I close my eyes, and it’s like nothing and everything has changed.
There, the warmth of the lights from the mirrors. There, the smell of hairspray and sweat and hours of hard work. There, the odd, dusty scent of lipstick, like my mother putting on her best dress for an evening out and little me curled up on the floor, watching, wondering, thinking she is beautiful, twisting my fingers in the carpet because I am too shy to say so. There, the flutter of voices waiting, somehow calming from this distance, behind these walls. Here, now, around me, these women who are admirable. In the stillness between the dance and the applause, the whole world holds its breath.
The stage is small, new to me, nothing I’ve ever seen before–but it still feels like home. The dust on the marley marks out the patterns of the dance, and when I lie down in the dark in the center of the floor I can feel it. This stage, makeshift as it may be, is alive. I press my arms into it, and it presses back, and this is a feeling I have missed for so long without realizing it. I am coming home again, in a new way that I have never felt before. The past month of rehearsals and laughter and fellowship with women I have come to respect so deeply and admire so fully is there behind me–and before? The stage lights glow blue, and the air is the river, and I watch as two transform this space into a mystery, and I transform this space into a mystery, and even here on this stage, in front of this audience of people I don’t know, we connect, and something inside is singing. Backstage, Christine, my choreographer, is as giddy and insecure as I have ever been, and it is beautiful. In the wings I watch her transform, and she is confident and brimming with a grace that I have marveled at for the past ten years, and that is beautiful too. On stage, we are not ourselves and we are more ourselves than we have ever been or ever may be again.
After a month of rehearsals and classes, a week of dancing nearly every day, tomorrow suddenly looks drab, because there is no dance, because I don’t know when I will dance again. This is a miracle. After the judgment and self-hatred of high school, the discouragement and comparison of college, the artistic starvation of the past semester, I have found, like the opening of a door I didn’t know was ever closed, the thing that I was searching for. I have found the joy that dancing used to bring–or, perhaps, I have found a joy in dance that I never had before, that is new, that is unlike anything I have ever felt. For the first time in my life, I am not a student. I am a peer, a friend, a member of this community of dancers that I knew existed but didn’t know how to find. This is grace.
I watch Christine teach a class full of girls who barely measure up to my elbows, and I know for the first time that I could do this too. I deeply admire and respect the way she has built for herself the life that she wanted. Her roots go deep, and she is nourished by this community of movement. I want this too. I sit cross-legged on the floor in Christine’s studio and we put on show makeup in the huge mirrors and laugh because neither of us is any good at it and I am not the only one to forget important things. We’re both late to the call time, and no one cares. After the show, a woman I don’t know grabs my arm and looks into my eyes and tells me I am beautiful. I hang around the theater, awkward with no one to talk to, making excuses to wait, to help Christine roll away the marley and hang our costumes even though maybe I am not needed. I say goodnight in the dark and hope that in this last whispered thank-you, she somehow hears all the things that I am leaving unsaid but want her to know–that she has given me back this piece of myself that I thought was dead, that she has opened for me this door that I could not see, that she has offered me a second chance and made me want to take it. Thank you is not enough.
The next morning we carpool to an audition, cringe at the protocol, dance, drink kombucha and make conversation at the co-op with a group of artists like us, and again I am overwhelmed by the wonder of the community I have stumbled into, the community that I, with my student debt and lack of a paying job, can’t afford to join. This is a breaking thing. I leave on my leotard and tights all day after the audition, a second skin under jeans and a dance shirt, because I don’t want this to end. Because no matter how the audition went, I won’t be able to accept any position they may offer me. Because though I tried so hard to fight this, my professor at Hope was right–if I want dance to be a part of my life, it has to be in my career. Because I can’t pay for lessons or join a company unless I have a full-time job. Because I can’t work a full-time job if I agree to the time commitments of lessons or a company. Because unless I am paid to dance, I can’t afford it. I am not silly or stupid to want this–but perhaps it is silly or stupid to want it now. One hundred and twenty miles is a very long way, and I am driving far longer than I am dancing, and I burn through twenty dollars’ worth of gas and refuel the car twice in one day, and that is worth it, it is worth every hour, every mile, every late night, every dollar I don’t have. I don’t know how to make this work, but I find myself in the studio grinning silly and overflowing with this joy that I can’t explain, and I have not been so deeply filled in years and I need this, I am hungry for this, I am ready and aching to rip the tape from off my mouth and shout, and I need to know how to make this work. I cry in the car on the way home, because this month I have found what I want to do, and because I realize that I can’t afford it.
Photographs of the Rhine River courtesy of my sister Emily. Illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Images of the dance are stills taken from a video of our dress rehearsal by a friend of Christine‘s, poor in quality only because of my computer skills, not because the videography wasn’t spectacular. Dancers are (in order of the first images) Chelsea P___, myself, and Christine H___; the venue is Lost Nation Theater.