Sunday, February 28, 2010

Free to Dance!

I never got around to posting yesterday. I had a performance of "The Ram in the Chile Patch"my folktale from Mexico in the evening up in Lakewood. Thankfully, Estith was free so we went together. It was a smaller-sized crowd composed of many very, very young children as well as shy youngsters who weren't all that eager to come up and play parts in the show. So for the main character, Juan, I ended up going with an adult who seemed willing. He turned out to be the library director! He was a great sport! I wear a long, braided wig in the show. At one point, one of the little girls who was in the audience had to be taken out to use the bathroom. After the show her mother told me that while they were in there the little girl said, "I love people with long, brown braids. That's how I want my hair to be." I had to laugh since as most of you reading this know, I do not have long, brown hair, but rather wear a wig for this performance! Then after the show an elderly lady who had attended by herself came up to me and began speaking to me in Spanish. She told me that she didn't remember a lot of Spanish but a few things, like animals (words which were used in the performance) and other bits of vocab. I thought it was so sweet that she had attended the performance on her own and had participated so willingly. It's moments like those that make what I do so amazing. . I love meeting the people that I perform for, seeing the excitement in the kid's faces when they come on-stage or say a word in a foreign language or when a shy child gets on-stage and surprises everyone with just how dramatic they can be. That happened earlier in the week during a performance of "The Monkey and the Crocodile," my folktale from India. This sweet, quiet little girl from Thailand who looks about as gentle as you can imagine got up to become the evil Mrs. Crocodile and when I prompted her to pout and have a temper tantrum she let loose like no other child has ever done before in performance!! and it was much to the surprise of all of her classmates! She was extremely dramatic, and I wonder if anyone even knew!

I love those moments when the children surprise not only me but their parents, siblings, friends and teachers. Sometimes the kids who are most disruptive in class and have earned a reputation from their teachers shine on stage. I think sometimes the kids surprise even themselves! I've had kids do such creative things onstage that I've added things to my program to include their ideas. It's pretty cool.

And then there are the kids who won't come onstage, not because they're shy, but because they're afraid of looking silly in front of others. Or maybe they come up, but they won't get involved -- they go through the motions but without any feeling or real engagement. These are the children I feel bad for. They are so young and already they are afraid of looking silly in front of others. I sometimes joke that I make my living by making a fool of myself. And to any of you who have seen me perform, you know that I go all out, I hold nothing back. I do everything as big as I possibly can, becoming larger than life. And it's very freeing really. And I feel bad for the children, even small ones, who are already too concerned with their reputation to allow themselves to be children and have fun.

Today we had a service at church that was completely led by the children. There were a few standing in the back row that looked like they'd rather be shot than be standing up there singing. The thing is, I don't think that was really the case. I think they just didn't want to look like they were having a good time because it wouldn't fit with the reputation they'd carved out for themselves. I often wonder what happened to these children to make them this way. What is it that teaches our children this? Do they learn from their parents? From the media? The world in general? Have they been hurt in some way that they feel the need for self-preservation and so they build up an icy wall that prevents them from showing any emotion? My heart goes out to these children -- I want something different for them. I want to help children be children again.. and I want us adults to give them a good example by not taking ourselves too seriously and by living with passion.

Maybe that's why I love African culture so much. Because when I see the people celebrating, they don't do it in tiny ways. They dance with their whole bodies and sing at the top of their lungs. It seems like they aren't concerned with guarding their reputations when they do it. I think that's why I never loved dance until I studied African dance. In fact, I used to hate dance because as a child when I took dance classes, I felt like I could never get it right. Try as I might I wasn't as coordinated, didn't have the rhythm and could only see myself doing it wrong in those big mirrors at the front of the classroom. But when I took African dance, the drums were pounding, there were no mirrors and my teacher never made it about the final performance so much as he made it about the celebration that dancing was to him. And for the first time I felt the exhiliration of dancing. I felt the music, the beat of the drum. I stopped worrying about looking good in front of everyone and instead enjoyed the jumping, leaping and movement. I felt free to dance!

And I think sometimes we have to free ourselves from the mirrors that are watching our every move and get down to the business of dancing! What do you say? Will you join me?

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