Shedding a tear at the school concert. When daughters still dance into Dad’s heart.

October 29, 2013

This was going to be about something else. Until the girls started dancing.

Why was this performance so special? Remember, I’ve been watching them jump and twirl since they came up to my knee.

I’ve sat through concerts where fathers should have been receiving the medals.

We’ve done shopping centre recitals. Strutting their stuff in front of the fruit shop, as bananas are weighed.

They’ve always been good. Natural dancers. Both practice hard, at rehearsals and at home.

This particular show was for school, on a Sunday afternoon. I went alone, and managed to snare a seat close to the stage.

Their first dance was a lively number. They nailed it. The kids around them were great too. Such a confident, talented bunch.

But it was the second dance, a more sedate affair, that blew me away. I have no idea why. I’d seen them perform it before. In the same flowing red dresses.

For some reason, this was different. They LOOKED different. Older, both of them. With perfect hair and make up.

It was like I was watching in slow motion. I saw things, in those precious few minutes, that I hadn’t seen in months.

Teenager Too was glowing. I had to look twice, to make sure this tall, graceful young woman, was the daughter who used to fall asleep at the dinner table.

She stood out, among girls much older. Every move was perfect. But it was beauty shining from within, that lit up the stage. Her smile, lit up my heart.

The Teenager is now a leader in the group. The others follow her. When did she get so .. mature?

She works so hard, to be so good. Every spare hour, she’s trying to get better. I watched her glide across the floor, and saw the passion in her eyes. Ridiculously long limbs, making complex moves look easy. Every teenage boy in the room was watching too.

I thought back, to when this gorgeous young woman could hardly get out of bed. Not that many years back. A stomach problem that had us visiting every specialist in town.

She couldn’t eat. Constantly felt sick. Reflux you would normally see at the end of the bar.

The little girl who would listen to stories in bed until I fell asleep, could hardly keep her eyes open. She had no energy. And she was scared.

I feared the worst. That’s what Dads do. So one night, running out of options, I prayed.

It was a shout out to anyone who was listening up there, to swap the pain. Whatever this bad thing was, I wanted it. Or anything else, to square the ledger. That’s what Dads do.

To this day, I don’t know what that sickness was. One doctor said he thought it could pass, with time. And so it did. With or without my help. Slowly, her old spark returned.

So here she was, with the sister she squabbles with on the hour, but loves like no other, dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Near the end of the performance, they linked up, and for a split second, they were as one on the stage.

It was then, sitting alone in the dark, that I shed a quiet tear. So very proud, and so incredibly lucky.

I wish every one of you had been able to come and share those few minutes with me. Even my old racing mates, who last waltzed to the Glenn Miller Band.

That one dance, made me as happy as a father could be. Sometimes, you can’t beat the simple things.

The Little Girl with the Big Eyes, who didn’t want to dance.

July 9, 2013

There was something not quite right. A problem on stage, about to unfold before us.

We were watching a bunch of kids, all around four or five, dressed in bright colours and glitter, carrying pom poms.

They were about to perform some sort of very basic routine. Having seen dozens of similar pieces at various dance and cheer competitions, it would usually be my cue to doze off. But not this time.

Most of the girls were smiling and laughing. One was waving madly at grandma. The crowd had a giggle at that.

But further up the line, someone wasn’t smiling. A little girl, with dark straight hair, and large, wide eyes. Terrified eyes.

It’s common to see a little one apprehensive at these events. There are thousands of people watching. It must be daunting at the best of times.

Usually, after a slow start, they get into the spirit of things, and have some fun. Or they burst into tears, and run in the direction of mum.

Very rarely, do they freeze. So completely that all the eyes of the audience have nowhere else to look. That’s what was happening here.

The music started, some bubble gum pop song, and the other girls started doing their thing. Running, and jumping, and pom pom-ming.

But the Little Girl with the Big Eyes was doing nothing. Stuck solid, on the spot, right there on the stage.

At first, we could see the funny side of it. It was kind of cute. A girl all dressed up, with nowhere to go.

