She ate one of the plums she had bought, fruit meant to last for both breakfast and lunch. Its surprisingly juicy interior left a long sticky trail down her bony chin. She wiped it away, inhaled the plumy sweetness deeply, and inhaled the air, deeply.
Everyone coming today, Sharon?" she asked the receptionist at the desk. The woman behind the glass pane at the dance studio smiled at her and nodded. No laggards today. She knew how much Bethany hated to have anyone absent, even though the girls she taught were only in grade school.
Yes, we had no cancellations. No one is sick with allergies or spring colds -- yet," said Sharon. Sharon, a large, pillowy, matronly woman, gazed at the gazelle-like Bethany and giggled. "You work those little girls to hard," she said. "They're only children."
From children, great dancers spring," said Bethany solemnly. Sharon giggled again and took a bite of her morning jelly doughnut, slurped her creamy coffee.
The little girls filtered in, tip-toeing with eagerness, none of them looking back to the mothers who dropped them off. Some of the mothers remained in the waiting room to chat and to peruse the old issues of Good Housekeeping, so they could take little peeps at their darling Suzies and Jennifers and MAdisons while the girls transformed themselves into flowers and swans through the power of Miss Bethany's teaching. Other mothers departed for early morning yoga classes and salon appointments.
In the changing room, the little dancers were full of gossip and giggles, and there were some proud exhibitions of the latest American Girl doll accessories that had been secretly stashed away in their dance bags. But on the blonde, shiny floor of the recital studio, all was seriousness. Miss Bethany placed the CD in the stereo. "Spring" blared across the studio, this time a triumphant burst of joy and feeling. She explained that this was the music they would be dancing to, for the upcoming recital. They were the littlest, so they would dance spring, while the older girls at the studio would take on the roles of summer, fall, and winter. It was very important, she stressed, that they do a good job at the rehearsal, since they would be opening the show.
Warm-up. First position, second position.
Tuck your stomach in, Anne," said Miss Bethany.
More turnout, Rachel," she said, and gently guided the girl's feet into the correct, splay-footed carriage.
After the little girls had warmed up, she again put on "Spring" and explained the choreography to them. For some young dancers, no doubt, there would have been much eye-rolling at the selection of a classical piece. But these little girls worshipped Miss Bethany. Although only twenty-eight years old, to their impressionable eyes and minds she seemed impossibly old and wise. They could not imagine being so sophisticated, so pale, with such dark hair, and looking so elegant in torn t-shirts and faded leotards. Miss Bethany even knew how to play piano by ear, and occasionally she would go to the piano in the corner of the room and pound out a few bars of the Vivaldi "Spring" for them to hear more clearly, as she tried to grill them in the first few basic movements of the arrangement before class ended. When the recital was staged, a professional player would come in, and make them all feel like prima ballerinas with the excellence of his playing.
After class, many of the mothers shook their heads. "I don't know how you do it," they said, "how you get so much out of these little girls, Beth. Ariel, I wish you would focus as much on your homework as you do for Miss Bethany." Bethany smiled at these comments, and felt a surge of pride within her heart. Yes, her choreography was simply, designed to suit the mixed talents of her class, none of whom were likely to go on to become professional dancers. But it was her goal to make their dancing and their movements look as professional as possible. Even if none of them danced for American Ballet Theater, as she had, it was her goal to make it appear as if it might seem as they could, one day. It was her goal that even the slightly lumpy, dumpy, and pigeon-toed could sail like nymphs, butterflies, and droplets of spring rain when Vivaldi played.
Two of the mothers, walking their little girls home, marveled at their luck in finding Miss Bethany. "I hear she used to dance for ABT," said one of them, dragging her fingers through her sweaty hair. She had just been to the gym, but envied Miss Bethany's flat stomach and spindly legs.
She did," said her friend, who had watched the whole class, a noted stage mother amongst all of those mothers, teachers, and dancers familiar with the studio's politics.
Why did she stop?"
The other woman gasped. "Don't you know?"
It would be an hour before the next class, slightly older but just as rapt and eager, made its way through the studio doors. Bethany began to play a song on the piano -- "Moonlight Sonata," which she knew by heart, even though she had never taken a single lesson. The song played in her mind, even after she moved away from the piano.
First position. Second position. She stood there, hand lightly on the bar, cursing the way that all of her weight had to rest on one leg, her one good leg that was left. Beneath the silky black warm-up pants favored by all the instructors was Bethany's secret, a secret that everyone knew about -- that when she was dancing for ABT she had been in a car crash, from which she emerged lucky to walk again, but never to dance again. Oh, she could dance enough to demonstrate for the younger girls -- sort of. Her left leg was a wrinkled, hollowed out bit of bone, with almost no muscle, feeling, nerves left in it, in stark contrast to the swelling muscles of her right leg and the leanness of the rest of her body. But to leap, to leap with the heart of a dancer -- no more, her legs remained on the floor, even while her soul ascended to the sky. Like a musician listening in deafness to his own composition played by a full orchestra, she thought as the "Moonlight Sonata" continued to filter though her mind. Yes, she was lucky to be alive, she knew, lucky to have danced at all, but why did she, in moments of solitude, so often feel like winter inside, even when teaching girls in the springtime of their dancing lives?
Recapitulation chose the Vivaldi and the Beethoven as a challenge, to make the familiar unfamiliar through my examination of the musical works and my creation of a story. I also liked the storytelling aspect of both contrasting pieces, one joyful, one melancholy. I hoped that the contrasting use of these two works showed a different way of looking at a character's personal tragedy, triumph, and residual sadness, a character partly inspired by Beethoven's own heroic struggles to create music after he lost his hearing.