She told me it was a shame I started so late.

“You really are a natural.”

I tried not to cry because I actually believed her. My emotions choked my gratitude. To fill the silence, she asked me to look into the lost and found crate outside the door. For the last two weeks, she had been trying to convince me to take some shoes a real ballerina had left behind.

“Take those. I’m sure they would fit you. They’re good shoes. Use them in your classes in Texas.”

I remembered a few of my friends explaining the rite of passage of earning pointe shoes when we were in late grade school. At 23, I was receiving my first good pair of ballet flats. I will probably never dance on pointe. Like my instructor said, it’s a shame I started too late.

To me, the level of skill a woman displayed while dancing directly correlated to the level of her attractiveness. This is why it took so long to keep dancing once I started. I was never pretty enough to dance.

Reviewing my childhood pictures, I never see a particularly large or ugly girl—at least not as large or ugly as I felt. I do remember getting the “ugly duckling” comparison from my father quite a bit. It was clear to everyone that I was intelligent, funny, energetic, strong-willed, and concerned with the injustices of the world. The bespectacled girl who read books and wrote stories organized all the neighborhood children in games of “war” and created clubhouse rules for our backyard fort.

When I wasn’t reading, I was riding my bike, searching for treasure at the town creek, and leading expeditions to the nearest construction sites to pilfer building materials to build crude shelters I read about in survival books. Despite my dynamism, I was neither beautiful nor athletic.  My lackluster life on the soccer field earned me more sportsmanship than MVP awards. I impressed my coaches with my attention span and determination, not my foot skills.

I could do anything, I thought, except for anything soft or delicate.

This is an excerpt from an essay I’ve written about learning how to dance.