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“Ouch!” I screamed as another pin dug into my scalp. ‘God,’ I thought. ‘My head is going to hurt so bad tonight.’ My mom had already been working on my hair for fifteen minutes, pulling and braiding, and it would still be at least another ten minutes until she was completely finished.
“Sit still,” she scolded for the hundredth time that day. “Just a little longer.” I rolled my eyes. She’d been saying that since I had started complaining ten minutes ago. I sighed, but obeyed. I handed her the last section of fake hair and watched her in the mirror as she braided it into my real hair. She knotted the ends with thread, tied up the loose hairs and let the braid drop. I stood up to get the other hair adornments and shook my head, trying to get used to all the extra weight. Tying garlands of fake jasmine flowers around the bun above my braid, I ran upstairs to my room where my dance dress was all laid out. Without ruining my hair, I pulled my shirt off over my head and slipped into my blouse. I grabbed the rest of the costume and walked back downstairs to the counter that had temporarily been transformed into our green room.
As my mom did my sister’s hair, I put on the rest of my outfit. It took me a while, even though I’d done this numerous times before for other dance performances. Classical dance dresses aren’t exactly the easiest of clothes to put on. First, I placed the thavani, a pleated piece of cloth that covers the blouse, over my shoulder and tied it around my waist to secure it. I tucked the extra cloth at the bottom of the thavani into the pants that I pulled on. I looked down and had to suppress a giggle. I couldn’t help but laughing whenever I saw myself wearing the pants without the other pieces of the outfit on top of them. They looked more like clown pants than anything. If they had been made of a different material, something less rich and with less embroidery, they would have been perfect for the circus. I tied another piece of cloth around my waist over the pants to cover up funny-looking part of them and make the outfit look neater and more elaborate. I straightened out the pleats that connected the two pant legs and smoothed them down and stood up to look in the mirror. The costume, with its bright pink and green color combination and its intricate golden embroidery, was beautiful.
Seeing that my mom was nowhere close to finishing Nikhi’s hair, I took out the dark blue boxes that held the jewelry from our dance bag. Carefully, trying not to twist or break anything, I separated all of my jewelry from my sister’s and laid it out on the counter in front of me. I put on the necklaces first: the first, a choker, fit snugly around my neck, while the second hung loosely about seven inches below it. I pinned the latter to the pleats of the thavani so it would not bounce around while I was dancing on stage. I picked up the bangles off the table, counted out ten for each arm and slipped them onto my wrists
Next, I put my earrings on. I was thankful again, as I was every time I had to wear them, for how light they were. Most fancy Indian jewelry weighs a ton and earrings like that always make my ear piercings sore for days afterwards. Thank God someone had decided to come up with lighter jewelry for dancing. I probably would have died if I had to wear the same jewelry early dancers had had to wear. You’d be surprised at how much heavier solid gold jewelry with rubies and pearls is in comparison to that made of other metals with a thin gold finish and laid with fake gems.
Finally, I put on the last two jewelry pieces, the head piece and the anklets. I liked to save these, my favorites, for last. As I held up the head piece, which I can only describe as an elaborate headband with a pendant in the center, at my hairline with one hand, I used the other to rummage around our dance bag for some pins. I pinned it up in as many places as I could and shook my head a little to make sure it was secure. Lastly, I picked up the thick anklets and buckled the straps. I stomped my foot as we did in practically every step of our dance and the hundred bells that covered the anklets rang out.
Jingling, I walked back to the table where my mom had done my hair and sat down again so she could help me with my make-up. I rubbed foundation onto my face and neck. I got out my powder and was about to put that on as well, but my mom, who had just finished my sister’s hair, stopped me. Giving me a stern look, she handed me a different powder, one she had bought especially for dance.
“Do I have to?” I whined. We went through this every time I had a dance performance, and unfortunately, my mother always got her way. Reluctantly, I took the powder, which was several shades lighter than my real skin color, from her hand and began putting it on. My sister, now putting on her own costume, looked at me and laughed.
“You look like a ghost,” she said, still giggling, when I glared at her. I turned back to the mirror and couldn’t help laughing myself. Nikhi and I always complained about the color of the powder, but neither our mom, nor our dance teacher, would let us use anything else. Supposedly, the lighter powder looked better under the lights on the stage, as did the think eyeliner and bright red lipstick.
In the car, my sister and I sat in the back with red markers, with our feet in each other’s laps. We drew designs on our feet, trying to replicate the look of henna. After struggling with our feet, we moved onto our hands.
An hour later, just as we finished our “henna”, we pulled up to the temple, where the performance was. We were late, as usual, but as we’d expected, the program was running late as well. My mom rushed inside quickly, nervous, as Nikhi and I walked calmly behind her. We watched her, amused at how she always managed to be more anxious than the two of us combined. We walked into the dressing room and our teacher greeted us with a sign of relief.
“Thank God…At least you guys are ready,” she said, still a little frantic. “Shruthi came in 15 minutes ago without anything done.” We turned to Shruthi and laughed when we saw three of the other dancers’ moms working on her hair, dress and make-up simultaneously.
“It’s okay, Shoba Auntie,” we reassured our dance teacher. “Calm down. The program just started. We’re not on for another hour at least. We’ll get everything done. We always do.”
An hour later, we were all ready. As we touched up our make-up, we listened as our dance teacher, still worried, reminded us what to remember on stage.
“Bend. I don’t want to see anyone standing with their knees straight even once tonight. And keep your body stiff. No loose arms. Keep them parallel to the ground. Smile. And don’t forget expressions. Follow your hands with your eyes. Don’t just stare at the audience the whole time. Oh, and make all your hand mudhras clear. Remember, the entire story is told through those hand positions.”
She stopped rambling, but only because the group that had danced before us was coming back into the room. She took a deep breath.
“Good luck!” she said and rushed out of the room to go sit in the auditorium. Me, my sister and the three other girls doing the dance with us filed out of the room and took our places behind the closed curtain. The announcer explained to the audience the story that our dance depicted and told of how it related to the festival that the function was to celebrate. The curtain opened slowly, the music began to play, and our dance began.
As usual, the dance, even though it was almost 10 minutes, seemed to fly by. Before I knew it, it was over and we were in our final pose, frozen, as the audience broke into applause. As we walked off the stage and out to the auditorium to watch the rest of our dance company’s performances, people congratulated us. People we knew, and even some we didn’t, kept coming up to us, telling us how good our dance had been. The dance teacher came over to the five of us and told us how pleased she was with our performance. Then, as we began to talk amongst ourselves, she took me aside.
“You did really well up there today,” she began. “I’m really proud of you. You’ve improved so much since your last performance. Just keep practicing; you could be really good if you wanted to.” And with that, she stepped past me to talk to Nikhi. I knew she was probably saying the same thing to her and probably to all her other students as well, but still, I felt uplifted. This feeling was why I enjoyed dancing so much and spent so much time at practices and getting ready for recitals like this. With all these people telling us how well we had done, I felt like all our hard work had paid off.