One of my favorite memories from teaching middle school was seeing my 7th grade class perform in a swing dance competition. I was blown away. These little, punky kids, who gave me such a hard time in our language arts class, turned out to be incredible dancers. They could lift each other up and swing each other from side to side and upside down. These young teens, with their heaving, awkward bodies which could barely fit into their little desks in my class were suddenly channeling all their physical and mental energy in this really positive, productive way. I admire the P.E. teacher who was able to teach the kids so well. Great things are possible, she showed, even with 7th graders, when you have a clear goal, good instruction, and lots of practice.
When I was a student in high school, we were lucky to have an dynamo of a theater director who produced big musicals, every year, with big casts and lots of choreographed partner dancing. For the musical, Anything Goes! we did a big tap dance number, in unison, on an elaborate, multi-leveled set. Actors, dancers, stage crew, and orchestra all played their part in putting together the spectacular show. Feeling the stage vibrate with our pounding feet was something I’ll never forget. (I don’t know how well the audience liked it, but for the performers it was a transcendent experience.)
I still have anxiety dreams that I’ve forgotten the steps, or a line, or my costume; those early theater experiences lodged themselves deep into my developing consciousness, it seems. It was scary to perform in front of a big audience and there was lots of anxiety about whether we would be able to pull off the feat. But we did pull it off, mostly because of the heroic efforts of our director, but also because we kids rose to the occasion and stretched our capabilities as far as we could, and accomplished what seemed at moments all but impossible.
For some kids, music and/or dance might be the one thing they really love that keeps them coming to school. I was always taken with my students who would spin out raps and rhymes in all their spare time. They were a little too fame-obsessed for their own good, thinking, as too many do, that an American Idol appearance or a recording contract was in their immediate future, but they did have a creative spark which I respected and tried my best to nurture. Still, I wish I had done more to channel those creative impulses into a big production such as a musical or dance off or rap off or something. Maybe in the future I’ll get another chance to do something like that.