Hooked #1By: Claire Adams
I stood in the shadows of the dance studio, watching the sun as it began its ascent over my side street, Le Moyne Avenue. Six o’clock in the morning. I watched an old man scuttle down the street, a bag of bagels from the local shop on the corner bobbing in his left hand. My stomach rumbled. I stretched my arms high over my head, feeling the taut muscles loosen slowly, aching in the quiet of the morning. Wicker Park, my newly-adopted neighborhood in Chicago, was just waking up. And yet, I’d been awake for an hour, working my way through a few cups of coffee, programming myself for the days ahead. My dance assistant, Melanie, had called earlier that morning to announce she couldn’t attend any of the classes that day; her baby, Carson, had been sick for several days, leaving me on my own in my shadowy studio.
It was my second year at Molly Says Dance, the dance studio I had begun in those initial months after college, stumbling into wake-up adulthood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had studied dance at Butler University, down in Indianapolis, Indiana, but all the months of training, of auditioning, had left me rough, battered. Instead of embarking on a life of touring, of continuous hairspray, I had fled to the city, away from my mother, and toward the light, the vibrancy of the skyscrapers. Lake Michigan shook with such intensity next to this city. It felt like a continuous war between nature and man was eternally at play.
The high school students would be arriving at seven. Some of the girls, the better ones, took dance from me every day—just an hour and fifteen minutes before rushing off to the school down the road, their ballet shoes tossed into their backpacks and their blush ruffled up on their high cheekbones. They all had such hope for their dance lives, for their careers. None of them ate bagels. After all, like me at their age, they were watching their figure.
I turned toward the dance studio once more, away from the window, still feeling the warmth in the cup of coffee in my hands. I was wearing my leotard and my tights. I had allowed my hair to drape down my back, curling slightly in that feminine way I always had liked in college, after my ballet bun came spinning down. I tossed my foot out before me, draping it into its stunning, straight, ballet pose. I turned myself in quick rotations, feeling the natural rhythm of my body as it spun, spun, spun back toward the office. I was so centered, so focused. I didn’t spill a lick of my coffee. Pausing before I entered the office to do brief busywork in the moments before my girls arrived, I made eye contact with myself in the mirror. I traced my still-supple, twenty-four-year-old body and nodded. I still had it. I was still okay. If I wanted to be a real dancer—beyond the realms of this 200-square-foot Wicker Park dance studio, the one I could hardly pay rent for month to month —I could. I could be a successful dancer.
The first girl jangled into the shop. Her bun was high atop her head. I imagined her mother doing it that morning, pulling it tighter and tighter, stretching her daughter’s skin and eyes taut.
“Ashley,” I called to her, setting my coffee cup down on my desk. “How are you doing?”
Ashley bowed her head, a little too shy for early morning talk. She let out a small peep—a “good”—and then sauntered to the side of the room where the girls usually put on their shoes together, bringing the laces over their ankles in almost unison. She kept her long eyelashes turned down.
I wasn’t sure what to do while we waited, so I bent down and turned on the radio. The scratchy voice of the Chicago man burst into the room. “Happy Weekend, listeners,” he said, and I realized, in a flash, that another Saturday had come—and I without plans. (Always, this took me away from myself, back to my college days when a Saturday had been God’s gift.)
“Are you doing anything fun tonight?” I asked, turning again toward Ashley. Why couldn’t I connect with this girl? What could I do?
Ashley shrugged her thin shoulders, allowing the awkwardness to filter throughout the air. Drumming my fingers against each other, I finally heard the jangle of the bell as five more ballerinas pushed in, bringing with them the early morning sunshine. It draped across the wooden floor.
“Ladies!” I called to them, bringing my arms wide, away from my body. “So wonderful. So wonderful.” I always tried to fill myself with the spirit of my old dance instructor. How I had loved her! She had been so thoughtful, so personable. She had invited us all to her house for dinner, often, for team bonding—allowing us to play with her cats on the floor as she played her old dance records, from days when she spun around the room, a man at her back. It was so hard for us to remember it, back then; that our dance teacher had once been a training, beautiful dancer as well. I supposed it was difficult for the girls in my class to think that about me—me at twenty-four! But I didn’t want to admit it to myself.