They tell me I was born to be a dancer. Me, Richard Richards, a dancer, thee dancer. All my aunties, uncles, and cousins gave me nicknames that had to do with moving: leg shaker, buckskin booty, etc., (they do get more embarrassing than that last one too).
But my mother says I was dancing before I entered this world when her womb was the one and only home I’d known. There was nothing she could do to calm me either. Whether she was laying down, walking down the river, eating dried deer meat, drinking warm swap tea...I was wiggling around to the beat of her heart. That is until I was cut from her support. My doctor said that I stopped moving when they cut my umbilical cord. It seemed that incubating for nine months and being bodily attached to my life-giver wasn’t enough time for me. Maybe I was getting cold feet about this living on Earth thing. Or the cool shock from the air took me by surprise.
I had to stay in the intensive care unit of our county hospital for a week until I could chug along on my own. And I guess my family was right, I was born to dance. After that ICU week, I took the world by storm and thunder and lightning and rain and wind. R.R was here and ready to get my moves on. As a kid I could hardly contain myself on the soccer field by the ocean, any basketball court, or football field. Every coach I had gave me extra warm-ups, conditioning, and cool-down exercises to try and get my energy level to match the rest of the kids. They asked how I was so different from my older brothers. We did have different dads, but I don’t think that’s what they meant.
We obviously look very contrasting. As my three older brothers have dark skin, dark brown hair, and deep brown eyes, so it is with my mother too. A couple of years after my brother’s dad passed unexpectedly my mom got with a white man, but after he found out about my mom’s pregnancy with me he left.
My brothers felt the absence of their father constantly. Not that our mom couldn’t take care of them, but already having their dad for ten, eight, and six years, their bond had been formed. And they missed him. Sometimes I felt bad for not feeling the same way about my dad, but not too bad. Some people thought I took to dancing so much to fill some sort of void, I don’t know if that was why.
There weren’t many opportunities to learn different styles of dancing back at home. So, in order to stay in shape growing up, I did all the typical sports, and with the extra exercises I was given, I was pretty fit. After school and practice, I took to YouTube. I waltzed around our one-story house, grabbing my mother and any brother or cousin that was caught slacking into a basic box step. I attempted breakdancing by moving our kitchen table to the side of the dining room, salsa-ed while cutting onions, and practiced ballet positions while watching Netflix. I did it all. But the one dance I was most connected to was Nee-dash. Our most important ceremony. The time of Earth renewal. A time where my people prayed and danced to heal the land, water, animals, and ourselves. It takes place during the winter solstice on December 21st of every year. This was a time where people came together to eat potlatch style and be together. Dishes that filled the tiny outdoor kitchen were: acorn soup, smoked salmon, dinner rolls, and all the basic casserole dishes.
My two oldest brothers always found their way back home during this time of the year no matter how far they had travelled. Me and my brothers took pride in having danced our whole lives. And seeing as our tribe is a majority women, we were always needed to dance to keep the numbers even. I always thought I’d never miss ceremony either.
That’s until this year that is.
“Rich! Where do you think you’re headed??” I turned around, to the unmistakable voice of Aiden; my best bud since I auditioned for Julliard last February. We met while staying in the same hotel, even though Aiden already lived in New York he wanted to get the “full, fantastic, audition experience”.
“I was going back to the dorm,” I replied and waited for him as he hooked arms with me.
“But then you’ll miss the audition.” Aiden’s eyes sparkled as he said this and started to steer me in the opposite direction of where I was previously going.
“I don’t know if my mind, body, or soul could handle another audition.” I joked but let him take me wherever his mind was exploding to. Evidently, it was an audition to be a part of a dance crew that was going on tour with a singing duo from Julliard. It was all student led, or most of it was. One of the lead singers actually dropped out of school earlier this year but still wanted to go through with the mini-tour.
“There are spots for three dancers who focus in ballet,” Aiden pointed to himself, “and two dancers who focus in contemporary,” he pointed towards me. “It’d be a perfect thing to add to our resumes.” He was very excited, he could barely tear his eyes away from the flyer he was holding onto. On the way over Aiden also talked about the controversy the dropout lead singer caused amongst the seniors at school, she’d been one of the top vocalists across Julliard. She had dropped out with only a semester left of school.
