Breathe in. Breathe out.

April 29, 2008
Breathe in. Breathe out. Know that you only have to say this once and then it will all be over.

I do not care for plies with a hundred people watching your every move, studying the flaws of your clear skin. They anxiously anticipate your demise as you leap perfectly across the stage, wishing you tripped.

I do not care for conformity, the way it transforms individual expression into a line of identical dominoes, each awaiting its imminent fall.

I remind myself of why I have to do this, repeating these premeditated reasons over in my head. I do not let doubt preoccupy me. I refuse to recall my father’s joy at my acceptance into the master class, the tears of my instructor when I performed in Swan Lake, my sister’s jealously I relished in.

I have danced disease, a cause for little girls to feel like they need to make themselves invisible in order to be seen. I cried when I could not leap more than four feet across the stage. I did not speak to my sister for a week in which I practiced diligently. I let her watch when I felt remorse for being so cold. She was there, sitting in our closet, and watched as I leapt not four, but five feet by Thursday. Through the crack in the door I saw her wide eyes and the disease took me over. I was delirious. I smiled at her jealousy.

This disease made my toes blister and bleed. The water they were soaked in became the red of my instructor’s leotard. How I wished they were the light pink of mine! It made me brush away my mother’s remarks that I looked too thin, telling her she was being overdramatic. It made the scale at the doctor’s office prove her right. A sickness I thought I could not control made my sister hate me, staring at me with eyes that said, “why did you make me invisible?”

Then one day, I found a cure. I breathed evenly, a luxury I never had before as I walked into the room adorned with bars…bars that once gave me balance. I would have to rely on myself for that now.

I quit.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Plie like a hundred people are watching.

Suck everything in.

Make yourself invisible so that they will see you.

I instruct myself with these tactics I’ve employed practicing in a closet. No one cares enough to give me any attention, to look me in the eye and tell me how well I am doing. Thus, I care. I care in place of those who do not. I care for myself and for others.

I care that my hair is pinned back into a bun of perfect symmetry. I care that my leotard shows utmost sophistication, its straps adorning my back and neck, leaving just enough room for me not to choke, the sharp straps digging into my pimpled skin like daggers eating away at my individuality.

I care that it is red, so I am noticed as the bright and active one, in a class of thirty. I care that it is a brighter red than the leotard on the girl practicing next to me, who I don’t even care about because she has enough people caring about her. I care that it is also brighter than the red on the instructor’s. That way, she will know I admire her in wearing her signature color, but that I am not a mimic (like the girl behind me I don’t care about) because my leotard is exactly 1.5 shades brighter than hers.

I care to paint my face with syrupy cream until every last freckle is entirely unnoticeable, until my blotches are no more and my painted complexion is even like my sister’s. She never used any cream.

I told my sister this and she said that no one notices what I have noticed. She told me no one cares as much as I do…but I still think they might.

They cared when she was in the class, though she did not try as hard as I do. Tears streamed down the instructor’s face and onto her red leotard when my sister gave a deep, neck-lengthening curtsy at the end of Swan Lake. My father’s boasts were heard all through New Hampshire when she was accepted into the master class. My tears at being rejected for the beginner’s studio remained silent.

I want them to care. It was just a side effect for her, symptomatic of a disease that made her strides and positions perfect. She had all the wonderful symptoms, but it made me sick. This disease made me wait behind at the doctor’s office, just to see the number abandoned on the scale, and to step on it myself, only to watch the balance thwart. This disease made me vomit in the backyard that midnight and eat only gobstoppers the following week so that maybe, one day, our numbers would match. This disease made my eyes open wide permanently as I huddled in a corner and watched rows of pastel pink slippers, at least two sizes smaller than the ones stowed in the back of my closet.

Then one day, my sister who does not try for greatness, but is greatness, was cured. She wanted a life outside of dancing and I wanted one inside. So I walked into the class and stepped to the bar.

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