The 2017–2018 school year has brought new opportunities for this veteran teacher, including the challenge of advising the Umoja Step Team, a cultural dance group at the suburban high school where I teach. Previously, I outlined my amazement with this group in my piece, “My Classroom is a Dance Floor,” which highlighted my first months working with the team.
During the subsequent months of November and December 2017, the students demonstrated commitment and dedication beyond my expectations. On December 22, 2017, the group performed at a level unprecedented. My colleagues congratulated me like I had anything to do with these adolescents’ accomplishments! With every compliment, I felt more humbled. I adore these students, and I feel connected to each one of them, but their success is for them to own.
My role as an advisor has been small. I do not choreograph the dances, instruct the students in the movements, or have any decision in the choosing of the music. The only thing I offer is a calendar of practice dates and space for rehearsal. I give them boundaries, and they give the school a fantastic show.
Now it is January 2018, and I am wondering how the heck did I think I could advise a Step Team and help them plan a Black History Dinner/Celebration with any authority? I feel like a fraud. The only step dancing I have previously experienced has taken place in bars called Bally Bay, Coleman’s, and Rosie O’Grady’s. In the 1991 movie “The Commitments,” the characters proclaimed that the Irish were the blacks of Europe, but I think that is a loose analogy. No, I have no connection to black history. I am neither African-American nor Afro-Caribbean in descent or experience. I am a typical suburban teacher: white, lower-middle-class, and graying. I am so white that I could be translucent. A collard green has never crossed my lips. I don’t speak anything close to fluent Spanish. I am advising a cultural group for which I have no compass. I am out of my element: teaching while white.
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