I’ve spent the past half hour brushing, braiding, bobby pinning and—last but not least—bedazzling the rather matted mane of my American Girl doll. Why? Because tomorrow I’ll be introducing my preschool students to the work of Tchaikovsky and nothing says “Nutcracker” like a bedazzled American Girl doll.
In truth, my handiwork is really just a vehicle for the miniscule wooden nutcracker I purchased at Rite Aid earlier today: Mademoiselle Accidental Dreadlocks has been transformed from “Molly” (Pleasant Company’s tap dancing heroine) to “Clara” (or “Marie,” depending on which version you read), adolescent star of The Nutcracker. Unfortunately, her Nutcracker Prince is vertically challenged (the full scale version would have cost me twenty bucks so I opted for a quarter-sized model) but the odds of a wooden nutcracker surviving an hour and a half amongst thirty preschool students are rather slim— I’m already budgeting for mid-season replacements.
Why am I introducing my preschool students to Tchaikovsky? It’s rather complicated. At the end of September, I was offered a position as a teaching artist in a school in Germantown (hence my previous posts about my continued adventures on SEPTA, carpool gossip and my students’ endless supply of hot-off-the-press knock-knock jokes). Since then, my boss has made it rather clear to me that she expects great things from this year’s Holiday Concert, and that as the creative movement teacher, it is up to me to make these “great things” happen.
Hence the Tchaikovsky. And because I like to introduce unnecessary complications into my life, I rounded up my fellow teaching artists during one of last month’s in-service training days and convinced them that we should produce The Nutcracker. Never mind that The Nutcracker is usually performed by professional (or at least semi-professional) ballet companies, as opposed to a creative movement class comprised entirely of 3 to 5 year olds. And never mind that we have less than a month until the Holiday Concert, or that between now and then, we have Picture Day and Parent Teacher Conferences cutting into valuable rehearsal time.
Clearly, no one realizes that I’m trying to stage a masterpiece here. We’re going to have props. And an actual set, created by the students themselves with the help of the school’s visual art teacher. And costumes!
…And costume changes, about which I’m less enthusiastic now that I’m working out the logistics (and purchasing all of the necessary odds and ends to costume thirty preschoolers in gender neutral, non-Christmassy, politically correct Nutcracker garb). It was my idea to have the kids dress up as toy soldiers, rats, French clowns (aka polichinelles) and snowflakes (complete with snowflake “wings” made from white lace) but I’m starting to have my doubts.
For starters, they’re preschoolers. And I like to think that they’re pretty well accomplished for preschoolers, thanks to our numerous discussions of Duncan the Dancing Duck and my special brand of Duncan-inspired classroom etiquette (Did Duncan the Duck hit his friends when he was practicing his dance moves on the pond at the farm? NO HE DID NOT! Now say you’re sorry so we can get on with our Pizza Dough Dance, please). Also, I’m unabashedly proud of them (as evidenced by the fact that I subjected my parents to approximately 80 photographs from their Thanksgiving presentation last week, complete with the sort of commentary that only a dance anthropologist could give) but still: they’re preschoolers.
I can barely handle performances in which I have multiple costume changes, and I am 25. Also, I don’t generally feel the need to argue with my fellow dancers over which color scarf/ribbon/hula hoop/ball/ball and cup/bean bag/magic wand I get… I can only imagine what sort of mayhem is going to break loose when I introduce mouse ear headbands and snowflake wings into the mix.
I started teaching creative movement when I was fourteen and I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. Obviously I’m not going to dole out different-colored mouse ear headbands and expect there to not be tears. (The school’s mantra, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset!” only goes so far.)
Instead, I am going to spray paint the headbands before I affix the mouse ears (and yes, I could have simply purchased uniform color headbands in the first place but I’m doing this on an arts educator’s salary and the dollar store only sells multicolored packs. I’m afraid that if I ask my boss for an official Holiday Concert “budget” she’ll suspect that I’ve gone a bit over the top and even though I definitely have, I’d rather keep my Diaghilev tendencies on the down low until my students make their stage debut later this month, at which point my boss will be so bowled over by their cuteness that she won’t care.)
So the mouse ear headbands won’t pose a threat once I have, in my copious free time, spray painted them all the same color, but the snowflake wings might be a problem. This is because they’re going to be attached to miniature elastic hair bands and the dollar store, in its infinite wisdom, doesn’t sell uniform-colored miniature elastic hair bands. They sell uniform colored regular sized elastic hair bands but no such luck with the minis, and given that the average four year old has a wrist about the size of a highlighter, I figured I had better go with the smaller bands. The only thing worse than a stage full of preschoolers crying over the colors of their hair bands, you see, is a stage full of preschoolers crying over the colors of their hair bands and tripping over their wings, which have fallen off thanks to ill-fitting dollar store wristlets and an egregious lack of foresight on the part of their teacher.
I will not be that teacher. Instead I will spend the next two weeks dumping my entire paycheck into the dollar store and glue gunning my fingers together—all to introduce thirty inner city kids to Tchaikovsky (and to avoid stressing over my love life, or lack thereof, which is almost as noble a goal in and of itself).