From the Diary of Maggie Seer
Getting lost in the craziness of Mad Hot Ballroom Competition planning, I find myself yearning for purpose during these long hours finalizing details. When it’s all said and done, will anyone notice that I took the extra time to make sure all the T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted? That I took an extra trip to Goodwill to make sure we had enough dress pants and shirts for the students who might need them?
As I left work today, I felt depleted. I knew I needed to refresh my perspective, and as I parked in front of my house, I saw Aaliyah in her front yard. I breathed a sigh, and a sensation of calm came over me. Just the person I needed to see.
I started to reminisce back to the first time I met Aaliyah. It was last year while I was assisting at Riverwest Elementary during Mad Hot Tap. It was my neighborhood school, and I was hoping I could make a neighborly connection with at least a couple students. A few weeks into the program, when Milwaukee got its first snowfall, I heard a knock on my door. As I peeked through the curtain I saw a tiny little nose, mouth and two big brown eyes belonging to a bundled up, eager little girl. I opened the door and it wasn’t until she began talking that I recognized her voice. At the end of her pitch, she said hesitantly, “Miss Maggie, it’s me, Aaliyah, from tap class!” I paid her to shovel and tossed in some Christmas cookies for good measure. Turns out she liked those even MORE than the cash!
The next morning, I walked into Riverwest Elementary as I normally did at 7:25 AM, and all of the kids were giggling with excitement, arguing over whether Aaliyah was telling the truth. A group of kids ran right up to me, shouting, “Is it true? Are you and Aaliyah next-door neighbors?!” How could this little detail excite them so much? I confirmed Aaliyah’s claims and the kids laughed awkwardly, saying they wished they lived next-door to the dance teacher (I guess she told them about the cookies!).
A week or so later, Aaliyah and I were both outside shoveling, and talking. The neighborly connection I was hoping to make was becoming a reality! Between lifts of the shovel, I learned a lot about her and her family, and the other kids at school. Aaliyah shared some of the struggles that her family members have faced and the things she struggled with at school – and I suddenly realized I was more than her dance teacher; I was becoming a role model for her. My privileged upbringing was very different from Aaliyah’s – I felt a little inadequate to offer advice about her family struggles. But as she shared more about the conflicts she faced at school – conflicts that most elementary students encounter, myself included – I was delighted to be able to help her.
At the Tap Competition, Aaliyah’s mom came up to me to thank me and share her appreciation for the program. She was so proud of and amazed by Aaliyah’s dancing during the competition, as she had no clue Aaliyah was learning actual dance routines and choreography in order to be able to perform. She also thanked me for being someone Aaliyah could look up to in and out of the classroom. I was touched by her gratitude, but just chalked it up to doing my job as her teacher. My own mom was volunteering at the Competition and was standing next to me during that conversation. She reminded me how important that conversation was to Aaliyah and her mom, and that it really is life-changing work that we are doing as teachers in these schools.
More than a year later, I still can’t help but see that dance is so much more than what meets the eye. And that even in these crazy-long pre-Competition days, my job is giving me so much more than a paycheck.
I can’t wait for the warm summer days that are just around the corner. I‘m sure Aaliyah’s mom will once again pass fresh, giant rutabaga over the fence, and offer us whatever they’ve got on the grill. My sister and I will continue to pass down our clothes to Aaliyah, her siblings and cousins. It is in these small gestures that we create a connected and supportive community in our small corners of the city.
I continue to be humbled by the way that our actions, no matter how small they might seem to us, can ripple through to make bigger impacts on those around us.
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.