On Saturday I was down at the Lattitudes Festival in Kitchener, Waterloo. They invite me practically every year since they started and the crowd that comes to gather and hear stories is definitely getting bigger!

It was raining hard on Saturday.

When I got to the little island in the middle of Victoria park, I was quite soggy.

We were sharing the island with the Indians celebrating Aboriginal day. I love all the ribbon dresses, jingle dresses, war paint and regalia!

And there were booths selling native crafts from dreamcatchers to hair ribbons and bracelets.

I walked over to the Lattitudes side of the island and beheld the strangest site!

A group of about ten white people were in a ballet plie position and were moving rhythmically side to side in a sort of fake native dance type of style. Then the leader put her hands behind her back like feathers and they looked, for a moment, like birds (chickens), then they spread their arms out and did some other movements.

Oh brother! The whole thing had a sort of mock native air to it.

I just watched, amazed that people could act so silly in public.

Then later I went over to take in some of the Native festival.

There was a large circle gathered and it looked like there’d be a native dance or something.

Some of the natives were discussing something at the head of the circle and a young blonde girl, with her hair french-braided, wearing a calico dress with jingles all over it, stood to the side waiting patiently.

Finally a hefty guy wearing a vest with one of those bolo ties with a feather dangling down from it took the microphone and started by explaining that traditionally it should be the girl’s parents doing this introduction, but they were too shy.

Then he introduced the girl’s family members.  There was a man with the top of his face painted red and the bottom painted black, and he wore lots of eagle feathers and a bustle at the back, and there was another guy who was not as ornately dressed, then a few pudgy middle aged women and men shuffled up to join them, but they were dressed in regular jeans and shirts.

There was an awkward moment, on top of all the awkward moments, when the ‘music’ started, basically some recorded drumming and chanting, and the group of people just stood there, the ones in western clothes looking like they wanted to be anywhere else.

Finally on cue , the girl in the calico dress started to step dance and the rest of her family started dancing as well, but quite subdued, shy. They moved around the circle once, then people came forward to greet them.

If you’re going to dance in public, you can’t be shy. You shouldn’t do it half-heartedly.

It’s like storytelling.

I try to never watch myself storytell. I know it’s embarrassing. My face goes into all kinds of contortions in the natural course of telling a story and I’ve caught glimpses of myself frozen in pictures or flashes of me in a video, and I can’t help cringing.

It’s because when I’m in the midst of telling a story I do so with an abandonment of propriety. I roll my eyes. I make faces, I run the whole gamut of emotions, when necessary–especially if it’s a funny story. I’m so completley immersed in the story that I don’t worry about looking silly.

But then I’m being true to the story.

It would be kind of like watching an actor going from drinking a coffee to getting into character and doing a dramatic scene. Imagine Haley Joel Osment on a set, with the lighting technicians fiddling with their switches, the cameramen zooming in for a closeup and Bruce Willis crouching in close, for him to say his line, “I see dead people.”

All we see is the truth of the emotion in the scene. We don’t see the whole set.

But perhaps Haley would feel the same kind of trepidation in watching himself because he can remember sitting there, drawing the blanket up to his face, a bit of snot running down his nose, and getting into the intense emotional mindset of the moment he’s supposed to say that line so convincingly.

It must be very hard.

But you’d have to go all the way, throw yourself so completely into committing to the emotion of the moment without worrying about whether you look silly with that bit of snot running out of your nose. Even that bit of snot is important. Because it shows that Haley’s character is so emotional, so distraught at this confession, that he doesn’t take the time to wipe it off.

Kind of like the drool that hangs down from Russel Crowe’s mouth when he gets to his Roman villa too late and sees his wife and son hanging in the movie Gladiator.

You can’t be self-conscious at a moment like that. Just like you can’t be self-conscious when you’re storytelling. You have to be willing to bare your soul.

And the biggest mistake those native dancers made was that they were self-conscious. It’s understandable. I’ve felt like that myself. It’s the old natives-dancing-round-a-cauldron-in-a-National-Geographic-special moment.

And the ones who should have felt self-conscious, the white people who were imitating a native dance, didn’t.

Go figure.