Monday, April 21, 2008

Teach Your Children Well

By Paul Gordon Emerson

The old Crosby, Stills and Nash song has a stanza in it --

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

As CityDance embarks on a two week journey into 15 elementary schools throughout the DC area, for some reason that line -- "feed them on your dreams" -- recurs for me. What is it that we are trying to do, and what is it that we dream, both for ourselves and for them, and how are we sharing the dream with them? We're traveling and touring a version of Jungle Books, the adaptation of the Kipling tales that is a concert program for us and now a road show. Today we shared that story with some 300 children who lost themselves in a story about a fictional boy that was written 112 years ago and set in the heart of a Central Indian jungle. The dancing made them sigh and wonder. The story help them. But what resonated was something which had nothing to do with the tale. It had to do with illness, injury and perseverance.

As departure time neared this morning, as the van was loaded with costumes, props, stereos and a five pound bag of coffee, our lead character, our Mowgli, came through the Strathmore doors. Jason, the star of the show, was too sick to do more than tumble into a chair and mumble something like "I'll be fine." An hour later, as we were preparing to go on stage for our first audience, he was in the Emergency Room of Sibley Hospital. We had a show. He has pneumonia.

Christopher Morgan, who has become our all-purpose utility player, who was supposed to be, intermittently, our narrator, was suddenly Mowgli. With no notice and no warning the company embraced him, and embraced the change, and wondered and worried about Jason alone in ER and told the tale of a young boy, a bear, a snake and a tiger with such skill that no one knew what was different from what was planned. And we could easily have just not told them.

But the lesson -- the teach your children lesson -- the dreams lesson -- is that sharing yourself with little people is something that goes far beyond the flash of a trained dancer and the adaptability of a professional performance troupe. What was memorable for them is the same thing that was memorable for us -- that you train, you practice and in so doing, you persevere. They loved the story and the dancing. But they'll remember Christopher, who shared that he had just stepped in, and that he succeeded because he practiced, because he was willing to take a risk and because we wanted those kids to have a great day with us. We succeeded because all the company was determined. But the kids got something more, and something we often try not to let them see -- the challenge, and thus the humanity, of the day.

Our dream, to share, to dance, is also about that -- to be the people we are with the people they are. That's what made the day special. That's "the one they picked, the one you'll know by."

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