Six Billy Elliots!

22/01/11 10:22 PM


Count them. Six! 

There were six young male dancers playing the demanding part of Billy Elliot on Broadway. All were middle-school/early high school age.

It was a privilege to attend the show before it ended its long run on Broadway. I was able to briefly chat with the cast and crew after the performance the week of the Blizzard of 2010. Sir Elton John wrote a brilliant musical score to accompany this  theatrical performance.

As noted in a past Blog-O-Sphere post, I posed the question, “Where will our next generation of artists come from if we are not promoting the arts in American public schools?” 

 It is sad to report, the ability to crank out a dry formula, 5-paragraph essay or answer with precision a multiple choice question is far more important and valued  these days by many school administrators and curriculum coordinators. I place value on children and young adults to learn necessary academic skills to compete in our complex work world. I  also value allowing public school children to leap with WILD ABANDON across a public school gymnasium floor. If the gym floor creeks and is in disrepair–fix it. To me, a  gym floor is a learning environment. So too is a stage.  Chorus risers are a landscape of learning. A bandstand? One learns from music. Art is education. Education should be an art. The arts should be part of all public education. Some do not see what I see.

The actor/dancer who played the part of Billy Elliot the day I attended the musical on Broadway had to have been 14 or 15 years of age. He was classically trained in song, dance, and acting. Yet, it was his dancing that captivated the audience.

Theater etiquette teaches one not to clap during a performance.  It breaks the flow of a performance and often breaks the concentration of performers.

Rule broken.

When the musical called for Billy to dance in a fit of rage, one could feel his anger by watching his dance movements.  When Billy and his friend danced during a  mischievous scene, audience members truly sensed childhood innocence with a twist of “we-better-not-get-caught!”

When the infamous ballet dream sequence began, with muted lighting, stage fog,  ethereal flying and spinning…………I HAD to clap—and cry.

Why tears?

Because I was watching art. I  was touched by pure performance art. Think for a moment. It was a young dancer and a mature dancer moving with grace and synchronicity that caused tears of joy. Art moves the soul. Does an multiple choice question move the soul?

Back in the day, when I attended a very hip, progressive, Harvard School of Education supported, public elementary school, folk dancing was gutted from the curriculum. It was replaced with videotaping us walk across a balance beam. This was when video cameras were the size of Alaska and used reel-to-reel tape. Folk dancing caused “too many snickers.” It went the way of the Pony Express.

 I believe folk dancing is part of our American heritage, just the way  basketball is part of our American heritage. Dancing and basketball  involve movement, coordination, quick turns, agility,  spins, and concentration. You work up a sweat participating in both activities. Ah! That is why men folk dancers have a towel hanging from their belts!

Who now knows how to Do-si-Do? What about  dancing a Left Hand Star? Wow, does that look so cool when done correctly? Even when messed up, a Left Hand Star  still is cool to watch or dance. Dust off out your barn dance dictionaries.  Who knows what the term “chekessia” means? Is it a  cheese from Wisconson? A chess move? Something from the Soviet Era? What? Work with me people.

Back in elementary school I was in the mood to swing a partner. I wanted to promenade. Hell, I would have Do si Do’ed with the best of  ’em, yet  I was denied the opportunity to dance the visually appealing  Left Hand Star. Could I have been the  Billy Elliot of Hamilton Elementary School?

 I do not live in the past. I use to, but no more.

What a shame to see dance, visual art, and music programs gutted and disintegrate from public schools.

When the casting call goes out for the next Billy Elliot-like musical, will they find an American you boy to dance, act, and sing, the part…………or will we in-source what we no longer have in America–a strong arts infrastructure.

We all pay taxes for public schools. Even if you send your child or children to private schools, a hefty portion of your property taxes goes towards public education. Now is the time to ask your  school committee members, precinct captains, alder-persons, city councilpersons, school principal, school  curriculum coordinator, school board, PTA or PTO president, or school district school superintendent, “Have you seen Billy Elliot, either the movie or the Broadway play? If yes, does your school have a program that would produce the NEXT Billy Elliot?

“If not, why not?”

Promenade. Now circle to the left, now circle to the right. Bow to your partner.  

I felt real good typing these last fifteen words.

Brendan Ben Feeney

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