With Each Other And Moving
By Paul Schweer
I needed to get outfitted. There was a dance supply store located near campus that I figured would have whatever gear I needed. It was a narrow space behind a painted storefront window in a strip mall, next to a sports bar. Inside were racks of cute little girl outfits, a few shelves of small stuffed animals dressed in pastel tutus, a wall of tiny tap and toe shoes, and some copies of a shrink-wrapped Degas calendar.
There were several women in the shop, and one mother with two little girls. All the women were small. The one who approached me looked to be in her early twenties. She smiled an odd smile and said, "Are you here to pick up something for somebody?"
"I'm taking a ballet class and need," I said, "whatever it is I need."
She blinked. "What class are you taking?"
I'd brought the class syllabus with me. I showed it to her.
"Okay," she said. "You'll need some tights. What are you, six-three?"
"Something like that."
She led me to a display, selected a large plastic pouch and handed it to me. It appeared to contain a folded pair of black pantyhose. There was a shirtless male model on the cover, wearing whatever it was in the bag.
I said, "I don't look like that. I am a forty-year-old fat man. You sure this is what I need?"
"We're out of the shirts in your size. You can just wear a white cotton t-shirt," she said."Tucked in. And you'll need shoes. I think we have some that might be big enough."
I said okay. "What else do I need?"
"A belt," she said. And from another display she selected some sort of spare undergarment. The 'belt' was clipped to a hanger. It looked like something patched together by someone who, having set out to construct a jock strap, ran out of material and made instead a demented thong. She took another size from the display and handed both to me. "Try them on over your boxers. See which one fits better."
It didn't seem appropriate for me to mention that I was wearing briefs.
I locked myself in the pink dressing room and took off my shoes and pants. The large belt was snug, supportive, and uncomfortable in a wedgie kind of way; trying on the medium felt like a diagnostic medical procedure.
I went with the large.
I sat on a bench outside the door, looking through a book on ballet basics again, reviewing the diagrams, the illustrations of proper posture, placement of the feet, carriage of the arms. The parking lot was full, but I was the only one there. Sitting with my back to the dance studio entrance, I watched the people coming and going. The cars circled, looking for a space to fit in.
When finally another student arrived, I said hello and followed her in. A small crowd gathered before long. Everyone was female. Except me.
I changed in the men's dressing room. Black shoes, black tights and a white shirt tucked in don’t leave much to the imagination. Not that it mattered much. Not as long as I stayed in the dressing room. I took a grip on the door handle and pulled.
I made my way to a corner of the big room, away from the big mirrored wall, and sat in a chair partly behind a big storage cabinet. There was a little conversation happening, but it was mostly quiet. And it stayed that way until our professor arrived. Some of the students gathered around her, asking questions about the class. Much of what they asked had to do with dress, what was appropriate. What was required.
"Pink tights," our professor said to someone. "This is ballet."
"They didn't have pink in my size," I said.
"You are then excused," she said, and turned a bit to have a look at me, "from wearing pink. Black will do for you."
Just as we began another male student arrived. He hung to the side, in his street clothes, until prompted to go change. He reappeared a few minutes later. In black tights, black shoes and a white shirt.
We began with the feet, finding positions. Then moved to the barre, a rail that ran along the wall. We moved our feet, pointed our toes, lifted our legs, and balanced on the balls of our feet. We remained at the barre for about an hour.
There are, apparently, muscles very near and surrounding the hip joint. I had never noticed them before, but deduced they were there from the pain induced at the barre. I became more convinced of their existence when, after another pitiful attempt to find a basic foot position, my right hip joint cramped. But a joint can't cramp, can it? No matter, really. Whatever it was my hip did was simply the first of many foreign and unexplained pains.
The exercises we did at the barre were not what I'd call odd or exotic. They were in fact fairly straight forward. We were asked only to attempt them, and praised for any near approximation.
It all seemed to my mind perfectly reasonable. But my body disagreed.
"Bring one of those to the middle of the floor," she said to me.
What she wanted was a portable barre, one of two off to the side. Sturdy looking. Heavy maybe. Long. I picked one and stood in the middle, grabbed hold, put my hips under it.
"Maybe someone should help him...."
I carried the barre, balanced at a center point. Letting it rotate. Lining it up.
While I was setting it down, lowering the weight by bending my knees, I caught a look at myself in the mirrored wall. And heard rather a lot of giggling.
I didn't face the mirror. I stood at the wall opposite, where I could imagine what I was doing without having to see the reality. My fingertips were on the barre, my eyes on a printed quote pasted on the wall above my hands: Limited by imagination and two legs.
