High Kicks and Time Steps

Submitted into Contest #101 in response to: Write a story that involves a reflection in a mirror.... view prompt

16 comments

Creative Nonfiction Inspirational

I open the door, head held high, and walk into the studio. Rejection weighs heavily on my shoulders. I hadn’t been stretching long when P.J. arrives. She has always been like a hurricane, her blond curls wild and words fast. She has also been my silent benefactor, giving me the keys to her business so I could practice, when she learned I couldn’t afford all the lessons I wanted to take. 

“Hey! How did it go?”

I school my face, so the hurt doesn’t show. “I didn’t even get in the door. They measure your height before your group performs.” 

She shakes her head, “I’m not surprised. Did you think you were going to somehow wow them so much that they would overlook your height?”

All I can do is sigh. “I got to learn the first combo, at least. It was mostly jazz, but they threw a triple time step in there for good measure. After that, the combinations were going to get progressively harder.”

“Oh, let me watch!” She grabs a CD, and Christmas music blares.

“Ugh, seriously? It’s July!” 

“It’s from the Christmas Spectacular; let’s see what you got!”

I pull myself up, slipping on my character taps, and let the music wash over me. It's easy to forget that I’m in a small studio in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Now I’m on the big stage in New York City, welcoming the holiday season and surrounded by lights and color.

Right, kick, left, kick, drag ball change. The tempo speeds up, and I adjust my timing. Hop shuffle step flap ball change. Cross touch, kick, ball change, double, and hit.

My teacher claps and whoops, and I come back to reality.  

“You would have looked beautiful.”

I paste a smile onto my face as I gaze at my reflection and run my hands down my body. My breasts are too big, and my legs are too short. No matter how hard I work, I will never be a Rockette.

She glances at me, seeing through my counterfeit smile.

“You got that modern scholarship at the university. My sister owns a dance school up there and is always looking for teachers. She will hire you in a heartbeat. 

I sigh. I was adequate, maybe even good, but what’s the point of working so hard if it doesn’t make a difference?

*****

I open the door, head held high, and walk into the studio. Kaleigh greets me, and her mouth stretches into a wide grin. 

“Irish or Tap first?” she asks.

“Hmm, Irish,” I reply. “I want to get Saint Patrick's Day down.”

She nods, and we both put on our Rutherford’s. I am lucky to have met her. Unfortunately, the university only offers modern, ballet and a few beginner jazz classes. Fortunately, we are allowed to sign out for studio time. Kaleigh is teaching me Irish dance, and I am teaching her tap.

We maneuver the portable Marley floor to the center of the room and roll it out. The head of the Dance Department didn’t want us ruining the floor with our shoes. I miss the sound my taps made on the maple floors at my old studio, such a resonant echo. Unfortunately, the Marley we had to use here stifled the beauty of the sound. It was fitting, though. Each day of school, I felt more and more stunted. Dancing with Kaleigh helped, and it gave me a purpose.

I glance at myself in the mirror and stretch, a little taller. There may be no one watching, but I want to get it right. I close my eyes, and I am at a Feis with a great mass of chestnut curls piled on top of my head.

“You ready?” Kaleigh asks.

“Yep!”

Treble 1, Treble 2, Treble 3, Treble 4 Treble Hop Treble Hop Back. My imaginary ponytail is bouncing, and my smile widens. This is a relatively easy traditional dance, but the position of crossing my legs while still turning out is dissimilar enough that it takes all my focus to do it right.

Tip Step Down Kick Hop Back Hop Rock 2-3 Treble 1, Treble 2 Treble Hop, Treble Hop Back, Hop Back 2-3-4. I finish that phrase and stop. 

“Why did you stop? You looked awesome!” Kaleigh asks.

“It’s the rocks at the end. I’m terrified to do them,” I laugh.

She pulls me over to the bar. “Use this to practice!”

Kaleigh and I had gone to see Riverdance in Boston the week before. The large numbers had been so inspiring; the masses of dancers weaving in and out took my breath away. I wonder if Riverdance accepted short people into their company? 

But, I was nineteen, and I am sure those dancers had been training since they were young. So, let's be real; no matter how hard I worked, I would never be in Riverdance.

*****

I open the door, head held high, and walk into the studio. I don’t know what had made me think owning a dance studio was going to be easy.  

