I will start with what I remember before the incident occured.
I feel the most alive when I am dancing. I am lost in my own world, becoming the character I am destined to be. Heart pounding and panting, I flit across the room, seemingly effortless while sweat trickles down my body. Adrenaline courses through my veins and my soul comes to life. Every moment I push myself to be the best as I balance and turn. Every moment a performance to the audience, as I connect with them through my emotions and beauty, displaying euphoria. As lithe as a fairy I perfectly execute every step and the moments in between, all the while displaying no evident signs of hard work or pain. Deep down, my body has memorized the perfect way to perform each movement, from the tilt of the head, to the line of the arabesque. When I dance, I can forget about who I am. All my flaws and imperfections fade away as I take on the life of the character I am supposed to be. My solo finishes.
I finish in b plus with my arms reaching towards the sky, and I curtsy as I meet the cold stare of Mr. Micheal, the Polish ballet master.
“Beautiful Aurora, remember to keep elongating and do not drop your gaze you penche´! How many times do I have to tell you? When you pique´ you need to reach farther past yourself. Communicate with the audience,” he says in his deep voice and thick Polish accent. “Again.” He dismisses me, flicking his hand.
I take my place for the music to start. I perform again, pouring my heart out into the movements while keeping his corrections in mind. I finish eagerly, seeking out his approval.
“That was better,” he says indifferently.
In my mind I sigh with relief. My private rehearsal has finished, so I thank him for his time with a curtsy and walk out the door of the grand ballet studio.
Outside the glass door awaits Valentina, her eyes wide, flashing me a grin while giving me a thumbs up.
“Ari, you did great! You looked amazing out there. I was watching you, and I had to duck my head a couple times so Mr. Michael wouldn’t see me,” she says with a laugh.
“Thanks.” In all honesty, I know I am amazing and talented. I don’t need comments from peers to prove it to me, but it is nice to be validated. “So, how did your rehearsal for the Lilac Fairy go?” I say, directing the attention to her. Her grin grows wider and dimples become visible on her olive skin.
“Great actually, for once. Mrs. Nikola said I had potential to become a great dancer, and even hinted at joining the company. That’s the first compliment I’ve heard in a long time.” Valentina says.
I can feel my envious eyes change to even a darker shade of emerald green as I comprehend what she is saying. It is always a constant battle, trying to maintain the position of best dancer at the New Jersey Ballet School. Ranking number one student takes dedication, and she follows close behind. She dosen’t know this however, her compliments come from kindness and consideration while my false ones come from envy. No matter what though, she is always there for me.
“That’s great!” I exclaim, while linking arms with her to turn down the corridor.
“By the way, do you want to go shopping on Sunday after rehears-”
Her sentence is cut off by the ringing of my phone inside my duffle dance bag. I rummage through my bag to locate my cell phone, and pull it out. “Ugh, it’s my Mom calling.” Valentina nods and stands by me as I answer the phone.
“Hey honey, you haven’t answered any of my texts,” says my mom.
“Sorry, just busy with rehearsal and all… you know. Didn’t see them,” I say while making faces at Valentina.
“Well, if you looked bothered to look at what your mother sent, you would know I am coming to pick you up on Sunday at 5 o’clock. I wanted to discuss rehearsals, and I have a suprise for you!” My mother sing-songs.
That’s my mother for you. Always wanting to talk about my plan for ballet, the next step I am going to take toward my future.
“Ok Mom, sounds great. Love you. Gotta go…” I hang up the phone and stuff it back into my bag. “Ugh, so sorry Valentina, I can’t come. My Mom is taking me out on Sunday.” She nods, understanding. I’ve stopped trying to argue with my Mom over things like this. When she wants something, she will do anything to get it.
We meander down the white-walled hallway with posters of performances and ballerinas hanging up in frames, each contributing to the legacy of New Jersey Ballet. Standing before us, is Juliet, blocking our path with Li by her side.
