Teaching Our Girls to Dance

1 09 2012
Something else from my old Culture Kitchen blog, original post from March 2006 and some additional comments and updates later, retrieved from the Wayback Machine:

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Talk about the dance of planned parenthood — I’ve known two families through their adoption of baby daughters from China.

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America
Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.
Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable. . .

The first was an older couple, financially and professionally well-off in their second marriage and wanting to be a family with children. They went through a Catholic adoption process and asked us to write a formal recommendation for their application, assessing the qualities we believed would make them good parents.

Although my family left the immediate neighborhood while the daughter they’d named Amber was still a toddler, we see them out and about, at the grocery store, park or credit union. Today she is a gawky, grinning ‘tween, strikingly similar in age, culture, cadence and affinities — for Harry Potter and chess — to our Florida-born son. The two obvious differences between them, race and sex, seem irrelevant.

The second family was younger, a physician and his philanthropist wife who had four children the usual way but only one a girl, excited about adding another. Baby Lydia soon began dance classes with her doting big sister. It took her a long time to say much, but at six she’s a regular chatterbox.

In both cases, I got to see the whole “planned parenthood” process play out, from the initial exploration of the idea, the decision-making and then preparations for the arduous trip itself — halfway around the globe to a foreign land where the officials literally holding your family’s future in their hands don’t speak your language and are communist to boot (you think our bureaucrats are hard to deal with??) and home again wrung out emotionally and physically, trapped over the ocean on an airplane as brand-new mom to a disrupted infant you didn’t make, don’t know and can’t even nurse to comfort or feed, and then the ever-after of adjustments and growth within family relationships, including all the questions about how much or how little to emphasize the child’s country and culture of origin.

Such planned parents by choice generally impress me with their healthy, open attitudes and beliefs, a wish to balance, embrace, discover, celebrate, blend and include rather than to define, delimit, or (that disingenuous codeword) to “clarify” racial differences and identity.

The busy mom of five determinedly made time late at night to read Mao’s Last Dancer, a culturally shocking and saturated memoir she later loaned to me and shared with other dancer moms, in a sort of cultural ripple effect:

“Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.”

In turn I’ve ripple-recommended the book to planning and thinking parents as a dance metaphor for lessons that have nothing to do with ballet . . .

I noticed that even the names these families chose were blended, able to honor more than one tradition at the same time rather than set them against one another in “forced choice” competition — the first names Amber and Lydia sound solidly American-English, but their middle names are not only Chinese but carefully refer to each girl’s particular regional heritage within that country.

Those are positives that make me feel like dancing.

But I’m also feeling helpless, thinking it’s ironic and especially wrong for tens of thousands of Chinese girls to be displaced by repressive culture and government policies just because they are girls instead of boys, and then after we adopt them as daughters of America and lovingly raise them to be beautiful, brilliant, accomplished young women ready for college admission — they will be systematically disadvantaged all over again in OUR system and culture, just because they are girls instead of boys.

. . . the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.

. . .Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women . . .

More culture of dance? — girls as a group are better dancers (students) than boys, like it more, but still must wait to be asked, held back by the less-willling and able boys? How many girls finally become frustrated enough to just dance alone or with each other, forget about waiting for the boys to catch up? Seems to me girls already adept at the dance of cultural change will not wait long and will be right not to, that they’ll tend instead to make over their identity once again and never mind those trying to engineer their differences into some standardized social configuration.

Will our nation’s cultures and creeds, our empowered parents and our world-renowned educational institutions, merely keep up our stylized minuet as we go right on fancying ourselves the belles of the cultural ball, uniquely superior to all those backward places where geography and demographics are destiny?

David Brooks has me believing we just might:

Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
. . . many Republicans have lost patience with Bush’s high-minded creedal statements. . . (and) efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn’t exaggerate how much we can change. . .

Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is . . .how much disorder and strain their presence creates. . . from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

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More reason not be dancing in the streets about our cultural superiority in “From classroom to tar pits?” by Marion Brady:

James McGregor, an American businessman who has lived in China for 15 years, says Chinese leaders monitor the United States. It has led them, he says, to “admire, fear and pity” us, the “pity” coming from their belief that America is a country in decline. . .

Why, they wonder, when we’re digging ever deeper the hole they think we’re in, are we so caught up in what they see as trivia — arguing about where to hang the Ten Commandments, preoccupied by homosexuality, fixating on news about murdered or missing pretty white females, legislating steroid use in sports, punishing flag burners — getting all emotional about issues they see as only marginally or not at all related to what they believe is America’s long-term well-being and continued power?

We may not agree with the Chinese leaders, or may think they should be putting their own house in order rather than inspecting ours, but they raise some important questions for Americans in general and educators in particular.

