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Dance Recital Blues

I have spent a good portion of my life at dance recitals; or I should say waiting at dance recitals. 

Waiting for the performance of the one person that I've come to see. 

This all started when my parents would put me in the car and drive me to Alma Loth’s annual dance recital in Catonsville, Maryland. Our neighbor Dale Christian was a student of the Loth studio and her brother and I would be involuntarily cast as audience members each year. I only remember that the recitals were long and boring and that the best part was the day after. That was when we’d imitate the dances and laugh hysterically for hours on end. It was worth at least a week’s entertainment. 

Dale was in an ensemble one year that did this country folk dance. Sixty-five years later, I can still do that dance. Two reasons. One, we knew that Dale had rehearsed that number with her little colleagues for weeks on end and Chris and I had it nailed after seeing it just once. Delicious. Second, one part of the dance was a cross-legged squat to the floor, followed by a spring to a full standing position. The memorable part was that one of the other girls in the neighborhood (who was shaped more like a rugby prop than a ballerina), hit the j floor and was unable to get back up. We were too shocked to laugh during the performance, but this morsel gave us many chuckles on the way home and a month of imitated pratfalls in the back yard.   

There is no getting around it. We were just plain cruel. 

Possibly as penance for our unkind imitations of these less than perfect performances, both of my daughters, and one of my granddaughters found dance to their liking. My sentence? A lifetime of dance recitals where you wait for hours to see your little dancer’s 90 seconds of fame. At our first recital experience as parents, Hayden informed me that our daughter was in performance numbers 25 and 78. I thought she was kidding. She wasn't.

Our other daughter submitted us to a different brand of torture in the lead up to each year’s recital. She’d ask us to sign her up for the year of lessons, religiously attend each week, practice in our family room in between, show excitement about the year’s performance costume, and (after we had bought the aforementioned costume), announce that (yet again) she wasn’t going to perform in the recital. 

Now, given the way I feel about dance recitals, that would have been just fine with me, except for the fact that our other daughter would complete the race, get one or more costumes, dance in the annual recital, and beg us to buy the year’s performance VCR. The video each year m shot from the back of the auditorium, so all the dancers looked like colorful little bugs romping on a faraway stage. Only with someone standing right next to the TV screen and pointing out OUR little dancer, did you have any chance of knowing her identity. But then, like a street corner shell game, the little bugs were shuffled, and OUR little dancer was unidentifiable again. 

But every year we’d buy it, watch it once, and then put it on the shelf. Even after 33 years and three moves, we still have the shelf, and the unwatched videos. 

So, wind the clock forward and I find myself sitting in the audience of my granddaughter’s most recent dance recital in Greensboro, NC. Our family has evolved to the point that the dancer’s sister wants nothing to do with dance, the expensive costume, or the video (still filmed with one fixed camera halfway back in the auditorium.) Priceless. 

One thing about the audience. 

Like Columbia, Maryland, where we raised our daughters, this crowd is very diverse. In fact, unlike most circumstances of our modern life, it is not the black faces that make this crowd diverse, but the white faces. For that Hayden and I remain pleased. We will never stomp out hate and prejudice in this world by learning about each other through movies, literature, or school curriculum. Living with each other is the only answer. 

And, on this night, it gave the evening a more Baptist amen corner vibe, than my previous dance recital experience. More on that in a moment. 

The show was to begin at 7:00 pm and at 7:09 we were still waiting for something to happen. I silently repeated my recent Advent mantra of patience, patience, patience as the seconds ticked away. 

At 7:10, the very impressive head of the dance school pushed through the curtain and welcomed us to the annual Christmas, oops, Holiday performance. She is a former teacher and school counsellor who has devoted her life to childhood development. While dance skills and graceful movement are her current palette, joy, passion, and self-confidence are the intended results. 

I felt relaxed. This all seemed different from my previous "recitalitis."  

But then. The lights went down. The curtain opened and the first “Nutcracker Remix” number was performed. It lasted all of 45 seconds. The curtain closed. The lights came up to a Twighlight level. 

The Moog-Synthesizer elevator music started and we waited in the semi-darkness. 

And waited. 

And waited. 

In five minutes, the lights went down, the elevator music stopped, and the curtains reopened for the second number. 

This featured a brood of very tiny dancers (like three- and four-year-olds) dressed in mouse costumes and doing a gymnastics obstacle course to another Nutcracker tune. This was the first place that the Baptist amen corner kicked in. Parents shouted out the names of their little ones, waved madly, and lifted their iPhone cameras to create a sea of beacons in the darkness. The toddlers stumbled zombie-like toward the footlights and started to wave back. Stage control was off the rails. It was delightful. 

Then after this 60 second performance, the curtains closed, the lights came up to half, and the “music” started again. 

We waited. 

And waited. 

This interval continued throughout the evening. At some point, the choice of music shifted to some techno selection that we've all heard while waiting on hold for cable customer service from Bombay. All that was missing was the voice breaking in to say, “please continue holding, your call is very important to us.” Yeah, sure.

During one 7-minute wait for the next 30-second performance, Hayden sensed that she was sitting next to someone who was literally going crazy. I was gripping and regripping the arms of my seat. Stretching my back. Tapping my foot, and sending off additional warning signs that standing up and screaming was not beyond the realm of possibility. 

Even though I was in a room full of people, I had that same feeling of solitary confinement that had come over me years before in that Catonsville auditorium as I awaited Dale Christian’s one minute number. Does anyone else feel that they are spiraling into insanity? If so, could you blink something to me in morse code, so I don’t feel so alone? 

When is that curtain going to open and reveal my granddaughter standing on the stage? Is she being held captive as well? When will this end? 

But finally, as inevitable as the last grains of sand descending through an hourglass, the curtains opened and there stood our bright, compassionate, talented granddaughter dancing the hip-hop number that would end the show. Yes, END THE SHOW. 

Like some cruel Kafkaesque play, sprung on me as further punishment for laughing at the unfortunate butt plant of that long-ago dancer, my granddaughter was in the very last number of the entire show. Hayden and I could have had a nice downtown dinner, missed the Moog torture, and still caught our tiny dancer in the finale. 

There must be some technological answer to this age-old dilemma. Maybe one of those buzzing, blinking devices that tells you when your table is ready.

Albert Einstein was a genius, but he got one thing dead wrong. Time is not an illusion. It is real.

Albert had clearly never been to a dance recital. 




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