“I’m so tired, and I have so much homework.” In the space between ballet and rehearsal, I asked my student how she is doing, and I receive a diatribe about the hardship of being eleven. I’m tempted to tell her to wait until college when she tells me that that she has track and field day tomorrow.
“What?” How has this ridiculous tradition survived years of educational advancements? I am convinced that there is no day more pointless than track and field day. For one day in grade school, we were bussed to a school with a proper track, and, under the guise of testing our fitness levels, we spent the whole day running around it. Of course it was more involved than this, there are races of various lengths and styles and a long-jump competition.
My saving grace came in high school when the dreaded day came during rehearsals for Nutcracker. My ballet teacher called my high school and told them that her students wouldn’t be participating. With her aggressively animated South Philadelphia sensibilities, she explained that we danced for five hours, six days a week and didn’t need to spend a day running in circles to prove that we were physically fit, and with that, track and field was over for good.
I tell my own student this story when the subject of fitness testing comes up. “Lucky,” she says as she ruffles through her dance bag.
Sting, and the Police by association, serenade me on my way to work more often than any 20-something should admit. It’s “Roxanne” that they sing on repeat today. Sting tells her that she can change her life by changing her mind. It's a cliché piece of good advice that the band has set to musical excellence of the ‘80s.
My college classmates and I used to joke that a table is just another kind of stage and that a pole is just a different kind of barre. It was one of those jokes birthed from fear that we were only good enough for academic dance and not good enough to be actual artists. With that fear always in the back of my mind, it isn’t hard for me to insert myself into Roxanne’s headspace and see her as someone who could only see her obligations and not her options. What happens to a student loan payment deferred seems far worse and costly than a dream that suffers the same fate.
On a literal level, I think what I love most about this song is the advice Sting gives her. He could have easily told her that she was lucky to have some form of income, to use these humiliating experiences as fodder for her artistry, or that all of the bad things she was experiencing were necessary parts of the path to greatness. That is what we tell artists after all. The fact that Sting had to cross a street of prostitutes on the dimly lit walk from his sketchy hotel to his performance at a nightclub suggests that it was the advice he had received, but it is not the advice he gave.
There is value in persevering. There is honor is making a commitment and following through. But, as any non-athletic student who had to participate in track and field activities will tell you, sometimes the only thing you get for finishing what you started is a urine-colored participation ribbon that you’ll drop and forget on the mud-streaked floor of the school bus. As the song suggests, sometimes quitting can be the best and wisest course of action. Sometimes the best advice you can give someone is “You don’t have to do this anymore.”
“Miss Chrysta,” my student asks changing her shoes for her next class, “can you write me a note so I can get out of track and field day?”
I’m tempted to tell her that the complete waste of her life that is track and field day is a rite of passage and an opportunity for growth not only as a student of the public school system, but also as an artist subjecting herself to artless standards, a fish being judged by its ability to climb a tree, so to speak, but I remember the grace that was given to me.
“Who do I make this letter out to?”