I doubt we’ll meet those challenges. However, if there’s hope, it probably lies with the kids. . .

And more with how they think than how they test.

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Then in June 2009 I followed up on Snook with:  Teaching Our Girls (Boys Too) to Dance With Democracy





Spring Sprang Sprung! Doctor JJ’s Kids Bustin’ Out All Over

29 05 2011

Our spring showed color early and has been full to bursting since then, with performance, celebration, commencement, remembrance and rites of passage.
And hats.

(This will surely sound like one of those insipid Christmas letters listing stuff about a family you never see IRL, so feel free to skip it or make snarky comments — in the privacy of your own home.) 😉

Maybe the garden metaphor is less fitting than fireworks, or rocket launches. But there have been plenty of flowers, on hats and in centerpieces, on stage and on campus and filling our home. I suppose the season started with Favorite Daughter’s acceptance to grad school and her 21st birthday, clinching a job at the campus music library, apartment hunting for that first momentous move out on her own (she’s lived at home through university) all while sustaining her unbroken streak on the president’s list to lock up her perfect career GPA with a Phi Beta Kappa key.

St. Patrick’s Day was a whole week for both FavD and Young Son, an Irish stepdance marathon of performances for schools indoors and out, for nursing homes and assisted living centers and at two different citywide festivals. Thanks to unschooling, on the actual day Young Son was able to start at nine in the morning and dance straight through until almost ten that night.

Young Son's St Patrick's Day meant dancing for two and then some

I know how much he danced and how much energy it must have taken because I went everywhere with him; I was worn out even though I got to sit the whole time. 🙂

Meanwhile, rehearsals for their latest community theatre musical “CURTAINS” took up most weeknights and Saturdays through March and April, for both kids. (Favorite Daughter was dance captain.)

Curtains Can Can-Can! Favorite Daughter on far left

Young Son front and center

This time the show rehearsed in a vacant mall storefront, filling the atrium far and wide with song and dance, delighting mall-crawlers from all directions — mostly from Barnes and Noble and the sports superstore but also the little kid ride-for-a-quarter machines — whose stopped-in-their-tracks surprise was good fun to watch from a bench nearby while waiting to chauffeur one or both Ross kids to whatever awaited their attention next.

Curtains rehearsing in mall storefront: FavD in blue skirt, Young Son's right half on far right

Young Son took up another wind instrument this spring, in addition to the great highland bagpipes, hornpipes, penny whistles and baritone vocals he enjoys so much: the alto saxophone. MY alto saxophone to be precise. We found yet another tailor-made mentor/private teacher, a world-traveled former US Army Band professional saxophonist who’s now A.B.D. (all but dissertation) at the local university and has his own studio and instrument workshop at home.

Oh, and FavD quite unexpectedly acquired a new costume de rigueur as of April 20, perfectly suited to her scholarly librarian life: her first pair of glasses, which like Young Son, she wears all the time and looks somehow more like herself with, than without. 🙂

On the heels of that bespectacling, Read the rest of this entry »





Harry Potter: We Better Believe It’s Real

19 11 2010

Is the new Harry Potter movie life imitating art?

Do you need to know who said this, about whom, when and where, to believe it?

The world is a dangerous place. It has never been more so, or more complicated, more straining of the reasoning powers of those with actual genius and true judgment.

. . .The era we face, that is soon upon us, will require a great deal from our leaders. They had better be sturdy. They will have to be gifted. There will be many who cannot, and should not, make the cut. Now is the time to look for those who can. . .

It’s not a time to be frivolous, or to feel the temptation of resentment, or the temptation of thinking next year will be more or less like last year, and the assumptions of our childhoods will more or less reign in our future. It won’t be that way.

We are going to need the best.

(It was Rita Skeeter’s real-world counterpart, in Rupert World’s Wall Street Journal.)

No need for a night at the movies, to experience a war-riven world without real grown-ups, this “bleak, perilous grown-up world that tests the independence [we] have struggled to obtain” in an “especially somber and scary coloration.”

Childish things have been put away — this time there is no quidditch, no school uniforms, no schoolboy crushes or classroom pranks — and adult supervision has all but vanished. . . . Harry and his companions must rely . . . above all, on one another.

. . . Hermione for her part, seems lonelier than ever. She has broken entirely with her Muggle parents, expunging herself from their memories to prevent them from being caught up in an increasingly vicious intrawizard civil war. . . .

Time to put away childish things including the fiction that school is preparation for real life, instead of Dark Art in itself. Time for serious leaders to do serious work in serious ways.