“All hail Aurora, the royal b*tch,” she mocks. Juliet has hated me since we were 13, and I stole her solo, outshining her in the callbacks. She hasn’t gotten a main role since then, and she loathes me for it. Pure jealousy, I know. I just smirk. She attempts to jab me in whatever way she can, and recently she has been using my own name against me, knowing I hate it. I was named from my Mother’s favorite role she danced when she was in a company, one of the most famous in the country. I am named after a shallow, stupid, sleeping princess. Others only know it seems narsassistic of her, but they don’t know it is the only principal role she has ever danced, and she conceals the secret well. At least I am living up to my name, and becoming the character I am named after.
“How long did it take you to come up with that, Juliet? When is the last time you have ever gotten a soloist role? At least I live up to my legacy, unlike you,” I retort. Her cheeks grow red, matching the color of her short fiery hair and freckles. This year, Juliet has been cast as the understudy for the Canary fairy, the shortest variation in The Sleeping Beauty. Pathetic. I remember when the cast list went up, how livid she was when she discovered she only landed a short solo only as an understudy, and a girl younger than her had the actual role.
“Just…watch yourself Aurora. You’re not everyone’s favorite.” Promptly, she turns and saunters off with Li Ming trailing not too far behind.
I turn to Valentina, “Was that an attempt at threatining me? How pathetic,” I remark. I just now see she is wincing.
“Bit harsh, Ari. She’s just jealous, that’s all. She’s gonna have to apply ice to those burns you gave her now,” She says, trying to make a joke.
“Whatever. She deserves it.”
I have learned from the ballet world and my mother, you either climb or you fall. And by climbing, it may take some stamping on others to make it to the top. I love Valentina, but she is not going to last forever or make it to the top, I know. She is too kind, too caring, and lets others use her as a doormat.
“Hey, I’m gonna go to the dining hall for dinner, are you coming?” She asks.
“Maybe later, I need to talk to Gavin first.” She disapears down into a different pathway in the hall leading to the dining hall.
In the lobby, Gavin Waits for me with his arms crossed leaning against a wall. My heart melts a little at the sight of him. He looks gorgeous, even from far.
I press my hands to his muscular chest and lean in to give him a kiss on the cheek while gazing into those vast ocean eyes. I run my hands through his sloppy, dark brown hair.
“I wish we could dance together, Gavin.”
“Me too,” he answers curtly. Ever since he discovered he did not land the role of Prince Charming, he has become dark and moody. Instead, he was cast as the role of one of the four suitors. At least I will get to dance with him once, I suppose. He wants this as bad as I do, so I understand what he must be feeling. But then again, climb or fall. He is by far one of the best dancers at the school, but this time, Dylan just did better at auditions, claiming the main male role. Dylan also already has an offer to join another ballet company, which he recieved when just before he turned 18. However, he turned it down to my astonishment because he wanted to wait to see if he would get a contract from New Jersey Ballet. We chat for a little while, but I am the one carrying on the conversation. Something must be bothering him tonight.
“Is something wrong, Gavin?” I ask.
“No, no. Don’t worry about it.”
“You can tell me anything, you know.”
“Nothing is wrong, I promise. I love you, you know,” He says, deflecting the question.
Hmm. I decide not to pressure him any more.
I tell him goodnight, and make my way up to the dormitory. I take the stairs, for some extra cardio. Every calorie counts. I push my way through the door, and quickly get ready for bed. Shower, stretching, rolling out muscles, and an ice bucket for my feet are just a few of the things I do to keep my body from becoming injured. In the bunk bed, I mindlessly scroll through instagram liking other people’s photos and posting my own.
Suddenly, the door burst open and startles me. Katherine, my roommate and a close friend, is bounding through the door, talking so rapidly I cannot comprehend what she is saying. Katy has been at the New Jersey Ballet School for as long as I have, since we were 8 years old, which is the youngest the school accepts. But, she fell a level behind me over the years as I caught up, and she slowed down.
“Woah, woah, woah. Slow down Katy. Jeez,” I say, annoyed.
