It's dramatic, but it's true. However at some point it became less about love and more about survival. My mother will never admit it, but she now lives vicariously through me. After becoming pregnant, her own ballet dreams were shattered. So even though she says I'm the best thing that ever happened to her and how she wouldn't change a thing, I have to live with the knowledge I accidentally ruined her life.
So I dance.
I don't even attend a normal school. Nope. Only the best for her petite ballerine. That's why my mother unintentionally—or maybe intentionally—guilt trips me by shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for me to attend Interlochen Arts Academy: a boarding school for the artistically gifted and talented. No really. Why waste your time at some hum drum public school when you could be surrounded by other like rich-minded, cultural creatives?
Sometimes I try to imagine my life without dance, but every time I do my throat closes up and it feels like I can't breathe. There is no life beyond dance. I've been doing it for so long I wouldn't know who I was without it.
I either dance or I die.
"It's so fucking cold, my tits are freezing!"
Hannah pulls her coat tighter around her, teeth chattering as we exit the antique shop. We hurry through the cold to her beat up Honda Civic.
"I thought you'd be used to the weather by now," I joke as she unlocks the car doors and we clamber inside.
"Fuck no. You don't get used to below freezing temperatures. What kind of world do you live in?" Hannah starts the car and immediately turns on the heater, rubbing her hands together as we wait for the engine to warm up. I exhale, the air so frigid I can see my own breath. My stomach grumbles and Hannah's eyes slide over to mine, accusatory.
"When was the last time you ate?"
"And what did you eat?"
"Avocado, eggs, and toast."
"Jesus. That sounds disgusting."
"It was not," I say in defense. "It was good. You're just so used to eating crap food that your taste buds shrivel up at the taste of anything even remotely healthy."
"You've got it all wrong. It's you whose messed up. Seriously, when was the last time you had a fat, juicy cheeseburger?" Hannah shakes her head sadly. "I pity you. I'm just glad I'm not a dancer. It must be hell having to watch your weight like that."
I shrug. "I'm used to it."
It was sad, but true. When I first started dancing my mother had me going on all sorts of crazy diets. There were times where I was quite literally starving. It wasn't until I fainted on stage during a recital and had to be hospitalized that my mother finally hired a nutritionist.
Conclusion? Starving yourself to stay skinny: would not recommend.
Now with Harvey managing my diet, I was finally eating enough to stay healthy and still dance. However, things like burgers or a frothy milkshake were a luxury.
When my stomach grumbles again Hannah puts the car in reverse and starts to pull out of the parking lot. "So why'd you skip lunch?"
"I wasn't hungry." It was the truth. The first of three dance performances this year was coming up and I was beyond stressed. When I was stressed I got bad anxiety and when I was anxious I couldn't eat. This year was my senior year. That meant every performance actually mattered. Not that they hadn't in the past. But now the pressure was cranked up to the max. If I wanted to get into Juilliard's dance program then I needed to be perfect. There was no room for error.
Hannah shoots me a look of understanding as she drives. "You're going to do amazing Aurora. You always do."
I force a smile. "I know. It's just nerves, that's all."
That was an understatement, but I didn't feel like diving into the nitty gritty of it right now.
Deciding to change the topic I shift in my seat. "Have you thought about the piece you're going to perform for your recital?"
Hannah smiles wryly. "If you don't want to talk about your own performance then what makes you think I want to talk about mine?"
I blink innocently. "Because you're going to kill it like usual?"
She shoots me a look before letting out a sigh. "I don't know. I haven't decided yet."
Like me Hannah attended Interlochen, but she was a music major, with a focus on piano. And she was brilliantly talented. In fact, that's why we'd just been at the local antique store in the first place. They had a beautiful vintage Steinway that Hannah had been drooling over for years. Unfortunately the only way she could afford it was if she sold both her kidneys. So every once in awhile she wound drag me with her to the shop to make sure it was still there and so she could cry over how she would never own it, at least not in this lifetime. We visited often enough that the owner knew us by name, and he let her play to her sometimes when it wasn't too busy.
We finally pull up to my house and I turn to Hannah. "See you tomorrow? Bright and early?"
