I was in the fifth grade. Ten years old? Eleven? In the Equip program, which would later be retired as semi-private extensions to the public school system for the “gifted” kids became controversial.
We were dancing in a performance for our parents, everyone in Mrs. Hooper’s fifth and sixth grade combined classroom.
I had my hair slicked back, a black leather jacket and rolled up jeans. Leather shoes. We’d spent weeks learning to dance the jitterbug like proper kids of the period, listening to period music, reading period works and period news. Now here we were, dancing on stage.
I’m not much of a natural dancer; there was and is zero dance and very little music in the cultural DNA of my mixed highly-religious-highly-Asian family. But on this occasion—on this occasion I was feeling it. The outfit, the music, the lights, the immersion had all come together to embed me in the period and in the moment.
And then my hair started to flop around. A little bit at first, and then a lot. The spell was breaking; I no longer felt like Chinese Fonzie so much as like a kid in the fifth grade getting embarrassed on stage. I started to stumble. I said to my partner, mid-song, “My hair’s breaking loose! Oh shit, is it bad?!”
Molly Gallivan. She was in the sixth grade and pretty, so she had a natural authority in that moment as we kept our feet moving and our hands clasped. She used it.
“Shut up and dance. Just shut up and dance!”
And so we did.
Out of the mouths of babes. Funny where the wisdom that we take for granted in our lives comes from, when you get a moment to reflect on it.