Last night I sat through a dance recital. I didn't have a child onstage, though I did have a fabulous choreographer/teacher/director backstage. I sat next to a man about my age who wiggled and squirmed and sighed his way through the program. Not sure who his dancer was, but he clearly wasn't enjoying himself. But I was.
Every spring for 15 years we watched Katie grow up onstage with Dancer's Workshop, so these recitals are part of wildflower time for me. The babies who scamper onstage and are thrilled just to find the tape marker that tells them where to stand. They watch the teacher in the wings for cues, or just make up something on their own. Adorable in their tulle and sequins with their hair glued into a ballerina bun, they hardly have to move to entertain. But entertain they do. Some boss their neighbors, some lose their shoes, some wave to Mom and Dad. Some are stage struck and don't remember a thing, a deer-in-the-headlights look on their tiny faces. Some actually have a musical sensitivity at age three. And some exude a joy that makes me smile and makes sitting through a two hour recital of other people's kids really fun. I hope their families recognized it too, and have the time and means to let those natural dancers fill up with the good things that come from studying an art you were born to learn.
All these years of watching dancers and I am still surprised by the unexpected dancer. The one who doesn't look like they would have stuck it out all these years. The one I end up watching more than the perfect bodies and flawless faces. The ones who dance outside themselves and give away their hearts. Like a singer who reaches through the radio and tells a story that can make you weep or laugh out loud, a dancer can forge a bond with the audience because they are authentically invested in the dance. The same ones who won't be picked for the pom squad. Like that voice that doesn't fit with the other pop stars, but you can't quit listening to because you hear your own emotions in their singing. The dancers who leave you in a different place when you walk out of the theater.
I am grateful for the teachers who open their minds and hearts to instruct in a way that leaves room in art for the individual to find themselves. Dance can be a very narrow, judgmental world, full of angst and anorexia. I doesn't have to be. People like Dawn Weiss, the owner of Dancer's Workshop, give a breadth to dance that lets young people find their way to the best end result of art. They are taught to dance. And to hold each other in esteem. And in that secure place, they can find their joy.
Between the little imp who stole my heart in the pink tutu number and the strong, heart pumping hip hop number by the almost-pros, were scores of dancers who had worked for months perfecting their recital pieces. All those tuition payments, miles driven to the studio, lives arranged around the rehearsal schedules, all that effort by dancers and their families was about more than the time spent under the lights. It was about learning to dance, yes. But also about learning to respect teachers and fellow dancers. For some, it was about pure joy. The lucky ones who were born in a time and place that allows them to pursue their passion. And to share it with the audience. And lucky ones like me, who soak it up and go home lightened.