The Mount Mansfield Union High School's dance team was recently and unexpectedly invited to compete in an all New England dance competition in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which meant that our family dropped everything and headed south on Friday. The school reserved a block of room for the dancers and families in a very posh hotel in Andover so that the kids would be rested for their 10:00 Saturday morning dance slot.
We arrived Friday night in time for a swim in the indoor pool, while the team's coach gathered the girls together in the spa and gave them an inspirational talk about what strong young women they are and how they need to take on leadership roles among their friends to encourage the same. I thought it was quite inspiring, actually.
The pool was literally a few steps down the hall from our room, so at six o'clock in the morning, mermaid that I am, I left my sleeping family and had a lovely and solitary dip and soak in the spa.
After we met the rest of the team for a delicious and free breakfast in the cafeteria, we headed down the road to the Lawrence High School. Suffice it to say, I'd heard of schools of 5,000 kids before, but I'd never been in one, and I hope I never teach in one.
We drove through a tall, black, chain link fence into a compound the size of a small college. The first thing I saw was a football stadium with two sets of enormous bleachers. The only bleachers that I've ever seen to compare them to is the Grand Stand at the Champlain Valley Exposition, which is part of the largest fairground in Vermont. Only these bleachers made our Grand Stand look, well, old and wooden and rickety, which it is. These would have survived a nuclear attack. The flight of stairs leading out of the school down to the stadium was as big as all of the bleachers at the CHS football field.
There were police and police cars with flashing lights everywhere. We got directed down under an ariel ramp connecting vast hunks of the building:
We parked in a little Vermont wedge of similarly mud-spattered cars, thinking, "I don't think they've ever heard of mud season here."
Then we walked about a mile past buildings that looked like this:
I had to laugh at the hundreds of reddish, round, bricklike things they lined the sidewalk with to keep cars from diving on it. At my school, we just put big rocks along the edge of the road to remind kids where to drive and where not to. There really were hundreds of these things!
Finally we were directed into a door. The first thing we saw was a security desk that was the hub of more people in uniform than probably show up at a crime scene in Vermont:
There, the dancers were processed and sent in one direction, and the parents were processed and sent in another. The lobby was the size of our gym and two stories tall:
We went upstairs to the gym (whoever heard of gym being upstairs?) and it was so big that it had full bleachers on both sides, and huge wings to either side of the standard sized floor. We tiptoed in and sat down in our Vermont wedge of parents. The dancers had the other side. We watched a girl get sick and be taken out by EMTs, and we watched another girl change into her dance uniform right across from us. Three photographers sat on the floor with lenses that made me drool and shot continuously throughout the whole performance, and their photos were beamed directly over to a bank of monitors where they could be viewed and selected for purchase. (Yes, we left with a great shot of Crystal. How could we not? We also left with a T-shirt commemorating the event. The costs of both could have been a nice meal.)
The competition, we realized, was really all about cheer leading, and it went on all day. They'd just decided at the last minute to tack on some dance teams from all over New England at the beginning for the first time this year to see how it went. It was an honor to be chosen, along with teams from Middlebury and Burr and Burton Academy. None of the Vermont schools placed. It was a little hard to compare to teams from schools that had a base of literally thousands of students to chose from. The big schools won, and frankly, their Hip Hop teams were real Hip Hop teams who certainly looked to me like they'd leaned to dance on the streets. Their costumes were in the "grunge" style, I think it's called, multi-layered, and baggy. The teams actually had boys on them, and were very ethnically diverse. Compared to that, the MMU team, all lily white girls in white shirts with nice little blue hooded sweatshirts, well, kind of looked like actors. But they got out there and commanded the floor for their five minutes of fame:
But it was really an honor for them to be good enough to be there, and as the coach said afterwards, "Now we know what this looks like. Wait 'til next year!"
Once the competition was over, we were ready to get the heck out of there and head to the beach.
The rest of the day was full of things that made sense, like birdwatching (saw a gorgeous snowy owl, but my photos of it were less than spectacular) and beachwalking (the temp was in the upper sixties, the sun came out, and I took this shot of some insane woman I saw who actually went wading on St. Patrick's Day!
Then we had an amazing seafood dinner and I ate an enormous quantity of fried clams, and we finally headed back home to nice and normal mud season and a world where schools feel like schools.