I was photographing at Lincoln Center for fashion week, when a large van pulled up to the curb. After some time, the doors opened, and Asian children began pouring out. They were all wearing matching red jackets. They were giggling. They were lining up on the steps for what appeared to be a class portrait. I ran toward them at nearly a full sprint. All little kids are cute. But little Asian kids, in matching red jackets, laughing and flashing peace signs—absolutely adorable.
When I got close enough to begin taking pictures, I saw that it was a group of young girls. In addition to their matching red jackets, they had matching hair, and matching smiles. All of them were laughing. As they posed for a portrait, I weaved between their teachers and chaperones, trying to get a good shot. They loved this. They started laughing harder and pointing at me. Their teachers started laughing. Nobody spoke a word of English, so I just kept smiling. Everyone seemed quite charmed: “Oh, the big jovial American. With huge feet. We like him.”
After the photo was finished, all of the girls piled back into the van. The teachers, however, formed a tight huddle and began to discuss something. I returned to photographing the fashionistas. The next thing I knew, all of the girls were out of the van again. One of the teachers was pointing at me, and the girls were advancing, like a red tide. A giggling, peace-sign-flashing, red tide. They came right up to me, stopped and giggled. (When I was a child, I asked an Asian friend of mine why he was always happy. His answer was seaweed.) These girls were loving life.
One of the teachers joined them, and started forming them into two lines. I assumed the fun was over. I thought they were about to march back into the van. But then came the happiest accident of my photography career. The teacher raised a portable stereo in the air, and pressed “Play.” The girls were ballerinas, from China. And they launched into one last unscheduled performance, in the shadow of the Metropolitan Opera House, for an audience of one.