Sunday, June 2, 2013

The beauty of little dancers

I laugh when I tell people that Afghanistan is beautiful and their response is a confused, "Huh?"

In the international media, perhaps, it's not a place you would describe as beautiful. There's nothing beautiful about explosions and attacks on governmental and NGO compounds or in photos of sobbing mothers holding their dying children. Yes, it's hot and dusty in the summer, and yes, our roof leaked all winter even as the pipes froze and the electricity left for two weeks at a time.

But Afghanistan has a beauty all its own, a beauty that the media seldom shows you. It isn't just the beauty of the landscape, a beauty that is different but equally incredible during all four seasons.
It isn't just the sunsets that leave nothing to be desired
 or the feeling of timelessness that you get at its historical sites
or the colorful fruits and even more colorful voices at the bazaar.

It's this.
And this.
And these.

Last week, the Kabul Dance Studio ( held its annual spring recital, and I was privileged to be a part of it. About 100 little girls waited anxiously backstage for their turn to dance, to show off the moves they've spent a year learning and the dance they've been practicing nonstop for the last month. Despite security and rain and costume troubles and everything else that Murphy's Law could produce, it was five o'clock on a gorgeous Sunday evening, and they were about to show the world just how beautiful Afghanistan is.

The beauty in this recital was in the sun reflecting off the outdoor stage as the school principal requested that the audience not take pictures, so as to adhere to the wishes of families who don't want their daughters' honor spoiled.

It was in the tiny dancers representing Mexico, who shook maracas to the music, and in the little one whose maraca broke and who paused in the middle of the dance and spent a good thirty seconds staring at it to try and put it back together. It was in the audience who laughed and clapped for her when she finally succeeded and rejoined the dance with a joyful smile.

 The beauty was in the girls from the local orphanage and from a domestic violence shelter who use dance as an escape from life. In the orphans who whirled across the stage to Indian music but never grew dizzy enough to fall, and in the four sisters from the shelter who wore pristine white dresses and said they felt like the King's daughters as they gently touched their reflection in the mirror before the show.
It was in the Mommy and Me dancers, who wore kangaroo suits and hopped around a circle as the song declared, "Aus-tralia, Aus-tralia. Land of sun and sea!" It was in the little blond kangaroo with the infectious smile, the little black-haired kangaroos who grinned delightedly at the audience, in the little boy in a kangaroo suit who didn't hop even once. Not because he had stage fright, but because he just doesn't do that.

There was beauty in every single one of the faces on that stage last week, from the tap class who dressed as cowgirls and line-danced across the stage, to the dancers in the traditional Afghan attan dance, who flourished their scarves and jingled as they danced on bare feet. The confident dancers who led their fellows with smiles from the front of the stage, the scared ones who hid behind a partner and focused far more on steps than on crowd appeal, the aloof ones who did the very least they could and just looked bored all the time. The little blond who broke her ankle a few weeks before the show, was heartbroken about not being able to dance but stood onstage in her costume and smiled along with the music anyway.

And it was even more than that. It was in the fathers who watched with pride in their eyes as their scarf-less daughters skipped across the stage, and in the costumed dancers who had to stay backstage but who crouched as close as they could to the backdrop in order to the watch the other dancers. In the myriad people who gave their time to help, in the busy high schoolers who put in extra hours to learn their dances in the midst of sickness and exams and everything else. It was in the little ones whose eyes shone as they watched the older ones dance, who came up to me after the show and told me they want to dance en pointe someday too. It was in that moment onstage when I was balancing on toe shoes with my arms lifted to the sky and the sun shining down and it seemed like even God was glorying in the beauty of this place.

Yes, Afghanistan is beautiful.


  1. This post just made my day-- thanks for sharing your beautiful writing and the beauty of dance with the world :)

  2. That was gorgeous. Thank you Rachel!!!

  3. Yeah, Afghanistan is beautiful, if you can consider a misogynist's paradise "beautiful".