A couple of weekends ago, I watched ringside as an intense fight broke out between several young men and women. The audience cheered, bass pumping through everyone’s body.
Two-by-two, individuals jumped into the ring and contorted themselves to hip-hop music, doing flips and head spins, each trying to see who was the most innovative, daring or skilled.
It was just as exhilarating as watching a boxing match or a street fight. There was just as much sweat, energy and movement, but no blood, hatred or violence.
The b-boy contest at the Showbox, a Seattle music club, featured the Massive Monkees and the Circle of Fire – local break-dancing troupes whose members are mostly in their late teens and early 20s.
Beyond providing the audience with a solid night of entertainment, the contest proved something, too. Young people in general are competitive and we have a lot of energy and desire to express ourselves.
And given the choice, it’s more natural to funnel these tendencies into positive activities than negative ones. What I saw that night was artistic expression, both physically from the break-dancers and musically from the DJs.
There was a uniform disregard for superficial differences. Whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics all mingled together beneath the dim lighting.
The dancers were creative. My favorite move of the night was when one of the b-boys made it look like he was falling, then mimed pushing himself back up from a wall in mid-air. And the performers showed pride because they were doing something that most people would never even try – and were doing it well.
Finding something to excel at is one of the sure-fire ways young people will develop a positive outlook in life. Identifying our unique skills helps us to determine where we fit in. It makes us realize we have something to contribute, that we have an edge.
But who says we have to excel at algebra, softball or public speaking?
When I see an amazing graffiti mural, listen to a verbal street battle or struggle to maintain my dignity while playing pool against a no-name shark at a neighborhood bar, I often wonder what else those persons would be capable of if they put their minds to it.
To capitalize on such strengths, young people need more meaningful choices than just a part-time retail job at the mall, outsmarting suspicious adults or wasting time in front of large-screen TVs. We need to be told where we can help out in our communities, and that even our notebook sketches or love of pop music is important. We need to be reminded that we can make a difference if we try.
When not challenged, young people become lazy, bored and rebellious like everyone else. But by nature we are quick, passionate, creative and much too curious about life to be complacent. And we’re not tied down, yet.
Such qualities should set us apart and make us a valuable resource in this world.
It is both our responsibility and the responsibility of our teachers, coaches, parents and friends to see that this energy is not discounted simply because we’re “young” or that it’s wasted because no one is willing to challenge us.
Sharon Altaras is a writer for NEXT, a Sunday opinion page in The Seattle Times, and a 2003 University of Washington graduate.
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