Second Position

BalletForget about your bleeding toenail. Forget about muscles that want to betray you. Forget about the you entirely. Right now, you’re nothing but the dance.

That’s what I keep telling myself. Stage lights flood my vision and the tart taste of my own sweat stings my tongue. The music draws me into a pirouette, and I make the turn without a single hair falling out of place. I am the dance, and I will remain the dance until the music lets me stop.

Tonight, I give up my identity for the music – for the audience, leaning forward in their seats as the Lilac Fairy flits across the stage. My body becomes a tool, one I musn’t think too hard about. The arms and the legs, positioned perfectly with each beat. The toes, en pointe throughout the entire piece. The lips, in a Cupid’s bow smile.

I’ve come a long way from the eleven-year-old boy wearing grandmother’s old tutu. Then again, I guess I never was that boy.

I have to think about the music, about the physical movements of my limbs. I’m weaving a spell with my dance, making the audience forget that I am or ever was anything but the Lilac Fairy. I need to forget that, too, but I can’t.

I extend my left leg a half-second too early and nearly lose my balance as a result. My smile remains, but my insides tighten under the boa constrictor of nerves. Bright-colored circles form in my eyes where the spotlight has burned holes in my vision. Part of me thanks the glare for blinding me to the audience’s reaction. The other part insists that there’s no way they could have noticed such a tiny mistake.

There’s still too much me in the performance – I haven’t lost myself to the music yet. I let the spots claim my vision and move on instinct alone. So much practice, I could do this in my sleep.

I try not to think about the operations, the pills, and the treatments. I try not to think about the tears in my mother’s eyes when I told her I wasn’t her son. I pretend I can’t remember the insults and the embarrassments. Hateful eyes on my when I walk into the “wrong” bathroom. Insults disguised as jokes. Are you a chick with a dick…or a dick who wants to be a chick?

The smile flickers for just a moment, and I nibble at the inside of my cheek. I’m not losing myself in the role. My mind spent a lifetime finding my sense of identity. It won’t let go now, not even for a moment. Even when I pretend to be somebody else, I’m still me.

I’m still me.

The music swells, and my smile returns. Tension melts away with each pirouette, and my body starts to get lighter. I’m not the Lilac Fairy, but I don’t have to be. It’s okay to be a dancer. It’s okay to be an actress playing a role.

Time and perspective suddenly flood back into my, turning my memories back into the four-dimensional things they are. The hurts of the distant past find a balance against happier, more recent times. Standing naked in front of a mirror and seeing myself for the first time ever. Mom sitting me down for, in her words, our first mother-daugher talk.

The bleeding toenail is mine. The burning muscles are mine. The nerves and the pain belong to me, and I’ve earned the rewards they bring.

The final steps come not from the Lilac fairy, but from me. I lick my lips, tasting the sweat that now shimmers on my makeup. I still can’t see the audience clearly, but I know my mother is in there somewhere. The crowd applauds – not the thunderous outpour of praise I had allowed myself to hope for, but enough to bring a glow to my cheeks.

I scamper off as the applause begins to fade. Aurora passes me en route to center stage. When I retreat behind the curtains, I breathe a sigh of relief and finally stand on the flats of my feet.

Off the stage, I was supposed to transform from the part I played back into myself. But that transformation happened long ago. The smile I’ve been wearing was mine all along.

Image: Ballet Stage Lighting by zaimoku_woodpile, shared under a Creative Commons attribution 2.0 generic license.

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