Shadow Dancers This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Their soft black forms dance gracefully, lithely, across the brick. They are shaped like people, but only slightly, with their rounded hands and toeless feet. They move fleetingly, fluidly, in a line, barely touching hands. Some bear instruments, throwing their heads skyward to blow horns. They seem happy, carefree, and they smile, despite their featureless faces. And the people pass them day after day; they hurry by, heads down, minds preoccupied, too busy to join, for even a moment, the alley-way festivities. The music continues, the music from deep within the red bricks, compelling them to move across the wall.

And every morning these dark figures form a line, in the exact positions as the day before, and dance, never missing a beat, never dropping from shear exhaustion. Late at night, so no one can see that they too must sleep, after a futile day of trying to entertain people, they set aside their instruments, and slumber as one immense black blur. But in the morning, they resume their places in line, act satisfied and content to be dancing across the brick wall.

Yet their movements feel slow and monotonous, and they trudge across the wall, their hearts heavy, for they have no companions save themselves; they are trapped in the tedium, the banality of the brick wall. And no one knows they have souls and hearts and thoughts and desires; they believe they are mere pictures, empty beings of black paint, shadow dancers scrawled haphazardly along a wall by some restless amateur artist. No one heeds the dancers, except a few bored teenagers who pass every so often and mutter "nice mural" to their friends. Yet few stop to gaze, to notice their light steps or try to hear the music from their instruments.

But one day a child walks by, and pauses, gazing at the shadow dancers. The forms become invisibly excited, and quicken their pace, play their instruments loudly to impress the girl. And, though she can not hear the music, she begins to dance, clumsily at first, copying their motions. And the shadow dancers silently laugh and thank her and are happier than they have been for many months. When she scampers away as suddenly as she arrived, the shadow dancers are filled with despair and frustration.

The next morning the child returns, this time with three friends at her heels. And they stare, enraptured, mesmerized by the soft ethereal forms on the wall, and this time the shadow dancers are filled with wonder. They can scarcely believe their fortune, and ignore the children at first, for it is rare that any one watches them, perceives them as more than just pictures on a wall. So they talk, inaudibly, among themselves, but their steps quicken involuntarily, and their chatter flows faster in their enthusiasm.

And the small children laugh, not jeeringly, but playfully, the way children giggle before their mirth becomes tainted with the cynicism and anxiety of adult laughter. The friends touch fingers, but just barely, and follow the motions of the shadow dancers. Engrossed in their game, they laugh uproariously at their stumbles, at their bizarre movements.

People continue to walk by. The people who pass with their eyes cast downward, and their thoughts somewhere else, hear the raucous play, and stop. The children continue to dance, without music, oblivious to the people who have halted to watch them. As the people continue to gaze, two more gather, and suddenly, the children become aware of their small audience. When the people applaud, the children topple over, giggling uncontrollably, reveling in the attention. And then someone notices. He notices the mural, the shadow dancers the children sought to imitate, and points at them eagerly, for he prides himself on his penchant for art of all kinds, and muses how funny it is, how strange that he never saw them before. Someone must have just painted them. And the dancers, weary and spent, for the first time before nightfall, glide slower, but remain proud, expectant. Perhaps more people will watch us, each whispers to the one next to him. Perhaps we will be able to entertain people, as we were meant to.

But days go by, and the days turn stealthily to weeks, and no one stops before them. Their gaiety diminishes, and they begin to drag their feet again in the harsh, slow rhythm of disappointment; yet to those on the outside, the few who even bother to glance their way, they seem, as always, to be dancing.

And one day, a steel-grey late autumn day that bears the omen of frigid snow and endless dreary months, the man arrives. And they know he is an artist because he watches the dark figureswith a critical, expert eye and a look of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, as though he knows what they are thinking. He carries a rainbow of spray-paint, and thick paint in cans, and fat brushes. They greet him mutely, some with fright and sorrow, some with excitement, and they stop dancing, for they believe he will cover them with a sheet of white paint, terminate their meager existence with a few brisk brush strokes. And one, the oldest, most lonesome shadow dancer, heralds the man with joy, for he is tired and wishes to cease moving along the wall. We are constantly moving, he complains, achieving nothing, going nowhere. Give it up, let him cover us. But his companion wants to cry out, to stop the man, for he is not ready, not prepared to relinquish the hope that once again, someone will notice their dancing, that they will be able to serve a purpose, to make people happy.

They see the man seize a can of spray-paint, and hours later, it seems, he removes the cover and aims it at the wall and though some wish to stop him they cannot so they surrender to the inevitable and close their eyes. They wait. They hear the angry hissing sound of the spray-paint can and shudder. But the cold wetness does not permeate them; perplexed, they open their eyes, and see that the man is not painting over them, but adding to their surroundings. And they stare, awe-struck, at the birth of more shadow dancers who are not true shadow dancers for they are colored vivid hues of red, and green, and blue. But they too clutch instruments, dance in a serpentine line, barely touching hands.

The man moves to the opposite wall, and continues to paint. He paints people talking, holding hands, waiting for a bus. He paints a tree, and a house, as the shadow dancers watch a new world begin to form before their eyes. And late in the afternoon, before he retires to his apartment, he anoints his picture with an enormous, yellowy-orange sun. He uses nearly two cans of paint, and when it is finished it renders the scene eternally, blindingly, bright.

And the next morning, the passers-by halt before the new picture, and gaze at the intricate new designs. And the shadow dancers, slightly giddy, slightly haughty, proud to be the pioneers, the discoverers of this new society, glide effortlessly across the wall. As they move, they hear a woman remark, "I like all the pictures, but I think that one of the plain dancers is my favorite." n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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