Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 189,978,751 Issue: 562 | 14th day of Gathering, Y14
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Curtain. Release


by shadyy15

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Eyes of fire. Muscles of steel. Elegant poise. A loose strand of hair tickles my neck. Mustn't flinch. Deep breath. I await the first notes with trepidation. My palms sweaty, my eyes on the floor, my arms resting lightly on the fabric of my skirt, my feet trapped in their pointes. I can hear the ragged quality of my breathing and feel a tremor in my right leg. Music. Curtain. Release.

***

      I remember it distinctly: I had just turned four years old and was sitting on the rug in front of our fireplace. The flames danced playfully on the tiles lining the hearth. My grandmother had just handed me my birthday gift, a handsome blue box topped with a pink lace bow. With trembling tiny hands I had undone the bow, slid the lid off the box and peered inside over the edge. Inside lay a handsome Usuki Ballerina Doll. She wore a tutu, pink pointes on her feet and a silver-colored tiara perched on her head. I carefully picked the doll up, held her tightly in my arms and started twirling in the living room. After twirling so much I started feeling nauseous, I went to hug my grandmother. Disappearing in her apron and dress, that typical perfume of hers enveloping me, must have been one of my favorite hobbies. She was my safe person. My grandmother. And I loved her more than... more than anything or anyone I've ever loved. My sweetest grandmother Yurble. I would have done anything for her. And so I did.

***

      I started classes a month after my fourth birthday. My grandmother paid for them of course, I couldn't expect my parents to care or to spend Neopoints on such a ridiculous endeavor. There I was, four years and one month old, standing against the wall, staring apprehensively at the gleaming wooden floors, at the mirrors surrounding me, at the barre. The other students were chatting, playing tag or – just like me – sulking at the edges of the room and calculating the others. I was a quiet, shy child, apprehensive and evasive when first meeting new Neopets. Looking in the mirror I saw a small blue Zafara dressed in a pink leotard, pink skirt, pink socks and pink ballet shoes. Holding my hair back was a pink headband. Luckily pink was the normal attire in this class, because I felt like a giant piece of bubble gum.

      I would be lying if I said I wanted to take those classes back then. Structured dancing frightened me, I much more preferred to twirl on my own in the living room or garden. The teacher was a severe-looking Gelert dressed completely in black and incidentally gifted with longest legs I had ever seen. She carried a long wooden stick which she enjoyed banging on the floor to give us the counts or just to frighten us when we looked as if we were losing our attention. Madame Gertrude was her name. I was terrified of her. We were a class of ten young girls. Most pupils were Gelerts or Lupes, long-legged children. Luckily for me someone in the class had an even unluckier build and became my natural ally: Poppy the Red Cybunny. For years on end Poppy struggled with her short legs, trying as she could to elongate her muscles and strengthen her feet so they would look good when pointed. I had fairly decent legs to stretch out, but my upper body was sadly longer than my lower body, giving me a strange lopsided aspect considering ballet standards. We were laughingstocks, Poppy and I. Try as we might, we would and could never possess the ideal body for classical ballet.

***

      When I was fourteen, Poppy quit. We were then up to four hours of classes a week, and even though I struggled, I always got there in the end. Poppy, though, was sick of being yelled at by Madame Gertrude and even sicker of being teased (which is a mild term) by our classmates. Disheveled and disgusted, she left mid-class one murky Friday-afternoon and never looked back. We were just about to start our first pointe lessons and it was plain and simple that no pointe shoes would fit Poppy's Cybunny feet. She quit before more humiliation could pull her further down. For me, starting pointe was what I had been suffering for the past ten years. Long legs may not have been mine, but strong feet and rock-hard calves were, just what you needed to balance yourself on a pair of pointes.

     During our first lessons a friendly yellow Aisha bustled in the classroom holding tottering piles of boxes. Each box contained various pairs of pointes of different brands and sizes. When we were each fitted, we moved to the barre and Madame Gertrude gave us simple exercises to warm up our feet and break in our new shoes.

      Something clicked when I first stood on pointe. Literally. I felt my instep go over my toes and the back of my foot arch itself into a perfect balance. If it had been up to me, I never would have taken my pointes off. The soft pink satin of the shoes acted like a second skin and perfectly hugged my feet. After a few months of lessons aimed at strengthening our feet and calves, two of us were allowed to start simple exercises in the center, without the help of a barre. The other student was a Red Gelert, Gianna, a haughty fifteen year-old with perfect feet and lines. She always wore her hair in a pristine bun and was escorted to lessons by her mother, an equally haughty Green Gelert. As we were the only advanced students "en pointe", we had to partner each other, which often led to tricky situations. Gianna would let go of my hand to soon and I would almost fall over and sprain my ankle, Gianna would – by mistake – slap me in the face as she came out of a turn, Gianna would do everything to make me seem like the lesser dancer.

