"Best Laid Plans" by Megan Zeman
Twelve piquè tours de dedans, six double pirouettes, all en pointe and framed by two penchè arabesques. No big deal. It was the day of my American Ballet Theatre audition, and I had five more minutes to warm up before I was unceremoniously shoved into the cattle call line with the rest of the dreamers. Keep in mind, I had never executed this sequence perfectly before, but I was dancing on the stage of The Met. If anything extraordinary could have happened, it would have been on that stage on that day.
Since arriving, there had been three pre-audition melt downs, fifteen minor injuries, and at least one stage mom heart attack. Still, I was the happiest I’d been in months. Even the smell made my chest do a happy whooshing thing. When you stick 200 normal girls in a room, the smell is probably a combination of Bath and Body Works scents and Starbucks. When you stick 200 dancers in a room, the smell is some delicious blend of sweat, vomit, antiseptic wipes, hairspray, Chanel No. 5, and iron. The iron smell of course coming from the thousands of bloody foot wraps strewn everywhere, and the Chanel coming from the helicopter stage moms. Home sweet home.
I’d stretched so much that my muscles were shaking a little, but that was okay. Once I got on stage, all of the nerves and the shakiness would turn into muscle cramps and stiffness. “Number 433?” That was my rehearsal cue. I pushed myself out of second position and absently fiddled with my bun. I stepped over bleeding and crying girls and tried to steady my legs, so they wouldn’t see me shake.
Once in the rehearsal hall, I began my dance without music. Odette’s Lament had been permanently drilled into my brain, and it would help my technique if I could do the whole piece without music anyways. I pushed up onto demi pointe and allowed myself forward. I felt the sore muscles of my back resist the near impossible position, but as I did with most things, I completely ignored them and exhaled, leaning forward slowly. Every single muscle in my body was shaking with pain; that’s how I knew it looked good. I glanced up at my 2 o’clock spotting point and burned the image into my brain. That spot is the only thing that would keep me from falling on my ass in front of the most prominent ballerinas in the world. I floated back down (“There needs to be beauty and grace in your fingernails, Beth!”) and began the hardest part of my sequence.
Piquè tours de dedan (spot), double pirouette (spot spot), piquè tours de dedan (spot), double pirouette (spot spot). It was all going great up to that point. My abs were clenched so tightly that I thought I may vomit, but my facial expression was light and pretty. I could feel the grace in my fingernails. Then it happened. I plièd with my passe leg, pushed up onto pointe with my supporting leg, and SNAP! I crumpled to the ground.
A 98-pound wadded up paper ball that didn’t quite make it into the trash can. The pain paralyzed me for a moment, and I stared dumbly at my leg. My shoes were frayed and holey already. I had only gotten them a week before. Before my brain could really register what happened, I popped back up. This couldn’t be happening. Not today.
I limped over to the barre and began slowly making circles with my toes. If all my years as a ballerina taught me one thing, it was how to look beautiful when in seemingly unbearable pain. I was on my tenth rotation when the door to the practice room flew open and slammed against the wall. “Time’s up, Lezzy. Oh, sorry. Lizzie.” I rolled my eyes in time with my foot.
“Courtney, you’re looking particularly malicious today. Tell me, is Satan recovering nicely from being dethroned?” I watched her perfect, white teeth disappear behind her lips through the mirror.
“Oh, very funny, Lezzy. That’s a great one. Now, if you’ll excuse me. You’re cutting into my rehearsal time.” She set down her duffel and began taking off her warmups. Her hands crossed in front of her impossibly flat stomach and grabbed the hem of her sweater. A huge butterfly fluttered from my throat down into my lower belly. I snuck a peek at the line of smooth stomach before quickly grabbing my bag and warmups. Trying not to limp, I made my way quickly out of the rehearsal hall. “Break a leg today, Lezzy,” was the last thing I heard before the door shut behind me.
I hobbled past a hundred skinny, blonde girls doing a hundred pretzel-like stretches and found my little corner. I plopped down and began rummaging through my bag for a fresh foot wrap (let me tell you, the smell coming out of that bag could bring down a fleet of adult elephants). There was one at the very bottom of my bag, all crumpled up and dotted with dried blood. But once I took my pointe shoe off, my ankle began to swell. Like, a lot.
Suddenly, my right foot was on fire, and I panicked. Hyperventilating, the whole works. The realization of that day and my injury were all crashing down around me. Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god. I couldn’t dance Swan Lake. There was no way my ankle would hold out. There was also no way I would get into ABT without that sequence. The only other dance I had prepared was The Red Shoes, and that wasn’t nearly classic enough for a major audition. It was fast paced, sassy, and a little racy. But, I didn’t have much of a choice.
I ripped off my other shoe and limped over to the sign in desk. I grabbed the red Sharpie from the desk attendant’s hand and furiously started scribbling. My baby pink pointe shoes (a cool $180, might I add) were now fire engine red. “Number 433, on deck.” I went back over to my duffel and grabbed my iPod. I even shot up a prayer to Martha Graham to appease the dance gods. As I was limping down the tiny cement hallway of Lincoln Center, holding Sharpie red pointe shoes, and an old iPod, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself.
I had been rehearsing for this audition my entire life. I could dance before I could walk. I knew Swan Lake before Snow White, and I had been in the Nutcracker before most kids were in preschool. That Swan Lake sequence was my ticket in. I allowed myself to giggle a few seconds more before pushing open the backstage door. Dancers are great because of their passion, not their technique. Red Shoes certainly had passion, and so did I. I forgot about Courtney, expectations, tradition, and my ankle, and stepped onto the stage.