Small screen queens billed as real moms tweeting and dancing like bears animated by corporate control set up to seem like America’s “votes” are really dangerous only if we believe it’s real. Harry Potter is dangerous only if we don’t..

Watch tv and see the new movie, or not, but get the picture.

And then act, for real.





Irish and Modern and Swing, Oh My

19 06 2010

Favorite Daughter really swings

Photo credit: Dana Bryan

Adding a modern dance shot of Young Son, center:

One of these modern dancers is FavD but without seeing her smile, can you tell she’s on the right?





Why Fencing Knickers Make Me Feel at Home

4 03 2010

Getting one’s first pair of fencing knickers is not something that most families celebrate. 😉

But COD and his seasoned 16-year-old Dark Horse fencer will appreciate it, if no one else can. And this week I’m in the hunt for any family-and-friends moment that can draw the cozy circle of “home” closer.

My life seems a little surreal because we’ve moved into a local hotel, pending new traditional wood floors being sanded, sealed and finished throughout our home of ten years. You don’t want to know how dusty places I haven’t seen since 2002 had gotten — we’ve all been sneezing our heads off — or how many boxes of books we packed before we could notice any difference (over 100.) Everything we own from electronics and delicates to the refrigerator and washer-dryer is now stuffed into our garage like a Jenga puzzle, front to back, floor to ceiling, and I mean everything — including, unexpectedly and rather unfortunately from my POV at least, the shirts and suits DH needs for work and all of Young Son’s personal hygiene products.

But by golly, we got out with Young Son’s fencing bag, chanter and bagpipes, Irish stepdance hard shoes, the library’s Les Miserables still in progress, his iTouch AND one of the chess boards. . . oh, and more than a dozen geek t-shirts.

And this laptop, upon which I now muse.

So anyway. Our regularly scheduled daily activities proceed unabated here “at home” except we’re not. At home, I mean. Instead of taking a vacation from our home, it’s more like our home is taking a vacation from us! Who are we, really — just where we are now or also where we were, where we hope to be? What we have with us at the moment and can show, or also what we’ve collected over time, even if we can’t get at it or forgot where we put it?

Wednesday afternoon we went to the fencing salle as we always do, but from the opposite side of town so it was the same but different. The knickers in his suddenly adult size had come in, hurray, so that when he’s ready for his first tournament, Read the rest of this entry »





Thinking of Damien Middleton Tonight, With Love

4 12 2009

Brandon on FaceBook reminded us just as we were leaving for the Dance Studio, that this was the day three years ago, that the kids Learned the Hard Way what it was like to lose our dear, dear Damien . . .

Our children are neither schooled nor churched, but they both were drawn to and “belong” within an extended family of artists and performers centered around their dance studio.

This week the learning is especially hard and especially personal.





Home Education Curriculum That Swings Both Ways Is More Fun

15 08 2009

I just came across a Catholic mom’s free home education curriculum philosophy (with video) based on the same core resources we’ve loved as secular unschoolers!

Lazy Mom’s Homeschool Curricula

Consider this a fun little sidetrip along the epic journey of self-discovery that is our Christian versus secular curriculum evaluation project at Lynn’s.

For a contrasting example, conservative Christian blogger mom Spunky once defined her overall homeschooling curriculum goal with this:

A well-educated child is one who knows and loves the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loves their neighbor as themselves. That’s not proven by a standardized test score, but demonstrated daily in a life lived in obedience and service to Him.

This works for conservative Christians — school football players in the South for example, seem very well-educated if Christianity is the standard and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is the measure. But my thoughtful, well-educated, creative-class children would be dismissed as idiot failure barbarians under that definition (excepting the universal humanist nod to the neighbors, who they always count as equal to themselves, better than most Christians I meet.)

I remember puzzling over a related post at her place, in which one teen son was being taught how contemplative bible study holds every answer, even to modern secular education issues such as video games and television. (Need I add there’s no television in that home’s education?)

So meaningful overlap between Spunky and Snook curriculum isn’t realistic. This particular Christian curriculum approach by its own intent, excludes the secular life of the mind almost as if it sees the purpose of education as inoculation against any other way of thinking and learning but obedience and submission to infallible Authority as defined by one’s elders.

The antithesis of what I consider education.

OTOH Lazy Catholic Mom’s curriculum works both for her AND for me. 😀

The Animaniacs and especially The Simpsons are huge around here, more Young Son than FavD but learning is naturally integrated when we’re at home together — we all learn from each other’s pursuits. It rubs off.

FavD is acting as Chief Justice of SCOTUS in her honors national government class moot court, presiding over five cases drawn from reality but set in The Simpsons’ cartoon town of Springfield. . .

Read the rest of this entry »