Hannah groans. "You're lucky you're my best friend. It's Monday, I should be sleeping in."
I open the car door. "Love you too."
As I'm getting out of the car Hannah leans the console and shouts. "You can make it up to me by donating to my GoFund Me!"
I turn around and yell. "I'll see what I can do babe!"
"You're not eating."
At the sound of my mother's disapproving tone I twirl a forkful of stir fry and shove it in my mouth. "Mmmmm," I add for extra effect. "Delicious."
My mother nods in approval. "Good. How are your Grand Jetés coming along?"
I force a smile. "Perfectly."
"And your Fouettés?"
"You have nothing to worry about mother."
"I'm your mother. It's my job to worry," she dabs at her mouth with a napkin. "I don't need to remind you how important this upcoming performances is."
Of course not mother. You only remind me every second, every minute of my life.
My mother stands from the table with a smile. "I have a surprise for you."
I watch warily as she exits the dining room. A minute later she returns with a baby pink gift bag stuffed with glittery white tissue. She hands it to me and I accept, digging past the tissue and pulling out a brand new pair of pointe shoes.
"You'll need to break them in of course," my mother says with a beaming smile. "But I thought it was time. Your old pointe shoes were becoming dead, and we can't have you sustaining any injuries because of bad shoes."
I turn the shoes over in my hand, my chest feeling tight. When I don't say anything my mother's smile fades. "Aurora? Do you like them?"
"They're perfect," I choke out. They look expensive. I don't even want to know how much they cost. I get up to hug my mother, all the while feeling the weight of her gift threatening to crush me.
That night while alone in my room I begin the process of breaking in my new shoes by crushing the box and bending the shank. I contemplate putting them on, but decide to save that for tomorrow morning. Instead I tie my hair up and slip on my old shoes, standing in front of the mirror. I shake out my arms and breathe out. Then I practice my positions, going through them over and over again. By now it's all muscle memory, but one of the first things you learn when trying to master any move in ballet is repetition.
"Demi plié," I whisper, bending my knees. "Grand plié," I bend even further. After holding the pose for a few seconds I slowly rise back up and get into first position. Then I transition into an arabesque. As I stare at myself in the mirror an unwelcome memory takes over.
"Again! Arabesque! Sissonne then assemblé!"
Strands of my hair stick to my face in a sweaty mess as I extend my leg behind my body. After a tendu I move into a demi plié, my movements quick and precise. I perform the jumps with ease, but it's not good enough.
It's never good enough.
"Pirouette en pointe!"
I lift myself up on my toes and start spinning.
"Chin up! Arms higher! Lock your knees!"
I keep spinning, head feeling light, heart beating irregularly, legs burning.
And then I lose my balance and slip.
The room becomes deathly silent. My mother clucks her tongue, eyes narrowed.
"Get up," she commands. "And try again."
I try to reason with her. "Mother I'm tired-"
"I said get up Aurora! God! Do you think you can become a dancer this way? By being weak and pathetic?" She shakes her head in disgust before storming out of the studio, the door slamming shut behind her.
I stare at the spot she once stood before carefully removing my shoes. My feet are mangled and bloodied. I gently touch a sore and hiss though my teeth. However the physical pain is more than welcome, as it deflects from the blow of my mother's harsh words.
Gritting my teeth I slip my shoes back on and stand up. Then I lift myself up onto en pointe and start practicing my pirouettes once more.
I lower my leg and stand straight. Again. Demi plié. Grand plié. First position. Arabesque.
It's not until much later while I'm in bed—after I've brushed my teeth and changed into my pajamas—do I let the salty tears trail down my cheeks. But I don't make a single sound. Not one peep.
I learned a long time ago how to cry silently.
hey guys! i hope you all enjoyed this chapter. i know it's short but they will become longer as the story progresses. let me know your thoughts in the comments. if there are any actual dancers reading this then feel free to share any info you have! i've done as much research as i can and try to always double check my facts so i can be as accurate as possible, but ultimately i'm not a real dancer so i don't have any first hand knowledge. experience, advice, tricks, and tips would would be helpful and are welcomed!