A Whole New World

Our daughter had her dance recital a couple of Saturdays ago. It was the culmination of a whole season of Saturday morning rehearsals, and I was ready to celebrate dance (or at the very least, celebrate the freedom of getting my Saturdays back again). I’ll be clear: I was never 100% on board with this whole “dancing” thing, but as a parent I felt a certain pressure to introduce our daughter to a variety of things, not to fill up her time, but to give her a well-rounded childhood. My wife, who grew up studying ballet, saw the value in the structure,discipline, art, and fun of dance, and when she discovered her old dance teacher, Mrs.D, was still running a dance studio, things moved fast.

I didn’t go every Saturday, but I went enough times to build up a tolerance to the experience. The first Saturday, in September, was a disaster. The three of us (my wife, daughter and me) showed up at the studio, a non-descript space in a non-descript row of business on a non-descript street. From the outside, it could have been an insurance office, or a chiropractor’s. It was actually smaller on the inside, a reverse Tardis, if you will. (As an aside, I threw my back out trying a reverse Tardis the other day, and I’m still walking funny). The waiting room felt like you could almost touch all 4 walls (almost.) and the chairs were situated so that you sort of either had to stare at the other parents, or conspicuously do something else, like read a book, or bow your head, or play music through your ear buds.

You’ve all heard the saying, “The walls were closing in”, but at that first dance class, I really experienced full on claustrophobia for the first time, accompanied with a mild panic attack. I remembered something at home, so I asked my wife if I could just go and come back when the dance class was over in an hour. She sensed my unease, and was happy to let me go, I think.

Since that first day, I got better at sitting for the whole time, but imagine a doctor’s office where no one ever gets called and you see the same ill people every week. That’s what waiting for this dance class to end was like. They even had outdated magazines to complete the effect. You didn’t even get to watch the rehearsal, as the studio was behind a curtained door. As the weeks went by, I couldn’t help listen in on the conversations on some of the other “dance parents”. I didn’t know any of their names, AND I DIDN’T WANT TO KNOW THEM. But I had a great time coming up with nicknames for them. There was “Vinny Vanlowe”, who resembled Ken Marino’s character from Veronica Mars. That guy wouldn’t stop talking, and he was an oversharer. I learned, in one session, that he was getting divorced, he was looking for a new house, and that his daughter’s favourite colour was green. My Mom, who would sometimes take our daughter, and who didn’t know Veronica Mars, called him “The Talker”. There was another guy my Mom dubbed “The Fencer” on account of the fact that he announced that he enjoyed the ancient art of bumping swords. He later on confessed that he self-diagnosed himself as being “on the spectrum”, and I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I’m no doctor, but I nodded quietly to myself when he revealed this to Vinny Vanlowe. “Seems about right,” I said to myself as I pretended to read my book. Then there was the lady we both agreed on calling “The Filipino Lady” who seemed to have different kids with her each time. There was the one girl who was in our daughter’s class, but any given Saturday would produce other kids, younger and older, that just hung around her, and I swear that they were different kids each week. The main focus of “The Filipino Lady” was organizing the christening of one of her younger kids. I’m assuming it was this baby that had a smelly diaper who often (BUT NOT ALWAYS) accompanied her. She apparently inadvertently invited everyone off her Facebook to the cristening and she was freaking out. “How many people are on your Facebook?” enquired Vanlowe. “Over a  thousand!” exclaimed The Filipino Lady. “I don’t believe in Facebook, the Government is watching it all the time,” added The Fencer. Turns out the Filipino Lady is expecting another baby, so we can all look forward to another christening shit-show. I just counted the minutes until dance class was over: when the final strains of the instrumental “A Whole New World” from Aladdin mercifully and suddenly stopped. Mrs. D was “old school” and still used a cassette player.

Fast-forward a few months and here we were at the night of the recital. Because our daughter was just in one number, (Yes, all those Saturdays for a 4 minute piece), she would be backstage for the first half, and then sit with us for the second half. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was prepared for a long night. I’ve heard horror stories from other people who have had kids in dancing, and how the recitals go on FOR HOURS and everyone is tired and crabby by the end of it.