“Are you not listening? I was talking to Mrs. Nikola, when I was having pas de deux rehearsal today with Ethan, you know, for the white-cat-and-Puss-in-Boots variation, and she accidently let it slip that the Artistic Directors from the most famous ballet companies in America are going to be at this performance.” It all comes out in a hurried rush, and a triumphant look crosses her face when she finishes.
I take it all in. The most powerful people in America, according to the ballet world, are going to have all eyes on me. The thought makes it difficult to breathe. Yes, at the arguably best ballet school in America, I am the best dancer. I am talented, and the perfect image of a classic ballerina. Small head, sloping shoulders, perfect posture, lean, lithe frame, long elegant arms and hands, tall, small ribcage and hips, but long legs, perfectly arched feet, flexibility, strength, and complete elegance, and grace all in one dancer. The ipitomy of the ideal dancer. A stroke of luck. I am a lucky star. But, I am little to nothing to those who have seen it all before. I am flawed, which I despise. No room for error. Panic surges in my chest and I find it hard to breathe.
“Wow…that’s…crazy.” I say unelequently. She dosen’t look impressed.
“Whatever. Ari, you act like you don’t have a care in the world. It’s as if you think you are better than everyone else and don’t even bother to care what others think.” She says. That’s a first. She has never tried to call me out before, she has always gone along with what I have said. Her hazel eyes narrow as she crosses her arms.
“I do care. More than you, Katy. More than you would ever know. Don’t come bounding into the room acting like I don’t understand what it takes to make to the ballet world. Don’t forget Katy, I have the lead role. I know what it takes, more than you will ever know.” Anger starts to boil inside my chest. No one understands the sacrificesI have made to make it to the top at my age. I am only 16 years old, but I am at the highest level and have claimed the main role since I was 15. Ever since then, people have looked at me different. Either gazing up at me with awe, or pure hatred and jealousy. Has Katy changed?
I bounce back onto the lower bunk bed and take out my phone before she can have the last word. She just shakes her head and walks into the bathroom. There is only so much space in the dorm to escape from someone.
Later in the night, I can’t seem to sleep. Nothing seems right. Did Juliet threaten me? Why was Gavin acting strange? What was up with Katy? The thoughts turn over in my mind, racing, spinning, over and over again before I collapse into a dreamless sleep.
The rest of the week flies by in a blur, our achy muscles and tired bones cry for a rest. Typically, on Sunday there is no classes. But do to the performance coming up, there are rehearsals all 7 days of the week. I walk out of the last rehearsal, drenched with sweat and muscles fatigued. It is exausiting to always perform, never earning a break. Ballet consumes all of my days, never leaving enough time to do anything else. But, those are just a few of the sacrafices I have to make in order to become a ballerina. Anyone who can’t deal with it, is not cut out for the life of ballet.
The New Jersey Ballet School does require its students to attend their academic school, however, which is three condensed hours a day, plus homework. I have always felt my education had been lacking, and I was far behind. Now I am sure of it. Even at a school where academics is hardly the focus, I hardly ever make an A. I am a less than average student. But, I make up for it in my dancing. That is all I am, a talented, gifted dancer. And that is all I ever will be. There is no Plan B, only Plan A. I have no choice, but to carry out my dream, or I will be nothing.
At 5 o’clock, I am sitting on the bench outside the entrance to the school, decked out in my navy blue dress with mini flowers, red ballet flats, a white cardigan, and my thick, shoulder-length blonde hair held out of my face by a few pins. For once, my hair is not in ballet bun, but down like most people wear it. The cloud covered sky provides no warmth for my small body and the scenery is only buildings upon buildings and skyscrapers.
My Mom pulls up in her white BMW, honking the horn signaling for me to get in. Opening the door, I slide inside and then slam it. Her bleached hair is perfectly curled from iron, but her blood red lipstick is smudged and there a few wrinkles in her ruby red, tea length dress.
“God, Aurora, you are getting thin. Do you have any time to eat with all of your rehearsals? I know how it feels, there’s hardly time for anything when you are cast as the lead role,” my Mom says directly. Was it really necessary for her to say that just now?
