The Purpose of Civilization: Dance Class

Last Wednesday (May 30), the Dailies had a major gig in South Orange County – an outstanding evening in all respects, by the way – but it involved their early departure to the old O.C. to allow for equipment pick-up and set-up, rehearsal, and so on. That meant that yours truly had sole charge of their offspring beginning at 9:30 a.m., rather than my usual Wednesday start time of 2:30. No problem, says I. Furthermore, I remember that every Wednesday Erica takes Ella to a 10:30 dance class (with toddler Zion as an interested observer), followed by lunch (usually at Topper’s Pizza Palace). Erica assumed I would pass on this event, having had a knee arthroscopy five days before. But how hard could this be?

An important planning tip for future reference: It takes at least 45 minutes to prep and travel to dance class. There is a special outfit Ella must don for the occasion. Hair must be properly pulled up (definitely not part of my training). Zion must be dressed. The appropriate stuff must be packed in the diaper bag. A stroller must be loaded in the car. The kids must be buckled into their car seats. (Ella’s seat has a padded bar thing that must pass over her head, effectively dismantling my lame attempt at gathering her hair into a pony tail.) Then we have to find the dance studio, a nondescript destination amid dozens of similar-appearing industrial buildings near Amgen’s massive complex in Newbury Park.

Fortunately, Ella is able to direct me once we exit the freeway. Once we arrive, unbuckle, gather the gear and walk in, she makes a beeline for the door to her class. We’re 25 minutes late for a 45-minute class, but no matter. She joins the contingent of a dozen or so preschoolers in matching outfits and begins moving to the rhythm of “A Cup of Princess Tea.” Suddenly one child requests a potty break and several follow suit. The teacher takes pity on the pathetic state of Ella’s hair, no doubt wondering what male attempted to fix it, and efficiently restores order. The potty-relieved troupe now puts on tap shoes for “Be Our Guest,” complete with little trays, and begins their dance moves. The tapping isn’t in synch, sounding more like metallic popcorn, but no matter. I drink in the whole scene through the observation window. A thought crosses my mind, much like a similar reflection I had 25 years ago when I sat in on our daughter’s dance class on my day off.

This is the purpose of civilization.

I think of all that has to be in place for these little girls to dance and twirl, and for me to watch them and savor the moment. A whole lot of gallant people died more than 50 years ago so that we don’t have to live under swastikas. A whole lot of people have kept watch over our country since that time, so that we haven’t been bombed by some Grand Poobah who doesn’t like our culture or religion. A whole lot of people labored to develop immunizations so that none of these little girls have been killed by diphtheria or crippled by polio. A whole lot of people worked to create the infrastructure that allows us to have some income, a place to live, food to eat, and something left over to pay the people who run the dance studio.

I am well aware that far too many people in our world cannot watch enraptured while a granddaughter dances, or talk into the night with a beloved spouse over a glass of wine, or read whatever book they’d like, or sing worship songs in a public meeting. I marvel that I am the recipient of these and other privileges, and remain both humbled and grateful to God – and to a lot of people I’ll never know – who together have allowed me to experience them.

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About Paul

Addison Road reader and commenter for a year or so. Husband of Teri (Grammy) for 32 years and counting. Family physician for the same length of time. (We were married the day after medical school graduation.) Father of one of the Dailies vocalists, and enthusiastic grandfather. A few books during my spare time. Focus on the Family Physicians Resource Council member since 1990. Film geek and would-be critic (aren't we all?).

17 thoughts on “The Purpose of Civilization: Dance Class

  1. Scott

    …and I always thought those “dance routines” were pointless, painful to watch, and a waste of money. But then again, I don’t have kids.

    Even if I’m right in my cynicism (hopefully not), at least we have the freedom to choose or not choose to do pointless, painful, wasteful things. Or beautiful things.

    Good thoughts.

  2. Chad

    I hate to break it to you Scott, but you need an enema.

    Or a lollipop.

    Or perhaps you need to pet a puppy.