As the routine went on, it became harder to smile. The Little Girl with the Big Eyes couldn’t move. Not a muscle. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t doing anything. Just standing, looking out to the audience. Possibly for someone to save her.

If her dance partners had noticed her plight, they weren’t letting on. They were too busy performing. It was almost as if the Little Girl with the Big Eyes didn’t exist.

Someone bumped into her, as the steps ventured in her direction. Still, not a movement.

Towards the end, the girls had to join hands. But their circle had a broken link. The Little Girl with the Big Eyes couldn’t reach out. So they formed it without her.

By this time, we just wanted it to end. It was painful. Something that should have been fun, had become a torture session. And we were paying spectators.

The music stopped. We cheered, partly for the other kids, but mostly for the Little Girl with the Big Eyes. Please, give us a smile. Show us that everything is ok.

But she didn’t. Couldn’t. It was over, four minutes of hell, and still she couldn’t move. Her tiny friends ran gleefully from the stage. Leaving her alone. On that same spot.

Finally, mercifully, a woman ran on and scooped her up. I swear her arms and legs were stiff. It was like bundling up a little statue.

We exhaled. It was over.

I don’t know where she was from. Or where mum and dad were. I just hope the Little Girl with the Big Eyes was given the biggest ice cream there is that night. And that someone explained to her how dancing should be fun.

I hope she danced in her bedroom that night. Maybe even sang into a hairbrush. And forgot all about that stage. Somehow, I doubt it.

Strike up the band. These oldies can dance. Just don’t be late for dinner.

November 13, 2012

My favourite pub allows old people to dance.

Amazing, I know. Right there in front of everyone. Ancient moves for all to see.

There would be publicans in doof-doof establishments who would hand in their trading licence, before they’d allow a measured twirl on the floor. If only they knew what they were missing.

This elderly fun and frivolity occurs every Sunday afternoon. They pack the dance floor. Men and women who remember how to have a good time. There’s much laughter. And some fancy moves.

It’s no community dance hall. The drinks flow freely. This mob was having a good time before colour tv. Yep, THAT long ago.

One bloke seems to be the star. He’s a regular. Must be in his eighties. Always immaculately dressed. And a smile that might be painted on.

I believe there’s a rule that he can dance with any woman he wants. And he does.

The band plays jazz music. Now, I’m not usually a jazz fan. But in the pub, with this crew, the vibe is magical. A basic, raw sound.

It should be said that the band members have been doing these gigs for a very long time. I believe the piano player performed for Churchill the night before his first big wartime speech. No wonder he was pumped.

At some stage in the afternoon, each gets to do a solo. Trumpet, trombone, drums. Always to rousing applause.

At six o’clock, on the dot, the music stops. Everyone goes home. The first time I saw it I thought there’d been a bomb threat, so quickly did the floor empty. Early dinner waits for no-one. And it’s a tiring job, this dancing caper.

What makes these sessions even more appealing, is that these groovy grannies and grandpas share their Sunday with a whole heap of others.

In another part of the pub, the young hipsters are doing their thing, to a driving beat. Head in the other direction, and the punters are at work. And the pool players. Such an Aussie mix.

I know who has the most fun. And it pains me to say that in this instance, it’s not those having a flutter.

Long live the high-stepping, thigh-slapping seniors. Where the ladies keep their shoes on, and the gents tuck their shirts in. Except those wearing delightful Hawaiian numbers.

They remind us that there’s no age limit on having a good time. And that the retiree in front of you in the supermarket aisle, was partying before most of us were born.

Just don’t expect to see them in action after six. Even the wildest jazz dancers have to get their beauty sleep.

The trifecta that changed lives. How a lucky mum did a dance and won a fortune.

November 10, 2012

We groaned as they crossed the line.

Despised outsiders, all three of them. An impossible result. No-one could have gone close to selecting the placegetters in the nation’s greatest race.

So why was the lady in black jumping up and down?

At first I thought I’d mis-heard her. Then she said it again. In a voice that was trembling. ‘They’re my numbers.’

