I’ve been living in France for about seven months now and it’s been great. What I don’t tell many people, is that what I’m doing here in France (aside from watching many wonderful dance shows) is working as an au pair. For some reason, I feel like this is seen as a sort of uncool, unserious, unhip job. Which is utterly mad and completely untrue. Is this how pre-school teachers and stay-at-home mothers still feel? How did looking after small children became a low status thing in our society? And how on earth did becoming CEO of a huge company that spends its time figuring out how to sell completely useless things to as many people as possible become a high status thing? Oh yes – I forgot – patriarchy. But this post wasn’t meant to be a feminist rant (that’s not true).
The point I’m trying to make is my time these days is spent either in the company of small children or going to dance classes and dance shows. My thoughts bounce between small children, dance and trying to manage both of those things in French. So I thought I’d combine these two things that occupy my mind-space in one post… (Let me precursor this with reminding you all that while I know a few things about dance, I know very little about children. I am not a parent, I didn’t study child-care, I didn’t even grow up with younger siblings. All of the below comes from general observation and personal opinion. So don’t take anything I say seriously, because I certainly don’t).
I’ve never been the type of person who ‘adored children’, I did this au pairing thing because it seemed like a good idea at the time, the same reason I started ballet (both harder than they appear). Anyone who claims to be someone who simply adores children clearly hasn’t spent much time in the company of children and if they have, they’ve been in the company of children who slept very well the night before. What I have noticed about my time spent with kids is yes – they are sometimes very cute. But mostly they are completely illogical, selfish, un-coordinated humans who thankfully, for the rest of us, are quite small and sometimes nap. (Also, they tend to turn normal adults into either the best version of themselves or the worst version of themselves.)
Kids have to learn many things, like not to hit or bite, not to throw food at cats, not to eat rocks and small insects. Aside from all that, there are the basics like having to learn how to walk, talk, update their Facebook status etc. Basically, children have to learn how to have bodies. They haven’t had them for a very long time, and they need to figure out what it means to have a body and/or be a person. I believe the question of what it is to have a body, what exactly we should do with said body, never really goes away – we just learn to cope with it better as we get older.
However, there are some things that small children don’t seem to have to learn, but often seem to already know how to do. And that is bop/sway/move about to music or rhythm. Babies dance. A lot. Small children bop cutely to music. This movement of body to rhythm, often ends up being called ‘dancing’. I feel as though this instinct quickly dissipates as we get older and more aware of the fact that very few other people are bopping, jumping and clapping their hands to a catchy tune. Later it often takes a couple of glasses of wine in a darkly lit room before, as an adult, we feel comfortable moving around to music again. But before such societal conditioning occurs, children have this window period of truly enjoying having a body and they do these super wacky things. I feel like it kind of happens when they are more co-ordinated, say, two or three years, and before they become self-aware and embarrassed of doing the wrong thing, say six or seven years old?
It’s a little bit amazing, the grooviness, the sprawling-ness of movement that happens in this age gap. The three year old I hang out with has these moments of completely bizarre and obscure movements, that sort of explode out of him with no warning whatsoever. No one particularly calls it dancing, rather they would call it being ‘over-excited’ but I certainly see fascinating choreographic potential and movement in these outbursts, partly because they are so unexpected and partly because they are so original: a run and slide on the ground with hand outstretched, and weird sort of half kick jerk with very intense facial expressions, a skillful balance on one leg with ankle in hand and this very amazing sort of headstand roley-poley manoeuvre. It’s incredible the things he does, the things he expresses, and whenever he feels like it. In the shops, on a bed, in a park. And honestly, it won’t last long. This desire to explore and figure out where your legs stop and how you can hold your elbow in this interesting way, I’m pretty convinced we are born with it (because we are born with bodies) and then we lose it.
Or no, we don’t always lose it. What usually happens, is it changes shape. The spontaneity of movement or the desire for movement often becomes stylized, trained and channelled through sport, or soccer, or ballet classes, or karate or – I don’t know – life. All those activities that allow children (and adults) to engage with the idea of possessing a body and of doing stuff with that body that don’t necessary serve a practical purpose. It’s interesting to see where this universal-toddler-bop-dance ends up. Mostly I feel it dissipates and the next time you find yourself dancing is to encourage your own toddler to clap to the music. Other times it gets severely trained and stylized into some sort of aesthetic. And then sometimes you have one of those ingenious terrifying kids who are so skilled that they make you feel silly for even taking that hip hop class that one time.
(I believe that little girl was six years old when that film was made). So, millions of questions are brought up when we see a child doing something that we are used to watching only adults do. The question of child performers, child stars, etc. etc. There’s a lot to discuss there, what happens when children’s bodies become so determined and trained by an adult world. I don’t know. I don’t know.
That clip always scares me, although I’m not sure why. I mostly just walk away feeling prudish and confused.
In any case.
There is a really nice thing that happens here in France, where art and performance are very family friendly. All the museums that I frequent always have children, pottering about with their parents. Many of the installations are there to be played with and explored. Just this weekend in my neighborhood, there is a dance festival happening for children, all the performances are aimed for kids between the ages of 7 and 12. And the performances aren’t necessarily ‘educational’ like a lot of children’s theatre. They’re just play, interesting things to be done and explored… Children play so well and most of dance is play. Or should be play. Or wants to be play. In certain environments, not many, but sometimes, we find an encouragement for this energy and exuberance at being able to move in any way and this movement is guided and allowed without correcting, honing, training and perfecting. And I like that, because I think the more space in society we have, as children, to dance and play and move about in whatever way we feel like, the less weird about dancing we will be as adults. Which might just mean we’ll have more fun at parties.
And maybe that’s really the point – to have more fun at parties. And at not parties. To just dance more. I don’t know. I started this post out very clear about what I wanted to say and then got lost in open tabs, gifs and YouTube videos of kids dancing. And now I feel lost and I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make, except I am increasingly convinced that dancing might be one of the most important things in the world. Apologies for vagueness and poor tags.