Summer Camp Not All Song and Dance

A cautionary tale...

I recently paid a not-insignificant amount of money to send my six-year-old
daughter to a one-week, half-day summer camp program called "Broadway Song
& Dance." The camp was held at a small, private school, and tuition was
steep -- almost $200 -- but it would be worth it, I reasoned, for the exposure
to the arts and musical instruction my daughter was sure to receive.

I could not have been more wrong.

On the next-to-last day I popped in for an unannounced visit. (I am making
a mental note to myself: unannounced visits should be squeezed in at every
opportunity.) The seven children, ages 6-9, were running loose in the music
room: jumping, yelling, holding their ears and shouting. The instructor?
Sitting in a corner, back against the wall, legs crossed, head down,
writing in a notebook. She couldn't have looked more surprised to see me

She offered me a chair, yelled at the kids to stop screaming, and returned
to her notebook. She was young -- little more than 20, I would guess. Her
hair was short and spiky; she was cute in a darkly unconventional way. Her
belly button peeked through her snug, cropped top, and a silver-studded
belt was slung low on her hips. Nothing appeared to be pierced, at least.

After five minutes or so, while I watched in silent disbelief, the kids
continued to run amok, until the Broadway Song & Dance instructor sighed
resolutely: "I guess we should play a game. Let's play Mafia." The kids
enthusiastically ran for the center of the room and sat down in a circle,
then one by one they went to her for their "assigned roles." Whoever was
the Mafia don then looked at people, to "kill them," until the rest of the
people could figure out who the Mafia don was.

I'm reasonably certain that before I paid all this money and took my
daughter to learn Broadway songs, she didn't know what a Mafia don was, or
that there were people in this world whose job is to kill people. But now she does, thanks to good ol' Broadway Song & Dance.

It got worse. Once the faux killing lost its entertainment value, the
instructor sighed, stood up, and announced that even though she wanted to save what the kids had been learning so that "Rachel's mom" would be
surprised at tomorrow's performance, she thought maybe they could practice one or two songs anyway. I heartily agreed.

The kids took their places, and soon the strains of "Money Money Money"
filled the air. They didn't know the lyrics, but they bent down, hands
dangling, and made grubbing motions as they kicked and chanted
"MONEYMONEYMONEY!!!" The choreographed routine was simple enough, but few

of the kids had it down. I was appalled. Could it have been a coincidence
that as soon as we got home, my daughter made a beeline for a stack of
catalogues and began dog-earing the pages of the toys she wants?

The next song was a soulful tune about lost love, about a man who's gone,
about spending nights alone and wanting him back. Huh? My six-year-old
smiled, feeling all grown up as she crooned what she knew to be grown-up

The teacher interrupted the songs to bark corrections. She raised her voice
at increasing decibel levels until she was shouting and whistling, trying
desperately to maintain control, never achieving it, and all from the back
of the room, her back pressed against the wall. This girl had no teaching
skills whatsoever.

Maybe my expectations were set too high. I had visions of Little Orphan
Annie's "Hard-Knock Life," Dorothy's "Over the Rainbow," or "Tomorrow." I
wanted to see my child belting out lyrics -- knowing the words -- and dancing
even a simple choreographed routine -- just one or two, but doing it well.
Like it had been rehearsed.

My six-year-old is my oldest child, so experiences like half-day summer
camps are new to both of us. We're learning as we go, and I expect that
some programs will be better than others. To be fair, a few weeks ago she
took an etiquette class at the same school that was superior in every way;
she came home saying "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, Ma'am" and reminding me that it
was impolite to make phone calls before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. I was
impressed and I told the director so.

Now I'm more than a little concerned. Like most young girls, my daughter
moons over Britney Spears, wants to wear lip gloss, and some days she says
she wants a boyfriend. As a parent I have enough trouble keeping
materialism at bay and bellybuttons covered; now this? Those who are
entrusted with our kids need to realize the struggles we face and join us
in our efforts to raise our children well, rather that making the struggle
even more difficult. With a topic like "Broadway Song & Dance," I thought I
was safe. I guess I'd better think again.