About six months ago, at the half-way mark of the school year, my daughter Amanda's dance class had an open house. It consisted of a couple dozen parents politely battling for the best vantage point in three square feet of changing area, and observing their daughters partake in a typical weekly dance lesson. As I've mentioned, it's the half-way point in the season, and a pre-cursor to the year-end dance recital. A way to get the kids used to being watched, ahead of time versus having the recital be the first time. Just in case.
Amanda is four years old at this point, as are most of the other dozen or so girls in her class. That morning, I found a snazzy spot for video-taping (though at times I had to film her reflection in the wall-length mirror because the girl beside her kept moving in the way).
(No, this isn't a pompous, deep lecture on the nature of the universe. Just a nice, tender moment in the life of yours truly. If you find yourself getting bored, feel free to hang out in the lobby and have a smoke.)
So, the dancing went about as well as could be expected, every parent being drowned in a tidal wave of cute. Amanda's primary move during each number was to very slightly shift one or two toes, and scratch her neck. It took me a while to figure out that the neck-scratching was going on because Amanda must have figured out (chalk one up for the child making a good decision) that it would be more beneficial to the group as a whole if she scratched her neck rather than scream in terror and pass out after vomiting on the instructor's tap shoes.
Nevertheless, it was a tender moment between father (and mother, brother and sister) and daughter. Now and again while scratching Amanda would venture a look at me then visibly cringe in pure unadulterated fear. It was sweet.
Time passed. Amanda knew she'd scratched more than danced (she saw the video, of course) but it really didn't matter to her because she survived the ordeal. As the weeks ticked toward the end of the season, the recital loomed on the horizon.
Now, for those of you daughter-less folks out there, at the end of every dance school season, they all get up on a stage, under spotlights, and dance, dance, dance. Teenage students, instructors, two-year-olds and four-year-olds. The younger kids are usually on and off early, with one or two numbers done with the rest of their class.
Amanda's class would be performing third and seventh (roughly). As the weeks became days, I noticed Amanda moving and dancing around the house as if following a choreographer only she could see. She really loves to dance, that much was obvious. She just hates an audience.
The open house being a fairly good indicator of what was to come, I quickly showed signs of pre-rehearsal jitters. Amanda promised us, though, that she wouldn't be all upset and nervous. But we could NOT talk about the rehearsal nor the recital. We don't mention it, she doesn't drop out. Fair enough.
Thursday evening, June 3rd. My Dad's birthday and the rehearsal for Amanda's dance recital the following day. Open seating. We all fidgeted in our seats with excitement. (Let me say, as an aside, that Andrew is a wonderful big brother: he sat there, as nervous as me. He wanted his little sister to do well. We all did.)
We all wanted that bright miracle to happen: the one you see in expensively-done movies, where the wallflower comes out of her shell at the last moment and shines for all to see.
We really wanted that to happen.
And it did.
Amanda's troupe came marching out in their tights (no costumes for rehearsals) and tap shoes, stood there holding each other's hands like nervous statues. The music started, and they danced. Amanda, like her classmates, kept her eyes riveted to the instructor who crouched along the front of the stage, arms moving rapidly in visual instructions for the children's feet and arms to follow. They watched her, sang quietly along with the song, and moved their arms and legs and danced the dance they'd rehearsed in class for the past two months. Amanda, too. Not once did she make even the SLIGHTEST gesture which looked even REMOTELY like neck-scratching. Now and then, she'd dare look over at us, see our obviously-wonderstruck expressions, and smile (looking exactly like her Auntie Ellie when she did, I might add).
Amanda was in her glory, doing what she loved, and doing it very well. Unlike the first time we'd seen her dance, when she barely moved her legs and didn't DARE raise her arms too high, here she was, less than six months later, arms moving deliberately in time with the song (an old 1930's number, by the way -- dance classes love music from that art deco era), looking like she was exactly where she wanted to be.
And four rows away, her Dad's heart split apart at every seam. I sat there, in unrepentant love for my daughter who danced upon that stage. Amanda, my sparring partner, the one I've battled with so often and most often (for no other reason than we're too much alike).
That night, as she finished her first dance and momentarily came out with her class for the second, I saw her, more than any other time, as an independent person. Not "My Daughter Amanda", or "My Second Child," but Amanda Keohane. Dancing means something special to her. Whether it's a towering passion or a simple pleasurable experience, I don't know, and for that matter it's none of my business. She went out there and poured it on for no one else but herself. Sure, pleasing one's parents is a pretty powerful force behind humanity. But, honestly, I think it was more than that. After the initial open house, seeing Amanda so nervous, I could never be sure whether she would ever be able to come to grips with the fear of being the center of attention.
But in the end, I suppose, her love of dancing overcame all that. I know, I know. In a year or two she may have forgotten dancing and moved on to softball. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe years from now she'll still be dancing on that (or some other) stage spinning in a solo. (By the way, the actual recital was a treat, costumes and all, but it could never have the same impact as the rehearsal did to Dear Old Dad.)
And maybe I'll have forgotten all about that moment on June 3, 1999. But I don't want to. At least not yet. What I observed that evening was just too special, too bright a spark in the slow moving river of life to simply let fall away. That's why I'm writing this.
So I'll remember my daughter, and the moment she became real.
June 21, 1999.
Amanda's dance solo, age 17