Childhood imperfection

A dance at Northrop showed me an important lesson: if you screw up, keep going.

The mission is straightforward and simple: to dance. But the outcome tells me that self-expression is not really the goal, only a byproduct of the jet-set, glamorized sport of dance. When I arrived, they were announcing awards to every dance group in the National League performance group. Regardless of how much the group desynchronized their twirls, they received (in ascending rank) either Silver, High Silver, Gold, High Gold, or Platinum custom enamel lapels, along with beautiful plaques and beautiful trophies, too. Everyone is a winner, apparently. As the large, bleached-hair woman cried out the routinesâÄô placements, first place Platinum instantly appeared as the standard for soaring applauses and whistles âÄî not so much for High Gold, whose announcement produced a whimper of claps, which then echoed back onto themselves within the auditorium until she yelled out the next Platinum award. Perfection is implicit for these kids, never spoken, always desired. I found a seat at a table outside the seated area when she had finished. I struck up a conversation with a mustached man with two bucks heads on the front of his green sweater. âÄúHowâÄôs it going?âÄù âÄúItâÄôs been a long day,âÄù he nodded to himself. âÄúYeah?âÄù âÄúYup. Long day âĦ âÄú Silence. âÄúYou got a daughter in this?âÄù I asked. âÄúI mean, IâÄôm assuming itâÄôs a daughter.âÄù âÄúSon.âÄù He exhaled. âÄúMy son is a dancer âĦ âÄú I took a cell phone call at that moment, but when I looked up he was pacing through the doors. A gaggle of top-hatted 16-year-olds in silver spandex high-kicked on stage to The Goo-Goo DollsâÄô âÄúIris.âÄù I really didnâÄôt think it was possible to can-can to that song. At the end of every act, the children, with parents, go to look at themselves on computers in the main lobby. Since filming and flash photography are not allowed, the Hall of Fame allows its parents to buy montages of their children being kids for small sums. You could even make it appear as if the child were on the front of a made-up magazine as a young starlet. At its core, the dance competition is another youth sport âÄî in reality, itâÄôs a look-at-me contest. Should a child be on stage? What are they trying to show? I saw a 4-year-old girlâÄôs face that looked a dozen years older with makeup. Downstairs, beside a pile of fluorescent feathers and burnt music, a pride of blonde-haired, sequined princesses giggled at a boy who had arched himself between two walls to tap-dance horizontally with one free foot. It was a visual freak fest. A torch and pitchfork were my first thoughts for breaking it up. I walked past parents sitting on the floor, hastily munching away at McDonalds burgers as to not miss their childrenâÄôsâÄô acts. I slipped backstage at some point and finally found something okay. I looked to the stage and saw the girls in bathrobes strut by their clothesline props. One girl knocked the clothesline over, looked flustered, but continued to grab her bottle of Tide and throw it to her partner in tune to some âÄô50s rock âÄònâÄô roll scrubbing song. She screwed up, but she kept going. She finished and smiled. The Hall of FameâÄôs only saving grace was her moment, the moment when the individual came out from behind the made-up, spangled, high-kicking sideshow to the side stage, where perfection is not real and parents are not the whole of existence. Ah, childhood. Matt Grimley welcomes comments at [email protected]