There was music to guide our movements, to keep us together. Didn't keep me from losing my place. Losing my balance. Didn't help much trying to follow the directions I heard.
Lift from the bottom. Isolate the movement.
We moved to the middle of the floor. Nothing to touch. No support.
Hands on your hips.
Balance. Two feet, where they've always been.
Down at the far end of my legs.
Down there somewhere.
We practiced turning. Rotating our bodies while keeping our heads still as long as possible, snapping our heads around at the last moment, focusing again on a spot somewhere.
We did the movements. The instructor made the necessary corrections.
I will tell you what needs fixing. You keep your head up. Learn to feel what is right.
We did the step again. The same one we'd done for a while. Then she combined that step with another. Wasn't long before I was pretty much lost.
You must concentrate. Ballet is exercise for the mind.
We tried the same combination again. With the same result.
You cannot allow breaks in you concentration. It must be constant.
She pointed a remote at the cabinet across the room, and the music stopped. She sat.
"It probably explains why I was so addicted to dance," she said. "The concentration it requires."
We were spread out across the floor, in three lines, facing the mirror. In the front line was a redhead rolling her weight onto the edge of one foot, down again, then onto the edge of the other foot. She watched herself covertly in the mirror. Looked a little bit around the room.
"Didn't matter what had gone on during the day. What had happened. If my parents yelled at me. I could come to dance class and it all went away."
Then it was my turn to be in the front line, facing the mirror, half the class behind me. Me in my tights, ass hanging out where they couldn't miss it - just do the move - trying to move my leg like she wanted.
In the mirror I saw my leg move. And it wasn't ugly. For a moment in the mirror.
The redhead went blond. She said she spent hours getting it done, sitting still in a chair. Waiting while chemicals burned her scalp. Crying in the end, wishing it was done. Not understanding why it had to hurt, why it took so long for the red to go away.
Her hair had turned out more monochrome white than believable blond. She had pulled it up and tied it down tight into a small bun high on her head. Left a lot of shoulder and back exposed - she lost her balance. Badly enough to take a couple steps before standing upright again. She took a quick look around the room. I didn't look back, but I heard her laughing an odd laugh.
All of us bunched into a corner. We crossed together, two at a time, from one corner of the room to the other.
One bent knee onto a flat foot, one step straight-legged up on a toe, then another before bending a knee onto another flat foot.
... one-two-three, one-two-three...
Two of us together, but moving on our own. Me listening...
... one-two-three, one-two-three...
…trying to move in time with the counting. Watching the room recede, and then not really seeing much. Just listening, trying to move with it.
... one-two-three, one-two-three...
Then for a moment, moving, it seemed, together with the counting. Together with each other. And moving, and counting, and moving.
No, no, no!
We all stopped.
Little jumps! Skipping! Like you were skipping!
Jumps! Let's try. Little jumps, like skipping. Whoever manages to jump highest wins.
"What's the prize?" I said.
"What?" she said.
"The prize," I said. "The winner's prize."
"I don't know. Pizza? Maybe. A coupon? A coupon for a large pizza," she said.
"I don't believe you."
"You will demonstrate."
To the other corner, please. Show us all.
So I did.
In my little tights. In the middle of the mirrored dance studio, while everybody watched...Skipping, little jumps, all the way across the room.
"Those guys," she said. "Those construction guys."
Sometimes she arrived wearing her tights, hidden under some sort of loose-fitting outfit.
"I hate walking past them. There's no way around."
Sometimes a skirt, some simple top.
"They say the rudest things."
Same old routine, before every class, everyone trying to get changed without stepping on each other. Going in and out of the small changing rooms. One at a time. Waiting on each other.
"Sorry," somebody said.
"Why?" someone said back.
"Sorry for seeing you in that goofy outfit?"
Sooner or later we're all on the floor, doing whatever warm up we do. Waiting for class to start. Watching each other.
"Anybody else feel naked in these things?"
The tights were getting tighter, shrinking from being washed after every class. Or maybe my ass was just getting bigger. Every few minutes I reached back and around, pulling up on the waistband.
My t-shirt was longer than necessary. It bunched up in spots, tucked underneath the tights, little lumps on my hips and abdomen. Above the tights the t-shirt bloused out, a fluffy wrap of white around my waist. It stretched tight over my belly when we all posed with a straight leg pointed behind.
We all did the same thing. Together. Moved in the same way, memorized the same steps. Practiced the same combinations.
Again and again.
Photos courtesy of
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