She held onto the barre next to her, making sure not to grip too tightly. Holding her breath as she waited for the movement to begin.
Shoulders down, chin up, ribs in. Soft hands, soft gaze. Make it look easy.
In that moment- between one heartbeat and the next- she felt stillness. A stillness that she would chase her entire life. A stillness that would elude her as she got older, when her knees got too creaky and her toes no longer pointed without cramping. A stillness she would still find in brief moments as an adult, but never quite like that one.
As soon as the piano started, the notes softly announcing their arrival, whispering in her ear, her mind cleared.
There was no room for the rest of it.
Everything in her needed to be moving in synchronicity, not too fast, not too slow. Every piece of her working together to give the illusion of ease. And wasn’t that what everyone wanted? For it to look easy, never pausing to think about the dark, or the pain. It was definitely what everyone wanted from her; the only praise she received was because she was such a good girl.
She could find freedom when she was alone, in her room, crying as she listened to someone say the stars were yellow.
In that moment, she could forget the hardness. Didn’t think about the boys who didn’t love her back, the yelling at home. In that moment, it was a choice to be quiet, not a requirement.
It was not always like this. Ballet is not known for its forgiveness to young girls.
Sometimes a step was too hard, the other girls too good. One time she met another dancer with a Spanish last name, such a rarity in that world, and excitedly tried to befriend her. “Ew, I’m not a Mexican,” the girl sneered. She tried not to let that hurt, and didn’t tell anyone, because surely no one would care.
The too large mirrors, reflecting every flaw, screaming at her when she was not enough. The constant comparisons, ever present reminders of where she fell short. In her own eyes, she would always fall short.
There were good people too. Sometimes she caught her friend’s eye across the barre, and they’d collapse into a fit of giggles, trying to stifle their laughter as they kept dancing. The kind of laughter that only happens when you’re with a person who makes you feel completely safe and known. The one who sparks joy in you just by being.
There were the times she was asked to demonstrate, and she relished in the fact that she was chosen above everyone else. The comments on how she had such a perfect dancer’s body. She would continue chasing those compliments for a long time, her eyes lighting up when people commented on how she could eat so much and stay so skinny. Overeating to make them jealous. Always seeking validation through another’s eyes.
But there was nothing like that moment before, waiting in first position. That stillness.
Eventually, her body changed, and the barre no longer felt safe. The stillness, at times, felt stifling. Everyone wanted her to be good, “Calladita te ves más bonita,” she’d heard. But she wanted to find freedom in the sun, not spend every day inside– besides, whoever heard of a ballerina with boobs?
Life was eager to teach her that that freedom she was after was fleeting, needed to be cared for and cultivated. That in fact, it was easier to stay indoors, holding on the barre. To be that good girl.
She no longer stood at the barre every day, and learned how to hold her dreams with an open hand. Eventually, she’d find the sun.