"Cavalia": This Show's Not Horsing Around

Granted, with sister's new baby and my visit and all, parenting was on my mind. But all through the show it was all I could think about.
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My little sister's partner just gave birth to their first baby. She's six weeks old. I have a daughter myself who will be 13 in April. I flew out to Portland, Ore., last week to see the new baby and to lend a hand. My sister is back at work now and her partner is home alone full-time with the little bundle until she returns to work in February.

Like most new parents, they're struggling. Sleeping through the night is a long forgotten luxury and winning the lottery seems far more likely than, say, showering or going to the gym. And they are obsessed -- as they should be -- with their daughter's every move. Even diaper blowouts seem to be cause for giggles and coos.

I went to Oregon thinking I might get to catch a few Nia classes at Headquarters and maybe even see a few friends. But it wasn't 24 hours before I too was sucked into the baby vortex, spending my time rocking and walking and singing and narrating the baby's every move.

"Aw, look who had a big sneeze. Did you make a big sneeze? Such a big sneeze for a tiny, tiny girl. Who's a tiny girl?" Something about those giant eyes and teeny toes makes even the sanest of adults lose their minds.

When I arrived, my sister's birthday had just passed, so I wanted to take her somewhere fun to celebrate. "Cavalia" was in town, which seemed like the perfect fit. After many assurances from her partner that she had no problem with her going out, my sister and I left for the big top for the whole "Cavalia" Rendez-Vous experience.

Granted, with sister's new baby and my visit and all, parenting was on my mind. But all through the show it was all I could think about. Not just parenting, but good parenting. "Cavalia" is the brainchild of "Cirque du Soleil" co-founder Normand Latourelle and it's an enchanting display of horse whispering. It's also a fascinating metaphor for parenting.

It's quite an impressive show. The production itself is made up of 33 artists, acrobats, dancers, and riders, as well as six musicians from around the world. And there are 49 horses in the production comprised of 10 different breeds from France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the U.S., and the Netherlands.

"Cavalia" builds a nine tent "village" wherever they go, including stables that are more than 16,500 square feet. They have performed throughout the US, Europe, and Canada, doing 1,700 performances over the past seven years for nearly three million people.

In other words, it's a big to-do.

Whether you're a horse fanatic or not, "Cavalia" is downright magical. It seems like less of a show as in "Step right up and see the pretty ponies dance" and more like a window into what happens when animals and people mutually respect one another and work with one another's strengths and weaknesses as opposed to against them, or, at the very least, regardless of them.

No one screams at the horses. No one whips them. Although some of the riders carried crops, no one used them. And the horses did the most remarkable things -- running freely across and around the set, changing directions, do-si-doing one another, bowing.

Not to mention carrying trick riders doing all sorts of things on, over and around them. All the while, aerial performers were dropping from the sky and acrobats jumped and climbed and balanced throughout.

At the risk of sounding terribly cheesy, I have to say it. It was beautiful. It really was -- the horses and the trainers and the performers all working together. There was no master/servant sort of thing going on. Just people and animals working together, which is what got me thinking about parenting.

Children, of course, are simply new people. They are not slaves or punching bags or decorations. They are not on earth to validate the parent's existence. They are not here to do what the parent could not or would not herself. They are not lesser beings who need to be (let alone can be) forced into doing the parent's bidding.

Try to make a two-year-old do something -- anything -- they don't want to if you don't believe me.

If we all parented our children the way the horses in Cavalia were trained -- I don't mean literally, of course, but figuratively, with respect and care, patience and understanding, selflessness and joy -- what wonderful children, and ultimately adults, we would have.

Imagine a world where we took people where they are, as they are, instead of forcing them to be what we want them to be. Letting them live and love and work and play in the ways they are moved to. I'm not talking about letting children or adults -- or horses for that matter -- run wild and do whatever they please.

I'm talking about not making kids sit still and keep quiet all the time and not making adults sit in cubes and wear khakis and only have ideas when their bosses demand it. The creators of "Cavalia" designed a show that would exhibit the strength and beauty and power of horses. Why is it that we don't do the same for people?

My only intention was to give my sister a fun evening out in honor of her birthday. Instead I hope I gave her the inspiration to raise a child rather than train one; to be witness rather than ruler; and to remember how glorious horses are when they're allowed to be horses.

That doesn't mean there aren't rules and boundaries and etiquette and customs. I'm all for all of that for people and animals alike. It just means letting go of all the "shoulds" and instead embracing all of the "ares."

And, we shouldn't forget that parents are people too, as that old song goes from "Free to Be You and Me." You don't have to give up who you are to be a parent and cater to your little one's every whim. When you do, it does a disservice to everyone involved -- yourself, the kid and the world that has to put up with that kid when she's all grown up.

Go to yoga. She'll be fine in day care for an hour. You'll both be better for it. And who cares if they don't always eat their vegetables? What difference does it make if they want to wear galoshes and their Batman costume to school? And so what if they want to run away with "Cirque du Soleil" instead of going to Harvard?

I know not every day can be like a scene from "Cavalia" or "Free to Be You and Me." All I'm suggesting is that it sure would be nice...

To a land to a shining sea
To a land where the horses run free
To a land where the children are free
And you and me are free to be you and me

If you want to see "Cavalia" for yourself, it's in Portland until Jan. 2 before it opens in Seattle (Redmond) on Jan. 24. They also opened a brand-new show called "Odysseo" in Atlanta; it'll be there through Jan. 8 before it opens in Miami on Mar. 13.

*The "Cavalia" Rendez-Vous package includes a souvenir, drinks, dinner and snacks before the show, dessert at intermission, a stable tour after, and the best seats in the house.

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