      The year of my fourteenth birthday was also the year that we were being accompanied by live piano music during classes. A very old green Wocky lady sat commandingly behind the piano and glared at us through her half-moon spectacles. She wore a red velvet and slightly moth-eaten dress and put her grey hair in a tight and perfectly round bun on top of her head. The only time I ever saw her truly smile was when she closed her eyes and let her fingers run freely across the keys. Mostly one would see her face split into an evil grin whenever one of us messed up an exercise and got yelled at by the teacher. I didn't like her much.

***

      At fifteen I attended an audition for the NBS (Neopian Ballet School), the official school leading right to the major ballet company in Neopia: The Neopia City Ballet (NCB). Out of the three hundred girls and boys trying out, twenty were selected to integrate the school and the most intensive ballet course Neopia had to offer. I was chosen. Gianna wasn't.

      For the next three years I wore uniforms of different colors, indicating the grade I was in. We went from crimson, to black, to bottle green for our senior year. The year my class got to wear the bottle green leotards, skirts and other accessories, was the year of various nervous breakdowns. We were not only required to excel in our classical technique, but also in contemporary ballet. A form of dancing none of us really had any experience in.

      At age seventeen we were preparing for our final exams, the last one's we would ever take part in. Needless to explain the different types of stress and strain this inflicted upon each individual but also our group. A friend who was as good as you or better, was no longer considered a friend. A Neopet sure to fail because of their inferior technique en general strength became a closest friend. It was as if a colorless and odorless venom had spread under our dormitory doors, into the halls and classrooms and even in the cafeteria's healthy foods. It was toxic and deadly. Our group broke apart.

      It wasn't soon after I had noticed this, that Natasha, a Brown Lupe, broke one of her legs tripping over a bandana in the middle of class. Now, I am prepared to swear that bandana was not there when she prepared her pirouette and then it suddenly appeared on the floor when she started doing her pirouette, causing her to fall to the floor with a sickening crunch. Natasha was the best ballerina and all-round dancer in our group. Six weeks in a plaster would set her back gravely and maybe even ruin her chances at the end-of-term exams.

      Luckily for me, none of my classmates considered me to be a threat. With my strange Zafara legs, arms and body, I most certainly did not possess the ideal figure for a dancer. All the professional dancers in the company were Lupes or Gelerts, maybe an odd Lenny here and there, but that was it. So I let the Lupes and Gelerts compete with each other and I kept to myself, silently but steadily improving my technique and learning to control my body. And the exams weren't the most important part of our last year, the end of year show was.

      Each of us rehearsed two choreographies for a duration of two months. I had one Pas de Deux from the classical variation of the FireLenny Ballet, the other was a modern choreography. My Pas De Deux partner happened to be one of the rare male Lenny's enlisted in the program, named Felix, and also happened to be a Fire Lenny. Needless to say the costume department needn't bother fitting him up with an expensive costume. Downside was that when he lifted me I felt like I would burst into flames. Literally.

      The first three weeks of rehearsal drained me completely. I felt like a zombie: I ate, I danced, I slept. There was time for nothing else. The classical variation was hard, but the contemporary ballet slaughtered me. We moved more across the room, the floor, each other, all twenty of us. The last month before the show was even worse, even the internal competition died down. Nobody seemed to have a breath to spare for being mean or plain evil. My body was ready to give up the day of the performance. We were all in the "catacombs" below the stage, getting ready. Stretching, applying make-up, sowing costumes and trembling when they called our last half hour. We could hear voices from overhead and the sound of hundreds of footsteps shuffling above our heads, looking for their seats, happily chatting.

     Then it began. As I went over my routine in my head one last time, I heard the familiar music of Weewoo Lake tiptoeing through the ceiling. Two more numbers and it was our turn. I went upstairs and hid in the wings, warming up my feet. From across the stage I saw Felix wave at me. I returned a weak smile. He would start, fifty seconds, than I come in.

***

      I take three deep breaths

***

      Eyes of fire. Muscles of steel. Elegant poise. A loose strand of hair tickles my neck. Mustn't flinch. Deep breath. I await the first notes with trepidation. My palms sweaty, my eyes on the floor, my arms resting lightly on the fabric of my skirt, my feet trapped in their pointes. I can hear the ragged quality of my breathing and feel a tremor in my right leg. Music. Curtain. Release.

The End

 
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