I have the pleasure of teaching in the suburbs outside of New York. These kids are great. They are exposed to enough of the ‘big city’ to be spunky and sassy but are still surrounded by the shelter of a small town in the suburbs. For a good while I never had the experience of really knowing a born and bred NYC/Brooklyn/Queens kids. The first time I was ever exposed to this rare breed of human was in college. A good friend of mine was a born and raised Brooklyn boy who went to performing arts school in the city. I found that this college freshman was more independent than I am even today, was sharper in large social situations, was more savvy when it came to getting from place to place and most importantly was so aware of the world around him and because of this had a type of confidence some would say was cocky, yet I would say, was honest. Of course, this is NOT to say that kids who grow up in even the smallest of hamlets cannot develop these skills, but rather that NYC kids tend to be exposed to far more at a young age than those of us who grew up in other places.
I recently had my first experience teaching in NYC. I choreographed a show that had adult students from an acting program in the city as well as some younger students. From the day I walked in the room, I could tell these middle schoolers were going to give me a run for my money. The littlest one, about 7 years old, entered my first day with a backpack that was bigger than him. I saw his parents drop him off at the door and in he went. He walked in, said hello to the man at the front desk and then headed up these giant stairs to rehearsal. He was small but mighty. I followed him up the stairs to rehearsal thinking there was so much going on he probably didn’t even notice me directly behind him. As we reached our destination he opened the door for me and then very nicely looked at me and waited for me to pass him. This little nugget held the door for me. Chivalry is not dead in seven year olds apparently. (Try to get a 25 year old to hold the door for me and…. well, that’s another story) When I walked in the room, the kids were sitting around in a cluster speaking in a language other than English and when they were speaking in English they were talking about heading north or south to get to the closest Starbucks. Their posture, their attitudes and gestures and general demeanor with eachother was like watching a group of adults stuck in tiny human bodies.
Rehearsal with the kids in this particular production was interesting. They asked a lot of questions about why we were doing certain moves. They rolled their eyes when they didn’t like the moves I gave them. They picked up on patterns and steps very well for non-dancers and you could see their little brains breaking down each movement into smaller movements. It’s as if they were solving a math problem. They spent a fair amount of time with the college age and older students in the show. They could keep up with them. The intelligence and general understanding of everything that was happening around them was slightly overwhelming but more than anything… intimidating.
On a break from a rather long rehearsal one of the soon to be middle-schoolers approached me. She is scary. She is a know it all who to be fair, might actually know everything.
‘Are you a lesbian?’ – the little girl asks me
‘I’m sorry, what?’ – I responded
‘Are you a lesbian?’
At this point, I am wondering if she even knows what that word means. And, if she does know what that word means, why is she asking me this? I cautiously continued the conversation.
‘Do you even know what that word means? ‘ I asked politely
‘It means that you like girls’ – That is a pretty accurate description and meant she knew what she was talking about.
‘No, I am not a lesbian.’ …. Do I do it? Do I do it? Should I ask the question I know I am going to hate the answer to?
Why do you ask?’ – I did it.
‘You don’t seem to care about the way you look. You always wear sweatpants and your hair is never done and you never look really pretty’
I move… FOR A LIVING! Therefore my general appearance at any given rehearsal is yoga pants and a top, sweat pants and sneakers, jazz pants and a t-shirt etc. My hair is usually up, I wear make-up but it usually sweats right off… No, I do not look like Brittany Spears when I dance… so sue me.
I don’t think I knew what a lesbian was when I was thirteen – let alone ten. I definitely know I would have never had the audacity to ask someone that question – nor the smarts to be able to pick out a stereotypical lesbian from a crowd. (There are many different types of lesbians so, she is also stereotyping at quite a young age).
Moral of the story is: NYC kids are scarily perceptive (even though she was wrong in this specific instance) and intimidating and next time I do a show with them, I will wear bedazzled yoga pants and do my hair every day.