If you've been following along with my blog posts, you'll recall that I spent my teenage years tap dancing at the Rita Rue School of Dance on Frankford Avenue. Miss Rita was a big influence on me. I learned how to perform, how to entertain a crowd, how to select the right costume, how to do stage hair and makeup, and how to carry myself offstage. I need to make a hashtag #whatwouldmissritado, because now that I run my own kids program and I encounter all kinds of situations, I think that question to myself at least once (<cough..a hundred times>) a day.
Yesterday was my first kids recital, and while I was running around like a crazy person, I flashback-ed to Miss Rita, circa 1997, and how she looked at my last recital. She looked like a queen. She was impeccably dressed in a cobalt blue pantsuit and heels, dripping in rhinestone jewelry, hair perfectly coiffed, sitting comfortably backstage, surveying her dancers on stage, her face relaxed. She was definitely NOT sweating and running around like a maniac. She had trained her kids well. None of us were afraid of her, (I loved her), but we knew the expectations, and they were high. In so many ways, even after all this time dancing, teaching, performing, working, I am such a beginner. I have MANY years to go before I'm chilling in my perfectly-pressed pantsuit at recital.
I've been dancing for 35 years and teaching in dance studios for twenty years, so I've been involved in twenty years of recitals as a tap teacher. My first job was at Chestnut Street Dance Academy (now Urban Movement Arts) at 20th and Chestnut Streets. I was 18 years old, and I was taking modern class at this studio, for no other reason other than it worked with my college schedule. One day, I was telling the owner that tap dance was my thing, and just like that, she offered me a position as the kids' program tap instructor. I had no idea what I was doing, but I faked it well enough, I guess. Our recital that year was somewhere downtown, in a hotel ballroom, and I recall being amazed that the kids actually performed the routine we had practiced in class. So, this is how teaching works! Hard work pays off.
Even after all this time, I'm still amazed at how recital time works its magic on every single child. The anticipation, seeing the stage, having their families in the audience, waiting for their turn to perform - - it all sprinkles a kind of fairy dust over them. They get swept up in the backstage craziness, and they feel like they are a part of something big. They make sure their classmates all come on stage and that nobody is forgotten. If someone forgets a step, they help each other out. There are disasters, and missing costumes, and you can never predict what the baby class will actually do, :-), but the overall experience is priceless. That's why we do what we do - for these precious moments when every kid shines from within.
All of this is to say, I had no idea back in 1998 that I had all those years ahead of me, that one day, I'd be teaching a dozen classes a week, that I'd standing in front of a large crowd on a Sunday afternoon, about to present my first recital. It is amazing and overwhelming and still totally unbelievable. The only way I can explain it is, the world pushed me in this direction. Despite all of my doubts and fears about what I was capable of, the instability of an arts career, three small kids at home, I eventually got out of my own way. Every experience in my life, every dance teacher I encountered, every student I've ever taught in the studio, they all pointed me here. I am looking forward to everything that is to come.