Monologue for a mature woman
(free for students & auditions)

A Teacher of African Dance

By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2004 Geralyn Horton

ALTHEA: 40-50's; African Arts lessons from a troubled mother.

I'm the free spirit, the intellectual.

I've always read and learned because it was a pleasure to me, not because it was the way to get to where I wanted to be, or do what I wanted to do. Learning and thinking and making art were what I wanted to do: a job was just how I paid my bills.

I'm of the generation of African-Americans who wanted to claim the heritage of Africa as ours. We brought teachers here, and we learned the dances and the music and the meanings they carried, and we arranged for the African artists to found schools here, and pass the heritage on.

But our own children aren't interested! They don't see why they should care about these art forms, and because besides being the generation to reach back, we were the forward generation-- the let it all hang out and express yourself generation. We don't know how to teach our children what they aren't inclined to learn. We have to try to tell them that all the music they think is cool, the rap and the rock, are all from African roots, and that knowing the origins will make them cooler than the kids who know only what they hear from the DJs.

My son's father is a police officer, and that side of the family is full of military men, all well organized and strict. Those strong disciplined men, they studied even when it was hard, to earn the respect and the responsibility. My husband's side of the family is a little bit scandalized that what I earn my living teaching looks to some people like partying, and that when I'm studying my subject I'm traveling around to festivals or lying around the house reading books with beautiful pictures in them. But they have respect for discipline and scholarship, and they respect me for what I have accomplished. When my picture is in the paper, they take it to their church to show all their friends. After our divorce, I was still happy to have Alexander go south to stay with his father's side for summer vacation. There wouldn't be the temptations of the city there, and his father and uncles would set him a good example.

My husband was one of a pair of twins-- not identical twins, fraternal, and very different. Alan was the smart one, his brother Aaron was slow. But for both of them, though for different reasons, their goal was the military. Alan qualified for college and officer training, his brother didn't: but Aaron kept his eyes on his goal, and he worked towards it steadily the long hard way. He quit school at 17, and studied on his own, at his own pace. Aaron kept taking the military exam, and failing it, and studying some more and taking it over until he passed. And then he studied until he made himself a Master Sergeant. So I say to my son, look at your uncle Aaron. School wasn't easy for him either, but he did what he had to do to be what he wanted to be.

All the teachers had come to me with the pill bottles in their hands, telling me to put Alexander on Ritalin. But I said "I don't want to drug my son. Put him in the special program, and we'll get him all the support at home anyone can get." I told Alexander, "Your father and I and our whole family, we will back you up and help you every way we can so that you can reach your dream of being a pilot. Your uncle would have liked to be a pilot, too, but his eyes weren't good enough. Still, Aaron got close. He's an airplane mechanic in the Air Force. He works on the planes he loves and flies in them sometimes, too, although he doesn't pilot them. Your uncle is proud and happy with his life, and you know how proud the family is of him."

And it worked. Or at least, it was working. Last fall was the breakthrough term, when the special attention and the help in school and at home paid off. Alexander's a whiz in math, but reading is hard for him, and he used to do anything to avoid it. Then he buckled down, and once he saw that the work paid off in results, I think he even began to enjoy it-- or at least he was enjoying the rewards and attention. We would sign off on his homework, and he was gung ho to do it. It was working, he was coming up, he was doing so well, getting A's, and we were so proud of him!

Then we stopped riding him so hard. We believed him when he said he had done his homework, and had faith that the teachers in the special program would warn us if Alexander started slipping back. We still went to school meetings. The teachers had our phone numbers and could call us at any time.

I can't tell you how betrayed we felt when my son brought home a report card full of D's! There's blame enough to go around: the teachers, his father, Alexander for lying to us. But probably the most blame falls on me, because I believed what I wanted to believe: that my son had set his foot on the path that was right for him, and there would be no turning back. I felt free to turn my own self back to my own path: African dance, and the performers and teachers who want to preserve that heritage in this country. If only it were that easy! Once you are a mother, nothing's easy.


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