Last weekend, I sat in the second row of the theatre watching my 6-year-old daughter in her first dance performance.
As the red lights flooded the stage in a beautiful deep rose-pink glow, 22 miniature humans in red costumes were illuminated, each holding 2 red balloons filling the stage in a mesmerising floaty sea of warmth.
The cascading piano of the acoustic ’99 Red Balloons’ ached, soaking my soul with love.
The balloon strings were long, the little dancers were weaving, the balloons became entwined.
My daughter’s balloon strings were tightly twisted. Her smiling face changed to panic. A lostness. A vulnerability. A helplessness. The girl holding the other balloons was defiant, determined, and possibly ready to fight.
I found myself desperate to run on stage and untangle them. To fix it. To see that smile again. But I couldn’t. I began silently shouting “Just let go!” hoping the words would somehow reach her and she’d free herself from the confrontation.
I noticed other audience members whispering the same words… “Just let go!”
Teachers in the wings, frustrated by the chaos… “This didn’t happen in rehearsals!”.
My daughter’s eyes pleaded with the balloon strings to loosen. The other girl with her furrowed brow, angry. The teacher’s voice repeats in their minds: “don’t let go of your balloons”. They were told to hold on. Why would they let go?
A tug of war. The more they held on, the tighter the strings. Pink horizontal ribbon stretched across the stage, in the pink glow of the lights, right at throat-level as 22 tiny dancers skip towards it. Our heartstrings mirrored the tension of the balloon strings.
As the aching piano descended its final notes, my heart sank with them.
The curtain closed just as I saw my daughter’s tears.
My applause held the intention of a hug but it couldn’t break through the curtain.
Sometimes you just have to let go.
We were all craving control… parents, the audience, teachers, but we had no control. We were forced to let go and watch it happen. The discomfort of wanting to help but passively watching was verging on painful.
As we were forced to let go, the little hopeful humans on stage refused to let go.
In retrospect, it was fascinating to capture the range of human responses in such a situation. As I felt sadness and compassion, my daughter felt sadness and fear. Other children aggressively yanked the strings, tightened their lipsticked faces and prepared for battle. Some parents and audience members blamed the teachers for ‘setting them up to fail’ and sending them out as ‘lambs to the slaughter’ with long balloon strings that would inevitably tangle. Some voices in the audience simply laughed at the absurdity of the situation — finding comedy in the miniature catastrophe.
It makes you reflect on your default response. How do you respond when life has other plans and you’re not in control anymore? Sadness? Compassion? Anger? Frustration? Laughter? Blame?
Luckily, nobody got hurt — the tightened balloon string didn’t cause casualties. Physically at least.
Emotionally, it was a different story. Tears turned to fear. Fear of going back on stage. Work had to be done behind the scenes to boost these little souls back into the spotlight.
With a new day, a new approach, it was an entirely new experience. A wonderful, breath-taking performance that has had me overflowing with emotion and tears ever since. I just have to hear the opening piano notes and my eyes start leaking! You see, it’s not just a memory of seeing my daughter perform for the first time, it’s a memory of her growing, learning, showing resilience, and letting go of her fear.
When everything in your body might be telling you to hold on, sometimes you just need to let go.
What are you holding onto?
What do you need to let go of?