Mara became interested in Morris dancing at as early as four years of age. Angela played a CD of Morris music and Mara took rather a fancy to it until it became one of her favorite discs. And she’s always known that music was for dancing to, so she started dancing around in the living room to Morris music with shakers and bells, which is just a step away — literally — from Morris dancing.
Saturday we breakfasted early and high-tailed it over to a retirement and assisted living home on Queen Anne. We forgot Millie’s diaper bag but we remembered to have Mara wear red pants and a white shirt, which along with a striped sash and elf hat would identify her as a member of Seattle’s newest youngest Morris group, Peppermint Stick Morris, a “minor” version of Sound and Fury Morris led by Kimberly and Dave from that austere troupe. Mara told us that morning that she was feeling a little nervous about the dances they were to perform for the retirees there and then again at the Winterfest crafts festival being held at Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center. We would be rushing her from one venue to the next. I was glad she was able to articulate her anxiety, and I told her how nervous I had been whenever I had to get up on a stage as a kid, and that the nervousness is completely normal.
She has performed with members of this group before, once at an event at Seattle Center and once at a farmers’ market, but some of the parents were also dancing with them then. This would be the first time the children would dance all by themselves and would have to remember the moves without adult prodding. At her age I would have been petrified. I was particularly excited because I had not been able to be present at those earlier shows.
How happy I was watching Mara do this activity she loves to do. It is one of the most true things about my oldest daughter that she does not allow herself to be forced through things she is not comfortable with, but when she is comfortable she can overcome any fear. I was amazed at how easily she moved through the morning, even and especially after having announced her trepidation about it. The dining hall at the retirement facility, while spacious, was pretty sparsely attended by residents, so in a way it was the perfect ice-breaker for the performance at Phinney Ridge an hour later, where scores of people were gliding in and out — including groups of adult Morrisers waiting to follow Mara’s group onstage — and the noise and bustle were constant.
Mara’s group performed three dances with sticks and one with kerchiefs, the latter of which Mara did not participate in because she joined the group too late to have learned it for this time around. They also sang three Christmas carols. I was surprised and delighted that Mara did not show any nervousness at all, despite the nervousness she’d claimed. She in fact looked like she was just out for a lark with friends.
And that brings me to what I love most about this whole thing. Mara intuits a facet of performance that always seemed to escape me — that it’s fun! She feels united with her group in the activity and united with the audience in giving them a performance. It’s all about togetherness, or at least it should be. I never felt that way when I was on a stage. The fear of making mistakes always dominated the event for me, which made me miss the joy of being part of something and even made me view the audience as a sort of potential enemy. I was always just eager to get it over with. I missed a lot because of that. I’m glad that Mara seems to get it. I could see it in her antics while she was waiting with her group to go on, and in the way her little body couldn’t help but groove while she was singing the carols.