Peanut-butter sandwich, check. Judy Blume book, check. Water bottle, ballet bag and any evidence that I might not have gone to class ... check, check and check.
I dropped my backpack and collapsed on a nearby grassy patch. Despite my reputation as the most athletic girl in seventh grade, the run had brought a red tinge to my cheeks and a dull ache to my side. The breeze blew up the hill from the playground, a chilly reminder that I didn’t have the luxury of carelessness. I pushed my bag behind an imposing tree, glancing over my shoulder down at the baseball fields. Parents filled the stands, watching their children play. Even from a distance, a few recognizable faces stood out, faces that would most likely break into a smile at seeing me. But not today.
I checked my watch: 10:30. Rehearsal was just beginning, I wondered if they would even notice my absence. Doubtful. I had missed many classes in the past couple of months, but they didn’t seem to care; I had only received two phone calls on the machine, which I’d hurriedly erased.
The elastic of my leotard dug into my hips. I shifted, inadvertently knocking my bag over. A shoelace fell out, a trivial trinket to most people. But not me.
The dance studio was stark white - the walls, ceiling and floor. We’re told that white accentuates the lines of a dancer’s body clothed in a dark leotard and pink tights. I don’t buy that for a minute. I read somewhere that modern interrogation rooms are whitewashed and intensely lit in order to disorient the suspect. Ballet requires brainwashing; very few would do it by choice.
Fred De Mayo was my main instructor. He was a puzzle, with an Italian last name, Russian training and enough German colloquialisms to last through warm-up. He was old enough to have grandchildren, but young enough to have the energy to push girls to the next level. I’d watched the older girls as they prepared for auditions and went off to School of American Ballet, Juilliard and other companies. Then one day I realized something: they weren’t older anymore. It took me an entire episode of "TRL" to decide. I could see myself as a spy, I could see myself teaching kindergarten, I could even see myself practicing law. But not ballet.
At the last class I actually attended, Mr. De Mayo gave out shoelaces to wear tied around our waists at all times to keep us aware of our stomach muscles. I’d dangled mine in front of me, like a failed test. That’s when I knew I had pliéd my final plié.
Unfortunately, he wouldn’t announce the upcoming Parent’s Day until the following week. This was when all the mothers (including mine) would attend to watch the girls leap and stretch. She would watch many other daughters prance around, smiling at the crowd, shoelace bows bouncing. But not hers.
I guess it must have been around that time that my mother came home pretty angry that I hadn’t been attending classes. After hours of begging, and rationalizing that my mind would be wasted in ballet, she finally conceded, with the stipulation that I finish out the quarter. But there was no way I was wrapping a shoelace around me and pretending to enjoy the last few days of torture, which is how I ended up underneath the oak tree, chewing my sandwich and reading chapter five of Blubber.
In another hour and a half, I would begin my journey home, dodging looks from family friends at the baseball field, and conjuring up a tale of my last rehearsal to tell my mother. For the past eight years, I’d taken ballet lessons, and they had been a major part of my life. But not any more.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.