October 28th, 2006

On Transparency

For the second time this year, I found myself watching a performance by students at the high school where a friend of mine teaches. And for far more than the second time this year, I was struck by the power of some people’s self-awareness.

 

It’s a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Another friend is striving to achieve “transparency.” (I had to ask her what that meant, so just in case you don’t know: not only does psychological transparency apparently indicate honesty with oneself and others, it focuses on being oneself—and accepting who that self is.) Since this has been something of a struggle for her lately, I take it as a great compliment that she recently mentioned how comfortable with myself I am. (I figure—why not? What’s the use in being uncomfortable?)

 

But how can a high schooler achieve transparency? When I was in high school, I wasn’t even sure who myself was. According to the various textbooks I’ve dipped into at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, that’s a pretty common teen state. But obviously it’s not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis.

 

A high school performance is a grab-bag: sometimes you cringe at a performer whose obvious effort falls flat (or sharp), and sometimes you sit in awe before a performer whose talent far outpaces his or her years. Tonight’s was no different. But the awe-inspiring moments far outnumbered the others: boys comfortable enough with their masculinity to sing and dance, girls comfortable enough with their bodies to gyrate and high-kick.

 

It struck me first during a performance by a mixed choir. There were a lot of boys—and they were all in. No hunched shoulders here, or downcast eyes. And a hilarious performance combining “Hero” (by the girls) and “Handle” (by the guys) was the highlight. The girls were obviously jazzed to have a few dance moves to perform during their song, but the guys were no less enthusiastic about their moves—and the soloists, from the scrawny bespectacled guy to the barrel-chested, button-down guy—put enough feeling into the refrain (“I’m hard to handle”) that I could truly believe every one of them a heartbreaker. 

 

Then we watched the dance students in action. The performance I’d attended earlier this year had been a dance recital. It was fun, but I didn’t remember too awfully much about it—until the solitary male student took the gymnasium floor. Him I remembered, and my friend remembered exactly what I’d said about him after the dance recital (which is funny, because I didn't!): he worked half as hard to look twice as good as any of the other dancers. His solo performance was a tour-de-force of steps with names (some of them I even knew! [The moonwalk, in case you’re interested.]).

 

Then he danced in the center of a group of girls, the advanced dance class. He moved as though he were doing just what he wanted to, just what the music told him to, and the girls—proficient as they were—moved as though they were trying to keep up with him, memorizing his steps and echoing them. But they couldn’t echo his attitude. He felt the dance; they just knew the steps.

 

I think that’s what transparency really is: feeling the dance, feeling your body feeling the music, moving the way the music tells you to, no matter how everybody else is moving. And in real life (as opposed to a dance recital), that’s just the only way to go—because memorizing the steps won’t do you any good when the dance is constantly changing.

 

Still, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few moves. I’m thinking—salsa class. How about you?