Quaking in my tights and ballet slippers, I considered making a run for the door and forgetting about my dream of making it into New York City’s High School of Performing Art. But my sweaty hand was already in a death grip on the dance barre with other hopeful applicants, and the audition was underway. I was trapped.
An instructor clapped a rhythm and barked out orders, “First position…second position…demi plié…relevé.” She walked up and down the line of students, stopping now and then to reposition a girl’s hips, or tell someone to keep their chin up or ribcage lifted.
My knee made a rather loud cracking sound like that of a walnut fracturing in the grips of Thanksgiving pliers at my first grand plié, or deep knee bend, then did it again on the second…and third dips. The girl behind me let out a muffled giggle, but if anyone else noticed, which I’m sure they did, they had the good graces to remain silent.
Two girls with contortionist-like flexibility at the far end of the barre garnered the lion’s share of the instructor’s attention. They were able to lift their legs sideways and press their calves to their ears, a feat that seemed almost magical to me. I was sure they had exquisite stage-worthy names like Katarina, or Angelique, and without a doubt, the pair would find acceptance letters in their mailboxes as soon as they arrived home.
Tearing herself from the shoo-in sisters, the dour-faced instructor took a final walk down the line. My heart froze as she stopped next to me and demanded more than asked, “What is your name?”
I took a huge gulp—one that, had I been a man, would have sent my Adam’s apple yo-yoing up and down my neck. A mousey “Irene” squeaked from my vocal cords.
“Irene,” she said, then tapped my backside with a narrow baton of sorts, “Tuck in your derrière.”
I squeezed my cheeks as hard as I could and pushed my hips forward, but it was no use. My rather bulbous derrière was as tucked as it was going to get. The mistress of dance turned, walked away, and never so much as glanced at me again.
My ego couldn’t have been more deflated as I rode the subway home. What had I been thinking? Me, a girl who’d started late and studied ballet for a mere year and a half while in junior high school? I’d ventured into territory more fitting for those who’d worn leotards and ballet slippers since they were toddlers. It came as no surprise when I received a rejection letter from the prestigious school.
I’d stepped out, tried my best at something new, and ran headlong into failure.
After striking out at Performing Arts and, later, The Bronx High School of Science, I was accepted into Dodge Vocational High School. For many months, I felt like a loser who got stuck with a consolation prize.
The tide started to turn, though, when I met Mr. May, an English teacher with an infectious enthusiasm for his chosen subject. He spawned in me a desire to once again try something new—creative writing. I remember his excitement as he helped me put together an article for the school newspaper titled, “Smash, Crash, Window Bash,” about a recent spate of window breakages at the school. Who knew a simple story could be so invigorating?
Now, with three novels under my belt, a fourth in the pipeline, and another sixty-percent complete, I can honestly say that taking a chance on a writing career has enriched my life in more ways than I can express.
My body may have never fit the mold of that of a prima ballerina, but it’s a perfect fit for my office chair where I pen the stories for my next novels. Who knows, my next heroine may be a ballerina, and I’ll dance vicariously through her.
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