This one, though, was quite different. It started at 7 pm, and was done before 9 pm, and that included a 15 minute intermission halfway through. I was actually left wanting more, an if I had known the last number was actually the last number, (a modern piece set to a female voice singing Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars) maybe I would have clapped more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I can’t tell you how many numbers were done, but the kids were well-organized and nothing went on too long. (I’m referring to each dance as a “number” now, like I’m channelling the spirit of Marvin Hamlisch and who’s to say I’m not?) You could tell this wasn’t Mrs. D’s first recital. But as it turned out it was going to be her last. She had decided to retire after this season, and she couldn’t get anyone interested in buying the studio and carrying on, so this night had extra meaning to it. As people arrived at the theatre, you could really sense an excited buzz in the air. Surely all these people were relatives of the dancers, right? I mean, no one would actually attend one of these things out of anything more than a sense of familial duty, right? We had been told that it’s proper procotol to bring flowers to something like this, but I didn’t think people actually would. Reader, they did. The lobby started to smell like a funeral home, and I started to get the mild itch. My wife’s parents, who were old pros at this recital thing, brought a lovely bouquet of three pink roses. My Mom, who had raised two non-dancing boys and was unclear on the concept, brought a potted plant. I’m not even joking, you guys. “Well, it’ll last longer!” she said. Good ol’ Rough-House Rosie.

And here’s the thing with flowers: I’ve sung in enough things to come to expect that soloists usually get presented with flowers, even conductors sometimes, but never everyone in the whole choir. But that’s the equivalent of what happens in the dance world. I mean: I’m not saying every child didn’t deserve flowers. Actually, maybe I AM saying that.

I enjoyed most of the numbers, but a couple of them were questionable. One involved the littlest kids wearing wedding gowns, holding bouquets, and doing a dance to “Chapel of Love”. It was a bit too “Jon-Benet Ramsey” for my taste, and I was uneasy during the whole thing. The other weird one was this dance that the older (maybe 16 years old?) girls did. Three of them came out dressed like babies, in diapers and everything. (This was somehow worse than the toddlers dressed as brides to me), but then when the song started, it was all about triplets and how they do everything together but then in actual fact the triplets hate each other and the chorus is something like, “I wish I could get a gun and shoot the other two then there would be just me”. Again, this actually happened, and I my wife and I exchanged glances. But you know what? Two duds out of two hours isn’t a bad percentage.

Just before the first act ended, the now SUPER FAMILIAR “Whole New World” started playing, and the lights came up on the 8 little figures, dressed like Arabian princesses  (questionable?). Our daughter was on the far right, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, despite trying to record the whole thing on my iPod. The result was a blurry video, but I’m glad I was able to see the whole thing first hand.

She did great. They all did great. Van Lowe’s daughter, The Filipino Lady’s kid, and even the Fencer’s progeny worked together and presented a charming piece of art. During their number, I had a warm sense of belonging in this weirdo community all of a sudden. I looked over and Van Lowe had tears in his eyes, and I felt badly that I had marginalized and stereotyped all of the parents over the past year. Maybe if I had taken a little time to get to know their real names, or to not pretend to read my book, or pretend to listen to music, or whatever, I would have come to this realization sooner. These are just people who love their kids in their own way and a night like this was a tangible way for it to all come together. For the moment, I was a part of a “whole new world”.

Then, as soon as it began, the dance was over, the lights came up to indicate intermission, and the spell was broken. The warm feeling lasted a bit longer. In fact, it lasted right through the night until I put the news on the next morning.

Later on that night, a few hundred miles to the south, a gunman walked into another “dance party” of sorts, in the shadow of Disney World, and killed 49 people. It’s been two weeks now, and I’m carrying this burden in my heart every day. Wondering if THIS time, something will change. Although if the murder of 20 first graders in 2012 didn’t change anything, what chance does the murder of 49 members of the LGBTQ community have? We’d better soak up those “thoughts and prayers”, people. It’s probably all we’ll get. Maybe it’s not a whole new world after all.




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