Master Harold… and the Boys

I turned on the radio today and overshot NPR (my office radio has an analog display with an unknown offset) and found the end of a play where they were talking about ballroom, so naturally I had to stop and listen.

The play is “Master Harold… and the Boys” by Athol Fugard.  It takes place in apartheid South Africa, and two black servants are practicing for an upcoming ballroom comp, which apparently is mostly done by blacks.  Their young master thinks they’re just wasting time (he concedes that ballroom may not be easy, but doesn’t believe it is sophisticated or artistic), but as the more erudite of the servants (Sam) tries to set the scene, Harold becomes interested that he could spin it as a paper topic for school (on something of cultural significance, even if it is from a “lower” culture).

Sam builds to the final.  The best dancers have trained very hard to make it here.  The band is playing its best.  The crowd is dressed up to the nines and sitting in rapt attention.  Everything is perfect as can be.  Then Harold asks what if someone bumps into someone else?  Sam tries to convince Harold to concentrate on what we aspire to (“a world without collision”) while Harold is mired in the problem of reality, which is underscored by his drunkard and wastrel of a father coming home.  The narrative drifts away from ballroom toward family and race, but the ballroom metaphor underlies the conversation.

Anyway, ballroom as a metaphor for life (or a particular lifestyle): yes, there are collisions on the floor and bad practices off the floor, but that is not the purpose of dancing.  It is about aspiring to be part of that one shining moment.