Always giving your best versus taking part is everything

Recently I watched a children’s dance presentation at a local carnival event in Southern Germany. About 400 people had gathered in the town hall dressed in their favourite carnival costumes. First the kindergarten kids performed a song in a circular movement matching lines of their song with certain moves of hands and body. Later the local Jazz Dance class of about 8 teenage girls danced to several songs on stage. The first performance was quite cute, nevertheless it left me speechless as did the second one. So why was that? 

I saw about 15 3-4 year olds walking around in a circle with their kindergarten teachers singing a song to some children’s music. Most children did not sing a single tune during the performance. None of the children could consistently follow the 4 different hand and body movements that were aligned with the repetitive lyrics of the song. Only by observing the care takers could the audience depict which movements were supposed to take place.

The teenage girl Jazz Dance group was much more coordinated and their moves were much more complex. Still, I watched them perform and wondered why they were up there on this stage. Not only were their moves far from being synchronised most of the time, their individual performance was listless, their moves carried out without tension nor attention to detail. They looked genuinely bored. 

What went on in my mind watching those performances? I remembered my own children doing similar songs and dances with their kindergarten and elementary classes in Japan. The children knew their lines, they could follow the hand and body movements about 80% of the time.
I remembered the Hip Hop presentation in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo (about 800 people in the audience). Each and every group that performed from elementary school children to seniors – they were spot-on, synchronised, poised and sending out a great positive energy.

It was at the carnival event that I realised there are at least two different takes on what is important when you give a performance. While I feel that in the German culture the olympic motto of “Taking part is everything” is key, Japanese and most Asian cultures are aiming at always giving your best. I hear all the arguments on how we put so much pressure on our kids and how they are small and need to play and not to take things too seriously. Real life will hit them early enough. So let them have fun when they perform, let them feel they are part of a group and they create something together. I do not agree.

Always giving your best carries a different idea of having fun. The fun part is that you do something beautiful that you enjoy. You do it with others and for others. Always giving your best combines the fun with respect. Respect for yourself, your partners, the audience and for the work itself. Understanding this concept will prepare you for your later life as a professional, a care taker, a parent, a friend. The earlier you internalise this idea, the easier you will master it. So why not start in kindergarten?

Why not teach very young children that a performance is something different than just singing a song in class? Why not encourage them to do their best and make them understand that each one plays an important role to make this project successful. That everyone should be able to rely on the others. They can learn respect, commitment and perseverance and get a sense of comunity while doing something fun.

Even if a children’s carnival ball is not a top-notch event for a teenage group to perform their cool dance moves, they had a chance to impress an audience of about 400 people. They had the chance to inspire other children to join the dance classes. Maybe nobody had explained that to them.