My desk is littered with little sticky notes, reminding me of all the things I need to get done before I start classes at four. I glance at the clock; it’s 2:30. First, I grab the key and open the box where the parents leave their payments and only find one envelope. So many families were behind on tuition.

Every time I borrow money from them, my parents tell me I have to be better about collections. It’s not the kids’ fault their parents don’t pay. Everyone is struggling with money these days. I scan through my checkbook. At least I have enough to pay the studio's rent and my teachers this month.  

Eating is another matter. Good thing it’s Tuesday. Mrs. Mower usually brings me dinner because she thinks I look too thin. I laugh out loud. She doesn’t know the half of it. Perhaps the landlord wouldn’t notice if I slept at the studio; I could save a ton of money. 

I give up on trying to reconcile the books and head into the classroom to work on a combination for my ballet class.  When I see my reflection in the mirror, I realize I am too thin. My eyes look gaunt and hollow, and my stomach concave.

Then the music starts.

Valse Fantaisie plays softly in the background, and I am transformed. Step dégage, step, step brush. Pas de bourrée Balancé, balancé and prep for a pirouette. I can feel myself on the stage, lights on me, waltzing across the floor, free as a bird.

As the notes fade, and I am alone in a studio I can’t afford, faced with a decision. I need to learn how to run a business or find a new career. Because no matter how hard I work, it doesn’t pay the bills.

*****

I open the door, head held high, and walk into the studio. It had been over five years since I have taken a dance class. However, this studio offers a free trial. It is an adult's beginner class, so I should be able to keep up just fine.

“Welcome!” The teacher that greets me is friendly, and she offers a wide smile. “This class is for all levels, so don’t worry if the person next to you is doing the choreography slightly differently. I’ll give you options.”

We go around the room and introduce ourselves, but most of the other students seem to know each other. The only other new person in the room is an extremely tall man that looks nervous. I wander over near him.

“I’m Shumon; call me Shu,” he extends his hand.

“Jess,” I smile at him.

“I’ve never taken a formal dance class. I’m a hip-hop dancer.” His eyes dart across the room.

“I danced a lot when I was younger. I should be able to pick up some steps. Let’s stick together.”

I look at myself in the large mirror. It’s been so long since I’ve been on the dance floor. My hips are wider now, and my rounded stomach is evidence of the son I recently gave birth to. I wonder if I will put my children in dance classes.

“Cell Block Tango” starts playing. I feel bad for Shu, but when I glance his way, his eyes light up. 

“I love this number,” he whispers. His face is so alive.

Joy floods through me as we moved through the steps. He had it comin’ He had it comin’, step point drag hip. He only had himself to blame. Step kick lay it out. The choreography was simple, and I feel myself become Chita Rivera as Velma. By the end of the number, everyone is staring at me.

I cringe and shrink into myself. “Too much?” 

The teacher just laughs. “You looked amazing. Talk to me after class.”

When everyone has left, she asks me about my dance experience and hires me as a substitute. I gladly accept and wonder if I could find a place to teach again. But, my husband works such unpredictable hours, and childcare is expensive. I would only just make enough to cover the cost of a babysitter. Was it worth it?

*****

I open the door, head held high, and walk into the studio. This was it, the summer session was over, and it was my last day teaching. Ever. I didn’t tell any of my students. The ones that knew me best could reach out to me easily enough. Mostly, I want to fade away. Everyone else would know when my name wasn’t on the fall schedule.

My children are busy with their own interests. When they were younger, they loved coming with me to the studio, now not so much. My husband could have been the one to cart them around. But I want it to be me. I need it to be me. 

“Hello, Miss Jessie!” Annika said, her smile bright. 

“Hi, Annika,” I said, giving her a hug. “We got the video from the recital back. Since everyone in this class was in Roundtable Rival, we are going to watch it.”  

This production had been the culmination of my career. A fusion of styles intertwined in one of the craziest dance battles you had ever seen. It started with the Irish dances. Bang treble hop back, Bang treble hop back, as they battled Shumon’s hip hop dancers. In the end, there was a little of everything. 

I glimpse myself in the mirror, a streak of gray in contrast to my dark locks and eyes rimmed red with unshed tears. This was the right decision, but walking away is never easy.  

At the end of the evening, I clean up my room and close the door behind me. I reflect on the last twenty-five years. I had been in this very spot so many times, asking the same question. Was it worth it? Is it worth it? 