We eventually found ourselves in an open dance studio that was usually used for classes. The mirrored box had a table set up at the front of the room with three chairs. A group of older looking students stood by the table while others were scattered about the room. There weren’t many dancers there, but more than the five needed. One person stood out to me in particular. She had black curly hair, auburn eyes, and even from across the room I could see that she had elegant hands. Suddenly the girl I couldn’t help but stare at clapped, once, and loudly. She smiled, “Good evening everyone. I’m Disha Patel and we are all very excited to have you here. The first person to audition will be,” she checked the clipboard she was holding, “Amelia Jones with Aiden McGowan up next. Good luck.” She then sat down at the table and two people joined her.
“Oh, by the way, I signed you up the other day. The seniors that are putting this together specifically wanted underclassmen so we could get more experience.” Aiden whispered this to me as everyone except Amelia Jones went into the hallway to wait.
Aiden had done this before, signed me up for things without asking and forgetting to tell me. I was used to it at this point, it was kind of exciting to guess when it would happen. What I wasn’t used to was our names being on the list after the audition, which is exactly what happened this time. Considering I just found out about the tour I was still pretty excited to get a call back. We went to so many random auditions and finally, someone wanted us to perform with them. I felt more nervous for this audition, maybe it was because of the pretty girl who ran the show today.
Aiden and I walked to get a slice of pizza on our way back to the dorms. When we met for the first time we had an immediate bond and we agreed if we both made it into Julliard we’d sign up to be roommates. It was nice living with someone who wasn’t a complete stranger. The thought of Julliard always seemed outlandish to me. The aggressive angles of the buildings, the fact it was across the United States, and the cost alone should’ve scared me away to a community college (not that that’s a bad thing).
The plan for a long time after graduating high school was to go to a community college with a decent dance program that had a better track for business in preparation to transfer to a larger four-year university. But I stumbled onto some dance videos from Julliard on YouTube once after school. It opened up this desire to make my life about dancing. Since then it was all I dreamed about. All I worked towards with my grades and my technique. Any money I made from after school jobs went towards the application fee, plane tickets, and hotel room. After hours of practicing, saving money, travelling, and a lot of support from my family, I was attending my dream school, working towards a life of moving my body. After I got accepted time seemed to warp and now I’ve already learned so much about dancing.
The month in between the audition and the mini-tour also went by fast and soon Aiden and I were ready for the trip, giddy about our first semi professional excursion. The itinerary was strict with almost every moment of the day painstakingly planned for. It had to since it was during finals week.
“It is going to be wild doing our finals during the day and then running off to whatever venue we’re performing at,” Aiden said while practicing some plies in his mirror.
“At least they’re all in New York. Amelia was talking about how the tour was supposed to happen when winter break started. Do you know why it was pushed forward?” I asked from my small twin sized bed, Aiden always knew the drama.
He stopped dancing and turned toward me, “Apparently Disha and Naomi, the other lead singer, got into a fight. Naomi wanted to be out of the city before the week of Christmas started. Her family owns some fancy cabin near a ski resort and she wanted to get there before the tourists did. Disha, being the saint she is, fought to have it after finals week, and she’s not even in school anymore! But seeing that Naomi is a complete...well she won.”
I nodded. Thinking more of Disha. There had been rumors about why she had quit school: “She met a mega rich sugar daddy. She lost her scholarship. She never had a scholarship and her parents couldn’t afford the tuition anymore.” I didn’t believe any of these, but Aiden liked to entertain the idea that Disha was secretly famous in another country and was just getting ready to go on an actual tour. Sometimes I thought I could get close to her on the trip, at least friendly enough to have a couple of conversations together. I tried gathering my confidence during our rehearsals to say something, but all I could ever get out was some feeble “hi”s. Aiden and I had made friends with the other dance members though. They were from all over: Arkansas, Japan, and Florida. I always found it fascinating to meet people who didn’t grow up with the same experiences as me, but I did miss being around my Native kin.
Recently I kept calling home to talk to my mom and brothers. So much happens when you’re not there experiencing it. Even hearing about my younger cousins losing teeth felt like a big deal not to be there with them. My mother kept telling me that I need to just live in the moment, they’d always be there when I came home to visit. And I knew that, it was just hard. The Atlantic ocean is so different from the Pacific. The city is so different from the rural town I grew up in. I told my mom I was worried about not making it back home for Nee-dash. She assured me that Creator will place me wherever I’m supposed to be, and I needed to trust that. But the thing was I was torn on where I was supposed to be. Back with my family in my homelands? Or thousands of miles away living for myself?
