hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

July 25, 2013

Keeping in step with dance recitals

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — I committed the ultimate social blunder the other day at my granddaughter’s dance recital.

Just as she appeared on stage for one of her “dazzling” performances, I jumped from my seat and began taking photographs.

What’s more, I didn’t sit back down until the number ended three minutes later, hoping to get that shot of a lifetime.

I would have remained seated had the patron in front of me been a child. This guy was six feet tall and just as wide. Why he chose that spot was my albatross. One seat over would have been a better choice. Had he moved the other way, he would have blocked my wife’s view.

As protocol has it at these exhibitions, they discourage an all-out stampede in the aisles from amateur shutterbugs. I’ve seen it get downright nasty. It’s worse than a paparazzi blitz at the Academy Awards.

It never used to be that way when my daughter hit the stage. She was about 4 at the time and was set to dance a “Yankee Doodle Dandy’’ number. Sonya looked like a patriotic American flag dressed in her red, white and blue. Her tap shoes were clicking at the heels.

I shot out of my seat and took extreme liberties to get the best angle. Anyone who knew me felt I had newspaper priorities and was there on assignment.

“He works for the Gazette,” they would whisper. “Maybe he’ll take my daughter’s picture for the paper.”

Over the years, my daughter’s recital wardrobe stretched from one dresser to another. In some cases, there were three different outfits to a recital. My wife usually handled these matters, as do most women. Had it been Little League baseball, the responsibility would have been mine.

The years trickled along through middle school and into high school — straight to the end. She danced her way right into my heart and beyond. It not only built self esteem and confidence, but a treasure chest of memories, even with the occasional stumbles. I still recall the pratfall she took.

On this particular evening, I was in excellent company. Sonya, now a dancing alumna, was there scouting her niece. The same twinkle in her eye must have found mine.

“Get ready for a marathon evening,” my son warned. “We’ve got 350 dancers at this school and they’ll be doing around 50 numbers. With any luck, we should be out of there in 3½ hours with intermission.”

By my calculations, we might catch the last period of the Bruins playoff game. Given a choice, a granddaughter’s big show takes precedence over a Stanley Cup finale.

There was one little boy in the cast and they built an entire number around him that shook the rafters. He appeared to be enjoying the attention, as well as the choreography.

All I could think about was this musical I had seen called “Billy Elliot” about an 11-year-old boy who withstood all the adversity imposed upon his young life to become a dancing phenom. Not that this particular boy was dealing with the negative stereotypes of a male ballet dancer.

Judging by the wide smile on his face and the girls he was accompanying, all appeared cool and collected on the dance floor.

The first time I had seen Stanley Kmiec, he was dressed in leotards. The boy had obvious talent that was further enhanced by two dancing sisters and parents who promoted the performing arts. Stanley was the Billy Elliot of his generation growing up in my city of Haverhill.

He got all the choice parts accorded to male dancers. He didn’t have to utter a word in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” His dancing and gyrations said it all. He and his sisters organized a Polish dance troupe in the community called “Lublinacy” which traveled the universe giving shows.

And one day, just like that, Stanley went to New York City to seek his fortune. More than anyone else who succeeded as a male dancer, Kmiec reached the top of his profession. He danced with Mikhail Baryshnikov and he appeared with Rudolf Nureyev — the greatest ballet dancers in the world — and not in the background somewhere, but right there in the forefront.

I have no idea what’s in store for my granddaughter or any others in her generation, only to say how much I enjoy these formative years in her life when baby steps have become dancer’s steps.

As to that little boy who shared the spotlight with her, I can only wish him the best in his tiny circle. If I was obstructing the view of his parents during my rude photography behavior, please accept my apology.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.