I often wonder why dance recitals are so often dismal to attend as a member of an audience. And yet, I am hooked on them, going even so far as seeking out televised recitals of aspiring young dancers. This is a fascination to rival the urge to observe the aftermath of car wrecks, totally unpleasant and yet compelling at the same time.
A couple of years ago, Sarah, daughter to my friend “Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis”, was bitten by the dance bug at the ripe old age of seventeen years. Up to this time, she had never demonstrated any interest whatsoever in dance, so this new passion of hers really flummoxed her mother. Ever supportive of her children’s passions and interests, “OLPC” dutifully carted her daughter to her lessons, in all kinds of weather, during a long winter. Then came Spring, and with it the inevitable “Dance Recital” season, and with it an invitation to attend Sarah’s first performance.
The lead-up to this performance involved occasions of tea-drinking with my “stage mother” friend, during which the fitting of costumes, dress-rehearsals and pre-performance jitters were topics of intense discussion and the obligation to purchase tickets to the recital were duly impressed upon, noted by and complied with by yours truly. My friend did admit that she needed moral support during what she considered may be a disastrous performance by Sarah’s troupe. She had managed to impress upon Bob, her loutish fifteen-year-old son, the importance of supporting his sister’s endeavours by submitting his completely dis-interested self to being a witness to this spectacle. I was to be the positive foil to any emanations of negativity from his presence at the recital. Sure, I thought, having had worse roles to fulfill.
So, on a lovely sunny Spring Saturday, “OLPC”, Sarah, Bob and I piled into the family Neon for the one hour drive to the community theatre where the recital was to take place. Sarah and Bob sat in the back-seat, unusually uncommunicative and not engaging in the petty squabbles that were normal for them while being ferried together in the car. Bob sulked, slumped down in his seat, glumly watching the landscape drift by. Sarah crooned under her breath what I assumed were her version of the rhythms of the music her dance number was to be accompanied by, her hands grasped in a death grip and her feet beating a tattoo on the car floor. “OLPC” and I kept up what we considered relaxing patter, in order to better diffuse tensions on the drive, but which in retrospect was probably most irritatingly phony to Sarah. At destination’s end, Sarah scurried to grab her costume from the trunk and disappeared through the performers’ door. We parked the car and debarked to make our way into the recital hall, Bob reluctantly following.
Audiences at these sort of recitals tend to be comprised mostly of Grandmothers, Moms, Aunts, sisters and friends with the occasional Grandfather, Father and brother interspersed among a sea of feminine heads. I guess dance recitals hold the same fascination for men as monster truck rallies do for women!
After letting the audience build up a sweat in the close confines of the recital hall, a time during which the organizers presumably scurry around gathering scattered troupes and make final adjustments to costumes, the Mistress of Ceremonies fought her way through the voluminous stage curtain, called an order to proceedings and welcomed the perspiring and program-fanning crowd. Silence descended, through which the initial tinny strains of recorded music accompanied the random drifting of 6 year-old snowflakes onto the stage. As snowflakes are white and individual in their specific details, so were these little ones – covered head to toe in blinding white tights and leotards which clung to their varying physiques. It was amazing just how many combinations of hand position and foot placement are possible for dancing snowflakes, and how unique their response can be to the proddings of rhythm and melody. A few little ones react like deer-in-the-headlights, frozen for many moments until remembering to catch up to the memorized motions. At the end of their number, they drifted off the stage, some going stage right, others going stage left and then changing their minds and dashing in the other direction, encouraged into escaping from the stage by the enthusiastic clapping of hundreds of pairs of hands. Surely dancing snowflakes are a huge cliche in the world of dance recitals. If I seem to remember correctly, 54 years ago I was also a disorganized dancing snow-flake, and this was a bit of deja-vu for me and for many other women in the audience most likely!
Well, “OLPC” and I managed to sit through numerous such numbers, one right after the other, ticking off on our programmes each act, eagerly awaiting Sarah’s group. My eyes had glazed over by the time her turn on stage came. Bob was practically comatose, slumped down in his seat trying to be invisible. Finally the time had come! A motley group of 8 sixteen and seventeen-year old girls glided onto the stage and took up positions. Whoever designed their costumes ought to have been shot or at best given the Mr Blackwell award for really bad costume design! I mean, these were jazz dancers dancing to the Disco tune “Hot Stuff”, and they looked like 1950s cheer-leaders in badly fitted costume, appearance hardly conducive to expressing the idea of these girls being “hot stuff”. And they danced, all elbows and knees, like badly operated marionettes, with, unnatural smirks pasted on their faces. They were in better unison than the snowflakes, bunnies, butterlfies and elves that had taken to the stage previously, however the overall impression of their dance was one of lack of adequate preparation and even unfortunate music and choreography selection. Nevertheless, their performance was greeted with warm applause, maybe relieved applause. “OLPC” looked at me and mouthed, “Thank God, that’s over!” Bob, on the other hand had a silly grin on his face and had perked up a bit from his slumped somnolence. I think he was relieved the end was in sight, and I must confess so was I.
After the closing remarks from the Mistress of Ceremonies, where she thanked everyone involved listed on her long sheet of paper, we filed out of the auditorium, eager to catch some fresh air and to place our floral tribute into the waiting hands of the family dancer. Sarah was excitedly hovering in the vestibule, eyes shining and hands outstretched to recieve her posy. She told her mother she was going out for an after-performance party at the local Pizza parlor with her troupe and said she’d be dropped off home later. We made the right noises of appreciation about the performance and listened to her post-mortem report of how she felt it went. Bob was a soul of discretion, bless him!
On the way home, Bob asked to be dropped off at his friend’s so they could go skateboarding. We let him go, and decided that what we really needed, the two of us, was a little pick-me-up in a local pub, so we repaired to the outdoor lounge of the Lone Wolf. There, Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis admitted that she found the performance completely lacking in any saving grace, while admiring her daughter’s committment to her group effort and all the preparation leading up to the performance. Yes, we agreed that Sarah had learned things of great value from this experience, and that much later discussions between Mother and daughter would lead to some interesting revelations of their individual perceptions of dance recitals.