Buena Vista – My holiday weekend included a dance recital. Attending this event required a drive of considerable long country miles through the rolling sandy hills of Marion County. Home to the town of Buena Vista, the county seat and the only incorporated city in these parts. The weather lady on TV will often point out thunder cells rolling through the neighboring communities of Juniper and Mauk and Tazewell.
This is the rural south.
I’m thinking what you’re thinking. If my granddaughter takes dance lessons less than 5 miles from my house, why is the recital 70 miles the other side of nowhere?
It turns out that this sleepy little town is home to the Moon Family Theater. And by all rights this is quite the swanky place. This is no hole-in-the-wall-dive. This is not your dilapidated high school auditorium. This is a makeover of an old downtown building across the square from the Courthouse that rivals the best of the big city small theater venues I’ve ever seen.
I’ve been digging for a little history on this place and have come up empty. But it’s obvious that the Moon Family is homegrown. They made well-to-do somewhere along the way and came home to give back to the community they love. A performance academy for aspiring artists. A first-rate theater with shows booked throughout the year. Nashville artists. Students of the Academy. Elvis impersonators. And, of course, my granddaughter and today’s dance company.
I wish I knew what this place used to be. Tall ceiling with huge wooden beams. Exposed brick walls. An old sliding warehouse door on the far wall. Seating around tables for about 150 spectators. Hot popcorn and cokes served from the lobby. A catwalk overhead in the back with spotlights set on center stage. Sound and lighting techs in the booth against the back wall. It had all the look and feel of, well, a theater.
When the house lights went down, I could feel the cool of air conditioning wafting around my shoulders. It was late afternoon. A full stomach. A slightly padded wooden chair. One arm propped on the table. My legs stretched out in front of me, crossed at the ankles.
“Welcome to our dance recital.” The dance instructor took the stage. “We’ve got a lot of students who have worked very hard all year long. From our 4 & 5 year-olds up to our adults. There are 27 performances this afternoon.”
I picked up the program to verify that I had heard her correctly. Yep. Twenty-seven groups of dancers are about to roll out on stage. Lawd, I hope I make it.
“Don’t worry. We will move things along quite fast. We’ve already had one recital earlier today, and I’ve got one more this evening after this one.” God bless her heart. “I love all my dancers and I know you will, too.” And she sat down front.
The custom sound system blared out a tune and four tiny dancers in yellow outfits slipped out from behind the stage entrance. Three made it to center stage like pros. One hid behind the piano and refused to go any farther. The three out front tapped their toes and attempted graceful movements with their arms. They reminded me of me slipping off the bottom step at home and trying to catch my balance, only they were cute as kittens. They bowed at the end and the crowd applauded.
By this time, I had been sitting in the dark for several minutes. Cool and relaxed. I felt my jaw go slack and my head jerk back. We were into the third performance, and I had completely missed the second one. The bass in the speakers was pounding my chest like fireworks on the 4th of July. I wiped my face and sat up a little straighter in my chair.
I was looking for performance #’s 5, 13 and 24. These were the ones for which I had driven 50 miles into the heart of Marion County. I dare not miss my granddaughter.
As soon as I got still, I fell asleep during #4. I jolted up in my chair. And only because it was dark, was I confident that my slumber had gone mostly unnoticed. Until I looked down the table and saw my daughter giving me “the eye.” “You alright?”, my son-n-law grins at me. They think I’m funny. Old men that fall asleep in the dark at the drop of a hat even when the music is at 112 decibels.
I’m no expert at theater make-up. Thick facial coloring and dark lines around the eyes and enough lipstick to make a woman of the night jealous. But this is what my six-year-old granddaughter is wearing. A painted face, which out on the sidewalk in the daylight caught me by surprise. I had never seen so much make-up on a little girl. But when she came out on stage, you could barely tell.
I had seen her at lessons only once a couple of months back. There didn’t appear to me to be much rhyme or reason to what they were doing. Shaking legs. Sweeping arms. Hopping forward and back. It just didn’t look much like dance to me.
That changed up on stage. I think there were six of them in her group. Red sequins sparkling in the lights. The music was kind of a pop tune that I didn’t recognize. They twirled and tapped and moved in rhythm pretty well for silly little girls. One very serious face with blonde curls. Zelda, our rising star, was looking forward at her coach, but every now and then she’d steal a sideways glance at our table. Probably checking to make sure I was still conscious. She knows me too well.
I’m not sure what to expect from her dance career. I know parents who have “danced” from first grade through high school graduation. They spend late nights in the studio waiting on little girls to finish rehearsals. Long weekends on the road to places like Savannah and Mobile for regional competitions. When you get to that level, the dance ceases to be a recital. It becomes a NASCAR rivalry. The girls all know who they have to beat.
When the house lights came up, there was a hoard of little dancers with painted faces that made their way out to their families. Hugs all around. Bouquets of flowers lain across folded arms. Proud parents bragging boldly on how well they all danced.
I’m awake enough now to remember when I danced with my girls in the kitchen. There was no make-up. No sound tracks. No sequins. Just little feet on top of my shoes. Holding hands as they leaned back and giggled. We twirled around the end of the counter till we collapsed on the floor.
Maybe we should all dance a little more. Refuse to allow our age to determine our freedom to move to the rhythm. Revive the unadulterated nerve to stand up and shake a leg. Feel the sheer delight of arms swaying in the breeze.
Just don’t expect me to wear sequins.
Besides, what I really need right now is a nap.