On Friday, I walked over to the community hall in the evening to watch the princess coronation. There were three young ladies in the running, all from my class, and each had spent some time in the week prior perfecting her speech and running it up to the Gwich’in teacher for help with translation.
On the left with the heart-melting smile is Venetie’s newest princess, with brilliant cookie girl C in the middle, and witty G on the right.
The girls walked down the aisle through the middle of the crowded community hall slowly and regally, and everyone’s attention was riveted. All three looked stunning in their handmade dresses and fur-lined slippers. Pride was palpable in the hall. Each girl stood up and quietly thanked the women who made her outfit, her mother, grandmothers, aunties.
These girls are not accustomed to speaking before an audience. Just standing up there took tremendous courage: A fourth girl dropped out a week ago, too frightened to go through with it, and G was sick to her stomach all afternoon at school.
G is outrageously funny: she can bust me up effortlessly with her quick wit and her innocent deadpan. Her writing sparkles with her sense of humor, and when she’s relaxed, she absolutely oozes cool confidence. I hate that this situation, where all of that should have been on display and celebrated, completely robbed her of her charisma. Princess C, similarly, spoke in a whisper as she delivered her speech. In the classroom, she’s not afraid to take a stand on anything, and her force of will and no-nonsense, tough-girl attitude make her a natural leader. I expected to see her taking on the world the way she takes on school, and I was totally shocked by her meekness. I want to work harder next year to give my students opportunities to practice public speaking and performing. Their voices are important, and no one will hear them if they whisper Cookie girl C, characteristically unlike the others, was perfectly herself. She’s unshakeably self-assured, and I love her for it. Later, Terri, Ben and I walked back to the community hall for another dance. I spent what time I didn’t spend dancing playing with the little kids that always swarm like remoras around Ben and Terri. My partner for the second dance complained to me about the heat and the teenagers who sit against the far wall, putting too much wood in the stove and never dancing. I tried to drag B away from the wall to dance with Terri, but he was too embarrassed. I bumbled and erred my way through another square dance, and finally realized that I am not totally inept, it’s just that there are only so many dances and everyone knows them already, so there’s no need for a caller. Next time, I’ll know what to do.
Late in the night there was a jig contest for each age group, and it was a joy to watch my kids show off steps they’ve known all their lives. The very littlest couple in the five-and-under were three and two. She pretty much towed him around the floor, giggling, to much applause.
Wisely, I think, we left before the twist and the jitterbug contests. I don’t think I could have handled the pressure.