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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 9


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Christmas in a small town! Everywhere you look and listen, the sights and sounds of the season fill the heart with festivity. The front porches twinkling a welcome. The wreaths on the street lamps. The tinsel in the shop windows. The carolers strolling through the neighborhood, muffled in woolen scarves.

And the Holiday Dance Recital.

The auditorium of Luxembourg High School was filled with milling family members trying to find a block of seats in which to wedge their bodies, coats, and floral tributes to the dancers.. Through the press, Jill saw Reagan waving her down to the front row. 

“Is it okay to sit here?” Jill asked.

I’ve blocked out the whole row,” said Reagan, moving to intercept a white-haired lady trying to take a seat. “Excuse me, ma’am, these seats are reserved.”

“I don’t see anyone sitting here,” said the lady, preparing to get comfortable.

“I’ve got my coat on the last seat,” said Reagan brightly. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to move.” To Jill, she said, “You take the seat on the end and don’t let anyone but our group past.”

“Who’s ‘our group’?” Jill called, but Reagan had already moved to the far side and was chatting with some other dance moms. Heath and his family were in the crowd, but sat with family members who’d come out to be the cheering section for little Jayden at her first recital. To Jill’s astonishment, Mr. Singh materialized like Herr Drosselmeier and bowed to her as he passed down the row to sit by Reagan. Then Del arrived, shadowed by her husband. She sat near Jill. 

“We always leave the center seat for Mother,” she said.

“Nothing but the best for Mother,” Jill agreed, bitterly. “God forbid she should have anything less than perfection. She almost fired a girl today for trying to put Daddy’s old ornaments from the garage on the tree at the Inn. Wouldn’t do to have Daddy’s ratty stuff cluttering up Mother’s decorating scheme.”

“Stop being the center of your own universe,” said Del, unperturbed. “You’re not the only one grieving Dad, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just because Mother is a controlling bitch doesn’t mean she didn’t love Dad. Her grief comes out in grasping at control, because being control feels like being stable to her.”

Jill opened her mouth to snap back, and then shut it. All her life Mother had been a goad, driving her to animal fury. She had learned to manage her own anger through dint of therapy and patient work, but she’d never considered why it was that Mother tried to control everything. Now, as if Del had flipped a light switch, Jill saw clearly: If Mother could find fault with someone else, she didn’t have to find fault with herself. 

Whereas Mother’s first instinct was to control everything, Jill’s own first instinct was to blow everything up. And here she had been, about to lash out at Del, without even thinking about what Del had said. 

“Wow,” she said, finding herself on the verge of a great insight. “Mother and I have completely opposite ways of dealing with frustration.”

“Yes,” said Del, as one would address a particularly bright kindergartener.

When Mother came, Jill let her past without a murmur. 


“Can I sit here?” asked a lady holding an oversized bouquet, eyeing the empty seat next to Jill. 

“I’m sorry, this seat’s taken,” said Jill. She had just spied Garrett French standing awkwardly in the back. As the lady huffed off, Garrett saw Jill beckoning. He came down the aisle with the look of a man who has just caught a life preserver.

“Thank you so much,” he said as she scooted over to give him a seat. “I’ve never been to a dance recital before, and I didn’t know the protocol.” 

“This is my first too,” Jill said. “But I can’t imagine that you came to see Quennedey.”

“My niece asked me to come see her dance, and I said I would,” he said, searching the program for her name among the Olivias and Lilys and Avas. 

“Can you not find your family?” said Jill, looking around helpfully although she had no idea who she was looking for.

“I know exactly where my brother is. I just couldn’t bear the thought of sitting with him for an hour.”

In the suddenly dimmed lights, Jill couldn’t tell whether the set of his mouth was defiance or shame. 

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” A cheery voice blared through the speakers, begging them to enjoy the show and to remember that since it was already being recorded, there was no need for anyone to video the dances. “Please give your dancer all your attention and let us do the filming!”

The curtain rose on a trio of blondes in unitards writhing mostly in sync. Jill didn’t know much about dancing, but she thought if she had been paying lots of money for dance classes only to discover that her child was doing a lyrical interpretation of Pentatonix’s The Little Drummer Boy, she would have asked for her money back. Fortunately, Jayden Albany and the Wee Dance ballet class, up next, were adorable in their tutus. The Tiny Tappers got confused and spend most of their dance waving to their mothers, but the Hip-Hopsters had a boy who actually had a sense of rhythm.

The key to watching a dance recital, it seemed, was to pick out one talented child in each class and watch her throughout the dance. It helped that the kids were cute, and the costumes pretty. Every now and then there was a dance that was worth watching for its own sake. The advanced Tap class did a surprisingly complex routine to a bluegrass version of What Child Is This which Jill and Garrett agreed justified the price of the tickets. But most of the dances were of significance only to parents or grandparents, who could be picked out of a crowd because they all had their phones up, recording. 

The pointe class was up next, and Reagan was explaining to Mr. Singh how Quennedey was the youngest dancer in the group, and how she’d had to be granted special permission to join the class early.

“She’s spent hours working on her showcase solo,” said Reagan, sighing at the dedication of her child to the arts. “She won’t even let me see it. She’s such a perfectionist.”

The ballerinas shuffled out on their points and took a pose. The music was something classical that Jill didn’t recognize. Quennedey looked a bit sullen next to the older girls, but she turned out to hold her own competently enough. Reagan glowed. 

“The solos are coming up,” she whispered, adjusting the focus on her phone.

One by one, the girls stepped up and did sixteen measures of plies and leaps and arabesques. Jill could hear Reagan keeping a running commentary on the class dramas, and wondered if that was supposed to be part of the video. Now Quennedey stepped up, extended her arms, grinned, and broke into a vigorous Hype. The audience roared its approval.

“What?” gasped Reagan, as Quennedey Flossed double-time.

“Stop,” she moaned as Quennedey did a gritty Orange Justice.

“No,” she barked, as Quennedey ended with a sharp Dab.

The poor girls soloing after Quennedey were thrown off entirely and could only make vague approximations of their choreography. Reagan foamed at the mouth. Next to Jill, Del was nodding.

“Did you know she was going to do that?” Jill asked Del.

“I could have told you she was going to do that,” Del replied. “Why would anyone expect anything else?”

After the dances and the applause and the interminable bows and acknowledgments and flowers, Jill felt herself bound in duty to check on Reagan and make sure she would neither die of apoplexy nor strangle her daughter. But Reagan had put aside thoughts of violence. Mr. Singh had praised the dance and said it was quite in keeping with the finest traditions of Bollywood.

“Even Misty Copeland cannot master those moves,” he said. 

“He’s seen her try?” murmured Garrett in Jill’s ear. She snickered.

“I have,” said Mr. Singh, and he bowed his bow to them both as he escorted Reagan and a dozen roses to wait by the dressing rooms for the young ballerina. 

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