In Virginia, a Tattoo is not what you might think

Cello player at Virginia Arts Festival
Cello player at Virginia Arts Festival

By Heather Kick

I couldn’t help but start to shuffle and tap my feet under me as the music played.  I scooted back in my chair as I nearly tipped forward watching the performer dance across the floor. Her ringlet hair bounced with every step she took. And her costume sparkled as it caught the light. Her swift footwork with her bouncing hair and the dazzling costume not only moved me in my seat, but put a smile on my face; and as I looked around the room I noticed the rest of the audience was all smiling too.

In Norfolk, Virginia I was introduced to the concept of their International Tattoo. Traditionally a tattoo is a ceremonial military performance. The Virginia Arts Festival’s International Tattoo is a huge tribute to this tradition. Each year they gather hundreds of performers from around the world in order to produce this spectacle of music, patriotism, and cultural experience. 

The performer who had me dancing in my seat was an Irish Dancer. Just before her performance I was entertained by a steel drummer. Before him there was a bagpiper with a Scottish dancer. And before that I heard a horn quintet. Just about every five minutes my senses were taken to a new country for a new experience. (A travelers dream!)

There were two things I came away loving most about this event. First, is that it brings the world to its audience. I don’t think I have to lecture the importance of cultural exposure to a traveling audience, but this performance delivered exactly that lesson. In the heart of a fiercely patriotic region, this performance forces us to remember “the other guy”.  Each performance of this tattoo is rooted in military ceremony, and these traditions come from all over the world. So while, we are familiarly comfortable and moved by the lone trumpet as an American flag is raised, here we are also given the opportunity to be introduced or exposed to Albanian dancers, Dutch bicycle teams, and local Hampton Roads Police Color Guard.

Secondly, I am more than pleased that the Virginia Arts festival is using this event as a way to educate school children. In a day when the arts are being threatened in public schools, the Virginia Arts Festival is providing more than one avenue for children to gain exposure to the arts. Various performances along with in-class opportunities will help the Virginia Arts Festival’s mission to give every student in Virginia a taste of the arts.

As I sat back in my chair and observed the audience’s reaction to the dancer, I realized that the Virginia Arts Festival was on to something else. A beautiful and inspiring performance can be appreciated across languages, across cultures, and across politics. It is truly a human reaction to shuffle and tap your feet when the music is good…and the music was great!

(Heather is a student at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and has been an intern for Taking the Kids this semester).

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