There’s Something Magical About Watching Our Kids’ Creative Process
Like other parents, I have always loved watching my kids perform. I know many of us have had those heart-leaping-out-of-the-body moments as they accomplish something that perhaps they couldn’t (or thought they couldn’t) do at an earlier time, or when they have accomplished things far beyond our own abilities.
But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the joy of watching my child CREATE. Different from seeing the end results of creativity; this is witnessing the process of creating something where there before was nothing. While people create things from nothing all the time, it’s extra magical when it comes from deep within someone that I had a hand in creating myself.
My daughter is a dancer. It’s more than what she does, it’s who she is. From the time she could walk, she danced whenever the opportunity arose. Watching her dance has always been a joy, from her initial dance lessons at age 3 through dance recitals and middle and high school musical theatre performances, to college recitals. During almost every one of her performances, I at some point came to the abrupt realization that I wasn’t aware of anyone but her. Not just because she is my daughter, but because she so obviously loves what she does. That passion shines brightly; she doesn’t just memorize the steps, she embraces the music and tells a story.
My daughter also is a high school color guard coach. While color guard falls under the band umbrella, it is inherently visual, not musical, and nowadays includes (a sometimes significant amount of) dance movement. This is particularly true with indoor guard competitions where the guard (accompanied by recorded rather than live music) shines on its own.
As coach, she is the one responsible for much of the visual effects of the marching band’s fall show and is completely responsible for the winter (indoor) color guard show. She not only teaches these students to spin flags, rifles and sabers, but also how to use their own bodies to create artful stories. Her choreography routinely gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. She has been doing this for several years now and while I don’t attend all performances, I do see their show at least once a season.
But last year, before a raging pandemic put an end to everything indoor, I had the privilege to see the work in progress. She needed video of herself in action and asked me to play cameraman. While I was happy to help, I didn’t expect the emotions the experience evoked. While in past years I have been invited to the Parent Preview (and marveled at what she accomplished), this time I was in on the creatING process.
I watched as she demonstrated her vision to her students and then paid close attention to who caught on quickly and who needed some help. Not wanting to get in the way or distract the kids, I kept off to the side. Since I hadn’t seen the routine, I had no idea what was coming next and took video and photos at random moments, often realizing too late I shouldn’t have shut off the camera at the moment I did.
There were starts and stops. She moved among them, paying attention to those who struggled, watching carefully to see where they had difficulty. I watched her provide personalized attention until she (and I) saw the “Aha!” moment when that student grasped how to accomplish what was asked. I watched as she sat intently, working out in her head how to find another way to explain what she wanted, in words the students would best understand.
Then she sat back and watched. She looked at the group as a whole, evaluating whether the vision in her head worked in practice. Sometimes she smiled, other times her lips twitched a bit as she pondered what, specifically, needed to change. She moved off to the side, moving her own body, her arms making wide sweeping motions, this way and that; sometimes her feet followed as she turned with a flourish.
Observing all this, I thought back to her toddler years, when I could see the wheels turning, before I witnessed a “lightbulb moment” that made everything clear.
It was at these points, she got excited, saying, “Okay, this is what we’re gonna’ do,” before demonstrating the new move, breaking it down into smaller components so they could follow along. Her excitement was contagious. The kids quickly attempted the new moves, silently counting to themselves.
I’m not sure which impressed me more, that my daughter came up with beautiful moves on the fly or that these high schoolers were able to switch course and incorporate them into the already-learned routine with ease.
Then once again, she sat back and watched. Sometime these moves became part of the routine, other times she laughed as she saw they wouldn’t work. Some moves were easy for some students but not others, so she reworked the program to allow each one to shine. As they finished rehearsal, she declared they had done a “Good job!” before giving instructions on what came next.
And me, I walked away with a greater appreciation for what she does. I’ve long admired her passion and commitment (among many other things) but this day I was honored – for the invitation into a part of her life where in the past I’d been merely an observer, and grateful – that I had taken an interest in her passion when she was young. Without that, I may not have been given the opportunity that brought me here today.