Moving with the crowd

From around the age of 8, she remembered many occasions when she was at events in large crowds of people. The feeling of being swamped was overpowering, which was heightened by her being rather small in stature. But there were other feelings bubbling under the surface, too: those of responsibility and pride, often going hand in hand.

One of these occasions was in the final year of lower primary school, the summer of year 4 when she was 9. There was a town-wide sports competition, where representatives for most track and field events from each school competed against one another. Along with these events, there was also a spectacular sport-related performance put on by each participating school. The rehearsals had gone on for weeks prior to the event. The moves and formations were practised over and over again, until precision was achieved. Everyone had to have the exact gear and equipment requested by the school: for her, it was a blue leotard, white ankle socks and the removable round lid of a plastic hourglass-shaped stool they called ‘pilleszék’.  It was drilled into her by her teachers that everything had to be just right: her appearance and her performance. This wasn’t a place for individual talents to be displayed, it was all about what the school could do. The crowd of approximately 720 pupils had to move together, making the right formations all synchronised to the music. The stakes were high – every school wanted to win, it was a prestigious award. She was nervous, felt lost in the crowd but at the same time she also felt all eyes were on her. She had to get this right, focus on what she had to do to play her part in this much larger collective performance. She feared she would drop the lid, or turn the wrong way… in fact, she feared the consequences of her possible mistakes more: the scorn and disapproval of her peers and teachers, that she had let them down, she had let the school down.

It was their school’s turn. Keeping her position in the long line of pupils, she marched onto the football pitch in the middle of the town stadium. The crowds on their tiered chairs were watching, all seats were taken. Then silence…

The music started, she started to move, concentrating on every step and every turn. The rhythm of the music filled her head, her teachers’ instructions rang in her ears, then the final squat, stool lid placed in the grass in front of her, staying still. The music stopped, applause erupted, and relief flooded through her body. She’d done it!! No mistakes, no embarrassment, she’d done her best for the school. The feeling of pride started to creep in, her own pride in herself for achieving what was expected of herself. She didn’t know what the school thought of her performance, whether they appreciated what she’s contributed to the performance or not. In fact, she still does not remember if their school won that competition. What mattered most was that in her mind and heart, she was a winner, but no one would know in that large crowd.