I'm in a room brimming with estrogen. The air smells like Aqua Net, makeup and rented tutus. Quick flashes of pink, sequins and tulle buzz in my peripheral vision as tiny, sparkling girls run in all directions.
I feel like an interloper in this frenzied beehive of feminine activity. Can daddy prep his little girl to dance in "The Nutcracker" all by himself?
I'm shaking a huge can of hair spray. "Grace, look at me," I say. "I just need to flatten your hair down."
"Maybe a mommy can do it," she says, eyeing the women in the room.
"Oh, come on," I say. "Daddies know how to do this." In fact, the mommies are snickering at me. I see them from the corner of my eye. "Cover your eyes. This is going to go all over the place."
She places her hands over her eyes and I wave the can around her head as if I'm sealing a lawn chair with Rustoleum or applying insect repellent. I press my hands on her sticky head and form a crisp shell of hair. "All right, that's good," I say. "Now lips."
I open a tube of lipstick for the first time in my life. "OK, um. Look up at the ceiling."
"Why?" she asks. It's a good question, and I don't have a real answer.
"So I can see what I'm doing."
I grab her chin and start. I'm not applying lipstick so much drawing on her mouth. But, it doesn't look too bad. It's just stage makeup, I think. She's supposed to resemble a clown. Makeup isn't so hard, it seems. Just to amuse myself, I draw some Amy Winehouse-style flourishes around her eyes, which she seems to enjoy.
"Can I go now?" she asks, and I nod. She joins the running girls, burning off some nervous energy.
I must tell you, this scene isn't completely foreign to me. I recall my sister's ballet classes, and her huge instructor, Mr. Ramov. Mr. Ramov carried a wooden walking stick at all times, which he'd knock on the floor to get the girl's attention, to stop the music or any other time he wanted to be noticed. He knocked it at me, too.
Knock, knock, knock, he'd come walking towards my mother and me on the hard, wooden floor.
"Ve don't have any boys," he said in a heavy Russian accent. "Vhy von't you come and dance vis us?"
Knock, knock, knock.
I stared up at him. His was the first foreign accent I had ever heard. Also, I had never known anyone carry a stick around all day long. He terrified me.
"I don't think he's a dancer," my mother said, rescuing me. She put a hand on my hair.
"Vell," said Mr. Ramov. "Ve always need boys," and walked away.
Knock, knock, knock.
A women came into the room carrying a clipboard. "Soldiers, mice and sweets!" she announced. "We need you now."
"That's us, daddy," Grace says.
"Yep, let's go," I say, and we walk up to the wings. Grace and the girls receive their cue and dance out onto the stage.
Clara and the personified nutcracker watch as each girl dances in turn. Grace does a modest spin and curtsy, and it's the cutest thing I've ever seen.
Just like that, it's over. We're back downstairs in the beehive, waiting for the final bows. When the time comes, the snow gently falls from above and the girls can't resist running around like crazy people. Grace drops to the floor and makes a snow angel.
Can dad prep a 4-year-old to dance in "The Nutcracker?" Oh, yes he can.