Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dark and Lovely

Lately, I’m finding myself to be more receptive to the lessons around me. Here’s a tiny one I learned last night.

It’s Tuesday night and I went through the day thinking it would be just another ordinary Tuesday. Seeing as how, Tuesday nights are class nights for me, I spend a good hour and a half with my girls….. dancing.
Because my group of dancers is growing rapidly, we were moved back into our original dance room. A traditional dance room wide (length-wise) with wall-to-wall mirrors. All of these little details will make sense by the end of this post.

I stood facing the mirror, teaching our newest piece. I don’t face them so they don’t get confused and so that they can watch me if they need a quick point of reference. Anyway, one of my silliest and most energetic girls, eight years old, stood next to me. I was teaching a foot sequence that I had a feeling would be tough for them to pick immediately. I read frustration on her face almost instantaneously, so I took her hand and walked her through the steps and before long she picked it up like her older counterparts.

The song being so high and laced with energy, all of my girls were excited and bouncing around and getting really in to the routine but my silly girl was in another place. The mirrors told everything and I knew it wasn’t the choreography. While her teammates danced and giggled and jumped and played whenever we took a break, she sat on the floor with her head in her hands, legs crossed, staring blankly at her reflection.

Even though I was preoccupied teaching some of my younger ones the same sequence I’d just taught her, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. The hour started to dissolve and I took the opportunity. “Okay ladies, I’m pleased at how hard you all have worked tonight. I’m gonna play the song again and you guys can freestyle for the rest of class.” They jumped at the freedom that I rarely give them but just as suspected my silly girl, sat back on the floor. Head in hands, legs crossed, staring at her reflection.

I called her name. “Come here.” I sat on the floor with my legs crossed and she created a nook under my arm and close to my hip. “What’s the matter? Why are you so frustrated?” I asked her. She rested her head on my bosom and answered honestly (at least from what she’d been inspecting all evening). “Because I’m ugly.”

“Who told you you were ugly?” I asked.

“I told myself!” She fought back tears.

“But why?”

“Because I’m turning nine years old and I am.” It sounded simple but I could tell she was referring to her awkwardness and her bony body.

I gave her a good squeeze. “Are you kidding?” I made her face the mirror again, all the while my other kids were hopped up on Valentine’s candy so much so they didn’t notice our intimate moment. Rather than ask her what she saw, I said. “You must not see what I see. Those big brown eyes and long eyelashes. Look at that dark skin. You’re amazing. You might not think so now but you’re beautiful and I’m gonna tell you every time I see you until you believe it.” I looked at her (in the mirror) and asked, “Who do you see?”

She said her name.

“And what is she?”

“Beautiful!” She answered with a giggle.

Some people that come across this may think to themselves, “What a sad conversation to have with a little girl.”

I look at it differently. I felt privileged as a black woman, who at one point struggled with self-esteem, to be able to instill a sense of value in her. That was breathtaking to me. Value of her skin, her big eyes and long lashes, long gangly legs. Things that she may very well get picked on for now but when she grows into the amazing black woman she’s bound to be, it’s all going to fall into place. This isn’t to say my conversation with her tonight is going to obliterate her struggle with her appearance (she’s so adorable though) but at least it’s a tiny step in the right direction. Maybe this was appropriate for the both of us, it being February and all. I don’t know, I was moved and tickled to death to be able to help her see just a little of who she was and how gorgeous “black” really is.

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