Backstage at the Dance Recital

Recitals are sort of a rite of parental passage, right?  Most of the time, we parents tolerate them.  They are sweet, sure, but more often than not something we endure and make gentle fun of on Facebook.  Possibly we bathe in the beauty of our own child, and grit our teeth through the other 87 dancers or 19 piano players.

Or that’s just me.

Sunday I spent the day at not one dance recital, but three dance recitals (12:30, 2 and 3, whew).  Our charity, Donna’s Good Things, fundraises every year at the recitals where we sponsor dance scholarships at Performing Arts Limited, the studio where Donna learned and Mary Tyler Son just wrapped up his year of lessons.  The dancers range in age from 3-16.  Dance recitals have been an annual thing for our family since Donna performed in her first and last recital on Father’s Day in 2009.  About two weeks before her recital, we had learned that Donna’s brain tumor was terminal.  I wrote about it here.

That day was equal parts brutal and beautiful — it captured so much of life in just a few short hours.  Love and potential and hope and loss and death and terror and tragedy, with an intensity I can still feel four years later.

Sunday was easier, but because of that day four year’s ago, I see things I never saw before.  For better or worse, my life is informed by an intensity it had lacked prior to moving to Cancerville.  Colors are brighter, the sun is shinier, the clouds are cloudier, soda is fizzier.  Another way of explaining it is that my life is now lived in Technicolor.  Everything is more vibrant, the good and the bad.

Being backstage at a children’s dance recital, being backstage at three children’s dance recitals, knowing what I know, and still learning how to move forward in intense grief, is a precious thing indeed.  It provides some of those moments, with the volume turned up high, that make life such a wonder for me, still.

Children are beautiful.  I mean B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L.  Wow.  All of them.  And watching them from the stage, move to the music, forget their steps, and just keep moving?  They have so, so much to teach us.  They welcome their fears, and acknowledge their fears and are not ashamed of their fears.  The tension backstage at a children’s dance recital has to share space with giggles and shushes and Star Wars toys and coloring books and graham crackers.  And lots and lots of laughter that nearby adults discourage.

I used to be super impressed with the itty bitties, the three and four years olds.  Probably because that is where my kids have been when dancing in a recital.  And to see that age range swathed in bows and sequins?  Well, that kind of sweet is practically edible.  Yesterday, though, I was taken with the tweens and teens.  Beautiful, beautiful girls who will one day be women.

I remember my own awkward nature at 10 and 12 and 14.  How concerned I was with what my peers thought of me.  Pffft.  Who in the hell cares what one little girl thinks of another little girl?  Well, little girls do, that’s who.  But Sunday, buzzing around me in a flurry of lycra and tulle and ballet slippers, these girls were gorgeous.  So self-possessed, so poised and commanding.  Anxious, yes, but also thrilled and proud.

It is a beautiful thing to be backstage at a children’s dance recital. It is a window into the future and a laboratory of development.  There is a boldness to a child’s emotions because most have not yet learned to filter them yet.  Their happy is really, really happy.  Their sad is really, really sad.  And everything in between is just as intense.  That is some cool voodoo.

Here are a few snapshots I hope to remember:

  • There was the distinct tap sound on hard tile, ebbing and flowing throughout the day;
  • There was young L, a family friend and former playmate of Donna’s, fresh off the stage, looking up at me, her cheeks flush with the performance, asking, “Did you see me?  Did you see me?”  “Yes”, I told her, despite having missed it, not wanting to dash her pride, “You were amazing.”;
  • There was a group of three young teens girls, stretching and prepping for their performance, looking graceful and grownup in their costumes.  Their faces were serious, a mix of determination and cool.  I was never that cool at 14;
  • There was the group of flamenco dancers, snapping their fans and flexing their toes, red roses in their hair;
  • There was what looked like a dozen cigarette girls, glittered pill box hats angled on their heads, pony tails bouncing behind them, whispering secrets and smiling away;
  • There was the frantic search for bobby pins and safety pins, never enough at a dance recital;
  • There was my boy, owning the stage his sister had owned four years earlier, loving every moment he spent out there.  The reluctance he had shown on Saturday class mornings evaporating in favor of the sheer joy of performing. There he was, the last one off stage, absorbing every instant of appreciation from the audience, charming every last one of us, just like his sister had, too.

So I would encourage your adult, possibly tired and overburdened self to think about that the next time you’re having a bad day.  Think about a group of kids, scared and thrilled and proud and excited, getting ready, in just moments, to do a thing they’ve been working towards for nine months.  They are surrounded by their peers all feeling the same feelings, or versions thereof, which just serve to heighten their own feelings.  And they make room for all the feelings, hold hands, and walk on stage.  It’s showtime, folks.

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