Monday, August 10, 2009
Yes, this is a stroll down memory lane. ;) Sorry about that, but I've been thinking about a pageant experience from my high school years. There is a reason why I've pondered this event in recent days. Earlier this summer, I was asked to write the script for this year's Miss Bear Lake Valley Pageant. It took some doing, but I was able to complete it on schedule, despite several last minute changes.
I've never written a pageant script before. I've written countless roadshows, camp skits, a musical for the YW I served with a few years ago entitled: "The Adventure of a Lifetime," and it was; a Christmas musical for the tri-stake area, and a community Christmas production. Writing a pageant script was a new experience for me. As I struggled to pull it together, I began reflecting on the one time I endured a pageant adventure.
I had never planned on participating in a pageant. But when it came time for the 1979 Jr. Miss to be crowned, a couple of good friends talked me into vying for the title. They made it sound like this would be the greatest experience of my life. I believed them, especially when they pointed out that I would have a chance to hone my talents.
A budding performer, I embraced this opportunity to write and sing one of my own songs. Singing and songwriting was something I had been dabbling with for years, and this seemed like the perfect chance to see what professional judges thought of my abilities. And there was a chance at a scholarship that was offered through this venue which was also tempting.
I wasn't thrilled over the idea of dancing in public. Blessed with two left feet, I was very concerned about this portion of the program. But my friends assured they would help me practice until I got the hang of things. I pointed out to them that there were reasons why I didn't do things like march with the drill team. The one time I tried out for this organization was an adventure in humiliation. I always seemed to be doing the opposite of everyone else. It's a gift, I know, to march to the beat of a different drummer, but this tendency of mine was not appreciated by the woman who was the adult adviser over the drill team. I was quickly cut from the team during the tryouts. I tried not to take this personally, and went on to participate in other activities that didn't require me to be graceful, like drama, journalism, Honor Society, and the entertainment club---an organization that provided entertainment at dances, assemblies, and so forth.
True to their word, my friends helped me learn the dance we were to perform during the night of the pageant. I spent hours trying to catch onto the dance steps, and finally, after several frustrating practices, I could almost dance as well as a lame duck. ;) Maybe a little better than that, but I knew that dance routine would not be my strong point.
For weeks, I had been told by the other contestants, the adult advisers for this event, and anyone else who had been watching us practice, that I had the talent award all sewn up. I believed them, and worked extremely hard on preparing for that portion of the pageant.
All too soon, the pageant week arrived. One by one, fourteen of us were interviewed by the judges. I felt extremely tongue-tied during my interview. I was scared to death by the frowning set of adults who faced me in a semi-circle. I was asked questions about my current interests, future plans, and personal preferences. When I was asked who my favorite author happened to be, since I had listed on a form I had filled out earlier that I loved to read, I blew it. That should have been an easy answer, since at that time in my life, my favorite author was Agatha Christie. Instead of sharing that information, I hesitantly stuttered that I thought Erma Bombeck was hilarious. While that was a true statement, and I enjoyed her books, she wasn't my favorite author. I was tempted to kick myself when I left the room that afternoon. I had allowed a tendency to be shy to hamper my interview. Instead of exhibiting confidence, I had displayed terror. Most uncool.
In way of good news, I had two very pretty dresses to wear. Both were extremely modest formal gowns. One was light blue with long sleeves and a high neck. The other was a Gunnie Sax design, for those of you from that era. It was a beautiful dress that you can see in the picture below.
This dress had wonderful lacy sleeves, and yet another high neck. I'll admit it--I was a teenage prude. I wasn't comfortable wearing anything that even smacked of being immodest. It may have been part of my shy nature, but that's just who I was . . . and who I am today. I've never been one to wear anything that causes embarrassing discomfort. Unless you count the times I've dressed up to render silly singing telegrams . . . but I digress. ;)
Back to the pageant adventure . . . the big night finally arrived. We had been told that we would be paired to walk in with members of the high school basketball team. I don't know who paired us up, but I was assigned to walk in with one of the tallest members of the team. This kid was well over 6' 8", and since I was only 5' 2", I was about eye level with his belly button.
Now, bear in mind, this was 1979, and platform heels were all the rage. That night I was wearing a black pair of platform dress sandals that looked sharp with both dresses. They elevated me to nearly 5' 6". I didn't realize these factors would collide into disaster. As I was escorted from the back of the auditorium to the stage at the front of the room, my arm at an uncomfortable angle since my escort was still a foot taller, I managed to step into the hem of my new blue gown with the platform heel of one sandal, and I face-planted it in front of everyone. For a few seconds, I wished for the floor to swallow me. Then I was tempted to kick my escort on the leg. He just stood there and looked at me, while the audience tried not to laugh. As I managed to rise to my feet, he then gallantly took my arm and hustled me up the stairs to the stage. I heard later on that he was mortified over how I had embarrassed him. Ah . . . a true gentleman. ;)
That was an indication of things to come. While I didn't fall down during the dance as one poor girl did, I was still off here and there with the differing dance steps. I hoped no one would notice my continued lack of grace, and I psyched myself up for the talent segment of the evening. Fortunately, my song went better than I had expected. The audience cheered loud and long after my performance, giving my ego a much needed boost. The rest of the night passed quickly and it was finally time for the winners to be announced.
They started with the specialty awards. When it was finally time for the talent award, I waited eagerly. The emcee said quite loudly, "And tonight's talent award goes to Ch . . ."
I knew all of my hard work and humiliation had been worth it. Gathering my courage, I stepped forward to accept the award.
"Ch . . . ari Salter!"
Once again, I wished to be swallowed by the floor. Instead, I graciously shook the hand of the young woman who had won the award, and retreated back to my place in line with the others. When I thought about it later on, Chari really had deserved the talent award. She had performed a singing and dancing routine from a musical production, and she was the epitome of confidence. She had scored the highest with the interview and the talent segments, and she was proclaimed Ashton's Jr. Miss in 1979, going on to represent our school in the state competition. She was awarded the Miss Spitfire award in Boise, doing her best to bring a sense of pride to our small town.
I'll admit, immediately after the pageant in Ashton, I felt disappointed. One of my close friends had placed as the first runner up, and I was thrilled for her (she was one of those who had talked me into participating in the pageant) but it stung knowing I had failed to win anything that night. But when my friends and family came backstage to congratulate me on how well things had gone, (I know, they were being exceedingly kind) my spirits lifted. I knew I had given the pageant my best. Some things hadn't turned out as I had envisioned, but I had learned so much from that experience. Among other things, I learned to laugh at myself. My friends and I would laugh about that pageant for years to come, as we relived my less than shining moments. And so many people talked to me later on about my talent number, it made me feel like I had accomplished something fairly neat.
Because I had been courageous enough to take part in that pageant, a few months later, I was asked to write and sing a special musical number for my high school graduation. That was a highlight of my high school days, and that opportunity was the direct result of my efforts during the pageant.
It is my hope tomorrow night, when the new Miss Bear Lake Valley is crowned, that all of the girls who are participating will come away with a feeling of self-worth, regardless of the outcome. They are all winners in my book, for possessing the courage to get up in front of a crowd to perform. It is these type of experiences that shape our characters, and help us to discover who we really are. And when we embrace the new growth that can be ours from these learning experiences, it doesn't matter who walks away with the crown.