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You in Five Acts
Author:Una LaMarche

But then it was your turn, and for the first time all day I stopped feeling nervous. You walked out like you were walking up to meet me at my locker—rounded shoulders, relaxed gait, big smile, shaggy brown hair hanging always a little bit in your eyes because for some reason you happily wore ballet slippers but drew the line at headbands. Watching you in the seconds before you danced made it easy to see how consciously you changed from Diego the boy from East Harlem, raised with two brothers by a single mom, who could only dance the salsa—and only then at family functions, and only then under duress—to Diego the prodigy, who’d been discovered by an after-school teacher hired to introduce fine arts to inner-city kids. You were twelve, too old by most standards to start training seriously, but you had such a natural gift they fast-tracked you; you got your acceptance letter from Janus eighteen months after you did your first plié.

You’d picked Don Quixote, too, the Basilio solo, and as soon as the piano started, you transformed, eyes sparkling, shoulders squared, posture like a matador. You launched immediately into a series of powerful cabrioles, getting so much height that if I hadn’t known any better I’d have thought the floor was rubberized. Everyone was quiet; the air in the room seemed to change. You weren’t flawless, but you were better than flawless—you were alive. It was like your body just knew what it needed to do. It didn’t seem forced, or even choreographed. Sometimes, when Dad and I were arguing, he’d try to tell me that ballet wasn’t about talent, that it was pay to play, and that no one without money could ever make it. I wanted to tell him that he just needed to see you dance to see that no overstuffed bank account could make anyone else even half as good as you. And you had more to gain—or lose—than anyone. If I didn’t become a professional dancer, I’d go to a liberal arts college and pick some nice white-collar career. Cry me a river. If you didn’t get a scholarship, or a place in a company, there was no money for school. You’d end up making minimum wage at some crappy job that didn’t deserve you. But if any of that was on your mind, it wasn’t showing. You were on fire. I had to contain my own howl as you nailed eight pirouettes at the end of your routine. Mr. Dyshlenko looked like he might weep.

“Oh my God, he’s so cute,” I heard Maple Rhodes whisper to Lolly as you jogged back to your place across the room. “When you dance the Showcase with him, can you please, please get on that and then tell me all about it?” Then, a few turns later, Maple got up and did a completely lackluster dance to—of all possible things—the Sugarplum Fairy solo. It made me feel much better. Until they called my name.

I’d been imagining the moment of my Showcase audition for four entire years, so actually living it was incredibly surreal, like a dream, or a nightmare—maybe both at once. I walked out to take my starting position, my brain reeling off a laundry list of reminders: Pas de couru, tombé, manège of piqué pirouettes. Relax your face! Smile, but not too much! Keep your chest lifted! Tighten your core! Squeeze your glutes! Remember your turnout! Don’t roll your ankle! Don’t overthink it! I shook out my legs, hoping the thoughts would go with them.

“You’ll just have to give us a moment, Joy,” Mr. Stratechuck said, peering under the piano lid. “One of the hammers has been giving me trouble.” I nodded and smiled tightly, feeling like an idiot for standing in front of everyone for longer than I needed to. I was facing the teachers, which meant that Lolly and Maple and pretty much everyone had a nice front-row view of my butt. Much like my chest, my butt had not gotten the memo that it was not supposed to be a distraction. It was not a flat line, but then again, I didn’t want my heart to flatline either, from eating nothing but rice cakes and Diet Coke. Having a healthy body was not something I was willing to sacrifice, for anyone or anything.

While Mr. Stratechuck fiddled with the piano guts, people relaxed and started talking. Suddenly my moment seemed a lot more like a pause.

“Should I sit back down?” I asked.

“No, no,” Ms. Adair said. “You’re fine where you are.” Then she looked me up and down. It was no more than a blink, really, almost imperceptible. I felt it more than I saw it. But then she gave me a stern look. “You need to trim down before May.”

My mouth nearly dropped open. Ms. Adair could be a bitch, but she almost never called anyone out publicly; she liked to whisper things, make a point of coming up during class and getting all cloak and dagger with her insults. Somewhere behind me came a burst of laughter, and Ms. Adair pursed her lips.

“It’s not a joke,” she said, addressing the whole class this time. “George Balanchine said that dancers are instruments, and it’s true. You all should treat your bodies with the care that you would use to tune an instrument.”

“Speaking of which, I’m ready when you are,” Mr. Stratechuck said, banging out a few high Cs on the piano.

Nervous adrenaline flooded my system, and I felt the words coming before I could swallow them: “Balanchine also said ballerinas should have skin the color of a peeled apple,” I said. “So if it’s OK with you, I think I’ll be selective with his advice.”

Before the shock could register on Ms. Adair’s face, I nodded at Mr. Stratechuck, who started to play. As soon as the first note rang out, I wasn’t thinking anymore about my face, or my body, or my weak right ankle. All I was thinking was that I needed to show Ms. Adair—show everyone—what it was that I really wanted to do.

I wanted to become 1 in 1,086. But before I did that, I wanted to blow the doors off that room.

Chapter Three

    January 6

127 days left
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