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On the Royal Lancers

New Westminster has a tradition where old men dance with twelve-year old girls.

Depending on where you live, you’ll either find that strange or delightful.

If you live in New Westminster, are white, and are over the age of 50, odds are you’ll find it delightful.

Otherwise, you’ll probably find this tradition a little strange and perhaps a little off-putting. I’m in this camp, and I am just fine with this tradition being cancelled.

To give a little background, the Royal Lancers, a fairly secret society of older men (I say this because I’ve been unable to find out who exactly is a Royal Lancer, or what it takes to become a Royal Lancer) have a dance each year with the May Queen Suite at the May Day banquet. The May Queen Suite is made up of Grade 5 girls from New Westminster school.

The City has said that the dance will no longer be part of the banquet, and this has rustled all kinds of jimmies around town.

(Aside: Take a look at this tweet as an example of what I mean by “white and over the age of 50” for who’s angriest about this whole thing. Fully one third of New Westminster residents have neither English nor French as a mother tongue, and they’re woefully under-represented in this “tradition”.)

The only argument I’ve seen towards keeping the dance the way it is is “it’s tradition”. Okay, I’ve also seen the “it strengthens bonds between generations” arguments, which is about the only one that I’ll accept as valid. “Tradition” is not a reason to keep it. There are an awful lot of things in our past that count as “tradition” that should be remembered but not celebrated, and I think this dance, in its current form, is one of them.

I read stories like this where the lancers say things like “I don’t believe council realizes the implications of their action” and I can’t help but think of a petulant child upset that his parents have taken his ball away from him. Their actions are taking away the whole spirit of the celebrations, which is to celebrate children. Instead, by stamping their feet they’re taking the attention away from the children that they profess to celebrate.

(Another aside: read that story again and note how the actual specifics of the dance aren’t mentioned. The only hint that old men might be dancing with young girls is in the “10 hours of cooperative participation” phrase — other than that it looks like the Lancers are just dancing by themselves. Why this subterfuge?)

In fact, that’s my biggest problem with the Royal Lancers: they say they’re respectable men but they act like petulant children.

Why aren’t the Royal Lancers saying anything about changing the dance? Why is the dance restricted to old men dancing with prepubescent girls? Why not include female business leaders? Why do the boys have to sit on the sidelines?

And why hasn’t anybody asked any of the kids currently in Grades 4 and 5 about it? Everything is from the viewpoint of the Lancers. Nothing is from the viewpoint of the children. There have been quotes from May Queens of past, but they’re a biased sample (and memories can change over time).

Here’s what the Royal Lancers should have done instead of throwing a tantrum: open it up. Make your little society a little less secret. Allow anybody to become a Royal Lancer. Change the dance to allow boys to dance. Allow anybody to dance with whoever they want (we don’t want “tradition” to push away anybody, right?). Get grandparents in there to dance with their grandchildren. Uncles, aunts, whoever, and name them Honourary Royal Lancers for the evening. Whatever you do, change it.

And remember the motto of New Westminster’s May Day: “For the Children, By the Children and of the Children.” Because that’s what’s most important, and that’s what the Royal Lancers have forgot.

Update: I found this article from September 2013 that talks about modernizing the Royal Lancers dance. I’d like to highlight two quotes:

[Councilor Chuck] Puchmayr said when the city introduced the Royal Knights—Grade 5 boys to accompany the May Queen Suite—he assumed they eventually would be the ones to dance with the girls. But that hasn’t happened. Instead they sit on the floor while the girls dance with the men. One father suggested to Puchmayr the Lancers could teach the boys how to dance with the girls.

And:

“When the Lancers come in with the May Queen suite I must admit it’s quite stirring, it looks like they’re the protectors of the young girls. But then I thought about it and I went, ‘wait a minute,’ ” said Coun. Lorrie Williams, who also didn’t like seeing the boys sitting on the floor during the dance.

“It bothered me. I took a picture of that, they just watched and they almost looked like they were pushed aside. That was the illusion.”

Williams suggested the Lancers become the guardians of both the girls and the boys.

“It would be a welcome change. In adding the Knights when we did, we made a change to our tradition,” said Williams. “That way nobody steps down and nobody is offended.”

New Westminster City Council has been talking about this since then. In the August 26, 2013 minutes (thank you Rick!), on page 18 there is a motion resolving that “the City of New Westminster enters into discussion with Stakeholders and the School District for the purpose of modernizing this event.”

So two councilors are on the record for saying the dance should be changed, and yet no changes came about. Why not?

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