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.

the Bisexual Ballet

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It started with two women kissing.

One, her long flowing hair pulled back into a ponytail that fell all the way to her hips, pulled the other, her hair short and even, in by an arm, their legs flowing beautifully out to the side, and they gently kissed.

Soon, a young man joined them, in a tight white shirt and jacket over jeans. He danced with one woman, then the other, then both.

The dancers took turns in various trysts, drawing into their partners, then pushing away. He would want one, then the other, then both, then neither. He was needed by one, then the other, then both, then neither.

At various points, the dancers stood to the side, pulling out their cell phones and ignoring the others, while the other dancers sought to reclaim their attention. One dancer, frustrated, pulled the phone out of the hand of the other, then checked it, leading the other to snatch it away in frustration.

A full orchestra backed the dancers, harps and horns, strings and pianos and drums, but they somehow faded into the background behind this powerful portrayal of human need.

I was moved by the performance, caught up in the idea of this new generation realizing that one person can’t always meet your needs, nor can two people. Ultimately, each person must respond to their own needs, then join others to find fulfillment, energy, attraction, love, desire. What we need yesterday isn’t what we need now, and what we need now isn’t what we will need a few hours from now.

The dancers pulled a set piece around, revealing an intricate office space, where they continued to vie for each other’s attentions in the workplace. Another flipped around to represent the home of one of the dancer’s, as the man and the woman arrived and departed, together and apart.

As the dancers leaped and pirouetted, gave and took, flowed and formed, I thought of all the couples I know, and the constant negotiation to get their needs met through all of the chaos and distraction of day to day life. Technology, errant glances from strangers, work, emotional baggage, personal pain.

The short-haired girl pulled tightly into the man, breathing him in deeply, clutching on to him in utter fulfillment, and then moments later pushed him away, frustrated that it could not be sustained. She danced on her own for a moment, then latched on to the dancer with the ponytail, then pushed her away too.

Back and forth and in and out and up and down and around and over. I need you, I want you, leave me alone, no one understands me, you are the only one who understands me, she understands me too, it’s so wonderful, it’s too much, it feels good, it hurts, i love you, i hate you, i don’t understand you, you have never made more sense to me, hold me, let me go, why didn’t you come after me, you should know what i need even when i don’t say it, i told you what i need, how am i supposed to know what you need, why can’t you need me more, why doesn’t she miss me, i miss her, i need space, i want i need i desire i love i hurt i feel i breathe i ache i am at peace i’m so happy i may never be happy.

I looked around at the audience in the symphony hall, dressed for the symphony and ballet. The numbers before this had been beautiful also, but this one was a limit pusher, two women kissing on stage in front of a primarily Mormon crowd in a primarily Mormon place. A couple in front of me clutched their hands in their laps and gave each other a few errant glances of disapproval, as if to say we should not be seeing this; when the number ended, they refused to clap.

An older woman in a daring gown, sequinned and black and purple, seemed hauntingly fulfilled by the number, and I wondered if she was thinking back to lost loves and unfulfilled desires.

Soon the number ended, in a crescendo, with all three dancers laying on the floor in each other’s arms, him and her and her, but they were already moving again as the light’s dimmed. They had found satisfaction, and were all ready to begin searching for it again.

I stood for this one, my hands powerfully clapping at this flawless performance. I clapped for the dancers and the orchestra, but mostly I applauded the choreography.

I applauded this brassy, bold, bisexual ballet.