“Love you too, Mom,” I say not meeting her gaze, and looking out the car window.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Your favorite restaurant, honey. The fancy French one you love.” I haven’t been to the restaurant since I was 12, when we celebrated my 1st place win at the YAGP competition for my Giselle variation.
“Mom, that restaurant is expensive. You know we can not afford it right now,” I say, trying to coax her.
“Don’t tell me my income, Aurora. I know better than you what we can afford,” she says, pursing her lips and raising her voice. Ever since Dad left when I was 11, our steady income from before has diminished greatly. When he decided to run off with another woman he loved more than us, my mother quit her full time job of an obsessive mother, and became a secreatary for some business I do not bother to try to understand. She can’t seem to deal with the fact we have less money, and takes out loans from the bank and other people to fufill her lavish wishes. These loans create an illusion to others we are first class citzens, and rich beyond measure. But in reality, that is hardly the case. I am afraid for the day that her debt catches up with her, but I do not let my mind wander to those thoughts, for panic may surge through my chest at any given moment. I push those worries deep down, where others can’t find them, and sometimes even I forget they are there, until I am reminded of what I need to constantly worry about.
At the retaurant, we take a seat at a table. The restaurant feels alive, bustling with people and energy, but the lighting is dim and it has a touch of romance from the way it is decorated; the candles, flowers, tablecloths, and chandeliers. As I order a salad, my mother quizzes me on everything there is to ask about rehearsals.
“So, how are rehearsals going? Do you feel prepared for the performance? It is only in a few weeks, you know. I have invited everyone I know to watch you, Aurora. All eyes are on you. This is your big chance. You could land an even better contract, maybe with a company that is better than New Jersey Ballet. You realize how important this opportunity is, right? This could change your whole career…” I start to tune her out. She starts with a similar speech everytime I see her, always about my future career. Pushing the food around on my plate, I nod pretending to listen.
“You’re not listening, are you? You don’t ever seem to understand how important this is. One wrong move, everything you’ve ever worked for goes down the drain. Well, anyways, I wanted to tell you your Grandma is coming to see you.” I look up from my pate. I realize I’m tugging my earring at the sound of her name, and I prick my finger on the point of the star. Given to me from my Grandma, a pair of 18 ct gold star earrings. Small, and dainty. I remember what she told me when she gave them to me… “Remember Aurora, you are a very lucky girl, and you are a star. One day, the whole world will see you dance on stage, and they will say she is a star. And I will say, see? I knew my granddaughter would make me proud. You are very talented, Aurora, and I always want you to remember, you are important, special, and very lucky.” I am back in reality, listening to what my mother is saying.
“Grandma? I haven’t seen her in so long…” I love my Grandma, more than I think most people do. I think others don’t realize how important grandmas are, she has been my support. I can’t rely on my mother for guidance or support, because everything comes from her is critique and scrutinizing. So, I have turned to my Grandma Margaret. She may not have much experience with the ballet world, but she does know how to listen and give good advice. Jubilation overcomes me with the thought of seeing her in my mind.
“When is she coming?”
“Tomorrow. She will be with us for a few weeks, and will get to see your performance.” Mom taps the wooden table with her long red nails, humming, and looking around. I know the thought of her mother staying for so long makes her nervous. Whenever they stay together for too long, it always ends up in a fight and tears. Grandma must have pushed to stay longer, maybe used some form of guilt tripping.
“Tomorrow? Mom, why didn’t you tell me earlier? You know how much I want to see her,” bitterly, I furrow my brows.
“I wanted you to stay focused on your rehearsals, honey. I don’t want you to be distracted or worried about other things,” she coaxes.
I roll my eyes, and don’t respond. The rest of the dinner is quiet, Mom quizzing me while I only give her yes or no answers, and an occasionally sentence. To Mom, the only event of significant importance is ballet . Nothing more. She never asks about my friends, (unless she is asking about the competition, of course) or school, or anything else pertaining to life outside of ballet.
Sometimes I wish that I am more than just a dancer, but then I realize that is all I ever can be. It's what I do best.
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