Last week, with afternoon sunlight coming into the studio, I arrived in Port Angeles to teach a choreography class.

I’ve known the director, Salina, since she struggled with the idea of opening her own studio. Her dance journey has been like witnessing a beautiful becoming. She has a very rare gift of very real passion. And it’s a great feeling when you can tell that someone who loves to teach has made it their lifework.

It's been a long drive from Belltown. I'm eager to stretch, but a little boy stops me in my tracks. He watches his sister’s ballet class as intently as someone viewing their own version of joy. He copies every move the girls make. I know his excitement, his readiness, as well as I know my own. Why does it so often seem like it’s the youngest person in the room who is teaching us the most?

His mother, slouched in a chair, is lost in her phone. So I tell the boy that I hope he takes class one day. This prompts a sudden lift of his mom’s chin and a glance with a great deal of concern clinging to its edges. But I say what I am thinking anyway, “Boys make wonderful ballet dancers!”

“Not in Port Angeles,” she said, sitting up straight, as if ballet isn’t something her son, or any real man, should get too close to.

The boy looked at me, at his mother, back at me. It was like watching a leaf wilt on the vine. The whole interaction felt like a little pointed arrow pushing against my resolve.

I know — and knew then — that I had to say something more to the boy. It wasn’t an overwhelming feeling, more like a ripple in a larger pool of realizations, something that wanted to be expressed and would be. But I could not have predicted what was about to come out of my mouth.

“You are a natural born dancer!”

The boy smiled happily, if tentatively, stopping for a quick look at his mom who seemed a little stunned for a moment.

The truth is that all children are natural born dancers. But I had a teacher once who said that there is so much more to teach about dance than technique. I decided that I would become one of those teachers.

Still, I know what it means to simply accept what I am called upon to do — teach a well-paced class — and I do this, with little want of anything in return but smiles. But I suppose what happened that day is that the belief that only girls should take ballet leaned a little too far in to its unfairness until a huge part of me screamed, “Don’t say that! Dancing is for everyone!”

I would not have put it like this, of course, but I had a deep sense that this bias would help shape this little boy’s future. He would be loved and well cared for, but who would he become inside?

There is a magic inherent in a dance studio, in being surrounded by people who look like they’ve found what makes them feel most alive. I think this is what the boy wanted for himself, to move enjoyably through space. But I suspect he will have to learn to do it in other ways, most likely on the ball field.

And I cannot know if playing ball will make him as happy as dancing seemed to make him. Any more that I can know why his mother was so offended by it.

But if I’m honest with myself, if I let myself remember what must have been happening in this little boy’s mind to make him look so happy, I suspect I found his mother’s response asked of me something that I found impossible to give: silence.

MARY LOU SANELLI is an author and speaker, who teaches master dance classes throughout the world. Her website is