She was 11 and had only been dancing about a year, well with a group. She had danced in the kitchen, in the living room around the yard and through the garden since the day she was old enough to walk. She would whirl and twirl and leap to the music in flowing through her mind and her body. This little giggling girl who felt the music in her bones as she would say.
It was a dance competition with real ballet dancers, Broadway musical stars and popular choreographers as judges. There were talent scouts and performer agents in the audience hoping to catch the next great act. Think of it as American Idol and America’s Got Talent without the audience participation. Yes it was that big. Was our tiny dancer afraid? Did she have stage fright? No. She had been dancing since birth. It was her release. It was her expression. It was what fed her creativity. She had spent hours in the studio going over her choreography with Ms. Rose her dance instructor. She had played the music in her head. She would plie’ through the grocery and pirouette pique in the post office. She would practice her hand placement in the car and she even sauté de basque in her dreams. (I don’t even know what half that stuff means.)
Finally the day had come. The pretty petite pre-teen had spent her days in intensive dance classes with professionals and her evenings competing against hundreds of other dancers. She made it to the final night. She and her dance teacher had choreographed a lyrical ballet to a Beatles song. She had chosen a costume of crimson velvet and she had painted her favorite lyrical shoes to match. Her make-up was perfect and her hair just so. The music began and she danced.
The tiny dancer forgot that there were eyes watching her, she forgot that she was being judged and she let the music flow through her. The judges penciled comments on their cards but she paid no heed. She danced and danced until both she and the music came to a conclusion. Then she waited until the end of the evening to hear her placement.
Gladys sat in the audience tears streaming down her face as she watched this danseur très petit. She was awe struck that this was her child. This was the same pre-teen who could not cross the living room without tripping on her own feet. Tadpole finished her dance and came and sat on her lap and asked “did I do ok? Do you think I won?” Gladys smiled at her talented and beautiful child but did not want to get her hopes up. Gladys knew that the competition was tough and that this was the fledling ballerina’s first test of skill. She knew it would be very difficult for her child going up against girls her age and older who had been in strict ballet classes since they popped out of the womb. Gladys answered her daughter with an honest but almost brutal answer of “you danced beautifully. You and the music were one. Tadpole please remember that you are new to this. You might not win but just the opportunity to get to this point in the competition is a honor.”
Taddy looked up at her mother with that oh so knowing look and said “don’t worry Momma. I know I did good. Now be quiet they are announcing the top 4 that will be competing tomorrow.” Gladys was afraid that her daughter would be disappointed so she held her close and whispered her pride and love into her hair.
The judges compiled their results and then began calling out the top five in each category. They started with the youngest and worked their way up. Finally they were in the 12-14 year olds. “We are pleased to announce that fourth place in the regional lyrical finals goes to a new comer this year Tadpole McGuillicutty.” Gladys screamed and proudly hugged her daughter. Tadpole jumped up and ran on stage her big Dumbo house slippers slapping the boards of the stage. She hugged and thanked each of the judges and then took her place on the stage. Tears were streaming down her face and she was smiling the biggest smile her mother had ever seen on her face. Then the judges announced the rest of the regional winners all the while Taddy smiled.
The judges went on to announce that the next days competition would be for world champion. They would again have a winner in each category then an overall winner. They thanked the performers and the audience and bid us all ado. Gladys rushed to the stage and her daughter. Taddy grabbed her mother and pulled her out the door. Once they were situated in the car Gladys turned to Taddy and said “honey, I’m so proud of you. I can’t imagine how you feel. You must be about to burst.” Taddy looked at her mother through her tear filled eyes and said “I’m not crying because I’m happy. I’m crying because I wanted first place. I’m going to win it tomorrow night. I’m going to win first place over all.”
Gladys was taken back. She sat mouth agape and eyes wide. Did she just hear what she thought she heard? Her daughter was sad? She had done so well. She had gotten fourth place. She was at a loss. She hugged her daughter tight and said “you want first place? Then go out there and dance to win.” She wiped the mascara and makeup from her daughter’s face and drove home singing “We are the Champions” with her daughter.
The next night once again Gladys sat in the audience awe struck as the danseur très petit moved with the music. She piourreted, and plie’d. She was liquid and pliable. She moved and swayed and the whole audience moved and swayed with her. She never once took her eyes from the judges. She never faltered or misstepped. She had a smile bigger than Texas and she loved every minute of the choreography. All too soon the music ended and so did her dance. Gladys looked at the judges who all sat for just a moment before they began to clap. Taddy bowed smiled at the judges turned to her mother and winked then exited the stage.
Once again she sought her mother’s lap for reassurance. Once again Gladys told her how wonderfully she did but gave the warning. She hugged her daughter and told her that it didn’t matter at this point if she won or not what was important was that she had danced her heart. The applause was her prize. The experience her trophy. Once again the tiny dancer looked at her mother with that knowing look and said “I won this one. I know I did. I can feel it.”
The judges sat on the stage with their results in hand. Once again they started with the youngest dancers. Once again Taddy sat on Gladys’ lap holding her hand eyes riveted on the judges. They called the fourth place winner and it wasn’t Taddy. They called the third place winner and it wasn’t Taddy. They called the second place winner and Gladys held her breath. It wasn’t Taddy. Finally it was time for the first place winner and Gladys’ heart hurt and her stomach turned. She did not want this disappointment for her daughter. She was so concerned about her daughter’s disappointment that she didn’t hear them announce Taddy’s name.
Tadpole stood up smoothed her skirt and started toward the stage. Gladys grabbed Tadpoles arm and said “oh honey I’m so sorry.” Taddy looked at her mother and smiled “MOM! I WON! I told you I would win.” Gladys sat stunned as she watched her tiny dancer run up on stage and accept her award. She was filled with pride and awe. She was also filled with relief. Then it was time for best overall and she watched her sweet young daughter on stage. She watched her watch the judges. Once again Tadpole turned and winked at her mother and mouthed “I won”. Then they called Tadpoles name and it was her mother’s turn to cry.