Authors: Claire Adams
book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are
products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not
to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual
events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
© 2014 Claire Adams
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I stood in the shadows of the dance studio, watching
the sun as it began its ascent over my side street, Le Moyne Avenue. Six
o’clock in the morning. I watched an old man scuttle down the street, a bag of
bagels from the local shop on the corner bobbing in his left hand. My stomach
rumbled. I stretched my arms high over my head, feeling the taut muscles loosen
slowly, aching in the quiet of the morning. Wicker Park, my newly-adopted
neighborhood in Chicago, was just waking up. And yet, I’d been awake for an
hour, working my way through a few cups of coffee, programming myself for the
days ahead. My dance assistant, Melanie, had called earlier that morning to
announce she couldn’t attend any of the classes that day; her baby, Carson, had
been sick for several days, leaving me on my own in my shadowy studio.
It was my second year at Molly Says Dance, the dance
studio I had begun in those initial months after college, stumbling into
wake-up adulthood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had studied dance at Butler University,
down in Indianapolis, Indiana, but all the months of training, of auditioning,
had left me rough, battered. Instead of embarking on a life of touring, of
continuous hairspray, I had fled to the city, away from my mother, and toward
the light, the vibrancy of the skyscrapers. Lake Michigan shook with such
intensity next to this city. It felt like a continuous war between nature and
man was eternally at play.
The high school students would be arriving at seven.
Some of the girls, the better ones, took dance from me every day—just an hour
and fifteen minutes before rushing off to the school down the road, their
ballet shoes tossed into their backpacks and their blush ruffled up on their
high cheekbones. They all had such hope for their dance lives, for their
careers. None of them ate bagels. After all, like me at their age, they were
watching their figure.
I turned toward the dance studio once more, away
from the window, still feeling the warmth in the cup of coffee in my hands. I
was wearing my leotard and my tights. I had allowed my hair to drape down my
back, curling slightly in that feminine way I always had liked in college,
after my ballet bun came spinning down. I tossed my foot out before me, draping
it into its stunning, straight, ballet pose. I turned myself in quick
rotations, feeling the natural rhythm of my body as it spun,
spun back toward the office. I was so centered, so focused. I didn’t spill a
lick of my coffee. Pausing before I entered the office to do brief busywork in
the moments before my girls arrived, I made eye contact with myself in the
mirror. I traced my still-supple, twenty-four-year-old body and nodded. I still
had it. I was still okay. If I wanted to be a real dancer—beyond the realms of
this 200-square-foot Wicker Park dance studio, the one I could hardly pay rent
for month to month —I could. I could be a successful dancer.
The first girl jangled into the shop. Her bun was
high atop her head. I imagined her mother doing it that morning, pulling it
tighter and tighter, stretching her daughter’s skin and eyes taut.
“Ashley,” I called to
her, setting my coffee cup down on my desk. “How are you doing?”
Ashley bowed her head, a little too shy for early
morning talk. She let out a small peep—a “good”—and then sauntered to the side
of the room where the girls usually put on their shoes together, bringing the
laces over their ankles in almost unison. She kept her long eyelashes turned
I wasn’t sure what to do while we waited, so I bent
down and turned on the radio. The scratchy voice of the Chicago man burst into
the room. “Happy Weekend, listeners,” he said, and I realized, in a flash, that
another Saturday had come—and I without plans. (Always, this took me away from
myself, back to my college days when a Saturday had been God’s gift.)
“Are you doing anything fun tonight?” I asked,
turning again toward Ashley. Why couldn’t I connect with this girl? What could
Ashley shrugged her thin shoulders, allowing the
awkwardness to filter throughout the air. Drumming my fingers against each
other, I finally heard the jangle of the bell as five more ballerinas pushed
in, bringing with them the early morning sunshine. It draped across the wooden
I called to them, bringing my arms wide, away from my body.
I always tried to
fill myself with the spirit of my old dance instructor. How I had loved her!
She had been so thoughtful, so personable. She had invited us all to her house
for dinner, often, for team bonding—allowing us to play with her cats on the
floor as she played her old dance records, from days when she spun around the
room, a man at her back. It was so hard for us to remember it, back then; that
our dance teacher had once been a training, beautiful dancer as well. I supposed
it was difficult for the girls in my class to think that about me—me at
twenty-four! But I didn’t want to admit it to myself.
The girls pulled their shoes over their thin feet,
all in a fit of early-morning blues. I watched their thin white fingers as they
tugged at the laces. The radioman had switched to an eighties song, and I began
bouncing my feet back and forth, allowing my body to move languidly in front of
them. I was loose; I was waking up. “All right, girls,” I said in a chipper
voice—so much unlike my own. “Why don’t we start with some brief
Come to the bar.”
And they did, all in a line—like penguin ballerinas.
They stretched their long arms over the bar and
their arms into the air at my command with such control, such finery. All of
their stomachs seemed concave and slim. I could see every one of their bones
pushing out. I was reminded of chickens.
