Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned From Marvin Hamlisch

I read a lot of parenting books before my kids were born, but none influenced me as much as the song “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line.

It’s sung by three women, each recalling in turn how her miserable childhood at the hands of lousy parents drove her to that most destructive of lifestyles, dancing.


Maggie sings last.  Actually, she does some spoken monologue thing where her voice nonetheless goes unaccountably up and down in pitch because she’s just that perturbed.  She’s pissed at her dad because he ditched the family right after she was born.  She used to hold her arms up in the living room, waiting for him to show up and lift her triumphantly like a swan or something.  Also, in her fantasy, Daddy was an Indian Chief, but that’s not really relevant.

He’d say, ‘Maggie, do you wanna dance?’

And I’d say, ‘Daddy, I would love to!’

Everything was beautiful at the ballet.

Raise your arms and someone’s always there.

If you want to see a grown man cry, play me that part of the song.  Never fails.

I don’t really have any sense of rhythm.  I certainly know nothing about ballet.  And if I were Native American, there’s no way anyone would make me the chief.  I have every excuse to avoid dancing with my kids.

Yesterday, they were acting a little wild, and I needed a break.  I turned on the TV, then retreated to the other room to do a little writing.  Ten minutes later, Bennett came running in.  There was a perky song on their show, and they had both climbed down from the couch to run around like lunatics, as 2-year-olds are known to do.

“Daddy!” Bennett shouted.  “Come dance with us!”

I don’t remember what I was doing at the moment.  It really didn’t matter.  “Bennett,” I said.  “I would love to.”

I know I’m not a perfect dad.  I’m not the best athlete or cook or nurse.  I’ve been procrastinating on potty training for a long time now.  My Pigeon voice sounds just like my Bus Driver.  If my kids want to perform sappy monologues about me when they grow up, they’ll probably have plenty of material to work with.

But there’s one thing they can count on: when they raise their arms in the living room, I will always – always – be there.

30 comments on “Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned From Marvin Hamlisch

  1. My gay dads raised me on musicals. Love them- Chorus Line is a favorite- but- since I’m older and it really spoke so much to my own life, La Cage Aux Folles is my all time favorite. My dads took my husband and I to see it a few weeks ago. I turn into mush whenever they sing the “somebody loved you more” song. Thanks for the post. It brought a big smile and many happy memories for someone who always had a dad to dance with 🙂

    • I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know that show, just the movie The Birdcage. I’ll have to download the cast album. 🙂 Glad to hear you have fond memories of dancing with your dads. I’m hoping to give my kids the same. It’s funny – since I put up this post, I swear they’ve asked me to dance 10x as much. They’re definitely testing my ability to never say no! 🙂

  2. “At The Ballet” gets me every time too – the “Daddy I would love to” part but also the huge high note at the end – I don’t know why but it makes me very emotional!

  3. Great post as always. It made me remember (as your posts often do) but this time it was a piece of advice someone gave me that you seem to have down pat: being a stay at home parent isn’t ever about having clean toilets it’s about dancing to Sesame Street songs with your kids!

  4. ‘My Pigeon voice sounds just like my Bus Driver.’ But what does your Top Hat and Button Train voice sound like? LOVE this post. LOVE this song. I used to ‘dance around the living rooooom’ to this song and sing it with my sis, my cousin, and I every Saturday for years. More writing please. xx

  5. Beautiful post, I agree. And I never thought about it in those terms, but I actually have the same philosophy – I ALWAYS say “yes” when my son asks me to dance with him (actually, we dance to the theme song of almost every show he watches). I would never, ever say no to a request to dance with him.

  6. You know I love showtunes — I was actually nicknamed Mr. Showtunes in college by a big ole cowboy-acting dude, which is funny because I played Curly in Oklahoma — but gotta admit, At the Ballet was never my song — I went for those patter songs, the “I could never really sing”s. But now that I’ve got Tessie I’m sure I’ll be weeping.

    Just yesterday I was dancing with Tessie at music class to Sheryl Crowe’s “Sweet Child of Mine” and almost started crying. Then I realized where I was when that song first came out and I was too freaked out by how old we all are.

    By the way, yesterday I also noticed my bus driver was just like my pigeon. But my Little Gorilla grows nicely. And we put off Charlie’s potty training until her turned three, and it was no problem. Six months later it’s a distant “childhood memory.”

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