It was so simple and mundane – so normal for most parents. Just one number with a beginning dance class in a two-hour performance. Just one girl out of 50, dancing in a leopard tunic to another bombastic hip-hop tune. Just four minutes. Just a another high school show, parents and friends carrying the cellophane wrapped flowers and waiting by the stage door for all the “stars” to come out. My own parents must have done this same thing at least 50 times – because I was on stage from the time I was 12 all the way through college.
But this was so much more.
I realized it a little bit this week, as she brought girls home day after day to have snacks and put on costumes and make-up before the tech rehearsal and the dress rehearsals. They had so much fun that they came over again before the shows Thursday and Friday – a little klatch of dancing cave girls – talking non-stop and building each other up with laughs, energy and camaraderie. I realized it a little bit then, as I recognized in them that magic thing I have loved so many times in my life – that thrill of performing, the safety of belonging with the group sharing the experience with you. The excitement and vibrations of all the people backstage, the love you feel from the audience. And she was experiencing it for the first time.
But when it really hit me was when my eyes finally found her today, after frantically scanning the girls as they danced on and off. I found her, dancing perfectly with an animated expression, her long blonde hair ratted to look like she was pre-historic, her face smeared with brown “dirt” smudges – and my emotions were stripped bare . There she was kicking, turning, climbing the scaffolding! My eyes, though blurred with tears, never left her. It was as if I was watching the final scene in some movie – and I could see all of these other scenes we had lived through to get to this moment flashing through my mind.
I was so emotional and could not stop myself. My best friend was on one side, my husband on the other – and I was patting them because I know they know. My mom was two seats down crying too. She knows.
To me, it’s so much more than a high school dance show. It’s quitting dance at 3 because she was diagnosed with JA – her little knees, still chubby with baby fat, too swollen and sore to allow those precious pink tights. It’s quitting again at 7, after we already bought the butterfly costume for the big dance recital because her flare was soooooo very bad she could not do it – not do the little turns and stand on her toes – not lift her arms above her head. It’s the years of physical therapy to keep her joints from having permanent contractures… The years of sitting out of P.E., dropping out of middle school dance because the pain was too great, almost as great as the pain of kids teasing her because she limped.
It’s not wanting to do drama, or choir – or anything really that would put her in front of people’s watching eyes – because she spends so much time just trying to not draw attention. It’s hiding her reality from her peers – not mentioning the shots and infusions, the pills, the pain. It’s sitting out too many times. It’s more than 12 years of systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
It’s overcoming that. Overcoming two hip replacement surgeries. It’s auditioning for beginning dance and getting in – when 30% of the girls did not. It’s insisting on being at school every day – not only because her dance teacher expects it, but because she loves it – she doesn’t want to miss out. It’s being at a place, blessedly, where her arthritis is managed enough to allow all of this.
It’s fitting in. It’s putting it out there. It’s ice packs and rest and medicine at night, but getting up the next day excited to do it again. It’s her – printing out schedules for local dance schools now – telling me she’d like to take some extra classes. It’s talk of trying out for Intermediate II Dance next year – when PE won’t even be a requirement anymore.
When I think of all the times I had this dream for her, and stopped myself because the reality seemed to be something else….when I think of all the times I carried her and simply walking seemed to be a lofty goal. Dance was like fantasy fiction….
This was not just a four minute number in a high school dance show. It’s so much more!
Today, it feels like a happy ending to the movie in my head. It feels like a miracle.