Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I (Don't Necessarily) Got Rhythm!

Once upon a time, I was a tiny dancer.

A tiny TAP dancer.

Yes. You may laugh.

I understand the impulse. Go ahead. Get it out of your system.

I still can't quite believe it either.

I give my mother credit for making sure that we were exposed to various activities when we were kids. Library story time, church, pre-school, swim lessons, etc. Growing up where I did, there weren't that many options, but there was a dance studio not far from our house, close enough that Mom could walk us downtown, with the stroller for little brother(s), and get us out of the house in the afternoon. It was a milestone to be able to walk there on my own when I got older. But only rarely, even then.

I thought I was hot stuff. I had lessons. My church classmates did not. I had tap shoes. Tutus. Tights. It was big time stuff.

It was a right of passage to be in the dance recitals and to have class pictures taken with your group, down at the local photo studio on the Main Street strip. (Of course, at some point, my mother is going to chime in and correct me about dates and locations -- and she's welcome to.)

Some of those photos and programs were preserved by my archivist mother. And, for my sins, I am going to share them.

On the Internet. For others to see.

As part of recording my legacy for the descendants.

(And - since this is a milestone year of sharing photos, I've already crossed into murky waters about photo sharing anyway, so why stop now?)

To get through this trying entry, I'm going to default to the family practice of SHS: Sarcasm. Humor. Snark. (This is different from SHD: Sarcasm. Humor. Denial, which some still suffer from in the family. A LOT!) {Editors' note: There's also a bit of SA aka self-actualization thrown in to boot.}

Besides, there are so many things hysterically right and wrong with these photos, I have to snark.

In chronological order, mid-1970s to 1980

Me: Hey - check out this guy to my left. He thinks he's a star or something.
Him: Get me out of here.
Some of the other girls: Don't look at us. We're shy. Look how we've already perfected the tucking our chins into our shoulders to peer up coyly at the camera.
Him: Seriously. Get me out of here.
Me again - but from the future: I actually love this tutu and the polka dots, but I think I'm missing the matching ribbons for my tap shoes. *Shuffle kick down to detention!*
Next year or so...

That boy's father has surely put him on a peewee football team, having yanked him out of dance class. It was the 1970s. In Utah for cripes sake! It's fine for a year or two, but beyond that? [Oh No Sirreebob (who was Sir Ree Bob anyway?) Not my son!]

Look carefully. If this wasn't the '70s and in Utah, some of those tiny dancers would be suitable candidates for Toddlers and Tiaras. Look at the HAIR! See the sass!

Me: We're all No. 1. But my mama told me it wasn't polite to point. So why are we doing this? Also, that girl next to me? Isn't wearing the right colored tights. *Tsk-tsk*
Next year or so ... c. 1979

Uh oh. The class size is down by a third. But that's okay. Our hair volume makes up for the missing people. Blame Ms. Farrah Fawcett. We lived for the Aquanet.

Me, from the future: Why are we posing like this? This is not a pose that relates to any of our steps. Also, why is that girl on the end choking herself? (Look closely, she is!)
Seriously. It's very hard to not think some disturbing thoughts about this studio photographer. I mean --- look at the next photo.... There are so many.things.wrong.with.these.poses! Why are little girls being asked to pose like this at all?

Deep breath

Some snarking aside. Here's a serious bit folks.

I've had this last photo in my possession the longest. It's been in a frame in my parents' possession or mine, since it was taken. In recent years, it's been up on a shelf in my studio, beckoning me to gaze into the past and into how my childhood has shaped me.
I've used it as an internal measure for how old I was when I started to realize things about body perception, body issues, body shapes, etc. Ages 6-8 - if actually not younger than that.

I was only 8 here.
It's my recollections -- however true or false -- that I was always first on, last out, and/or the apex of formations, because I was the "biggest." Looking back, it was more because I was one of the taller, if not tallest girls, in my classes, but I internalized this to mean fattest. Let's examine the picture. I'm not really any bigger than some of my classmates. It was just unfortunately that height and width started to phase me out of standard costumes and certain words ("biggest") started to trigger something realizations in me. Add to the fact that I wasn't as coordinated or nimble as the instructors and I thought I should be, and I started to get body conscious.

I think you can tell I'm not happy in this photo. I'm not grinning as freely as in previous pictures, nor certainly as unconsciously as I am at Audrey's house later that summer. (Check out her birthday photo on the 11th!)
Now that I think about it, it's also pretty telling that in all the 1980 summer journal entries have I not once mentioned that I missed dance lessons. I started taking piano a couple years before this time, so the activities overlapped, but I only ever mentioned piano.

We moved to CT later in the summer of 1980 and things were much more expensive on the East Coast, not to mention, not so geographically easy for me or the family to get to for lessons. Piano and new friends took over whatever hole might have been in my social and artistic calendar. But I can truthfully say, I was once a dancer! I've got the programs and photos as proof.

According to the programs saved by Mom from this period, I went from a Pink Duckling in 1975 (at 3, almost 4ish); to dancing in pieces called "Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy! It's Christmas" and "A Present for Mommy" in for the Christmas program in 1977. The Jubilation in 1978 featured me in two selections "Dancing is my Bag" and "Dynomite;" while "Time for a Happy Dance" and "Time for a Hoedown" were my ensemble contributions to the 1979 production. What turned out to be my dancing swan song, (pun intended) included the "Disco Queens," "Pom Pom Girls," and "Cane Cuties" -- works that were not part of the original Coppelia, which was what this production was based around.

Notably, my brother Jed was in two works in this 1980 production: "W.O.W.E.E." and "Ducks" and I SO would have included those pictures if I had them in my possession. I can't remember if this was the recital where he wore the sequined gold vest and gold lamé
(wow, what a difference an accent will make for that word) dance pants, but I think it was. He was so cute - especially with the large rouged circles on his cheeks.

More serious stuff ahead

Now that I'm supposedly more "mature," and my nieces and nephews are out in the world, I am so conscious about how I interact with them - especially when it comes to photographs, adjectives, and positive reinforcement. It's been over 30+ years, but I still can flash to the feelings of sadness, inadequacy, and wanting to be invisible that have shaped my perception of self - even to this day, all triggered by careless words, misinterpretations, social and peer pressures, or grown-ups good-naturedly, but often misguidedly, trying to help out a little fledgling trying to find her wings. I may have just been in the wrong pond with the swans, when I should have been over with the ducks and geese, but I had to find my way there myself. As a culture we're more aware now about many of these issues and how they impact our youth, but let me tell you, we need to be conscious about them when the kids are even younger than we think. They imprint on the funniest things ... and they remember much more than we give them credit for.

As for me, I've closed the chapter completely now on my dancing past. As part of the sorting and archiving of the programs and pictures that were included in this post, I've filed it away in its proper place. I took the frame off the shelf. I've removed the photo from behind the glass. I've given away the frame. That tiny dancer is archived now with her other past selves. She was who she needed to be at that time and should not, and shall not, influence who I am now. This doesn't mean I'm going to be any more happy about being photographed, or exactly pleased with the shape of things, but the outline of who I am, past, present, and future, should be more of who I perceive myself to be on the inside - rather than the outside.

When you comment here - be kind. When you talk to a kid - be kind. Be real. Use your words carefully.

I'm intentionally posting this in the week leading up to the annual Savvy Auntie celebrations. One of the contributors on the website has written an article about how to talk to your nieces (and nephews) about body image. So appropriate.

Listen. Be Open. Be Real.

Exit Stage Right

Curtain down

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