As I sat there, second row center, I was reminded of an old ploy foisted on me when I was a bachelor. My friends and relatives who were starting their own families took great amusement in tossing a baby in my lap. "Let's see how the single guy handles a baby" was the name of the game. I understood it as a time-honored tradition and a test, of sorts. I accepted each bundle of squirming, gurgling joy even when they were not so joyous. The anticipated reaction was supposed to be one of fear and confusion: "What should I do with this?" Instead, I chose to connect with the newly formed being in front of me in the only way I knew how. I talked to the baby. I made friends. When something came out of the baby that wasn't happy babble, I smiled and waited for some relief, or at least a towel. I never surrendered or ran away in fear.
That's pretty much how I handled the ballet recital. My nieces' year-end performance was optional for me. I was told that I did not "have to come." I regarded this non-invitation for some time and initially, I confess, I did decline. But at the eleventh hour a ticket became available, and it seemed to me that it was the right thing to do. I am a big fan of the right thing to do. The fact that we went out for cheeseburgers before the show was a bit of an enticement as well.
Second row. In the center. There would be no nodding off or looking elsewhere. I was face to feet with group after group of prancing youth, showing the range and limitations of their training. After each dance, I could feel the eyes of the girls' parents and grandparents, waiting to see if I was "having fun." I show up in their world as a sports fan. A Bruce Springsteen fan. What would I know about ballet?
Happily, as a kid, I was introduced to ballet by my mother. As with many things cultural, there were no strict requirements other than I watch it and decide for myself. I kept an open mind, and I have a very fond memory of watching "Coppelia," a very nice entry-level ballet that didn't tax my patience and had its amusing moments. I was made familiar with "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" primarily for their cultural significance. And then, of course, there was "Dance of the Hours" in Walt Disney's "Fantasia." All of these memories floated back to me as I watched little girl after little girl leap and bow and skip across the stage. They were all very impressive, but one little girl, who had her left leg in a cast and still managed to make her way through her piece, was the one I chose to remember. Her determination and concentration was apparent and incredible. She was When it was all over, and the bouquets were handed out, I stood in the lobby of the theater and watched as families filed out. My left leg hurt just a little, perhaps from the surgery I endured so many years ago, or maybe from the coming rain, but I think it was a sympathetic twinge for my prima ballerina.