Thursday, April 8, 2010

Felted Wool and Fishnets

I had the privilege of attending two very different event within one weekend. Due to my own crazy scheduling I ended up at both a homeschooling conference and Q-Bert's first dance competition in the same small period of time. The culture shock as I moved between these events was enormous.

The most obvious difference was purely visual. My husband and I jokes that after a certain age homeschoolers must not be required to comb their hair. We saw some of the wildest messiest hair I have ever seen, and many were wearing pins they had made of felted wool at one of the booths. Of course at the dance competition the performers all had their hair done in perfect buns with entire cans of hair spray used on each kid and most were wearing fishnet tights. but even the spectators were gussied up. Whereas the parents at the homeschool conference were dressed very simply, the parents at the competition were dressed to impress. This isn't really surprising since they are representing a certain studio. Looking well kept is an unwritten rule at most studios including ours. If it was just about looking good I would say it was a function of dance being a visual art, but there are more differences lurking beneath the exterior.

I could go on at length about the way homeschoolers looked at each other with a friendly look in their eyes, and the dance fans seemed to look each other up and down as if sizing them up. I could talk about the way the homeschooled kids displayed a combination of enthusiasm and inner calmness that seemed almost unnatural for a child versus, the anxiety and false cockiness that the dancers walked around with. However, I think the best way to illustrate the differences is my comparing Q-bert’s experience at the homeschooling talent show, and her experience competing at the dance competition.

Q-bert’s good friends were performing in the homeschool talent show, and of course she wanted to join as well. I had strong apprehensions about it because she was already to busy with the dance competition. As luck would have it her dance schedule left her free during the talent show so of course she decided to do it. Originally she wanted to choreograph a new dance for the show, but I convinced her that there wasn’t time for that in addition to practicing for the competition. She decided to use one of her competition numbers and modify it slightly to use as a solo.

When Q-bert dances at competitions she never says she is nervous. She is always excited to go on stage, and afterwards she never seems to be worried about how they scored. Part of this is her personality. She is not a competitive person in general (although of course things are different when we talk about her relationship with her sister :-). For her, dancing is about entertaining the audience. She also likes to get feedback from the judges because she says that helps her be a better entertainer.

True to form, Q-bert showed no stress when we arrived at the dance competition even though the morning had been early, hectic, and covered by surprise snow. She was filled with excitement at we did her hair and make-up (a process which takes about 45 minutes). The chaos and territory wars in the dressing room didn’t bother her nearly as much as it did me. Finally, it was time for me to turn her over to her teacher and I went to sit in the audience. The atmosphere in the audience was electric. Even at the early hour, the place was nearly packed. Spectators were vying for position each eager to cheer on their dancers. Finally the competition started. As each dance was announced most of the audience politely clapped while the spectators from the dancers’ own studio went wild. The act of cheering was in itself a competition. Between dances I would hear an occasional comment about a dance, but overall people were there to root for their own, and after their dances, often times, the fans left. Kali’s dances went well, and their effort were rewarded with a high score. Kali was most excited that she got to get up to receive the trophy. So all in all it was a positive experience, and we rushed back to the homeschool conference.

Her attitude at the talent show surprised me. She was a bundle of nerves. Part of it was that she was worried about being late, but it was more than that. I know that performing alone is a bit intimidating, but that wasn’t the problem either. It was also a bit scary performing so close to the audience, but that didn’t really bother her. I think her apprehension was that she cared what this audience thought of her performance. Of course after watching for a while it became obvious that this audience valued effort and bravery as much as actual talent. A couple of the performers were extremely scared, but you could feel the whole audience pulling for them. The air wasn’t electric like it was at the competition, but it was warm and supportive. As we sat watching the other kids perform some of her nervousness dissipated, but she was still a bit anxious when her turn came. When she got up for her turn she turned on her charm and gave a great performance. As with everyone else, the audience clapped and cheered enthusiastically, but the biggest reward came when her friends (and their parents) told her how great she did. I think she valued that more than the trophy she got at the competition. After her performance one of the teens with uncombed hair approached my husband and said in a very teenage boy voice, “Congratulations on the talented daughter.” That struck me as funny, but also a bit touching. No one outside of our studio would have bestowed a compliment on us at the competition, but here was a teenage boy showing such manners.

Now I know that it isn’t really fair to compare a competition with a show. By it’s very name a competition puts it’s participants at odds with each other, but we are talking about kids here. I am not a fan of taking the score keeping out of baseball, but I do think that the spectators should model good sportsmanship. That means applauding effort and appreciating the learning that accompanies every experience. I don’t feel that at the competitions. The fans are there for one thing... To see their dancers win. At the talent show, although we all wanted our kids to do their best, we were there to see our kids try.

For our family, we move fairly seamlessly between these two societies. I believe there are things to be learned from both situations. Still I love the relaxed feeling I had at the homeschool conference, and I have a bit of dread as we move towards the next dance competition. I guess not all learning has to be fun :-)

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