateful for, in the end?