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Rose early. Roses in the sky, dragon fire on the horizon. Grey skies and rain, sunrise lighting up the haze. I’m driving up to Seattle for the first-ever dance competition for two of my dancers. I have the jitters something terrible. I will be the youngest of all the dance teachers. I’ve succeeded as a dancer in this world. But can I succeed as a teacher? Can I guide my dancers and dance parents through all the ins and outs of a competition?

First, I have to find the place. Thank God for GPS on my phone. Then I have to make it through the maze-like building to the theater where the competition is being held. After that… meet up with the dancers and their parents, help the dance parents with all the outfitting, all the hair stuff, the shoes and socks and garters, the dance number. Then there’s check in. FUSTA card to registration. Set up camp. Get the girls mentally ready for the dance. Find how to get backstage. Walk them backstage when it’s their turn for their dance. Make sure they feel comfortable, confident, but focused. And then watch from the audience, heart in my throat, as the bagpipes start and the tune begins. They’ve performed three or so times now. But competitions are… well, competitions. Can Arielle the dance teacher pull it off?

I tell them how it will go. Stage etiquette: the person backstage will line them up in the proper order. Make sure you are in a straight line with the other dancers on stage. Make sure there is enough space between each of you. Don’t look in anyone’s eyes, not mine, not the judge’s, not the onlookers. Just focus on your dance. Listen to the music. Stay with the beat. Remember all your steps. And have fun! Dancing is about fun. That is the most important thing. Both my girls make it through their first dance, and then their second, and then their third.

And they begin to dance, choreographing backstage while they wait for their turn to go on. An old dancer of mine (now sixteen. I’ve known her since she was four) is now a premier and dancing a choreography. She inspires my girl, and I am delighted to see my little one imitating her in graceful pizzazz. And by the end of the competition, my youngest girl comes away with two thirds and a fourth. And I am beyond thrilled. My other girl doesn’t place, but the made it all the way through her dances, and that was my goal. There are a few tears, but that’s how competitions go sometimes. And my girls are encouraging to each other. This, this is the most important thing. Encouragement. Support. Being on stage. Falling in love with highland dancing.

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