  3. Carrie

    Or a lollipop-shaped enema….owie…. “NOW do you love uncoordinated ballet? SAY IT!”

  4. Scott

    Would this be self-administered, or is anyone volunteering?

    Yikes, ok, moving on…

    Hey, seriously, what I meant to say was “Great words.” I think I’m more cynical after seeing so many completely rhythmless, uncoordinated teen dancers that clearly should pursue their talent in accounting- with no one honest enough to help them in that direction. The little kids can keep twirling. I’m totally cool with that. And the freedom for both groups to do what they do is invaluable, regardless of if I’d TiVo it or not…

  5. michael lee

    Scott, I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
    I hope you get your fill to eat, Scott,
    But always keep that hunger.

    May you never take one single breath for granted,
    and God forbid love ever leave you empty handed.

    I hope you still feel small, when you stand by mr. ocean
    Whenever one door closes, I sure do hope one more opens
    Promise me, Scott, that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
    And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,

    I hope you dance.

  6. Chad


    I totally loathe sitting through Dance Recitals. They’re deathly boring except for the three minutes of glory when your kid is prancing clumsily around the stage. I came off way too hostile (surprise surprise).

    We’re sneaking margaritas in this year.

  7. Morphea

    God, all the enema talk got me thinking of that part in Road to Wellville (love that flick) where Matthew Broderick is on all fours in the bathtub and the hot nurse is telling him to think pure thoughts as she…

    Never mind. Off subject. Dammit, Chad.

    Paul, you’re such a good man. So many lovely thinks to think about in this post (not so much the polio – I grew up in Africa, after all). Thank you so much for writing these thoughts down.

  8. Paul

    Enemas notwithstanding, I hope/think the point I was trying to make came across: the wonder of watching the little girls in the class isn’t how skillfully (or not) they dance, but the fact that they can safely and innocently lose themselves for a few minutes in this particular activity. And, I might add, the wonder and delight certainly would wear off in a hurry in the presence of a lot of adult pressure, politics, angst or other spoilers. The same could be said of a soccer or little league game, a school play or a church musical.

  9. Morphea

    Paul – I know you already know this perfectly well, but I’ve noticed a tendency around here for people to let the silly comments pile up after any post (humorous, heartfelt, scholarly). I’m not criticizing, mind you. It’s one of the things I love most about AddRd (the list is long and most of you are on it). I know for myself, though, that the images and thoughts that the authors labor so long over are taken deeply to heart and, if I’m not very much mistaken, everyone else’s hearts/minds as well. Even Enema Boy and Captain Pointless (mock glares at Chad and Scott). Like I said, I know you know this (aren’t you Chad’s father? Or am I getting the twisty familial ties all wrong?), but it bears expressing from time to time. We’re silly buggers, but we have good minds and great hearts and we’re with you all the way.

    For what it’s worth (and to really invite ridicule on my head), your post gave me a mental picture of a tornado of war, hate, grief, suffering and starvation, and in the middle – in the eye, I guess – little bits of colored paper floated and danced in peace while the maelstrom whirled around them. Lest I forget, America’s a safe haven for us and no mistake. Thank you for reminding me, sincerely. How I wish the little colored bits that are tossed around IN the storm could be brought into the calm as well.

  10. June

    Paul, I had similar thoughts this week as I proudly observed my six-year-old at his piano lesson. (And by “similar” I mean, my thoughts are cro-magnon compared to Paul’s lovely writing.)

    Cerise, you should write like that more often.

    (And no Cerise, I probably never will stop referring to myself as a dufus here on the Road. It’s just my thing I guess.)

  11. Scott

    “Enema Boy”? Great. That’s a nickname that everyone wishes they had…

    Morphea, thanks for bringing us (me) back. I totally agree.

  12. Paul

    Cerise, your mental picture was very nicely painted, and I completely agree. Bringing little bits out of the storm and into the calm, where they can dance in peace, strikes me as an important implication of “Thy kingdom come, thy will we done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

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