Hubby was next to her, with a look of disbelief. Their friends were stunned. They wanted more information, but she couldn’t speak. The jumping was taking it out of her.

We’d become friends for the day a little earlier, as we shared the only available space left. The end of the bar. Just enough room to spread the form guides. And Melbourne Cup cheer.

A normal couple. Dressed up for a day out, like millions of others. Enjoying the fun.

She checked again. Then, confirmation. Words we all dream of uttering. ‘I’ve won the trifecta!’

And not any trifecta. The biggest betting race in the land, where the first three in order were nag, donkey and camel.

The group began guessing how much it had paid. Wild estimates, covering all ends of the scale. The lucky winner had no idea. She looked from one to the other, waiting for word.

I was watching the screen as they debated. The magic figure came up. There almost wasn’t room on the monitor.

I told them what I’d seen. Forty-Eight Thousand Dollars. Give or take a few fancy shouts.

They didn’t believe me. It couldn’t be. I looked again. Nothing had changed.

My mate chipped in. We had seen enough TAB screens over the decades to get it right. 48 grand. 48 large. 48 big ones. A win for the ages.

She gasped. Hubby went weak at the knees. They hugged. They twirled. They danced the jig of big winners. Really big winners. Yep, they had 100% of it.

She explained to us how she did it. Four horses. They jumped out at her, off the form guide that morning. She marked all four. Showed us the crumpled up guide in her bag. Just amazing.

We told her we didn’t want a drink, but she bought us one anyway. She wanted to celebrate with anyone who was close by. It could only happen on Cup day.

Hubby told us what a huge help the cash would be. They had kids, and the usual financial dramas families face. Now, relief, thanks to three horses that no-one else wanted.

They stayed for the rest of the afternoon, soaking up the magic. When they left, they gave hugs, and shook hands. Instead of a cab, they’d be going home in a limousine.

There was something special about sharing in their success, even from afar. We’re used to seeing the rich get richer on racetracks. It was so much sweeter, watching ordinary folk fill their bank account.

Here’s to Charlotte. The Cup’s most deserving winner. We’ll see you next year. And maybe get your tips BEFORE the race.

Parents who cheer the cheerleaders. How we’re all caught up in the sport of the future.

June 19, 2012

It takes a special woman to get away with wearing a huge pink hair bow.

If the lady in question is, shall we say, of an age, then it’s an even greater challenge.

Our compere at the World Cup Cheer tournament cared nought about such observations.

She was the happiest hostess I’ve seen in many a day. Or, more to the point, heard.

No-one else got near that microphone. Mother Pink Bow was everything cheerleading is. Loud, colourful, and vibrant.

Her helpers had them too. More pink bows than Mardi Gras.

Until recently, I didn’t even know cheerleading was a sport. Sure, I’d seen colourful routines at half time in the footy. But this is something else.

My first taste of the cheer world came through Hollywood. If you’re the mum or dad of a dancing teenage girl, you’ve seen one of the ‘Bring it On’ movies.

The franchise has spawned flick after flick. I think they’re up to number nine. And I’ve sat through every single one. Several times over.

For those who prefer Clint Eastwood on the big screen, let me explain. The films are about high school cheerleaders. Usually from a disadvantaged school, on the wrong side of town.

After some early cat fighting, they unite as one, and do incredible cheer routines, to overwhelm the rich kids with two left feet.

They’ve been going forever. The next installment will be based in a nursing home. A bunch of purple rinsers will throw away zimmer frames and do a routine in the common room, infuriating the old blokes who won’t be able to see the soapies on tv. ‘Bring it On – But Not Until After My Afternoon Nap.’

Anyway, I digress. It IS indeed a sport. One of the fastest growing in the land. And The Teenager loves it.

She’s been training like a demon. Some of the sessions go three hours. Our little girl has never been fitter.

The routines are part dance, part gymnastics, part pep-rally. Incredibly fast, choreographed to the second, set to a mash-up of modern music. Which is sometimes drowned out by the screaming crowd.

There are 30 members in her team. One of the bigger groups. Uniforms are bright, to match the spirits of those taking part. Smiles are compulsory.

