Lysha was aware that in the world of ballet, every dancer seemed to have a sort of innate beauty in how they carried themselves. The awareness of their bodies. The care in each movement. For a younger, queer girl, it was difficult with both her peers in those skin-tight, clinging leotards, and then, of course, the more mature, more graceful instructors – all legs, pointe, hair perfectly tied up, dark and serious eyes.
When she got to college, the idea of taking private lessons seemed like a blessing, but she completely underestimated how her body would react with those long fingers adjusting her shoulders, the bend of her back, the lift of her thigh.
It was horribly, horribly embarrassing and distracting.
But the worst of it was her instructor’s voice – Sasha’s voice – and the way that it commanded her.
“That’s right, Lysha,” she said. “Visualize the way that your muscles are moving, working for me here. All that strain and tension make perfect form over time. They’re learning how to move and shift.”
Her body felt almost obedient, twisting and bending automatically. She wanted so badly to make Sasha proud; she’d watched her dance before; some of the most grace she’d seen in ballet. Over time in their lessons, her movements felt more automatic, more effortless than she’d ever felt in practice before. Sometimes, it was like their sessions were a blur, just sweat and physical strain, but mentally so at peace, almost unthinking.
She was already forgetting how she was holding her leg up high to stretch it, staring blankly at the wall, until Sasha spoke again.
“Very nice,” she said, and her tone and approval made her tense up, trying to hide a blush. “Now, let me see the first part of the routine.”
That feeling washed over Lysha again, her mind instantly calming, her body positioning itself exactly as she needed to be, muscles tensing and contracting as she went to first position, raised her arms, let one down, stop thinking, just doing…
“Beautiful,” came Sasha’s voice. “Remember, sweetie, it’s a classic piece; you’re a figure in a music box, a doll…”
Lysha breathed in and let it wash over her – that quality of glassiness to her eyes, opening them wide and letting them flutter, exaggeratedly. A stiffness to her limbs. Keeping her torso centered to the ground, as though she was held there, helplessly twirling and dancing…
“Let yourself go deeper into it…”
And Lysha needed so badly to work hard for her, that paradoxical idea of putting so much effort into being effortless, all of the focus that she had left being put on how to be more graceful, more like an object, make Sasha see her as a pretty porcelain figurine… The thoughts trapping her inside of them, almost like a high, fading away and out –
“Stop there a moment,” Sasha said, her voice clear and full in her head, and Lysha’s body froze obediently, perfectly, down to her stilled eyelashes and her dilated pupils and her stunted thoughts.
Footsteps coming towards her, Sasha’s lithe hands posing and making adjustments to her arms and fingers, correcting just the slightest bit.
“Remember your fingers,” she said. “Now, go ahead.”
Blank-minded, wide-eyed, Lysha’s body continued to dance.