It’s only when we pull into the parking lot that I realize we’re early. I remembered Kayli’s volleyball practice time wrong – it’s 6:15 not6:00 – and the parking lot is empty.
The sky is darkening from daytime turquoise to evening navy. A woman in a highlighter yellow shirt runs through the park. A family of three walk their tall, fuzzy, white dog.
Look at that! Brody gasps. And we do, we all look. This is the gift of being 20 minutes early; you have time to stop and gasp and listen and see when your five-year-old tells you to look.
Jason has PTO tonight so I have all three kids with me. We’re early! I share. This is unusual for us so I understand when they don’t have a response ready to go.
Brody’s favorite song (Capital Cities’s Safe and Sound, don’t judge) comes on. I peek at my three through the rearview mirror. They catch each other’s eyes, unbuckle, and begin to dance. They’re glinting, every single one of them
I turn up the music and this is what we do until practice is supposed to start. I can’t think of a better use of our time and when the clock flips to done, we leave only because we have to.
Unfamiliar music strains fill the room. I sit on my perch in the back, camera ready, breath held.
We will try again, the teacher says. Her accent frames her words, making them palatable. Her dark hair grazes bare shoulders and a strong back. She’s wearing a skirt perfect for swishing and dancer heels. She faces the sea of teenage faces with grace and confidence. But I see the uncertainty in her eyes. Okay? She adds.
I went to Greece with People to People this summer. 32 teenagers, 4 leaders, 1 PR representative, and me. I followed these kids and photographed their moments, including this one — a dance lesson in a studio on the beach. Outside, there was clear water and warm sand and inside, there was this.
My camera at the ready, I saw what she saw. This was hard for some of the kids. The steps were new and unfamiliar. They were on the spot, being stretched in front of each other.
Their flip flops squeaked on the smooth, tile floor. Carefully — tentatively, even — they placed hands on each others shoulders and tried again and again to figure out where to put their feet.
What I saw in their faces wasn’t easy to put my finger on. They wanted to be there, but this was a push out of their comfort zone. It was perfect.
Hours later, we met at the city center for a performance by Greek dancers followed by a joint performance by them and the People to People students.
The music started with a crackle and filled the space from cobblestone ground to wide open sky. Locals gathered to watch. They sat side by side on hard benches, work shirts still on, 5 o’clock shadows in place, eyes warm, kind, and open.
Our dance teacher’s husband was there. He had their kids with him and he held one on each strong arm. I’m distracted by this, missing my own kids with a fierceness that comes from deep inside. But when the music starts, I turn my head, lift my camera, and watch other people’s kids experience something incredible. I’m grateful.
The sky blushes. The music is turned up. They begin. The kids perform and do a great job with their dance, arms clasped on shoulders, one flip-flopped foot over the other.
But the real magic happens when no one is in a rush for the evening to end.
The American kids dance with the locals. Their own highlighter colored shirts a sharp contrast to the intricate fabrics and colors of the Greek dance group’s clothes in blacks and browns, reds and golds. They mix and match perfectly creating a visual that everyone should get to see and feel and be in the presence of at least once.
This, I know: When we slow down, dive into our stretch, and dance, we find our shine.
When I talked to the People to People kids about their time in Greece, I asked them what they would tell someone contemplating travel. 15-year-old Brandon Churchfield said, “I would tell them to bring their dancing shoes.”
Isn’t that just perfect life advice. Bring the shoes, be ready to dance.
I’m beyond grateful to have traveled with People to People this summer as a Special Ambassador Correspondent and to tell their story today. To find out more about our programs, see our website.