In this section, there were more than 60 different teams competing. Even accounting for my bad maths, that’s over 15-hundred girls in action.

Some run, some jump, and others are thrown into the air. They’re caught, most of the time. It’s dangerous, high-flying stuff. Even more so, when you consider some of those doing the flying were watching the Wiggles just a few years ago.

As an old footy-head, I’ve been yearning for the girls to be in a team sport. You can’t beat the spirit and bond that comes from accomplishing a goal with a bunch of mates.

One team even had a mascot. A dad, of course. Bouncing around in a hot, sweaty outfit, complete with giant head. The things we do.

The auditorium was packed. There must have been 2-thousand people there. More than some Sydney NRL games. And here they were, these high-kicking kids, showing nerves of steel.

As I watched the routines roll across the afternoon, interrupted only by Mother Pink Bow telling parents not to take photos (for the safety of the kids – how sad), I was also struck by how confident these kids were.

I’m tipping school bullies would be giving this lot a big miss. And that’s a wonderful thing. Skyrocketing self-esteem, from hard work and loud music.

There’s room for everyone, too. Girls large and small. Heavy and tiny. And a couple of lucky blokes, who get to do the lifting.

It’s not often you find a new sport. Now that I have, I’m hooked. Just like The Teenager. You’ll find us at the next competition. I wonder if they have those pink bows for dads?

Mums, it’s an ugly look. The healthy solution to get kids out of beauty pageants.

August 2, 2011

The security guard was in a muck lather.

No-one was listening. The big crowd kept spilling into his designated pathway outside the fruit shop. They were blocking access to the cheap strawberries.

Keep moving, he’d bark. No stopping. This area MUST be kept clear. It would all be so different if they’d let him carry a gun.

The man with the plastic badge was on the shift from hell. Dance Concert day at our local shopping centre. Five hundred excited mums, dads and grandparents looking for a spot. Something akin to herding cats.

The Teenager and Daughter Two were in action. Lots of their friends too. And other mates cheering in the crowd.

This performance was an hour, tops. Very civilised for a Saturday. Done and dusted before Race One.

The dancers were great. All of them. Smiles lighting up the weekend. And parents proud as punch.

Girls (and boys) dressed up, but so very different from the madness that took place in Melbourne on the same day. The debut of Toddlers and Tiaras in Australia.

As we were dodging our stressed security guard to get an extra photo, parents with a different view on things were working on big hair and spray tans.

You must have heard about the show by now. We’ve watched it a few times. It’s painful. Car crash tv. Children made up to look like adults. Mostly by mothers who are still pining for a shot at the big time.

You’ve probably seen the stories this week. It would be funny if it wasn’t so alarming.

There’s no manual for parenting. We blunder onwards, doing our best. Mistakes are part of the journey. But rule number one, is to protect.

Instinct plays a huge part. You just know, deep down, that those children shouldn’t be on that ridiculous stage.

So here’s my advice. Forget the beauty contests. Want them performing? Head to the local dance school instead.

Yes, I appreciate the irony here. I couldn’t dance if you were shooting at me.

I realise the dance sport scene has had critics too. It can be bloody expensive. And I know some of the bigger enterprises can be pretty full on. But I can only go on what I see my girls involved in. And it’s all a positive influence.

There are hundreds of classes in suburbs everywhere. Most of them cater for all standards. Nothing fancy, the ones I’ve seen. Ours is based in a community hall.

The teachers are young and enthusiastic. Everyone is welcome. If you can muster some sort of shuffle, you’re in.

It’s about being part of a team. Solos are rare. Character building, when you get a bunch of people working on a common goal together.

They train a few times a week. Just like footy and softball and cricket. Making new buddies, outside of the classroom.

It’s healthy. One of the few hours in the day they’re not on a computer, or a phone, or a game.

In the ten acts at that little suburban shopping centre, there were kids of all shapes, sizes and cultures. At one with the music.

Most importantly, they were having fun. THEIR fun. Not ours. Doing what kids like to do. And no need to be the most beautiful to take part.