The dance class went easily. We made our way through
several old classical records—each passed down from my old dance instructor. (She
had died the previous year, before noting that I had ultimately failed; her
prized ballerina who had made it into Butler University’s ballet program.) The
girls’ eyes had slight brightness to them after an approximate half hour on the
floor. Their ankles were warm; their skin was peach. They were like flowers,
there in the Wicker Park sunlight. And my heart leaped with incredible joy for
them, despite the dismal life I led.
The class lasted two hours. At this time, nine in
the morning, I waited a long forty-five minutes in the studio by myself. I
filled up my coffee again and again, before the younger children who came only
on Saturday morning arrived, their ponytails wagging behind them like dog
tails. Younger children, five through seven, had no real control over their
bodies. They did their best to follow my lead, but the results were humorous;
several young girls, each with their hands stuck straight up in the air,
bending at the knees—their knees pointed this way, then that. With only an hour
with them—from ten to eleven in the morning—there wasn’t a lot I could do
besides smile and laugh, and send them on their way. Generally, they just sang
songs the entire time they were in the studio. I had
allowed them to dance to that song— I don’t dare say the title—in their
previous spring concert. I had never seen five-year-olds so committed to
rehearsal; I’d never seen such great utilization of small girls’ lungs. (I,
too, belted the song out a few times, for good measure, longing to be six once
more, first discovering the joy of spinning in circles before a crowd.)
Because it was Saturday, I had classes all through
the afternoon to the early evening. My last class, from six to seven, featured
older women—all of them between fifty and seventy years old. Their postures
were bleak; their arms were saggy, showing bits of hidden fat as they lifted
them. I ached looking at them, thinking that I would be them ever-so-soon. They
were the chattiest of the crowd.
If I went over a single
minute, someone piped up—noting that I was, of course, the same age as her own
daughter and that I didn’t have a whole lot of power.
Not really. I knew
nothing, and I knew that all too well. So I did my moves before them, and they
followed along—if they wanted to.
They were all in the dance class for mental health
as well as physical health. They were looking to better their minds and bodies.
Generally, however, when I watched them exit the dance studio and walk down the
street—as Wicker Park began its slow descent into nighttime—I felt a sense of
sadness; that life was, perhaps, far too hard to allow me to help these older,
unhappy women. Only two of them wore wedding rings, while the others sent harsh
words through the air about the men who had wronged them.
My future; was it before
me? I supposed I would have to have a man by my side—or truly rooted in my
past—to complain about him so readily.
I started to clean up the dance studio after they
left, sweeping with a wide broom. I played music over the loud speaker,
dismissing the radio DJ and going right for the hard stuff; Tchaikovsky. His
melodies fueled me across the floor, nearly dancing with my broom. I watched
myself in the mirror as I spun and pointed my long toes. My arms stretched and
twirled above my head. I felt so free, so languid. I laughed to myself, nearly,
thinking about how poised and certain I had been when dancing in previous
Now; here with a broom.
I needed to begin composing my own stuff again, I
if I was ever going to compete in the dance
world again. I hadn’t danced on my own, on a stage, since I had graduated from
college over two years before. I remembered that day; the way the hot lights
had descended over my body, the way the crowd had leaped forward, their hands
coming together. I remembered nearly nothing about the performance itself. It
was usually better that way. I entered the stage as someone else, and I exited
the stage as myself. What happened while I was on that stage was really none of
I had no control.
I heard loud honks outside the window and turned,
shocked to note that it was nearly eight-thirty. My stomach started grumbling
beneath my leotard. I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. I started cleaning the
final elements of the studio before tossing the broom in the corner, where it
would live until next time. I grabbed my fall jacket, so anxious to feel the
bright air around my face, to hear the people, the cars.
Sure enough, Chicago was alive outside the door. I
locked the studio and began walking quickly down Le Moyne. It had been so long
since I had eaten, I was a bit shaky. Everyone on the street was so vibrant,
speaking so quickly. I watched as a young girl ate a lollipop as she walked
alongside her father, his hand firmly grasping hers. I noted an older, married
couple, each of them wrapped in the same scarf even on the rather sticky
September night. My heart warmed with the thought of them, heading back to
their apartment; their unique love for Chicago deep in their hearts.
I had already fallen
for Chicago, truly, after my Indiana upbringing. It felt like a different
I found my way to a small coffee shop on the corner.
The door, wooden, jangled a bell as I opened it. A few people studying in the
corner turned toward me, perturbed but also interested. The coffee shop was
warm, the environment enticing. My nostrils awoke at the smell of coffee and
pressed sandwiches. I tapped toward the cashier, feeling a bit of sweat streak
down my nose from the previous, mad dance in the studio. I always felt so
self-conscious when I looked like this; long, shaggy yoga pants that caught my
butt up, tight—attractive, I thought. (But still, not appropriate for public
wear.) I was wearing a V-neck dance shirt, as well, that sported very small,
slight sweat stains. I sighed to myself, feeling like a wreck. I would never
meet a man looking like this.
“Can I help you?” the teenager at the counter asked
me. His lips were chapped, his eyes earnest. I noted that he was looking at my
butt as I leaned toward the list of food options off to the side. I felt sick
to my stomach about it.