"Alright girls!" I hollered at the giddy group of girls who were excitedly chattering about their nervousness and excitement about the upcoming performance they were about to do in just a matter of minutes. "And Carl," I added, giving the only boy in our troop a small smile. He nodded at me once before giving me all the attention a nine-year-old could give, with the most serious face I've ever seen him do. That was kind of cute, really. I glanced at the girls who had hushed their chatter and were looking at me expectantly, eager to hear my encouraging words that would make them feel confident and all set for probably the biggest performance of their eight to nine-year-old lives.
"Alright guys," I started. "You know the steps. We've been over it tons of times. There's nothing else for me to tell you aside from little pointers that you must keep in mind. Right? No, Madeline, I'm not talking about if you should tilt your head or not – that's up to you. That's your own 'flavor' in dance; just do what comes naturally.
"As I was saying, all I can do is give you some pointers. Some might apply to you, some may not, but you all better listen anyway so you keep them in mind. Joanne, Kristy, Sally and Patricia – you guys have to point your toes. Point! You want your legs to look long and straight; like a bird's, not like a cougar's. Sophia, Carmen – I know you guys love to dance, but you have to keep with the beat. You're good at the beginning and end, but you move a second too soon in the part where Christina Aguilera sings 'everything starts making sense.' Remember, hold for two beats, and then you spin out…" I kept giving out small pointers like that for a minute longer. Jump as high as you can, you want to make the crowd as energized as you feel! Although it's important to know the steps and follow the beat, try to stay in sync, you're a troop, not soloists. Relax your shoulders or you'll look like Frankenstein. Smile, big cheesy smiles! Stomp your feet as hard as you can, you want to startle the crowd with your power.
The kids absorbed my words like eager little green, pink, blue and purple with black skorts (or just shorts for Carl) sponges, not getting annoyed or even unnerved by all the things I had to say. Which is why I adored them; they could be so patient and uncritical. As I finished giving out my last pointer, I finished my little helpful rant with the words, "Now remember two last things, and this goes for everyone so pay attention. This is the one thing that will be most looked out for as it is more essential than anything aside from the actual steps." A dozen young faces leaned in, serious and determined to do as I said and to take those words to heart. "This dance is Jazz. Do you know where Jazz came from?" They shook their heads. I smiled at them. "Jazz came from mixing ballet with African dancing. I know; it seems almost impossible since they are so different, but that's what makes the dance so unique. It has the grace, willpower and gentle flow of ballet, but it has the raw energy, power, and wildness from the African dances. So that's what you must be – graceful, but don't be afraid to give as much energy or be as wild as you want. And above all, have fun! Be wild to your heart's content, but don't stiffen your muscles or you'll end up doing the robot. Okay?"
"Okay!" they chorused.
"Say what? What are you going to be?" I cupped my hand by my ear, leaning forward slightly as if I couldn't quite hear them.
"We're going to be wild!"
"And what else?"
"And are you going to enjoy dancing?"
"I'm sorry, speak louder. There's a mosquito in the room. Say what?"
"YEAH!" I reeled back brusquely, placing one hand over my heart in mock shock.
"Alright, but there's no need to scream! You rascals almost gave me a heart attack!" They laughed at my antics, and I smiled back at them. I couldn't believe I wouldn't be seeing any of them until the end of summer. I was sure I'd miss them terribly; after spending two times a week with them for eight months, even though it was only for an hour I was sure it was no surprise. "Alright, everybody; hands in!" I placed my hand in front of me as a dozen pairs of hands flew all around me to be stacked on top of my own. I reached with my free hand and sandwiched all of theirs, and I pumped our joined hands up and down as I chanted "Ready? Let's go! Goooo TigerBlossoms!" we all yelled at the top of our lungs as we threw our hands up above our heads, reminding me faintly of fireworks as their colorful fingers wiggled and shined with the light.
Right on cue, a man wearing a one-eared headphone with a small microphone attached and a clip board knocked politely on our dressing room door before opening it and popping in his head. "Tiger Blossoms? You're on in two minutes; please go to your places."
"We will, thank you," I said politely before he left. I turned back to my little troop, and gave them one last encouraging smile. "Alright, my little Tiger Blossoms. It's show time! I'll be watching from the front row, so don't worry. Knock `em dead!"
They whooped in consent, rejuvenated and their past fears long gone before they all nearly trampled each other in their eagerness to go to their respective spots behind the curtain that would display their talents to the audience on the other side for the first time. I walked briskly out the door as the audience clapped politely for the group that has just performed their piece, and I went out of the backstage area just as eager as my little troop were to get to my place – my front row seat – to enjoy their performance. It would be the last one of its kind I would see for awhile.
