I love to dance - polka, swing, ballroom, funk, The Funky Chicken - it doesn't matter what type. So, naturally, I want my kids to love dancing, too. But before you can love to dance, you have to learn how to dance. Keeping a beat and coordinating one's movements to that beat doesn't necessarily come easy.
When Monika came home from preschool this spring with a flyer from the local dance program, I took a close look. And then I frowned. The type of dance class I had in mind wasn't listed on the flyer.
I was looking for something similar to the dance classes I took as a girl, something basic and down to earth. The jazz and tap classes I took required nothing more than ballet slippers, tap shoes, a T-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and a pony tail - for both the classes and the recital. There was nothing fancy about any of it, but we learned to dance.
The flyer Monika brought home included a line about modest uniforms. That's nice, I thought, but why do little girls need costumes for their dance recitals? Or fancy hair? And makeup?
I want Monika (and Dan, for that matter) to learn how to dance, but I don't want to buy into all that glitz. I just want my kids to have fun and not feel pressured to conform to a certain image.
After our first cattle show of the year, I found myself thinking the same thing about showing dairy cattle. Why do cows need fancy hair and special halters and several extra hours worth of milk in their udders? Why do they have to conform to a certain image?
Actually, I've been thinking these thoughts for a long time.
As I watched a handful of cows being pictured for a stud catalog several years ago, I found myself disgusted with the smoke and mirrors used to make each cow look perfect. I'm guessing most photographers just use Photoshop now to add tails and straighten toplines and correct markings.
That disgust surfaced again last fall after watching fitters at World Dairy Expo prepare cows for the show ring. The fitters made a little wall of bodies around the cow to try to keep people passing by from seeing the alligator clips attached to the cow's teats and the TENS unit attached to the clips. When I paused for a second to make sure I wasn't imagining what I was seeing, they glared at me with looks of 'what are you doing here?'
I loved showing when I was younger, and I am beyond grateful to be able to give my kids the opportunity to show, too. But is this what I want them to learn? That conforming to an image to please a judge is more important than treating an animal humanely. That instead of showing an animal as she is, with both her strengths and her weaknesses, they should go to endless lengths to make her look perfect.
Is it really that important for dairy cattle to be specially fitted and filled before a show? During my dairy judging days, we judged plenty of dairy cows and heifers that weren't show ring ready. And, in the county I grew up in, the only fitting we did was a good clip job and a fluffed tail. The judges didn't seem to mind that our cattle didn't look like runway models.
How did showing dairy cattle come to be as glitzy as a little girls' dance recital? Why can't we just give our cows a bath and a good clip job before leading them into the ring?