As a parent, there are few things better than watching your child doing something they really enjoy. Can the Toddlers and Tiaras mob honestly say that? I doubt it.

Here’s hoping sanity prevails, and the American concept doesn’t take hold here. Trust me, we don’t need anything else to make our kids grow up quicker.

A warning to all Dads – watch out for Year 8 boys who dance in baggy shorts.

May 31, 2011

The kid was looking straight at me. Blue eyes under a shag of blonde hair. I swear this young punk was mocking me.

He’d just done a high energy dance, with another young punk. Hip-hop, I think they called it. They wore caps, and drooping baggy shorts, designed to show off their undies.

The crowd was excited. What we’d seen, apparently, was good stuff. Girls were screaming. But this kid, he didn’t care about the cheering. He only had eyes for me.

The Treasurer accused me of over-reacting. He wasn’t looking at me, she said. He was a nice boy, she said. And good-looking!

Let us be clear. High school boys are now the enemy. Well, my enemy. No-one else seems to notice. Here they were, these thirteen year olds, confident and friendly. And talented.

It was high school dance night. Daughter One’s debut as a Year Eight performer. She was wonderful. Dads can say that. But there was a problem. Those damn boys noticed her too.

I’m no novice when it comes to dance concerts. Fathers with music-loving children become experts on matters of the stage. How ironic.

Dancing is not one of my strengths. I can sway with The Treasurer when ordered to, and have been known to break into an awkward tap late at night. Outside of that, I have nothing.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be attending these concerts. You just assume that as a dad, you’ll be at footy training. Or in cricket nets. If I’m to be perfectly honest here, it takes some getting used to.

Early on, the girls would wear cute costumes, and jump around on stage to the beat of Nicky Webster. I would sit and nod. Others around me would explode into applause. Not quite a length of the field try or a boundary through extra cover. But I played my part.

Later, it became clear that both girls were serious about this dancing caper. Afternoon practice sessions. Weekend concerts. As long as they took place outside of Saturday racing hours, I’d be there.

That last bit was a joke, of course. As if I’d put my punting ahead of the joy that is watching my daughters express themselves. A pocket transistor and earpiece worked just fine.

My greatest complaint with dance concerts, is that I don’t particularly care about other kids. No offence. I only have so much dance love. And I have to save that for my own.

These concert programs usually contain 70 or 80 performances. Yep, that many. Dance after dance. With 5 year olds, and ballet girls, and youngsters learning circus acts. All crammed into my afternoon.

It is the law of being a Dad that your child never comes on stage before act number 68. And you don’t know this until you’ve taken your seat. So you watch, and clap, and watch, and clap, and ignore the impulse to stab yourself in the eye with the nearest sharp implement.

I spent an entire Sunday at a cheerleading competition. I was not well, because of activities undertaken the day before. I took my seat, and suffered through a grand total of 112 routines.

That’s not to say that the kids weren’t talented. They were marvellous. Doing positive things to stay fit and keep out of trouble. It’s just that I had to watch them.

Just when I thought I had the dance spectator thing sorted, along comes high school. For all the problems associated with those junior outings, there was a positive; no boys. Except little ones in bow ties and bowler hats. Not any more.

As I watched the other night in the big auditorium, it hit me. My baby girl is growing up. At home, I can be blissfully ignorant of the signs around me. But here, at her high school, surrounded by these confident, talented, self-assured young people, I could no longer pretend.

She becomes a teenager in a few weeks. I’ll tell you more about that soon enough. With this new age, comes change. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not the only one who now marvels at her beauty. Others, too, have their day brightened by her laugh. And the absolute warmth of her heart.

I’m bracing for what’s ahead. I don’t have sons, but I know boys. That’s the problem. Those mums and dads who had to put up with my antics several decades ago are clinking glasses as we speak. Payback time.

Maybe the Year 8 punks aren’t so bad after all. I guess we could learn to get along. And maybe, he wasn’t mocking me. I must admit they were impressive up there. But if our relationship is going to work, could they at least pull up those bloody shorts?