Dancing Lessons

Curly Girl is sprawled out across her bed, stone-cold asleep, exhausted from being 3/4 of the way through a weekend of dance workshops and performances. Those long legs make her look going-on-14 when she’s all spread out and it is almost more than I can take, this visual of my baby-no-longer-a-baby.

In the last 48 hours her 9 year-old self has pulled off more than most functioning adults pull off in a week. Her school’s annual field day, two dance performances, a spelling test, a 2.5 hour dance workshop…I’m exhausted just thinking about it, and all I’ve done is be her taxi service and cheerleader. Both my gas bill and my caffeine intake have gone up trying to match pace with her and I’m crazy-grateful for the bottle of full-bodied red a friend gave me earlier this week as an early birthday gift, especially as I sit sipping on a glass of it as I write. She has one more performance tomorrow, and then I imagine you’ll find us both stretched out in front of a Netflix movie, with leftover pizza at the ready for dinner and very little energy to do much more than be glad for an easy Sunday night.

We’re both worn out. But I’m so proud. And she’s so happy.

Here’s what we’ve learned in this first big all-or-nothing performance weekend of her fledgling arts career:

That friends you can trust matter a great deal. Enter Dereon, a classmate of CG’s since 1st grade. He simply adores her, and he and I are on a first name basis by now, exchanging high-fives at school events whenever we see each other. She’s mostly kept him at arms’ length until this year–and suddenly she seems to have realized, he’s her friend, and that matters. Dereon and CG are different, to be sure–different gender, different neighborhoods, different skin colors, different backgrounds, different social spheres. But despite all this, the dance teacher at their school regularly pairs them together. And it works. Really well. And last night, after the first performance, on our way home, as she was fighting exhaustion, CG murmured, “You know, Mommy, I messed up. I counted wrong and I wound up moving at the wrong time. But Dereon–he covered for me. He fixed it. He’s a good partner.” My heart swelled with pride at her girl-child confession, at the sweetness and maturity of her recognition and at the goodness of knowing that these two, though so different in so many ways, have found in each other something worth caring for.

That villages, no matter how unlike you imagined, are what makes the world, and our lives, work. CG’s dad and I have made a consistent effort, despite our own differences, to present a united front regarding anything about her since our divorce. We show up, together, for anything that has to do with her, no matter if it’s easy or not, and this weekend’s stretch of dance frenzy is no exception. Her dad’s girlfriend, who is so good to CG, has been there, too, constant and supportive. She knows the reality of broken and blended families, too, and somehow, even though life has not worked out as any of us imagined, it’s working this weekend, all for my girl. And I’m grateful. For all of us, but mostly for CG. Her village is mighty and strong, and this is very, very good. I want such a village for every child. Every. Single. One. And far too often, adult ego or convenience supplants our children’s best interest. 

That when we explore the performing arts, we are able to express things we could not otherwise express. The dance CG is in is a modern one, interpreted as a mime might, and it is danced to the song “Encourage Yourself.” Imagine 25 elementary school students, in black costumes and mime masks, interpreting these lovely lyrics via their dance with one another and for the audience:

Sometimes you have to encourage yourself.
Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test.

Right there, without even knowing it, as they dance, they are being taught two crucial things: grace and grit. And as they move and bend and interact with one another, that grace and grit are being etched across their little hearts, formed in their little minds, embodied into their little beings. It will not surprise you to know that I was in tears less than a minute into the dance, overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. Afterwards I thanked her teacher, and all she could say is, “I’m so proud of them, they just brought it tonight. They outdid themselves.” No thought to herself. No admission of her own role in their excellence. Simply love for and pride in her students.

Expressing, by her own passion for their wellbeing and her own commitment to their formation, the very things that she’s hoping dance will teach them.

They make me hopeful, CG and her dancing friends. They help me believe all is not lost. That there is a future. And that maybe, just maybe, that future is better and more whole than we’ve ever possibly imagined. 



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