Dance Dad

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“These girls think they are good.” I leaned over to Cole, my friend, and muttered. “Here’s the problem. They are going to spend all these years in dance classes and then graduate high school thinking they are really good. But those that want to be dancers, man, it’s a cutthroat world. They go to college and realize there are a million other dancers out there and most of them are better.”

The girls on the stage swirled around in obnoxious pink and sparkles, swirling and pointing and flexing and bending to various musical arrangements blared loudly over the speaker. They all, every one of them, seemed unsure of themselves, and kept looking off-stage to where their teacher was giving them cues to their next moves. None of them seemed to be having fun or smiling, and they were completely out of sync. Somehow it was forgivable for little tiny children, but for the adolescents I was much less patient.

Then again, my bad attitude probably had a lot to do with the fact that there were 33 dance routines in a row. 33! For an audience filled with family members of the children performing on the stage, the minutes ticked by excruciatingly slow. Number after number, all poorly executed. Tap, jazz, ballet, modern, tap, ballet, country western, jazz, modern, ballet, and on and on and on. 3 year old girls, 5 year old girls, 7, 9, 12, 15 year old girls.

They all rushed on to the stage in their obnoxious get-ups, sparkly pink tu-tus and ruffled tops, pink jean jackets and cowgirl hats, pink evening gowns with fairy princess hats. Pink on pink with pink accessories.

I scanned the girls, looking for some talent and conviction. There were a half dozen solo routines, girls who had clearly worked their keisters off for hours at a time with their solo instructors. A few of them had decent technical skill, their bodies going through the right motions, but they had no conviction, no smiles on their faces. They were moving their bodies, but they weren’t dancing.

One girl wore thick glasses. She clearly loved to dance, but she was clumsy and awkward in her movements, and her face kept getting ‘whoops’ looks on it. I immediately found myself rooting for her.

“Cole!” I whispered. “She’s like Anne Hathaway’s character on the Princess Diaries, when she is all nerdy and endearing.”

“Oh my god,” she is!” We chuckled, but in a nice way, suddenly wanting this girl to be as amazing as she believed she was.

I thought about the little dance studio I dropped my boys off every Monday for 45 minutes. They had fun learning little routines, then came home. It cost about $80 per month. I had no idea there were this many students. I gave up trying to add up how much the teacher was making, but it was clearly an ample amount given her small town dancing skill. I wondered how many of these girls thought they were getting a good dance education, then I realized it wasn’t about that at all, not for most of them. For most the kids, it was just an opportunity to dance with other kids, and suddenly this all seemed okay. These kids were dancing for their parents and I needed to smile instead of rolling my eyes.

Throughout the concert, the sweet grandmother next to me kept narrating loudly to me about her six grandchildren up on the stage, every time they came one, which ones were most talented, which ones were working the hardest, which ones had been dancing for the longest. I must have responded with 75 “mm-hmm”‘s and “that’s nice”‘s as she talked and talked.

About halfway through the numbers, it was finally time for my sons to dance in their two small routines. I counted only five boys total in all of the age groups, and my sons were two of them. J, my seven year old, looked adorable in his little bow tie and dance shoes, and A, my four year old, somehow even cuter in his sailor hat. J moved with perceived grace, long arms and legs, conviction behind his movements, a large smile on his face, radiating pure joy, as he stumbled around the stage. The girls behind him were subtle, barely moving at times, always several notes behind. I cheered from behind my cell phone recording of his every move.

A didn’t really dance the steps at all, but boy could he move. He put his hands on his shoulders and shimmied and shook his hips, threw his arms in the air, shook his butt at the audience, down to his knees and back up. He had looks on his face like the guys at the guy who lift weights that are a bit too heavy. In fact, A flexed his little arms a few times, jumping and shaking around. He got just as many cheers, mixed with my laughs.

During the final number, two and one half hours after it had started, they announced the final number. Every student gathered on the stage in one mass and were told to freestyle. A got a little scared and looked around the room in confusion, seeing me in the audience. He found the stairs to the stage and came rushing down them to me.

“Dad! Dad!” I gathered him in my arms and asked what was wrong. He thought for a moment, getting creative. “Um, my thumb hurts. Kiss it better.”

I kissed his thumb and he went rushing back up on the stage, where J took his hand and the two boys jumped all over the stage, having a blast while most of the girls just kind of stood around, shimmying in place.

“Boy, your boys sure do have fun!” said the grandmother next to me.

I smiled, ear to ear. “Yeah, they definitely make life fun. Even events like this.”

She and I both laughed.

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