I suppose there are a few reasons that one might cry at a children’s dance recital.
I have been to a couple of recitals, for example, where I could have cried from how impersonal, mechanical, prematurely sexualized, commercialized – and therefore boring and joyless – much of the show felt.
Of course, it would be more common to cry at a dance recital from parental pride at watching one’s own child perform. And I can’t deny I was proud this weekend when my sweet girl took all her courage in her hands to push through the heavy red curtains before a packed auditorium and sing ‘O Canada’ acapella – and beautifully – to open the show. I must admit, though, that I was too busy nervously pacing backstage to feel weepy! However once back in my seat, my Mummy-presence no longer needed in the wings, the graceful dance that she and her two ballet classmates had spent months working on did wrest a few tears from my eyes.
But it was something else that had me wet-eyed and choked-up during much of the show. To start with, the atmosphere of this recital couldn’t have been more different from those joyless ones I’m trying to forget. From the moment that the audience first clapped, cheered and whistled for my daughter’s brave and beautiful opening song, there was a sense that everyone was rooting for everyone else’s child as well as their own. As a friend put it later: “Everyone had fallen in love.” And we had; it was one of those wonderful moments where a different sort of spirit invades a group, creating a harmonious and loving whole from the disparate parts.
The tone of the recital was set by the fact that, on top of the choreographed and practiced numbers, each performer – from the very youngest to the most experienced – was given the chance to come out one after another and do a little solo of their own creation. This allowed them to enjoy stringing together their own moves, and aimed to encourage confidence in performing, but mostly it gave each of them a chance to shine. For just a few moments the spotlight was theirs and theirs alone, and the applause belonged only to them. And it was a beautiful thing. Because the aim wasn’t polished choreography or ‘perfect’ execution but celebration of the individuality of each perfect-just-as-you-are human being, and of the joy of a body moving to music. Sometimes the wonderful dance teacher would pick up a tiny stagefright-struck youngster in her arms and spin her around in the spotlight before carrying her off-stage. How can you not cry when the least and littlest are treated with such tenderness and dignity?
My wet eyes turned to tear-stained cheeks, though, when a young woman who would be considered considerably overweight by most standards came on stage to perform a solo ballet routine to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t expect what followed: she was graceful, strong, poised, and beautiful, and her dance was poignant and inspiring to watch. Again, though, what moved me most was that she was being given the chance to shine – and, oh, she did! – when our twisted culture would usually disqualify her body from the realms considered ‘beautiful’ or worthy of being watched and admired. Another shame-faced confession: if I saw her walking down the street I am sure that ‘graceful’, ‘strong’, and ‘poised’ would not be the first descriptors to pop into my twisted mind, just as they are often hard words to access when I evaluate my own larger-than-‘normal’ body. But right now I’m fighting tooth and nail the warped perspectives I’ve picked up along the way concerning body shape and weight (mine and others’) and their correspondence with beauty, strength and worth. I need to do this for my precious daughter, and for me. And I’m just hoping that I, that we all, can get our grubby little fingers off ‘beauty’ and let it be the indefinable, inexpressible, surprising gift that it is! At one point in the show Dear Husband turned to me and commented how amazing it was that the girls were such different shapes and sizes – all different and all beautiful. And at what age does that stop being true? Who are we to think we know what and who is beautiful or not? And who am I to judge my own attainment of beauty/perfection/worthiness/… [fill in the blank] measured against some nebulous and perverse ‘norm’? Can’t we stop all the judging and dividing and just dance?! We were made to dance! We were made for joy… We were made to shine!
As this unknown girl moved her body so exquisitely to the stirring music, the tears streaming down my face reflected sadness for the deception and pain our cultural norms and notions can inflict on so many of us (whether ‘skinny’, ‘fat’ or somewhere in-between), and grateful recognition that those norms can be quietly but powerfully challenged by a single courageous human. But they also expressed a hopeful longing for the ongoing healing of my own wounds and distortions.
And that’s as good a reason as any to cry at a dance recital, don’t you think?