It was that historic day, September 11, 2001, that I first walked into the dance studio, not knowing what a huge part it would, later, play in our lives. I remember that they discussed, in light of the days' events that were unfolding, canceling their open house. They opted not to, thinking, perhaps, that people might like some normal in what became a very abnormal day.
I was impressed by how consciously they made that decision. They didn't just plow ahead, thoughtlessly, but really considered what might be the best option, in light of what was happening in the world at large.
We started with one class per year for Big Little Sister. It was a long drive, but in those days, no one really worried much about that. Precious was born. Little Fire Faery got older and started taking classes. Precious grew up as a dance sister, and when she got old enough, she started taking classes, too. At this point, we've all taken lessons there.
I joke about being a suburban soccer mom, but the fact is, it's not soccer for us, it's dance. So, by the time driving such a long distance became an issue, we didn't, really, have an option: quit dance (because, at this point, finding a closer school isn't really something my girls are interested in doing), or drive. For now, we've opted to drive, and to cut back other driving. When we know we've got dance, we always plan what else we can do while we're in the area, and whether by design or chance, most of the places we need to go (like the feed store, for instance) are in the same direction as the dance school.
Over the years, it has become more than just a dance studio. In many ways, the other people there - the dancers, the moms, the teachers - have become a second family to us. We spend a great deal of time there, and as members of the dance team, we spend a great deal of time with the other team members and their families.
One of the things I like best about the atmosphere is that there is just not any of that aggressive-competitiveness among the team members. There's no trying to best the other kids on the team, because it's not about that. It's about each individual doing her best, and they support each other. I haven't seen that much-talked-about television show depicting the dance competition world, but I heard about it, and I can say, that what was, reportedly, depicted on the screen is not the experience my family and I have had in the dance competition world. Our studio owner would not allow it.
She wouldn't allow it, because that's not the kind of person she is. It's not about the glitz. It's not about the money. It's about the dance. In fact, our studio has a reputation for wearing ... ahem ... well-loved practice clothes. It's not uncommon to see the older girls sporting shredded tights and shoes that have been repaired with duct tape. When Big Little Sister started dancing there, it seemed to be a badge of honor, the mark of a truly talented and seasoned dancer (because all of the older girls who dance there are both) to have ragged dance-class clothes.
Nothing is ever wasted or discarded. Nothing. Costumes are reused, if possible (and for those who don't know, dance costumes can be incredibly expensive) or recycled with a bit of sequins and reused. Sometimes, when they are trying to decide on a costume for a competition solo, the girls will be told to "go shopping upstairs" in the huge, stuffed-full, costume room. Sets and props are spiffed up with a bit of paint (and were often created using recycled materials). Even dance choreography is occasionally brought back to the stage.
Indeed, it's one of the things that I love best about Ms. Vicky. She's incredibly frugal and infinitely creative. She can take a few strips of cloth, a leotard and some sparkle and make a mermaid that looks incredible up on stage. I am continually in awe of her.
Perhaps that's not the most remarkable thing about our experience there. There's another thing that goes on, behind the scenes, that many of us probably don't see or that we only see minimally ... just that little part that applies to us.
Ms. Vicky, through her dance school, has touched thousands of lives, not just as a dance teacher, but as a community philanthropist. She gives back to the community in so many ways.
This morning, as I was saying goodbye to Deus Ex Machina, who was heading to work, my toe hit a bag that was sitting on floor next to the door. It contains some apples, squash and sugar - our donations for our dance teams annual turkey basket. It's half fundraiser and half community sharing. Basically, team members sell raffle tickets ($1 each or 5 for $6) for a chance to win a turkey basket. It will contain all of the ingredients necessary for a full Thanksgiving meal and (believe me when I say) then some ... unless one is feeding a small army.
All of the food in the basket is donated by the team, and it, truly, has everything one could need (right down to spices) for a full meal. It is an incredible amount of food, and includes both fresh (my family's contribution is local apples, local squash and 2 lbs of raw cane sugar) and canned foods.
The hitch is that we donate enough food for TWO baskets (two three-pound bags of apples, two acorn squash, and two 2lb bags of sugar). One basket is raffled off, and the second basket is donated to a local family.
In 2001, I had no idea what I was getting myself - and my family - into when I pulled up in front of that three-story building and signed up Big Little Sister for her very first, ever, dance class. It was just supposed to be a dance class. Just dance. Ha!
My girls (and I) have learned so much, and much of it is not dance related - grace under pressure, appreciation for the gifts one has been given, and the importance of community.
I am thankful that I was guided there, and that, even when driving so far got tough, we decided that it was worth it ...
... and looking to the future, I have, actually, been thinking about how we'd get there by bicyle, and how I will cycle three tired dancers home ... in the dark ... on a cold wintry night in Maine.