Hope for Our Children, From Our Children

An optimist’s surprising discovery

I am not a parent. I am number six out of seven children, five years younger than number five. Always a godfather, but never a god (my favorite quip, courtesy of Gore Vidal).

But I have been around children most of my adult life, being married to a dance teacher/choreographer with a worldwide client base. We have our “dance daughters” all over the world, those whom my wife befriended after mentoring them up through the ranks in competitive cheer and dance over 30 years. They are having their own kids now and we beam like grandparents when we visit them.

Last week was my wife’s birthday and, having been scheduled to teach at an event in another state, I was asked along so that we could celebrate it together. I was given the challenging job announcing and introducing all of the choreographers as the various classes began. Not being a teacher myself, I was a little nervous getting up on stage in front of 40 or so eight-to-eleven-year-olds to read the resumes of the instructors.

I was immediately humbled by the powerful accomplishments of the instructors and, although silly in hindsight, was relieved that it wasn’t at all about me and my announcing performance but all about what a fantastic opportunity these kids were about to be presented — to be taught by real world class choreographers (one an LA-based multimedia choreographer and producer, another a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, yet another a international dance team director).

After announcing the first class instructor (it was hip-hop), I sat back and watched in awe as these 8–11-year-olds followed the warm ups and first few 8-counts as precisely and as disciplined as Marines in week 10 of boot camp.

I’m sure that this is old hat to most parents but most of my experience with this age group is as a cashier at Trader Joe’s where we usually have to coerce the kids with lollipops just to give their parents the bandwidth to complete their shopping.

It’s what happened in the second class that convinced me that we are not doomed.

Two instructors worked together to simulate an audition scenario. A few 8-counts were taught and the class was divided into three groups, and then rearranged to eventually separate the less talented from the more talented dancers. Even though in that age group the difference between the weak and strong is not dramatically discernible, it was obvious to all what was going on.

In the last audition round, the three groups — the stand-outs (Group 1), the pretty-goods (Group 2) and the just-OKs (Group 3) each performed the 8-counts multiple times in different order.

Here is where it got good.

As the auditions continued, Group 3 began to cheer on the Group 1 dancers. Then the Group 2 dancers.

No jealousy or acknowledgement of superiority.

Just cheering.

Then Group 2 began cheering the others in their down-time.

And not to be outdone, Group 1 started cheering the Group 3 dancers, louder and more energetic than the others. Group 2 trying to match the intensity.

The result was predictable but still amazing.

With the genuine and heartfelt (i.e. LOUD) encouragement from Group 1, the Group 2 and 3 dancers got better each time on the stage to where at the end there were legit dancers from each group selected to perform the final routine.

All of this was done without any prompting or direction from the instructors.

For the rest of the convention, all the dancers in the Youth category were together as much as possible. Although from different dance schools and areas of the state, they came together as dancers. A bond was formed.

What’s encouraging to me about this is that these kids, all from different means and demographics, displayed a raw, innocent, energetic approach to coexistence, non-judgmental, and wholly inclusive and cooperative.

I want to think that they will carry this with them through the rest of their lives, with the hope that even though they will assume (or be assigned) various group affiliations many times in their lives, that the Group 3s in life will always strive to appreciate themselves and others, the Group 2s will moderate the tempo, and that the Group 1’s will lead by example and encouragement.

There is hope, and it comes from them.

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Jerome Rifino

Jerome Rifino

Entrepreneur, Blues and Bourbon Aficionado, Runner, Golf, Soccer, and Formula 1 Fan, Stress-Free Life Promoter