Day 01: Dance

I was led to this writing prompt challenge via a photo a day challenge.  Several ladies on my Instagram feed are participating in a pptphotoaday, and search as I might, I never could figure out exactly what that was about.  Instead, I came across a photo a day challenge for curvy Australian girls to put awesome outfits together, The Australian Women’s Writers Challenge, a photo a day specifically for Texas, and finally various blog writing challenges.

I, of course, would love to be able to participate in both of the Australian things, but since I am not Australian, that wouldn’t be right.  If they had a Mississippi photo a day challenge, that would be great, but as I’m not from Texas I won’t be participating in that one.  Perhaps I’ll make one for my own state?  We shall see.

Most of the blog writing challenges were reminiscent of surveys that all the girls were doing fifteen years ago.  Which I feel is exactly what they were; survey’s, simply morphed into a newer structure.  I was seeking something a little less juvenile than “how does your zodiac sign describe you, who are your current celebrity crushes” and a little less structured or heavy than the “we really mean it, write 20 bazillion words on societal issues”.

That’s about when I stumbled upon this 100 Writing Prompts Challenge.  Perfect.  It’s not too structured, I’m free to write however I wish pertaining to the particular prompt.  It’s exactly what I was looking for.  So, let’s get started shall we?

Professional photo of tap routine

My mother was raised in an era when rearing young ladies meant preserving tried and true principles of rounding out her education.  One must know all forms of etiquette and manors, as well as the arts of music and dance.  My father however did not make a lot of money at his job, but he did make something that was worth trade.  That item was fine jewelry.  He traded it for everything we needed, as well as the things our mother felt that we needed.  That most certainly included dance lessons.

One would think that a young girl should be learning waltzes and what-not.  But ballet is what my mother learned, so ballet it was.  I’m not even certain that there was, or even is, ballroom dancing for children.  In this town, however, ballet came at a price.  Jazz and tap were also included, whether you liked it or not.  So, with the help of bartering, my sister and I were signed up for dance classes.

I actually rather enjoyed dance class.  It was one of the few things my mother said that I had to do, that I was rather keen on.  My sister and I were not in the same class, as she is six years my junior. I, sadly, never made it as far as her, so never learned point, which was something I really looking forward to.  All of the girls in her class were there to dance.  Most of the girls in my class were only there because they had to be, which meant that I was the only one who actually knew the dances and gave it my all during the recitals at the end of the year.

Workin’ it to the sailor tap routine

What I failed to understand in those formative years, is that this type of thing made me stand out.  When all the other girls are just barely fumbling along and you have one girl dancing like she’s performing a rock concert, it tends to be that it’s that one girl you’re going to notice.

Our teacher always stood just off stage and did the entire dance, so that if any of the girls didn’t know the routine, or became lost, they could always pick it up again.  As you can see in the above photo, both girls on either side are looking stage left to follow the teacher.  I never had to look at the teacher.  I knew the routines in my sleep.

No one ever really commented on that much & the audience didn’t really have much of a reaction, until the California Raisins.  This is something that I have hated for most of my life.  The California Raisins were suddenly hugely popular during this period of the mid 1980s and their theme song was “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.  Our teacher thought it would be absolutely adorable for that to be our jazz number that one particular year.

OK, I said that it was something I’ve hated for most of my life.  I thought I had gotten over it, but apparently it still makes me a bit nervous.  I had to search the song to make sure I had the artist correct.  Just seeing it in the search gave me pause.  I’ll explain.

We had to dress like California Raisins and do our routine to the song, as I previously mentioned.  As I also mentioned, I was ever only the one to completely know the routines.  We’re in the middle and the entire audience is laughing.  Hysterically laughing.  At first I thought a girl had fallen down, which would be really mean for them to laugh at her.  But, also I didn’t have time to stop.  In my mind, you did the routine, you did it exactly as the teacher had done, and you never stopped until it was over.  No matter what.  So, I just kept dancing my little heart out.  The audience kept laughing.  More and more.

I didn’t understand until after the entire recital had ended and I’m trying to head out towards my family in a sea of people and I’m starting to realize something has happened and that it directly affects me.  People I did not know were covered in excruciating laughing faces and unnatural smiles, directing words at me such as, “Wonderful”, “Hilarious”, & “You stole the show!”.  I get to my family and my dad and his father are laughing and recounting exactly why they were laughing; which were things like, “You were the only one!” “You were gettin’ DOWN!” “Everyone was laughing!”

I’m sure you can see where this is going.  To a seven-year old girl, none of this sounds remotely praise-worthy or wonderful.  I left.  I cried.  I didn’t understand why everyone had been making fun of me.  I did the routine exactly as the teacher had shown us.  They wouldn’t have laughed at her.

We get home and my family wants to play the video over and over and over again and laugh the entire time.  I became upset again.  They could see it upset me, but I’m thinking, now, that they also did not remember what it was like to not understand something.  To not understand that there’s more than the one type of laughter at someone; something other than the mocking kind.  It became this thing in my family to always want to bring that incident up.  To laugh about it some more.  Show people the video.  Make a big to-do.  It only made me feel repulsed by it even more.

Professional photo of ballet routine

I still can not listen to the Marvin Gaye version.  At all.  My sister played the Creedence Clearwater Revival version about ten years ago for me.  I won’t voluntarily listen to it, but I must admit, it does sound really awesome, and it is not the offending version, so if it plays, I don’t have a mini panic attack inside.

I still went on to dance for several more years.  I would accurately learn the routines and think to myself that I would just tone it down on-stage.  That never happened.  It was like a command prompt.  Once I was in costume, on the stage, the curtain opened and the music started; it was like the program just kicked in and I would danced without a care in the world.  I’m actually glad of that.  Glad that I didn’t lessen myself despite my fears that I would be ridiculed off the stage.

My family, as I got older, didn’t understand why I wanted to distance myself from that night in question.  Didn’t understand why I didn’t want it brought up.  My sister even tried to tell me that people simply thought it was great, that they weren’t mocking me.  I tried to let that sink in, but things felt for so long are often difficult to untangle.

Recently there was a video going around of some kid dancing with other kids.  Perhaps it was also a dance recital.  I don’t really remember the details.  My dad sent it to me.  I watched it and it was a kid giving it his all and really dancing his little heart out.  Reading the comments people would say ‘laugh’ and ‘wonderful’ in the same sentence.  My own dad’s reaction to this video was strikingly similar to his reaction at my own recital.  I finally understood in that moment that it was making people feel something.  This was the bright colour against a sea of grey.  It was inevitable that he would be seen.  People were witnessing something they found fantastic and brilliant, and it was simply something that emitted from them a strong emotion.  That emotion happened to be great laughter.  But an appreciative laughter.  Something quite genuine and positive.

Perhaps keeping this in mind, I can finally appreciate my stint as a California Raisin.  For being a brilliance that happened to catch the eye in a wave of otherwise murkiness.  Something to be proud of.  Something that made me happy in the moment.  Something that brought a happiness to others.

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