I started competing in acrobatics at quite a young age, and as I get older and reflect on the hours my parents spent with me, the time spent sewing sequence onto leotards and the trips to competitions I have an even greater appreciation for childhood. Especially regarding my parents’ attitude toward winning, and attitude.
As I gave my general feedback this last week to groups of dancers (and acrobats) after adjudicating a dance eisteddfod this past week my mother’s words poured from me to the parents and expectant dancers waiting for me to say my piece so they could collect their certificates:
“When you walk on stage it doesn’t matter what happened earlier. It doesn’t matter if your mom pulled your hair, or if you fought with your teacher or if yous costume is itchy. From the moment you walk on stage you are performing. You have the attitude of the greatest performer that has graced the stage, and you enjoy your dance. And the moment you walk off stage that attitude is gone.”
Adjudicating the dance section of the eisteddfod I have been adjudicating for the past two weeks turned out to be a completely different kettle of fish, as the organizer attempted to warn me before my first session. I had received detailed instruction via email informing how I should do my general feedback after each section. I was asked specifically not to mention any category winners. I do not usually announce category winners, but the week before at the high schools speech and drama section I was asked to do so when I didn’t. I was also not to hand out any certificates to dancers. Their coaches would receive them from a special certificates table to minimize any contact between performers, their parents and myself. As I was ferried out of a side door of the hall I was adjudicating in far from the reach of parents later that day I became more and more aware of why I was held to such stringent codes.
The competition between participants and dance schools at the dance eisteddfod, I was informed, had reached ridiculous heights in the previous years. The organizers of the eisteddfod were adamant to try and prevent this and apparently, questioning the adjudicator on why exactly a child had received a percentage higher or lower, affecting their ranks in the competition had been common place. At the beginning of each day the organizer reminded parents, participants and coaches that it was a dance festival, and not a competition or championships that the dancers were participating in, and that category winners and rankings would be conveyed to the dance schools at the conclusion of the festival. I don't think that this lessened any pressure, or pressure on me regarding the colour of the certificate I deemed appropriate for a dancer. Or the fact that on my first day, I was running late.
Due to a number of difficulties on the first day, including a problematic sound system, and participants who hadn’t followed the rules regarding the format of their CD’s my program was running late. As an adjudicator I do my best to stay on time, but sometimes these matters are not within my hands. A number of teachers also requested items to be moved due to clashes. The moment the organizer accommodated one legitimate request she was flooded with requests and I had to keep up. I ended up having a four hour session before my supper that day without a break in concentration. I was informed later that as I was ferried out of the hall for supper and a cup of tea a father approached the headmaster of the school where the eisteddfod was being held.
Apparently he could not understand why I was braking for supper and why I could not finish the last two and half hours of the day’s program, after my four hour session. The headmaster explained that the program had been delayed due to factors outside of anyone’s control. And that after my afternoon session I needed the break before finishing the day. Even if just to go to the bathroom. The father was not satisfied, as apparently I had also been sitting in the hall the afternoon.
This tale was related to me as I ate my supper, isolated from the demands placed upon me. When I returned home I asked my mother if the competition and pressure to win had always been so great, as I had never experienced it in the same way while I was competing. My mom laughed:
“Remember when you were at a competition in Roodepoort and I told you before you went on stage that you would walk home of you didn’t win?”
We had driven three hours to the acrobatics competition in Roodeport almost every year since I was 7 years old. The first year I competed I stood nervously with my mother before I had to go on stage, not knowing what to expect. My mom had said that to me, immediately calming my nervous before I performed as I knew my parents only expected me to do my best on stage. The statement reminded me that it was only a competition and that winning didn’t mean everything. It had become a joke in our household whenever my brother and I were competing in a competition.
“The reason I said it was because of the pressure to win I saw other children experiencing. Some mothers that heard me were horrified”
Not all families have our sense of humour.
Making up for the sense of competition, and truly making my week were the dancers in the 3 – 5 year old section. Specifically what we call the acro-tots. You never know what they are going to do on stage. Or if they will go on! But if they do it is always entertaining. For this section their coaches usually stand in the wings, showing them what to do. Many of them run forward as part of their routines, and more often than not on the completion of their forward action they look to their coach in the wing. Upon realizing thay they can’t see them they walk backward awkwardly until they can. Another little girl in a group piece ran to pick up the flowers her friend had dropped, and rightly ignored while dancing. And after a partner making a mistake in a duet piece the anger on the face of the second dancer sent the audience in to hushed fits of laughter. This was followed by a look of apology as the first dancer attempted to complete the duet.
One of the coaches, in her great wisdom, had thought it wise to put 3 three year olds in a large group piece. They were just supposed to sit on stage with their hands under their chins making a ‘flower’. A blonde curly haired three year old stood up a few seconds into the group performance, turned around to face the dancers and yelled at the top of her lungs “Mooi julle!” “Well done guys” as the group went into one of their lift sequences. She proceeded to walk across the stage, without regard for the other 15+ dancers attempting to perform the piece, hitching up her jazz pants as she went. At one point her teacher from the wing told her to make a flower, which she ignored and decided instead, from stage, to show the organizer playing the music for the participants how pretty the flares on the bottom of her jazz pants are. After this, while the rest of the group was holding a trick she decided to go, without fear into a backbend (a crab-stand in layman’s terms) on top of one of the dancers who was holding someone else in the air. Thankfully the weight of a wandering three year old didn’t disrupt the supporting dancer.
The tears were streaming down my face and that of my assistant as I did my best not to burst out laughing with the rest of the audience.