"You guys did amazing!" I congratulated my team of little dancers as they all raced towards me, each holding a small bouquet of flowers (yes, even Carl) and miniature silver trophy with blue columns holding up a faceless man holding a wreath above his head, and two dancers flanking him at the base. On the base of the trophy was a plaque which said
2ND PLACE JUNIORS' DANCE
ROYAL AUDITORIUM, MAY 07 2011
"We did it! We did it!" a little blonde girl called Marie all but glomped me as she threw her arms around my waist, flowers, trophy and all. Within seconds, the others arrived and copied her, to the point where they were attached to me like a second skin. They were everywhere; my legs, my waist, my back, my arms; they all fell prey to their happy embraces.
I couldn't help it, I laughed. I laughed with joy at their success; I laughed at how happy they were, I laughed at their antics, and most of all, I laughed because they were my cute little Tiger Blossoms.
Right before I could tell them to let go or else we'd all fall - really, it's a miracle we weren't already on the ground - someone beat me to the punch. "Alright, alright, kids. That's enough, let poor Miss Haruno go."
We all turned our heads to glance at the newcomer, a woman slightly older than me who owned the dance studio I worked at and the children attended. She had black curly hair with brown highlights tied in a loose bun on the nape of her neck, and a thin silver ring on her nose. Her warm brown eyes sparkled with appraisal as she walked towards us in her black and silver knee-length dress with a sweetheart neckline, and a warm smile.
"Hi, Mrs. Kim!" the kids chorused as they obediently let go of me and grinned up at her.
"Hello, Kimberly," I greeted her using her full name. She always found it peculiar that I always called everyone by their full name unless they had some sort of personal dislike for it. She turned in my direction and walked towards me, arms extended ready for a congratulatory hug. I returned the favor and walked towards her as well, where we met in the middle and we embraced each other.
"That was an amazing show, Sakura!" she praised, all smiles. She looked at my troop, who had gathered around us. "You guys were super awesome! You looked like you had been dancing since before you were born. And that energy! Man!" She fanned herself as she rolled her eyes upwards. "It was getting hot in there!" The kids all laughed in appreciation, glad that they could do what they had set out to do.
Soon enough, the kid's parents came out of the auditorium, big cheesy grins in place with recording cameras and more bouquets in hand. In no time at all, all the children had been scooped up by their parents who congratulated and complimented them to no end between listening to their kid's excited tale of the whole night. I smiled, this all brought back such nostalgic memories of when I was in their place and performed to my heart's content, showing off my skill to all my loved ones.
The remainder of the night flew by swiftly, with parents coming up to me and sating their admiration for my teaching skills. About a fourth of my troop had never danced jazz before in their lives, while two others had never taken up dance at all. The parents were very kind, and they thanked me for being such a good influence to their kids. Some even joked that if I kept on teaching them during the summer, they'd try for competition. I smiled politely and shook my head, saying that I wouldn't be teaching dance during the summer months. When they asked why, I politely replied, "I'm going to be traveling."
Some smiled empathetically at me, having done a bit of traveling themselves when they were my age, others looked interested as to where I was going, and a few older couples looked appalled at the idea of a young girl traveling so far away all by herself. I shrugged and told them it was for educational purposes, which calmed them down a little. It was technically true; I wasn't lying.
Just as the last few families left the hall where the dance competition took place, I noticed one of my girls – her name was Janice – sitting glumly beside the door, her jacket thrown carelessly on the seat beside her. She was looking at her trophy with an almost sad expression, which took me back because she had been jumping for joy just an hour earlier.
Wait a second, an hour? I checked my watch to make sure I wasn't exaggerating. I was, but not by much. It had been forty minutes since the trophies and awards had been handed out, and thirty minutes since the parents had emerged from the auditorium to claim their kids. What was she doing here so late? Where were her parents?
While I made my way to her, I went through my memory files trying to see if I could remember her parents being there in the first place. I was sure they all were, but one could never be too sure. Some parents didn't talk to the teachers anyway. But they all did to me, if only for a second to congratulate me, thank me for looking after their kid, and then wishing me a happy summer vacation. My hopes started to dwindle as I looked back on the evening's final events twice, thrice, and I could not find a trace of Janice's parents.
"Hey," I called to her softly, sitting down slowly beside her. "Where are your parents?"
She looked at me, then at the trophy in her hands, and then at the dark parking lot out the window. "Not here," she answered, monotously, as if it wasn't that big a surprise. Ouch.
"Where are they?"
"Did they come watch you?"
"Did they like the performance? I'm sure they did, it was great. You remembered to point your toes. And you looked very elegant out there. I was really impressed."
She returned her attention to me and offered me a ghost of a smile. "Thanks."
"So…" I began again. "If your parents came to the recital, where are they now?" She shrugged.
"Said they were going to get something from the car and to wait here. So here I am."
"How long have you been waiting for?" I asked with a hint of worry.
"I'm not sure… Fifteen minutes, maybe? I don't have a watch, so I dunno." I nodded, not really knowing what else to do. What where this girl's parents doing? There's barely a soul here, how can they leave her alone? I was debating on whether or not to ask the girl if she needed a ride when the front doors of the hall opened and in came two figures, a man and a woman.
