As a kid, my parents did their best to expose me to a variety of experiences. I participated in gymnastics, took piano lessons, learned to swim, played on a softball team, spent a few years in Girl Scouts, went to sleep-away camp for several summers, sang in a church choir, learned various needle-and-yarn crafts… My parents aimed to help me develop into a well-rounded individual (for which I am deeply grateful). Yet one activity I never had an awareness of was dance. It wasn’t until I reached middle school that I realized some kids took dance lessons the same way I took music lessons; and I was in college when I learned about the variety of dance styles available for study. Ballet, tap, jazz, modern, ballroom, hip-hop, mambo – who knew so many different styles of dance existed? Not me.
During my junior year of college I dabbled with swing dancing – and while I loved doing it, I was completely terrible at it. In my early 30s I took up belly dancing for six months – and again, I delighted in the activity, but was completely lacking in skill. I think dance is one of those activities that a person needs to be exposed to when she is young; otherwise the mechanics are very difficult to try and learn as an adult.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with a woman who was a professional dancer in New York City, and then on a cruise ship, before she changed careers and entered the business world. When I became aware of her rhythmic past, I peppered her with questions about her experiences as a dancer. Through her, I learned that dance students often perform in recitals once or twice a year, just like music students often do. I was both surprised and intrigued. I can wrap my head around a piano recital – but a dance recital? What does that even look like? I had absolutely no idea – but I wanted to find out. So I plunked #47 on my 101 list.
At the time I typed “Go to a dance recital” on my list, I wasn’t aware of anyone in my circle of family/friends/acquaintances who would be performing in a dance recital any time soon. Yet I firmly believe that when I release a sincere intention into the world, opportunity will find me. A few months ago, a dance recital opportunity came my way.
Back in March my sweetie and I had brunch with various members of his extended family. During the meal my husband’s cousin and I got to chatting – and during our conversation, she off-handedly mentioned that her daughter was in the middle of preparing for an upcoming dance recital. My ears perked up at the last words of the sentence – and I casually asked if people outside of immediate family members could attend the event. The cousin replied, “Sure – anyone who wants to buy a ticket can come,” so I leapt on this opportunity to experience my very first dance recital.
Fast forward three months. Yesterday I drove to the campus of a small private college in the area, and met my husband’s cousin and her son outside of the school’s auditorium. We entered the large space, and located three seats in the third row of the balcony, just left of stage center. As I settled into a chair, I was delighted by the great view in front of me. A few minutes later, the overhead lights darkened and the red velvet stage curtain lifted….revealing three lines of small children, motionless but eagerly smiling. A few seconds later overhead music began playing, and voila – the recital began.
The opening performance was a tap dance number by a dozen first-graders, most of whom diligently followed the lead of an adult teacher who was off to the side of the stage. (For the 3 to 10 year old kids, one or two adults performed the entire dance number with the children so that the kids could copy the movements if [when] they forgot an element of the routine.) Once the little tappers left the stage, a line of wee tots sitting in tiny plastic chairs were revealed. These kids couldn’t have been more than three years old – and most of their ‘dance’ number took place with them seated (which was super smart; I can only imagine the chaos that likely would have ensued should ten 3-year-olds be allowed to ‘dance’ in front of a large audience).
After the three-year-olds brief dance number ended, a row of 5-year-olds took the stage, and danced a modified hip-hop routine to funky techno music – and it was awesome. One little kid put her entire body into the number, shaking her shoulders and her booty with mostly-controlled gusto; she totally rocked it!
Next up was a group of 8-year-olds, whose costumes involved a tank top and an exposed stomach. Second grade is the age when some kids start to gain weight – and one of the girls was indeed overweight. Her belly protruded between the exposed space of her tank top and skirt – and she danced in a way that looked like she was trying to minimize physical jiggling. I felt really bad for her.
I began to fear that these costumes were the start of a series of inappropriate attire (I certainly don’t want to see small girls dressed as trollops), but actually, every other costume in the recital was quite modest. Many of the costumes were very glittery and sparkly, sure – but the glitzy fabric actually served to enhance the look of each dancer and her movements.
Every two to three minutes a new group of kids took the stage – and in each performance, there was usually one kid that absolutely rocked it, and one kid that looked totally lost; and most of the other kids fell somewhere in a very average middle.
As the evening transitioned from very young children to slightly older kids (10, 11, 12 years old), the performances began to be more cohesive, and the movements began to look (and in the case of tap, to sound) really cool.
After a bit, the activity paused and the audience was granted a brief intermission. I looked down at my watch and was shocked to realized that we had already been at the auditorium for 40 minutes – the time had gone by quite fast!
Ten minutes later the break ended, the recital resumed, and high-school, college, and adult groups took the stage. The acts now became much tighter, beautiful, and impressive. My thinking began to shift from, “Oh, how cute,” to “Wow, how cool.” I also noticed that as I watched both the children and the adults perform, I could tell who was just going through the motions on the stage (putting on the ‘act’), and who had a real passion for dance (and would likely be thrilled to perform even if every seat in the auditorium was empty).
When a group of ballerinas danced, I noticed similarities between their movements and those performed in a yoga class: both require tremendous balance, strength, flexibility, and focus. Then, in the next performance, I saw a tap dancer who was in her 60s – so cool! A few minutes later, a group of about 20 third-grade kids took the stage and performed a hip hop number – and three of the kids were boys! (Up to this point in the evening, I had only seen two other boys perform – and they were both 3-4 years old.) One of the boys was totally tearing it up, shakin’ his shoulders and groovin’ his head like nobody’s business. Super cool.
Act after act kept performing; I fell into a trance watching waves of students arrive, dance, and depart. Images of skillful, fluid bodies in motion flickered before my eyes – and at 9 pm (two hours after the recital began) the activity on stage paused once again for a second intermission.
At this point in the recital I had seen 32 different dance numbers. When I looked down at the program, I realized that 23 more acts were still in the performance queue. As fun, entertaining, stunning, and cool as the student groups had been so far, by this point in the evening I was ready to be done with this experience. I turned to my husband’s cousin, thanked her for allowing me to attend the recital and spend the evening with her, and politely stated that I would be leaving at this point. She seemed slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see her daughter in the final act of the night, but she did understand that two hours is quite a long time to watch other people’s children dance. After a smile and a wave, I left the auditorium as the lights dimmed and the activity resumed on the stage once more.
As I stepped into the warm summer evening and made my way to my car, I felt tired yet happy. I had truly enjoyed myself at the recital, and am very glad I went – it was a really cool experience! Seeing all of the students moving on stage stirred up a sense of longing in my own body – I would really like to attempt a tap or a hip-hop dance class. I suspect I wouldn’t be very good (at all); but I also think I would probably have a lot of fun. Maybe one of these days I’ll wear some sparkles, step on stage, and perform in a recital of my own… Maybe.