Finals week came with much anticipation. The tour was finally underway and everyone was ready. By day everyone succeeded in completing our assessments, by night we poured ourselves into the tour performances. The first night less than twenty people came to watch inside a decent sized bar that had a stage, but by the third night at a different venue we had over two hundred people applauding us at the end. There was so much going on Aiden and I could barely sleep before we had to study, take a test, or commute to the new venue. Even with an unbelievable sleep schedule I found myself ecstatic for the night of the performances. Seeing strangers enter and sit and stay to watch us sing ballads, and combine ballet and contemporary dances was so invigorating.
After our last performance we all went and got dinner together, this became a way for everyone to celebrate together. This was the first night that everyone could go seeing that our finals were over. All week I still found myself nervous to talk to Disha. I was confused because I could talk to everyone else just fine. It was nice making so many good friends, and to know that I could hang out with them when break was over.
Tonight we decided to go to an Irish pub, Aiden was rooting for one all week and we had to give into him at last.
“Well, I have to say I’m so proud of everyone for pulling through a hard yet rewarding week,” Naomi stood up from her spot at the head of the table and held up her Guinness, “Here’s to us!” She clinked glasses with Disha and downed her beer, “And now I’m off! I hope everyone has a good break.” Abruptly Disha left the table to follow Naomi, throughout the week during a couple of the performances there had been some communication issues between the two singers.
In order to look as if we weren’t spying, the dancers took turns looking over their shoulders to see the two arguing outside of the pub. Both ended up storming off in different directions. After this display of the two powerhouse the rest of us decided it was time to go home and sleep, most of us were leaving the next morning to get home.
It was the morning of December 20th. I was severely sleep deprived but I was excited all the same because I got to go home and the next day would be Ceremony. I didn’t wake up Aiden as I got my bags together. I left him a note and made my way to the airport. Only to find that my flight was delayed and then cancelled due to severe fog. I was devastated. I texted Aiden and he said I could stay with him until my rescheduled flight.
At this time I knew I didn’t want to go back to campus. I needed to be outside. So I decided to go to Central Park, even with my two bags packed for home. It was still pretty early in the morning but the sun started to come up and color the gray sky brilliant reds and oranges so it looked like cotton candy. I was sitting near a pond watching the colors reflect into the water when I noticed someone walking by.
“Hey, good morning, what’re you doing out here so early??” I asked her as I hastily pushed one of my bags off of the bench.
She took the seat and said, “Well, I could ask you the same thing now Richie couldn’t I?”
I knew I started to blush. I tried to ignore it as I told her about my airplane dilemma.
“I’m sorry that happened, I bet you really wanted to be home after your first semester.” She looked at me with compassion, as she probably knew what this felt like. We started talking more about the mini-tour and our thoughts on it. She briefly mentioned her and Naomi’s fight last night.
“There was more to that argument than just what happened on tour, isn’t there?” I asked. I never talked about this with Aiden but I always had a feeling there was some tension between Disha and Naomi. They were always cutting each other off or one would give a direction just so the other could undermine it when she walked away.
“Righto Rich,” she sighed. She went on to talk about how Naomi was the one who started those rumors about her. Naomi knew that she dropped out just from the simple fact that she needed a break but this frustrated her because of the other fact that Disha was so close to completing her time at Julliard
“Yeah and she also didn’t take the break up very well.”
I couldn’t help myself but gasp.
“Oh I just didn’t know you were gay or going out with Naomi, not that I need any sort of disclaimer or anything. I also have this big crush on you and never knew how to talk to you.” Fuck. I completely blew it by rambling; my reputation with the girl of my dreams was ruined. I didn’t even have a chance with her.
Disha was bursting out laughing at this point. “That’s reassuring. I always had this thought that you didn’t like me.”
I rushed to say that it was quite the opposite situation.
“Also I’m not gay, per se. More bi.” She smiled at me, while I blushed even more than the first time.
We watched the rest of the muddled sunrise together. Maybe Creator would place me wherever I’m supposed to be.