This week I got to coach a kids’ ballroom team – if you’ve seen Mad Hot Ballroom, this is exactly that. They had a 10-week program that culminated in a semi-final for their area of the school district, which they won, but then there was a several week hiatus between the semi and the actual city-wide final. And since the funding for the program only ran for 10 weeks, it fell entirely on the shoulders of their classroom teacher to get them ready. He is a truly wonderful guy, and also happens to be the dad of one of my little students. He came to me and asked if I could help out, and I was like, WHERE DO I SIGN UP. I would have done it for free.
(Side note: Although, now, I think maybe I did? Because I was under the impression there was going to be some money but it kind of never materialized and I’m not going to hustle a fifth-grade public school teacher for a check. But I did have to get up crazy early and drive about an hour each way to go do this. Again, also fine. Totally worth it. But it was a good lesson in what my father calls ‘clarify this shit in advance or just fucking volunteer’. See where I get my vocabulary?)
Anyway, it was ridiculous fun and the kids were fantastic; they were excellent little dancers for only having had ten weeks of instruction and they were so committed. They also asked GREAT questions – one kid was all, hey, I noticed that you kind of widened your arms out when you went into promenade, should we do that? And another kid was like, hey, how high up should my hand be when I do this thing?
And the best moment was this: we were in a circle at the very end and I was telling them about competitions.
“Listen, you guys, competitions are crazy,” I said. “You’re being compared to whoever is there that day. You could dance your very best, and if the greatest dancers in the world show up, you lose. You could dance really badly, and if everybody else that day is terrible, you win. You’re being compared to whoever showed up that day, that’s all. What is important is coming off the floor and knowing you danced the best you could and that you did everything you could for your partner. That’s all.”
One boy, who is tall for his age, quiet and pretty reserved, but has just the sweetest smile, kind of shuffled his feet and raised his hand.
“What is it, buddy?” I said.
“I just feel like I get kind of nervous? Sometimes? And I get this kind of feeling in my stomach, and, I don’t know, it’s just kind of weird?”
“I know it!” I said. “Do any of the rest of you get nervous?”
All the kids nodded their heads and laughed a little bit and looked at their partners.
“Me too,” I said. “But you know what? That’s okay! It’s actually kind of a good thing. It means you really care about what you’re doing. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be nervous at all!”
So we practiced taking a deep breath and stretching and having a super silly five second dance party and we all agreed that that was probably the best thing to do.
Anyway, so this teacher – he gets up super early to come work with these kids before school to help them get ready for their competition, and he teaches a full day in public school, and he STILL, every Wednesday afternoon, drives across town to bring his own son to his lessons with me, and he sits and watches every time, and every time, he makes sure that his son writes down notes at the end and stays on track. He is just so patient and supportive and lovely. Ballroom, by the way, was entirely his son’s idea – he had seen his dad’s classroom ballroom program and begged and pleaded until he was allowed to take dance lessons.
My student is a hilarious and awesome kid – he flails around a lot and is not overly coordinated because, hello, he’s 9. But he tries really hard and has made massive improvement since he started. One time we were working on cha cha and I was making him say the steps out loud so that he would connect his brain to what his feet were doing.
“Side together side, forward, back, side together side, back forward. Side together side, forward back, side together side—”
And he suddenly stopped and looked at me with a stricken face.
“Wait,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” I said, genuinely concerned.
“I have an itch,” he said solemnly, and scratched his nose. “Okay. Now we can go. Side together side….”
So here’s to you, awesome fifth-grade teacher dad of my awesome student. Thank you for having a wonderful son and thank you for giving all the students in your class the chance to fall crazy in love with dance and thank you for being such a patient and loving guy who somehow manages to stay awake through every lesson. Sir, I am happy that it is summer for you now. You deserve it.