Success, or the experience? Which is better? I have read several articles and blogs on this topic lately, especially as it concerns children. And while the consensus seems to say that letting our children discover, explore, and savor the experience is the good thing, real life still seems to favor winners.
My son dances. Well, two of my sons dance, but one is only six, and he is just beginning and may not continue, and even bad six-year-old dancers are adorable.
The Young Adult began dancing at the age of 10. (Actually, I have the videos to prove he started dancing as a toddler, but I am not allow to show these under pain of death.) He and his best friend decided to take a class at our homeschool coop on Highland Dance. They liked it enough and learned a few things. When the Young Adult turned 11, we required him to take some kind of sport or PE class. He is not what you would call a "traditional athlete", and - long story short - he chose to enroll in Highland Dance as a real student this time.
First of all, if you know nothing about Highland dance (and let's face it - not many people do), it is a very athletic sport which combines dance, grace, coordination, precision, and sheer power, all set to bagpipe music. If that doesn't blow your kilt, I don't know what will! Dancing a 6 Step Fling is equivalent to sprinting one mile. Read it again. Sprinting a MILE! Now, sprint a mile gracefully, and you have Highland dance.
When the Young Adult officially began Highland dance, we did not let him compete for one year. Poor kid was 11, and had just hit a massive growth spurt. He was basically a human Labrador puppy - all long legs and big paws, and almost no coordination. And if you have done any kind of dance, you will know coordination is kind of important in dance. When his first year was up, he began to compete, but not very well. He just lacked, well, coordination. He took what we call the "long route" in Highland dance. He did not shoot up the ranks or blow through the levels. He struggled and fought his way up.
Some dancers spend one year or less in the beginner category. The Young Adult spent three years as a beginner. Three long years. He watched while others moved ahead, seemingly with ease.
Always, always, always, dance has been HIS decision. In the low points, when it felt like he would never move ahead, it was his decision to stay. When he realized that in order to succeed, he would have to give up his natural tendency to laziness, it was his decision to work at home on his skills.
I won't say Art Guy and I did nothing. We urged him to practice. Sometimes we demanded it. We told him that if we were going to spend this kind of money on an activity, then he owed us to work at it.But, the decision to continue in this activity, to be a dancer, has always been his.
And I will say this - at 16 1/2, the benefits of Highland Dance are apparent. Physically, his physique is rock hard (he could probably break cement with his calf muscles. You can tell a Highland dancer by their calf muscles.). Mentally, he has learned to focus and push himself, but not over think. Emotionally, he has learned to expect great things, but acknowledge defeat. He had learned to stand on a stage and receive one last place ribbon, after months of hard work. He has sat in the stands, hearing everyone's number but his called for awards. Dance will tear you up and spit you out if you do not learn how to deal with these things. He has learned that his greatest enemy is himself - if he tells himself he will fail (and he does this a lot), then he will. Spiritually, he has learned to accept instruction, take correction, to be humble, to be proud, to be a graceful winner and a graceful loser.
|USIR, Sugarland, 2014. The longest, biggest stage I have ever seen.|
This past weekend we were able to attend the big national competition for Highland Dance - the USIRs - the United States Inter-Regional Championships. The divisions are too much to explain, so to sum up - Premiere is the highest level, and all the other sub-levels are called Pre-Premiere.
|Yes, I wish every Highland dance competition was in a plushy ballroom with temp control.|
Only qualifying Premiere dancers competed in the USIRs. We watched those. And man! Were they amazing! The Young Adult was, at first, intimidated watching them, then inspired. By the end of the big national competition, he was dying to dance, to put into practice what he had witnessed, what he sat taking notes on.
|Ready to dance - oh, the possibilities!|
He did dance at the Pre-Premiere competitions, held at the same place on different days. His group is the next highest level, and they are very good. There were 9 this past weekend in his category. Nine dancers danced a total of seven dances. He only placed in two. He received a sixth place medal on Friday and a fourth place medal on Sunday, for the same dance.
|Much happier with his fourth place finish.|
On Friday, after receiving his sixth place medal, I watched his try to control his anger and his tears. He does not usually melt down like that, but I think after all the work he had been doing for the past few months (3 hours of class a week, and practice every day at home), he was so angry at himself, at his lack of "skill", at what he perceived to be his failure. I sat with my arm around him, talking to him, shoring up the breaking dam of his heart. Although I looked calm, my heart broke watching him.
No, he is not a natural at his sport. No, it does not come easy. No, even hours of practice a week is not enough to make up for the natural grace and ability others have - even some of his own dance friends. And yes, even after hours and hours of practice, sometimes the best you can do is last place.
He came away excited, ready to recommit himself to compete at the highest level, which he will move to in 2015. He is determined to go to the Southwest Regionals for the first time next year, and do something to make himself proud, to prove to himself that hard work and ambition can pay off.
And my heart quivers within me. Do I think he can do it? Well, his goal is not really to win, but to place well. And yes, I think he can do it. I think it will take more time and effort then even he realizes, and a dedication he has not quite reached (but he is so close to). So, yes; yes, I think he can. I believe in him. But, I also know what it is to work and work and work and long and desire and work some more, and never reach the top - that seems to be my life story, so maybe he inherited it from me.
I just want him to know that it IS worth it. The experience. The lessons learned. They ARE the journey. The medals and trophies and accolades - those are the icing on the cake, not the cake or even the flour and eggs and milk. Everything he is learning, all the people he is meeting, all the friends he is making - that is what matters. Someday when he is old, he will be able to say, "I was a Highland Dancer" and he will look at video of his younger self leaping into the air and he will be amazed and shocked and wish he had know. KNOWN. Known that THAT was what mattered.
In the end, the journey is what takes you places. Have a great trip, my son.