"Janice!" the woman called out, and I swear I heard her voice crack with pent up emotion.
Faster than I thought a woman in heels could manage, she was right in front of us, kneeling beside her daughter and firing off questions one after another so fast I had trouble separating them.
"Where were you? Why are you here? Why didn't you follow us? We were so worried! We spent so much time looking for you? You had us so worried! I thought something had happeened to you! You are in so much trouble, young lady…" and on and on she went.
Finally, almost mercifully though I'd never admit it, the man whom I presumed to be Janice's father came up to us and stopped his wife's rant with just a touch to her shoulder. After that, the woman just bit her bit to keep from crying and ruining her already slightly smudged make up, and hugged her daughter fiercely to her.
It would be an understatement to say I was confused. First of all, why did Janice stay behind if her parents had apparently clearly thought she was with them? Why did Janice lie and stay behind? Not to mention that this was a family affair and I had no business being there.
I stood up awkwardly, trying to leave as inconspicuous as possible, but of course that was not happening. Janice's father looked up from his family to me, and I shrugged. Seriously, what else could I do? Smile? Okay, maybe that would've been a little better. So that's what I did next. I offered him a small smile before nodding my good-bye and turned to leave after he did the same and turned back to his family.
Or at least I tried to leave. I heard Janice sob and, damn it, I couldn't help it. I looked back.
Janice was looking like she was being strong and holding back tears. Her mother was muttering words of comfort too low for me to hear. I know it wasn't any of my business, but she was my student. I felt an obligation to make sure she was okay. So, mentally assuring myself that it was the right thing to do while another voice in my head argued that I'd regret it later, I walked back to the family.
"So let me get this straight. You were late coming out because of a crying girl?"
"Yes, Ino," I sighed for what seemed the thirtieth time. I was sitting in the passanger seat of my best friend's car, ten minutes after the incident with Janice and her family. My friend, Ino Yamanaka, had offered to pick me up, and she had demanded what made me late.
Ino was a pretty girl, I'll be the first to admit to that. She had light aquamarine eyes that were extremely rare, and long, beautiful silky waist-length platinum hair which she more often than not put up in a high bun so it wouldn't get in her eyes when she was working. She was a nurse, and a researcher for Harvard. Prestigious, right? Not bad for a girl who lived in her family's flower shop her whole life.
I told her the story of Janice, and her crying which lured me back. Of course, no story is complete without some drama. Turns out Janice was crying because she wanted first place to make her parents proud, and she got only second place. It took some reassuring that second place was just as good, and it was a great achievement because the troop that got first place was about three years older than her and our troop; meaning they had more dancing experience. After I told her that next year she was sure to win becuase she had an awesome talent for dance, she cheered up.
Ino shook her head. "I don't know how you can have patience for that stuff. You're a saint.
"I try," I grinned.
"Don't get cheeky with me," she warned teasingly. "Anyway, you know I hate waiting. Especially since I'm leaving tomorrow, time can't be wasted."
"I know, I know. Still," I continued. Ino was going to Australia to do some stem cell research. "You're supposed to be at the airport in the afternoon since your flight doesn't leave until four. I don't see why you are freaking out over going to bed like at ten." She gave me a look. "Right, I forgot who I was talking to."
"Uh-huh. And I did not freak out."
"You're doing it right now. Diva."
She sniffed at my comment. "Well, excuse me for wanting to look good in front of strangers."
"Ino, you're going to be sitting in a plane for God knows how many hours doing nothing but either watch the movies they're showing, read, or sleep. I highly doubt wearing designer clothing will make you attractive when you're doing that."
"Whatever. You wouldn't understand."
"Um, yes I would. What I do fail to undestand is why you insist in geting dolled up for a bunch of strangers when you have a boyfriend."
She smiled at me, the kind of smile a child might give when she knew something you didn't. "Doesn't mean I don't appreaciate all the polite stares."
I rolled my eyes at her, shaking my head in disbelief. "You're impossible."
"Thank you. Now, you better email me every time you get a break. We won't be able to talk once I leave becuase of the time difference, but I still want to hear every single thing that goes on here. You hear me?"
"Loud and clear."
"You're blowing this out of proportion. It will only be for a week since I'm traveling to Japan a week after you, and the time difference then is only two hours. Once I arrive we can talk and Skype and do all that every day."
"I like to stay informed."
"I know. Which is why I put up with you." I laughed as she gave me a playful blow on the arm.
"You're so lucky. Japan! I always wanted to go there."
"Maybe if you finish early you can come up and visit."
Her eyes twinkled. "I'll hold you to that."
"I wouldn't expect any less."
I enjoyed our playful banter, because with Japan and Australia separating us we wouldn't be able to do it.
Still, Japan. My mother's homeland. I hadn't been there since I was eight, and I looked forward to meeting the Land of the Rising Sun in all its glory. However, as my mind drifted off with daydreams about how awesome my adventure there would be, I couldn't help but have a feeling that I'm going to get more than I bargained for in my trip.