Interview With Cynthia Joan Mitchell: Part 4

Today I'm posting the last question I asked Cynthia. I loved reading her responses and especially the stories she shared. Thanks so much for participating in this and many thanks to Cynthia for her enthusiasm and willingness to let us get to know her better. Click here for parts one, two, and three.

What is something no one would expect about you?

I was a baton twirler.  I don’t think anyone would expect that little bit of trivia, though I often feel like I fit the part.  You know…dimples… always smiling… and ‘oh so pleasant.’ 

I learned to twirl in the second grade.  I was painfully shy and felt quite invisible, but as I played with my baton during recess, it attracted attention.  Suddenly I felt I was unique.  I could do something others couldn’t.  I discovered that I loved to perform and twirling helped me overcome my shyness.  I carried my baton everywhere.  It took me into Jr. High School and gave me the opportunity to perform during basketball games.  I was feature twirler in my sophomore year of High School and head twirler for the squad during my Senior Year.  I made up and taught the routines to the other twirlers, and encouraged them to compete locally.  

This steel stick became a good friend, a bandaid for shyness, and also a useful weapon when guys I didn’t like tried to hold my hand.  Ah…the usefulness of developing a talent…gotta practice!  Who would have thought I would have carried that thing into my childbearing years!  As a stay at home mother I searched for ways to earn my own wages.  It occurred to me with the help of a friend, that I could actually teach baton twirling.  My motivational sales tactic was fessing up to my awkward younger years and revealing the story of how developing this talent helped me overcome shyness and build self esteem.  I was a woman with a mission…to help all struggling young girls become confident and realize they are special and have unique talents.  

I’ve had many rewarding experiences with some pretty fabulous kids, but I’d like to share one experience that I particularly remember that makes those ten-plus years of teaching very worthwhile: 

Sarah was eight years old and joined my Silverspinner School of Baton along with her younger sister, age five.  The five year old could do no wrong in her parent’s eyes; however I couldn’t help but notice the continual browbeating that was inflicted on Sarah.  Her parents constantly pointed out how cute the little one was and how clumsy Sarah was.  They’d tell her she wasn’t listening to me and ridicule her for that and I witnessed this girl slowly disappear before my eyes.  Finally, I put the kibosh on parents sitting in on lessons and decided I would undo the damage made to this sweet girl – whatever it took.   

From the moment she signed up for lessons, and for months after, she could not make eye contact with me and she continually stared at the floor.  But I worked with her, complimented her and acknowledged her achievements continually.  We were getting ready for what I called a ‘showmanship’ contest which allowed me to have my advanced twirlers compete against my new students…and the new girls could actually triumph over the advanced twirlers since the competition was based solely on showmanship.   

I had the girls marching in a square pattern, as John Phillips Sousa’s march played its cadence.  “Point your toes, head up, smile” I encouraged, then, I took the opportunity to comment on Sarah.  We’ll call it positive reinforcement.  I excitedly announced “Everyone look at Sarah!  She’s pointing her toes and has her knees up and looks really good.  Look at Sarah!  Her arms are swinging and her chin is up!  This is the way I want you all to look!  You’re doing a great job Sarah!”  All of a sudden, for the first time in the months since I began instructing her, Sarah looked up and made eye contact with me as she gave a big smile.  I was able to break through years of ridicule and self doubt for this one moment.  I can’t explain the excitement that came over me as I saw the light within this beautiful girl brighten.  What a wonderful gift to be able to witness such a change.  From that time on, during class, Sarah always looked up.  We saw eye to eye the beauty that comes with a little encouragement.  

If my high school friends knew I still twirled decades after graduating from school they might laugh.  But I believed in my cause and I’d witnessed young awkward feeling girls blossom.  I chased twirlers down parade routes to find out who their teachers were, and gathered them together to form the Baton Boosters of Utah, an organization to encourage baton twirling in Utah.  We held competitions, and even had an occasional “showmanship contest in the park”...just to give all girls an equal opportunity to shine.  It was gratifying on many levels, but nothing compares to the blessing I had of witnessing the miracle of transformation in a little girl named Sarah. 

Thanks again Cynthia!

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