Tiny, quivering jewels of perspiration trickle down my spine underneath the heavy embroidered cotton of my Irish dancing solo costume to the elastic waistband of my silk spankies. I rake my nails that are ragged from nervous gnawing into the flesh of my palms and avert my eyes from the adjudicators seated calmly in front of me to glance at the musician awaiting my cue. I nod slightly at him and he picks up his mother-of-pearl accordion and tunes, plucking a few notes here and there on the scale. Finally, at the ready and the point of my tension, he sits up straight and adorns a broad grin and begins happily tapping out a tune known as the slip-jig. My purple-shadowed eyelids flutter shut and my breath leaves my windpipe in a rush. I begin counting the bars of music, tapping my index finger against my thigh to keep time. On count six, I extend my leg in front of me, curling my right toes into a point. When count eight arrives, I pull my leg back quickly and rise up on my toes as though drawn from up above by strings and the instant count one strikes, I am flying across the stage in perfect harmony with the music. As my nervous, chattering brain coordinates with calm, fluttering feet, I bounce and kick and twirl, all the time barely brushing the ground for the time I am spending in the air. Out of the corner of my eye, beyond my thick, dark eyelashes, I can see my competition dancing next to me. A broad shouldered girl of Scandinavian coloring, her blonde curls bounce with her every step. Her cornflower blue eyes are framed with sky blue shadow and black liner, her lips colored with burgundy lipstick. I draw in a deep breath as I dare to take a dangerous chance. I cross my step in front of her, toe-heeling across the stage and flutter-kicking as I go. The adjudicators’ eyes follow me as I confidently end my step, breath wheezing from my exhausted lungs, smile plastered on my sweaty face. The musician finishes off the last chord and sets down his accordion, whipping out a hanky from the breast pocket of his polo to mop perspiration off his shiny, balding forehead. I pull my shoulders back and again point my right foot in front. The adjudicators whisper amongst themselves and scribble final comments on their sheets. Then the center judge turns to us on stage and smiles, dinging the bell. I bow low at the waist, stand up straight, and return to my beginning position at the back of the stage and bow once more, walking proudly, heel to toe, off the stage into the waiting arms of my team, the McCafferty School of Irish Dance. My knees, sore from exertion, wobble as I run into a welcome hug.
Life on the Stage
April 17, 2009