Last week I had the privilege of attending a performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. A world class ensemble, this company uses a handful of human bodies to transform a stage into a rotation of rhythmic patterns and gentle silhouettes. Truly stunning, these dancers are the finest in the world and their choreography is sophisticated yet accessible to even the most pedestrian of tastes. The performance that night was picture perfect. What was clearly lacking in the audience, however, was young adults hungry for artistic stimulation. What was sadly absent in the seats was child dancers eager to witness excellence in movement to music. What was missing in the lobby was the hoard of adults that should have been there introducing children to a world of waves, pirouettes, sashays and graceful communication through the lilt of a finger or the point or a toe. Where were they? Why were they not there? Was it because they did not have the dollars for tickets? I do not think so, for dance parents spend thousands of dollars annually on competitions so their daughters can win a trophy. Is it because they are not interested in their own children? Surely not, for they often shower too much attention on them and their own mile markers of success. Is it because they and their children are more obsessed with finding themselves on stage and in the spotlight than anonymously soaking in the perfection of seasoned professionals? Maybe. Is it because they are more passionate about their own dance competitions and trophies than quietly sitting in awe of dedicated artists who have given their lives to their craft? Hmmmmm. Sadly, this one is probably true. In fact, there were far too few people in the audience overall and there are a plethora or reasons for that, but still, considering the number of dance schools in my fair city, the missing children were a disturbing factor.
The one exception to this obvious missing piece was a small group of high school students seated together with their teacher, Desiree. They had traveled together from Kentwood High School where this ballerina turned English teacher had coordinated such a worthy outing. The girls who were with her unquestionably admired her for all the reasons she deserves. She is beautiful to begin with, and not just in the physical sense, but in the essence of who she is. She carries her head high. She dresses fashionably, yet modestly. She is polite, yet firm with her students and she is gracious and spirited with those of us who cross her path once in a while. Desiree filled me in on her latest life path which, as always, touches the lives of children. When I inquired as to how things were going she gushed. “Love, love, LOVE my job! Love going to work! Love the students….master’s degree…..teaching them to love language and reading….to love books…like me! What are you reading right now? Have you read…..????” And so on and so on and so on. I understood her bubbling over, for as a former English teacher myself, I am well acquainted with the high that comes from seeing a student discover the joy of reading for pleasure. Still, my enthusiasm could have never matched the delight that was oozing from her as she stood erect with a soft smile on her face, spilling gratitude and pride for the position she now holds at Kentwood High School. We chatted during intermission until two of her students, dressed in what my grandmother would have called their Sunday best, tugged on her begging for her attention and approval.
“Ooooo! Oooooooooo! Is it possible to be a pediatrician and a professional dancer at the same time? That’s what I want to do! That’s what I want to do!”
I responded before she could answer (my typical bossy self-yuck), “Probably not, but you could be a doctor and dance for your own fun,” I interjected. The young lady looked a touch disappointed, but not completely dissuaded. The student standing next to her politely offered me her hand as Desiree introduced us.
“I am a poet. I love poetry,” she declared. “I write it too but not a lot of people have read my poems…yet.” Desiree smiled and let each of them hold one of her hands.
Just then, the lobby lights flickered indicating that the next piece would be danced momentarily. I told the girls that it was a pleasure to meet them and they happily agreed as they escorted their rock star teacher back into the performance hall. As the trio walked away, I regretted telling student #1 that she could not be a doctor and a dancer at the same time. Who did I think I was to tell her that? I was once a teacher for goodness sake! I know better. If she wanted to do both, then it was her business to figure out how to do it or decide to choose one over the other. I watched the group of young ladies settle down and sit up straight as the lights dimmed for the next dance. They each craned their head around once more before the music began. They were checking to make sure that their teacher was there, watching, keeping a gentle eye on them as she directed her gaze at the stage. Because she was so mesmerized with the dancers, her students followed her lead locking their eyes to the feet on the floor just above them. Because she was loving every minute of the evening, so were they. Because she seemed comfortable with her own dignity, they wanted to be dignified too.
That evening brought me much more than just a stellar dance performance. It brought me a sparkle of hope and enthusiasm for students enrolled in public schools in Louisiana. Don’t ever, ever let anyone steal your delight about the future of our parish, our state or our country. With teachers such as Desiree at the helm, there is much to inspire hope and admiration for our schools. So keep it up Desiree. Keep holding your head high, especially on the days you want to stay in bed. Keep inspiring young women to become doctors, dancers and poets. Keep holding their hands until they have enough balance to dance into life on their own. Keep it up and teach. Teach. Teach, Desiree. Teach.