Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tap shoe optimism

A row of tap shoes has made me hopeful about public education--specifically, a row of tap shoes outside a hallway, waiting for young dancers to put on just before their performances. The shoes are used multiple times per show, and many times a day per class, at the (free) public school arts magnet that my daughter attends.

They are there for the students who cannot don't buy their own tap shoes (tap is only taught for part of the year, so it can be a big investment for strapped families, especially when feet unexpectedly grow mid-quarter), and yet there is no stigma attached to using them. The kids slip them on and go. There is even a kind of cred in getting them on and off as fast as possible for the next kid to use in a show.

The recital costumes are given to the children for free as well, reused with each show, assigned by costume size. (Those that are still too big are pinned in the back with safety pins). They slip them on over their black leggings and black tank tops in front of one another since there are no dressing rooms.

This is in comparison to for-profit dance schools where dance classes can run hundreds of dollars a month and annual dance recitals require buying one-time-use costumes for $50 to $100.

Most of these children will not grow up to be professional dancers. And these three years may be their only experience with dance. So, what good does it do to learn these movements that they may never practice again? I think it's the pride they take in performing and seeing their peers perform. As they wait "backstage" during the winter and spring performances, watching the performances going on above them on-stage via closed-circuit TVs, even the toughest and loudest kids will sit down and watch. The subdued conversations are only about who is on stage, how good he or she is doing, and what they think of the choreography and costumes.

I wish there was something equivalent to this for math and science classes, classes where many of these children, especially those from non-English speaking homes, often struggle to do well. A place where they could cheer one another on, and show off what they know. I don't know how to make that happen. I just hope that some of the pride that they experience from these performances permeates other parts of their school day lives.

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