There’s a Fine Line Between ‘Cute’ and ‘Acting Up’

She Matters: The "Broadway Baby" dancer’s scene-stealing moment was out of line.

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Perhaps you’re one of the more than 2 million people who have watched the latest viral video of a 4-year-old dancing her heart at a recital. The video was uploaded in June, but it’s only recently become a hit with several news outlets, including the New York Daily News, the Daily Mail and Yahoo covering the story in the last week.

The video features a chorus line of toddlers doing their adorable best as they tap dance to “Broadway Baby” from the musical Follies, but one child, a little black girl, adds some “oomph!” to her routine. The camera zooms in as she enthusiastically ad-libs some extra dance moves, belts out the chorus and seems to encourage another dancer to perk up and be noticed as the audience laughs and cheers at the antics.

News outlets reporting the story have praised the child as “delightful,” “adorable” and “unbearably cute,” and most commenters agreed. “She is the absolute cutest!!” wrote a YouTube commenter. “I watch the video of her tapping [to] ‘Broadway Baby’ when I'm having a bad day. She makes me happy.”

Other commenters (like me) found the kid to be button-cute but were not amused by her spotlight-stealing performance. “While I must admit this was funny to me,” a woman commented on Yahoo, “I would have been ticked off if my kid was up there.”

This isn’t the popular opinion, but I’ll say it anyway: I cringed watching the video as I was procrastinating on Facebook. If I had done this as child, my parents would have frowned at my shenanigans if they were in the audience. My mother might have gone as far as walking onto the stage to give me a “talkin to” in my ear—as she did on more than one occasion when I was too chatty with my friends in the church choir. In the House of Lucas, the best-case off-stage consequence to a performance such as the one shown in the video would have been a speech similar to the one Olivia Pope’s father meted out in the Season 3 Scandal premiere, about how black girls have to be twice as good to get half as far. The worst-case scenario would have been some biblical form of discipline where rods are not spared.

My parents are obviously old-school. And I must be slowly turning into my mother because I didn’t find this dance all that funny. There’s nothing wrong with anyone being energetic or silly or for wanting attention, even adults. But a chorus line is a group activity where the whole point is to move in unison with the group—or as close to unison as possible. It’s not the time for an A Star Is Born moment. I would have been, let’s say, less than pleased, that my kid didn’t follow the instructions. There are times and places to rage against the machine. A dance recital isn’t one of them.

Of course, I don’t think this makes her a bad kid, as some of the Internet’s ever-present racists asserted. (On one site the unidentified 4-year-old was called “LaQuisha," assumed to be from a low-income neighborhood and predicted to make the news for some sort of criminal activity in 20 years.) I do think she chose the wrong time to “express herself.”

As a former black child who got embarrassed by her parents and had black friends who were, too, I know there is no quicker way to practically beg for discipline than acting up in public. Maybe there’s a new definition of “embarrassment” in the blackparenting handbook, but in the old one, this recital performance would fall right into it. Maybe black folks are getting soft.

Kids act up. This happens. It’s not the end of the world or an indication of anything other than the kid is better suited to be a soloist. If she were mine, I’d react “better” than my parents by engaging her afterward with a quick speech about how I was very proud of her for getting on stage and adding a reminder of what’s appropriate for certain times and certain places. I wouldn’t celebrate this as “cute,” which is a positive reinforcement that would only encourage her to do it again. I’d also immediately enroll her in private dance lessons to nurture that passion into some talent so she can pay her own tuition with her Broadway performance money.

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.

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