Sometimes things do not go the way you plan. I never got to share my high kicks on the stage with the Rockettes, and my choreography is mediocre, at best. But, every time I stepped into the studio it was a quiet victory, shouting to the world, “I will not give up, just because I don’t fit the mold.”  

I smile to myself as I finally realize walking through that door was never about success or failure. 

July 02, 2021 21:14

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16 comments

Kate Winchester
21:13 Jul 18, 2021

I really liked your story. I knew I would never become a professional dancer or anything, but I did ballet when I was growing up, so your story was super relatable. I liked Jess's resilience, and I liked the way you started every new experience with the same line.

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Beth Connor
22:55 Jul 18, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Kate Winchester
00:12 Jul 19, 2021

You’re welcome 🤗

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Krishna Pandit
14:08 Jul 11, 2021

WOW, it was a great story. I loved how she was so proud and determined, even if she didn't get to perform on the stage. After all, its never about what the world thinks of you, if you are doing what you like the most, you are already successful! All the best!

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Beth Connor
15:57 Jul 12, 2021

Thank you so much for the kind words, Krishna!

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Thom Brodkin
19:25 Jul 10, 2021

Bravo, I don't know if you are a dancer but you made me love dancing just by reading your story. It some ways it reminded me of Mr Holland's Opus. I'm such a crybaby. I tear up every time I see it but it reminds me that success is often measured in ways we don't understand when we are young and your story perfectly illustrates that. Great job, I loved it. I submitted one this week called "Close Your Eyes." I'd love your expert feedback. :-)

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Beth Connor
15:56 Jul 12, 2021

Thank you so much for the high praise- I love Mr. Hollands Opus! I've been struggling with creativity as of late, so my last couple of stories have been more non-fiction (I am still trying to write one a week!) and I actually did drive to NYC in hopes that they wouldn't realize how short I was hahaha!

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Riley Boock
04:44 Jul 10, 2021

This story has a wonderful message. Dancers are so often told exactly who they have to be; you must be thin, you must have a perfect arch, you must have a long neck, you must have long legs...I used to dance for years, and I adored it. Eventually, I grew up and didn't fit their algorithm. That's when I fell out of love with dancing. I wish this story was around for me to read when I was ten. “I will not give up, just because I don’t fit the mold," is something every little ballerina with big dreams should be able to hear. Outstanding job! L...

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Beth Connor
15:45 Jul 12, 2021

I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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Blue Green
19:17 Jul 09, 2021

I loved this! It's really cool how you've managed to narrate the last 25 years of her life in such a way that we feel part of it too, sharing her ups and downs. You sound very knowledgeable about all the dance steps too, so I'm guessing you have some experience here? I did notice that you managed to get more than one prompt in here - very clever ;-) Sorry I didn't check this out earlier, been very busy these last days, and struggling to finish anything!

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Beth Connor
02:14 Jul 10, 2021

Thank you! Being busy must be in the air- this is the first time this week I have taken time on Reedsy! I’m glad the story was enjoyable, I worried that I overdid the technical terms lol!

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Blue Green
14:45 Jul 10, 2021

It wasn't overdone, it just lended the story an air of authenticity :-)

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Daniel Hayes
00:25 Jul 03, 2021

Wow Beth this was amazing!! This story was so inspirational and I couldn't help but to make comparisons back to my wrestling days. No doubt your background came into play here. I was so moved to read this. It really touched my heart :) We all have those dreams whether it be dancing, wrestling, acting, singing or countless others, you sum it up nicely with this one line: “I will not give up, just because I don’t fit the mold.” - How amazing!! In short, I loved this story and I thank you for sharing it with us. Super inspiring and ver...

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Beth Connor
02:36 Jul 03, 2021

I’m glad it you enjoyed it and that it was able to translate over to your wrestling!

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Beth Connor
21:16 Jul 02, 2021

I included a few of the prompts in this one ;-)

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Natania Kurien
13:54 Jul 17, 2021

This was so good! Each time a scene started with the same words (which was a really nice idea btw) I felt this sense of excitement to read where Jess would be. I think you do a really good job of creating characters that people feel invested in. And I really liked how you shared her ups and downs to create a realistic, relatable and beautiful story that I really enjoyed reading. And I absolutely loved the ending because I think everyone struggles with the same feelings. Great job!

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