How a hopeful dance became part of our family’s new bedtime ritual

Toddler girl child enjoys playing in the large, designer bathtub and drinking

By Martha Quinn

I can’t tell you exactly when the Naked Baby Dance became part of our bedtime routine. It feels like we’ve always done it, but I know that can’t be true. For one thing, there are all those months before she could even walk, much less dance. Now it’s impossible to imagine putting my three-year-old to bed without it.

Besides the Naked Baby Dance, our bedtime ritual is fairly standard. We eat dinner, her father bathes her and brushes her teeth, she puts on pajamas and then I read two stories with her in a rocking chair before tucking her in and saying goodnight. Just like in a charming picture book about toddlers going to sleep. Except what’s not in any book I’ve seen so far is the step between the bath and the pajamas—the Naked Baby Dance.

It goes like this: after my daughter gets out of the tub, she dries off in her towel and then runs, naked, into the living room. I act delighted at her presence and then do a little song of my own. It goes, “All the naked babies do the naked baby dance! Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance!” Sometimes the song includes some instructions for dance moves like “All the naked babies stomp their naked baby feet!” or “All the naked babies shake their naked baby tushies!” 

While I sing, she dances. Her dance moves have evolved since she first started and now they often include props like a tiny stool to jump off of or ribbons to swing above her head. The constants are really only that she is naked and that she dances.

We do the Naked Baby Dance at home, of course, but we also do it when we are away. The Naked Baby Dance has happened in hotels and in houses of friends or family where we have spent the night. We live in Brooklyn, New York, but last spring as COVID-19 cases rose and my anxiety rose with them, we took a break from our apartment. We spent a few months in a rented house in western Massachusetts with a yard where I wasn’t afraid to let my little girl go outside. Then we drove to stay with my parents and later with my in-laws. We felt privileged but torn about our choice to leave the city. Living in this nomadic style meant we had to choose what belongings to take with us based on what would fit in the car. 

But the Naked Baby Dance always came along.

My husband and I were raised in houses with different levels of comfort with nudity. The family lore is that I was naked until I was five and had to go to kindergarten. My parents casually changed and showered in front of my sister and me. My husband’s family preserved public nudity for the very young and restricted it to zones like the bathroom. Now, when we go to their house, we respect this difference and wrap our daughter in a towel to travel from the bathroom to her bedroom before starting the dance. 

I don’t know how long the Naked Baby Dance will be a part of our lives. At three, there are precious few spaces left where she allows the moniker “baby” to be applied. Sometimes, already, she prefers to perform a “Naked Dinosaur Dance” as her pre-pajama ritual. There was a week or so a few months ago when she didn’t dance at all. She’d come through the living room cheerful, and decline the invitation politely before going to start the rest of her bedtime rituals. We thought it was done for, that she’d outgrown it. We mourned privately together, but didn’t pressure her. And then, just as suddenly as it had stopped, it started up again.

I know it can’t last forever. Presumably she will not be dancing naked nightly in the living room as she enters middle school. I will miss it when it’s gone, though.

The Naked Baby Dance encompasses all of my favorite parts of toddlerhood. It is both silly and sincere. She is entirely unselfconscious while dancing and thrilled with every wild dance move she invents. When she was brand new, I used to look at her tiny baby form and think about how much I’d miss her when she grew into a new, bigger person. I could not have imagined that person dancing nude nightly in my living room.

I still have flashes of anticipatory nostalgia—I will miss this naked dancer when she inevitably ages into someone with more modesty, who will likely not want to do a naked performance for her parents each evening—but I try to lean into my this current moment. For now, around 7pm each night, you will find me on my sofa singing the Naked Baby Song for my little dancer.

Martha F. Quinn is a writer and educator living in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and occasionally-clothed toddler.  

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