Dance It Up
Once upon a time is a terrible way to start off a story, don’t you think? Sure, I give it credit for basically revolutionizing literature and the way we look at it these days, but by now it’s nothing more than a literary cliché, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, though. That’s not to say that all stories that begin with “Once upon a time...” are bad stories... it’s just to say that the author of the story chose a poor way to open up the story. But that of course doesn’t mean the rest of the story is bad, does it? If you ask me, judging a story based on its first sentence is just as bad as judging a story by its cover... I mean yeah, a bad cover and a bad first sentence can certainly be a harbinger of a bad story, but that doesn’t mean that they always are.
Now, that probably seems like a completely random thought, but trust me, you’ll understand it by the time this is all done. This is a relevant rant, trust me.
Every year my school has a dance-off competition. For some reason, it’s always immensely popular, and so many different people enter it. The winner every year, of course, is always some tiny, aerodynamic Neopian like Helena the Kacheek or Justin the Shoyru. It was never, never, never, NEVER, a lummox of a creature like me, Jake the Elephante.
Elephantes, as I’m sure you know, are relatively heavy set creatures, and thus, they can’t move very fast, and aren’t very flexible... or so the stereotype goes.
The truth is, stereotypes are based on majority figures... and to have a majority, you have to have a minority, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s nice to meet you... I’m Jake the yellow Elephante. I’m the minority.
Like most Elephantes, I’m tall, husky, and all around big. But unlike most Elephantes, I can move a lot faster and more smoothly than most creatures my size.
But anyway, about the dance competition. Every year many people would enter, and there would be a huge tournament... and even though I could dance, I never knew it until last year’s competition, when I was more or less forced into signing up.
It was a normal day in class, when our teacher, Miss Humbly, an older blue Ixi, announced to us that registration forms for the competition were being passed out. Like every year, I was going to just throw it away because I wasn’t interested... but something changed my mind.
Helena, a tiny, snobby pink Kacheek sat in front of me. She and Justin, an equally tiny and snobby orange Shoyru, were already filling out their forms, and by the time that everyone in the class had gotten them, the two were already done filling them out. They both jumped out of their seats and handed them to Miss Humbly. They looked at each other and laughed.
“So, I see we’re going to end up facing off once again,” Helena said.
“Let’s just hope for your sake that we don’t have a repeat of last year,” Justin sneered.
“Oh, you just got lucky, that’s all.” Helena snickered.
The two laughed and skipped back to their seats. Miss Humbly stood up in front of the class.
“Is anyone else going to enter?” Miss Humbly asked. She had one of those annoyingly soft voices. “Anyone?”
Justin stood up and snorted, “Don’t bother, Miss Humbly. It’s not like any of these coordination-impaired losers is good enough to beat me and Helena.”
“That’s right!” Helena said in back-up.
“Now, now,” Miss Humbly said. “Calm down, you two. We all know you’re both good dancers, but-”
“But what, Miss Humbly?” Helena asked. I really, really hated this girl’s voice. “Just look at these people.”
She pointed to the kid on my right, Mike, a green Korbat. “I mean, after all, this class is filled to the brim with wannabes with no legs...” She pointed to this girl Rudy, a yellow Uni on the other side of the room. “Two left feet... literally...” And then she pointed to me... “And you... well just looking at you is explanation enough.”
A few seconds of silence. Miss Humbly was about to say something when I got up and spoke.
“Wow, could you two be any more obnoxious?” I said, a bit of anger reflecting in my voice. “Who said nobody in here can dance? How do you know that we just don’t want to, hm?”
Apparently, neither of them had been expecting me to stand up for myself, judging by the looks on their faces. Justin spoke up, though.
“But you know that we’re right. None of you could dance even if you tried.”
“You want to make a bet on that?” I said, looking Justin dead in the eye. He couldn’t return the glare without breaking away and looking off somewhere else.
“Name your game, Jake,” he said, avoiding making eye contact with me again.
“Dancing obviously. Whoever wins the competition gets bragging rights... and how about something to make it a little more interesting... If I win, you two have to stop being such jerks all the time. If you win... hm...”
“If one of us wins, you have to do our homework for the rest of the year,” Helena piped in. I looked at her and nodded.
“It’s a deal.”
After a second of silence, I realized suddenly that the entire class had been watching us the entire time. I grunted as I sat and began to fill out my registration form. I filled it out hastily and handed it to Miss Humbly.
The poor Ixi was just about to speak again, but the school bell cut her off. She sighed and said, “Class dismissed... except...” She pointed to me. “Jake, come see me for a moment.”
Helena and Justin stuck their tongues out at me and rushed out the door.
As soon as the rest of the class was out the door, Miss Humbly sat at her desk and sighed. She motioned for me to come up and stand by the desk.
“Listen, Jake,” she began. “I know what Helena and Justin were saying was probably hurtful, but you’ve got to understand that it’s my job to deal with problems like that... not yours. You cut away from our class time with your little standoff there, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do it again.”
I nodded. “Alright, I’m sorry. I guess I just got a little...”
“Mad? Yeah, I know how it feels, Jake. When I was your age, which wasn’t that long ago, mind you, most people thought that because I’m an Ixi, I wouldn’t be able to lift weights in gym class. But sure enough, I proved them wrong... I know how you feel, and I’m not saying what you did is wrong in that sense... it’s great that you stood up for yourself. I’m just trying to follow the procedures I have to follow as a teacher, okay?”
I nodded and smiled. Miss Humbly smiled back.
“Okay, you can go. See you tomorrow, Jake.”
