I was just locking the studio, holding my travel mug and keys in one hand and my dance bag and box drum in the other, when the fifth grader teacher to whom I’d just said goodbye was back with her thirty charges in tow.
“I need to talk to you, Miss Kat,” she called across the street.
I figured someone had left their sweater. I’ve been teaching in North Philly for three weeks now as part of my tap company’s first residency program and someone always leaves their sweater. But this was clearly an emergency of the non-sweater variety.
“Boys, stay right where you are,” she continued, “Girls, line up on the other side.” Once they were safely across the street and on the sidewalk, she made a beeline for the front door, stopping just inches in front of me. “The school’s in lockdown,” she whispered. “We can’t go back. I need to get the kids to a safe place.”
Like a school shooting sort of lockdown?
Like the kind of thing you see on the evening news?
But my responsible-grown-up skills kicked into high gear and I dropped my dance bag. “Okay. We’ll just bring them back upstairs.”
For the next forty minutes we sat. The kids got antsy and wanted to know why they were back in the dance studio when they’d already had their tap class for the day. They also wanted to know why the other fifth grade class had gotten to dance to Gangnam Style while they didn’t. They wanted to go to the bathroom. They wanted to get up and run around. But mostly they wanted to know why they couldn’t go back to their school.
“Do you trust me?” their teacher asked.
“Then you need to trust that this where we need to be right now.”
Once I managed to log onto the studio’s Wi-Fi network, things got a little more exciting. I pulled up a few clips from the film Tap and the kids took turns cramming around my tiny laptop screen while they ooohed and ahhhed over Jimmy Slyde and Gregory Hines.
“Look! They’re doing cramp rolls—you know how to do those!” I told the kids. “And flaps. We just learned them today, remember?”
I didn’t want to think about the other fifth grade students—the ones who had returned to their school an hour earlier and were therefore stuck inside the lockdown. I didn’t want to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t intercepted the students on my way out, if I’d lost my key again and hadn’t been able to let them back into the studio.
Thankfully, it was over in less than an hour.
The teacher got a call on her cell phone, told the kids they could head back downstairs and thanked me for letting everyone wait inside.
“Of course,” I said.
“Just another day in the School District of Philadelphia!” she replied.
I forced a laugh but only because I didn’t know what else to do.
Now’s the part where I could wax poetic about how the arts really do save lives, how places like the coop offer local students a safe space in which to express themselves and to hide out from the occasional school shooter, but that’s not enough.
I don’t know what is enough to be honest.
What I do know is that this sort of thing shouldn’t be “just another day” in any School District. It shouldn’t be business as usual. It shouldn’t be normal.
A friend of mine from Brussels once told me about how people react to violent crimes in Belgium. A few years ago, a man was stabbed on the metro for his iPod. People were so outraged by the violence that they took to the streets in protest. Over an iPod stabbing.
That sort of things happens every day here—that sort of thing and worse. And yet we don’t even bat an eye.
Why is that?