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Dance Lessons

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“Shoes, Mommy. Shoes.”

My toddler begged me to put on my dirty pink flats. I didn’t want to, but there’s no other way she will watch the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on YouTube.

“Sha-sha-sha-shoes, Mommy,” she whined.

Only once when she was just 17 months old did I show her scenes from The Nutcracker. It was mid-September, and for four months, she insisted that we watch ballerinas and twirl in the living room while I wear those shoes.

My daughter is too young to know that I’m no ballerina and have no business calling myself a dancer. Right now, for her I am the Sugar Plum Fairy who changes her pants and teaches her everything she knows about dance. Eventually, she’ll discover that I know very little. She might even be ashamed of me.

I always wanted to learn how to dance, and by the time I found out that there might have been a chance for me, it was already too late. My first dance teacher said it was a shame.

“You really are a natural,” she told me.

I tried not to cry because I believed her. My emotions choked my gratitude. To fill the silence, she asked me to look in the lost-and-found crate outside the door. For two weeks, she had been trying to convince me to take some shoes that 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 received my first good pair of ballet flats. I will never dance on pointe. Like my instructor said, it’s a shame I started when I did.

Being called “a natural” pierced me. The high compliment fell from my instructor’s mouth and shattered at my feet. Like my belated entry to the world of dance, those words were overdue. I turned 30 before I realized that all those hours I spent hours locked in my room stretching and pushing my body to bend made my body feel right. With no one looking, I was free to let my limbs speak through nameless movements with a structure and rhythm of their own. That I could communicate beauty and art with my body never took root, and it should have. Continue reading “Dance Lessons”

Madonna Taught Me How to Dance

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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. Continue reading “Madonna Taught Me How to Dance”

The First of My Fairy Godmothers

In a department store formerly known as Kaufmann’s, I met my first fairy godmother. Instead of glass slippers, she gave me tan knee-high go-go boots. If I am to be more precise, she didn’t give me the boots but she affirmed my right to wear them, which is far more important anyway.

My father and I were on our way out from the mall, and as we were passing the women’s shoe department, he told me we should stop and take a look around for sales. During high school, I hated casual shopping almost as much as I do now, so I objected and he insisted and won.

I pretended to be browsing while my dad rummaged through stacked boxes. From a few display tables away, I saw him lift an enormous box and shout, “What about these? They’re a deal!”

When I made my way over to him and opened the box, I started to laugh.

“These? Dad. You think I should get these?”

I couldn’t believe that my dad, the dad who was always pressuring me to start brushing my hair and to find dates for homecoming dances, would encourage the funkier side of my fashion.

“Why not? They’re fun and only 12 bucks.”

Knowing my father, I knew that wearing a comical bargain was fun.

After trying to reject him a few times by refusing to pick up the box, I agreed and found a spot on one of the muted gray lounge chairs stocked with nylon footies at each arm and shoved in each crevice between the seats. I sat next to a big, older middle-aged woman with a mountain of high heels and comfort wedges piled at her feet.

The long fake leather boots intimidated me as I pulled up one of my baggy jean legs, removed a gym sock, and replaced it with one of the shriveled wormy-colored footie socks. Inside, it was cool, and as I zipped up the long side of the boot, I began to feel like I was crossing the boundaries of the Converse, the Nike running shoes, and the athletic sandals territory I’d always known.

And then the zipper stopped mid-calf.

“Look! See, Dad, they don’t fit. Now we can put them back.”

“Oh, come on. They’re fine. Just pull a little. They’ll loosen up,” he cajoled.

It was too late. The fun stopped with the halted zip.

“It’s your fault, Dad! You and Mom did this to me. Both of you have huge calves. I actually like them, but they just don’t fit.”

We began to argue, and when he walked away exhausted with my rationalizing and explosive emoting, I noticed that the woman next to me had been watching us. She was holding one gold sandal and she pointed it at me.

“Honey. Your daddy gave you those calves, and now he’s gonna give you those boots—and if I were younger and I had your calves, I would wear them. Now. Are you going to put them back on and take a look in that mirror over there?”

She wasn’t asking me any questions, so I opened the box and zipped them up again, this time a little faster than before. After I’d gotten both boots on, I walked over to the slanted foot mirror with both jean legs rolled above my knees.

“Now look!” she said. “Just look at those.”

The two of us looked together. She praised me and told me to turn around, again and again.

“You’ve got to celebrate those calves, girl. You look good.”

Dad walked back to me while I was still on parade with the boots, and he was smiling quietly at the triumph. In an uncharacteristic demonstration of verbal restraint, he grabbed the box after I’d put on my tennis shoes again and he took them to the cash register.

At last, when we were finally walking past the Izod, Nautica, and Polo sections in the men’s department, just when we reached the double doors opening to a snowy, gray mid-January, he said, “And they were only 12 bucks!”

For weeks, I excused myself from not breaking them in because of the ice, but eventually I started to wear them with sloppy, ill-fitting vintage dresses I’d found at the Goodwill. There was one tight dusty mauve and cream sheath dress I particularly liked to pair with those boots.

Walking down the crowded halls of the high school in those boots, I forgot my calves and focused on walking, keeping my gait just at the pace I wanted it and even finding myself glancing around to see if anyone else was looking.

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