I started to walk away.
“Oh and Jake...” I stopped and turned in the doorway. “Good luck in the competition.”
“Thanks... have a good night, Miss Humbly,” I called back, smiling.
On the playground outside the school, I walked with my backpack slung over my shoulder, and my maths book under my arm. I thought I was alone, but I ran into two somewhat familiar faces... Mike and Rudy. They looked at me as I walked past, and I smiled awkwardly.
“Hey, Jake...” Mike said, quietly. “Thanks for sticking up for us in class before.”
Rudy nodded. “That was a really nice thing you did. But, I’ve got to ask... how are you gonna do it? Justin and Helena are amazing dancers.”
This actually hadn’t hit me yet... at all. And suddenly I was feeling like a huge idiot for accepting the challenge, before realizing that I had never danced in my entire life before.
Oh man. Oh man. Oh man.
“Oh man. Oh man. Oh man,” I said out loud. I was getting kinda nervous. “That’s a... very good point there, Rudy.”
Silence. Oh the beautiful silence.
“So, basically...” Mike began.
“You have no idea what you’re doing?” Rudy finished.
More of the beautiful silence! Yay!
I sighed and began to walk off.
“Where are you going?” Rudy called.
“I’d love to hang out with you guys some more, but I’ve got some serious work to do...”
When I got home that afternoon, I ate my afternoon snack quickly and did my homework as fast as possible. I went quietly down to the basement and turned the stereo on. It was a song by M*ynci... an upbeat dance song... Perfect for what I was trying to do.
I got off to an awkward start, tripping over my feet a few times, but I started slowly to get the hang of it... slowly but surely.
Hours passed... Song after song came on... I went through two full M*ynci CDs before I finally decided to stop.
I was sweating heavily, and needed something to drink desperately... but there was a sense of success in my head.
I was dancing.
A week passed. The week actually went by very uneventfully. I didn’t talk to Justin or Helena, I did all my work, took tests and quizzes, answered problems in class... and so on. My normal routine. The only thing different was now, when I got home from school, after doing my homework, instead of playing a game... I danced. I danced for hour after hour.
And finally, the day came...
I was the definition of nervous that day in the gymnasium.
Apparently, despite the fact that Justin, Helena, and I were the only ones who were signed up in our class, kids in other classes were signed up. Overall, there were about ten kids in the competition... and none of them were really great dancers other than Justin and Helena... and apparently me.
The competition was set up in a tournament style setup. Two dancers entered the dance floor, one stepped off the winner. A song would play over the intercom system and we’d have to improvise a dance matching it, and the judges, who were three red Kougras, who were apparently triplets, would rate us based on how well we did.
The first round was easy. I was beyond nervous at this point, but as soon as the song started up, I imagined what I had been doing in my basement for the past week. And I was off.
Everybody was wowed at my performance... especially Justin and Helena.
I felt kind of bad for my opponent, a little white Kyrii, since he was trying his hardest to keep up with me, but wasn’t doing very well at all. As the song was coming to a close, I did a half cartwheel sort of thing that I had never done before... and I was amazed at myself.
The judges loved me. I get two eights and one nine from the three judges... and my opponent got three fives. I won by a landslide!
Afterward, as Justin was coming onto the floor, I winked at Justin and said in a snobby way, “I can’t dance, eh?”
Predictably, Justin and Helena won all their matches, and as did I. It was up to the semi-finals at this point. I was up against Justin.
“I have to admit, Jake,” Justin said as he warmed up for the following dance. “You’ve surprised me today... But that doesn’t mean I think you’ve got what it takes to beat me.”
I did nothing but smile and hold out my hand to shake his. Surprisingly enough, Justin shook back.
“May the best dancer win,” we both said.
We stood across from each other on the dance floor, and a song came on. And I suddenly felt a feeling of undeniable confidence... It was the same M*ynci song that I had danced to for the first time a week before!
I gave my all for this one... moving all over the place, using every bit of energy to make my dance look as spectacular as possible.
After the three minutes of the song flew by, Justin and I both spun and did similar finishing moves. We stood up straightly, and looked at the judges, trying to catch our breaths.
Justin’s scores came first.
Judge one gave a nine...
Judge two gave a nine...
Judge three gave a nine...
Applause filled the gymnasium as the judges started writing the scores for me.
Judge one gave a nine...
Judge two gave a nine...
Judge three gave...
An eight! An eight!
Judge number three gave me an eight!
I lost the round, and I was out of the competition. But I didn’t really care, because I had a sense of satisfaction either way.
I shook Justin’s hand and walked off the dance floor. I needed to get a drink.
The day after the competition, I sat in class, a bit sore and tired out, but happy regardless. I tapped Helena on the shoulder and handed her a sheet of paper.
“Here’s the homework I owe you.”
She snickered and snatched it from my hand. I looked over to Justin and he smiled.
Little did Helena know that, even though she had won the competition, and I had to do her homework for the rest of the year... Miss Humbly was in on our little plot.
When we went to hand in our homework, she looked at Helena’s paper and laughed.
“If you think I’m going to accept that, you’re crazy,” Miss Humbly said bluntly. “I know all about your little deal with Jake. And it’s against school policy.”
And the look on Helena’s face was priceless.
So, like I was saying... Judging a book by its cover is bad.
Everybody thought I was unable to dance just by looking at me.
Judging a book by its first sentence is bad.
I thought that by talking to Justin a little bit over the years, he was a stuck up snob, but, that ended up not being true.
If you don’t actually open up the book and read some of it, you could be missing out on the greatest story you’ve never read.