After the rain, the wind, the bottled water and batteries, there is a quiet city. School was cancelled. The streets are still. People are walking everywhere. Everyone wants to know if you have power, even though you live just a block away. But it’s a city. We only talk to our neighbors when the rains come.
We are going slightly batty here. There is only so much that one little girl who prefers to play with instead of near her mother can do. There are only so many crafts and TV shows and Junie B Jones books. We both long for our schedules.
So when it was true that ballet class was going on as scheduled, we were both happy. We went to a halloween event at a local farm, and then to the JCC, still in her minnie mouse costume.
In the bathroom, where the chlorine smell always lingers, she changes her clothes. Minnie Mouse is abandoned on the floor, and she smooths pink tights on her long legs. The blue leotard, the little filmy blue skirt and pink shoes with the bows on the toes. “Fix my hair,” she asks. “Like Miss Jessica does.” Ordinarily, it’s the after school care staff who bring her to her lesson. I do my best to emulate the after school counselor. Dressed, she floats to the hallway, and leaps and prances for anyone who wants to watch, and a few people who don’t.
She stands differently dressed like this. Her neck is long and elegant, her shoulders ever so slightly back, the slender points of her shoulder blades poke from her leotard. Even these bony wings are graceful.
Only three girls come to class today. The other three are stuck home with blocked roads. The barres are pulled out to the floor, and two girls stand at one, Selam and her teacher at the other. The go through their paces, gently listening to the teacher’s words. One at a time, she has them demonstrate an arabesque. Each girl lifts her chin just so, and pulls her leg out behind. They are little ducklings, colts–caught somewhere between elegant and ridiculous. It is Selam’s turn, and I expect to suppress a giggle. She can be so awkward and silly. She lifts her chin, pulls one arm forward. Her fingers fall just slightly, not uniformly, just, well, perfectly. Her leg goes back into the air, and time stops. My breath stops for just a second.
She is stunning.
Her muscles are long and lean. Her toes point, but don’t look forced. And her expression…..she sees something in that mirror, something that is worthy of the secret smile that is almost at her lips.
The teacher stands beside her, looks to the door and catches my eye. There is a tiny nod.
Selam holds the pose a second longer, and then collapses to the floor, giggling, tugging at the Dora the Explorer underpants that peek out beneath the tights.
It’s like she could feel it, that yawning second where time stood still and the girl who likes Minnie Mouse and arts and crafts took flight. It was too much. She had to break it. I’m almost glad she did.
The class continues. The girls push the barres back and move through their positions. One, Two, Three, Four, Five. The recorded piano music sounds tinny on the boom box. A tuft falls from Selam’s high bun. The teacher sneezes.
One–and Two—and Three–and Four–and Five. Again.