I awoke in écarté. My left arm curved around the pillow and up to the headboard and my right foot arched toward tightly pointed toes. I looked longingly askance at the wall. Yes, I lay horizontal on the bed, but otherwise it was perfect. I held in position until I drifted back asleep.
My daughter came bounding in at seven and poked me.
"Dad, you awake?" Allie asked, running her nine-year-old fingers up and down my side. I clenched so fast it took the breath out of me.
She kissed my cheek and said she wanted pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice. "Ballet fuel," she called it.
From the folding chairs for parents, I watched the advanced group striking the poses that the instructor called out. Allie looked so serious it almost hurt. My muscles twitched with each pose.
In the car on the way home, Allie asked me, "Dad, am I body shaming you when I call you my fat dad?"
"Where did you hear about body shaming, love?"
"There's a poster about it in the changing room."
In the rearview mirror, I saw her tiny brow as furrowed as it could be.
"No, that's different. I know 'fat dad' is a term of affection when you say it."
"What if I call you my stout dad? Isn't that better?"
"Sure, that's fine."
"You're my stout dad because 'stout' means brave and fat."
That night, I kept waking up in new positions. Croisé devant, croisé derrière, épaulé. I awoke surprised to find my body in each attitude, and the fact that I knew what they were called. Poised but relaxed, I breathed into the position until the curtain of sleep closed. Then it opened again some hours later on yet another pose.
I showed Allie when she came in the next morning, even finishing with á la quatrième devant, right foot arched magnificently into pointed toes.
"Dayaad!" She was in a phase where she threw in 'y's for emphasis. "You can't do ballet! You're my stout dad, and stout dads don't do ballet." She patted my belly.
But after her class, as she was changing out of her leotard, I approached the instructor, Elena, to ask if they had classes for adults. Her eyes widened and she coughed.
"I…" Again the cough. "Why?"
I leaned down to put the jackets in an empty seat, and, as I stood back up, I moved into effacé devant. The awkward point of my tennis shoe was offset by the perfect curve of my left arm, the diagonal line down to my right fingertips, and my wistful contemplation of my bent left hand.
I saw Elena's mouth open. Someone said "Wow" behind me.
"You…" Elena whispered. "You could rent the studio," she managed to get out.
"Yes," I said. "Perfect."
That night, I came halfway awake as my body moved from the crossed legs and curved arm of croisé to a flat-on-my-back á la seconde, the right toes pointed, arms spread. And just as I was on the verge of slipping once more into sleep, my body twisted right into épaulé, as, of course, it should.
Ten to eleven p.m. on Thursdays. I got a neighbor to stay at our place in case Allie woke up. Elena gave me the keys. "Drop them through the mail slot when you're finished," she said.
The wood boards flexed under my feet, my stout body reflected in the mirror. I warmed up the way I'd seen the girls do it.
Then they came flooding to me, the positions, and it was all I could do to keep up as they propelled me through the space. I had worried I wouldn't be able to do them, standing up, but it was the bed that had impeded me all along. I popped into the air with pointed toes, arms straight out, and as I came down from chassé broke into en couru flying across the floor, only to stop short in arabesque, one leg straight back, torso and arms extended in the opposite direction. Even when I was out of breath and had to pause, the positions continued in my mind: back straight, knees bent exactly over feet, muscles ready, then up, tendu with both legs, tight, extended, and down for a soft landing, toes, heels, knees bending into demi plié once more.
Notes from the Author
I have a daughter but she has never taken a ballet class. Instead, this story came to me in a dream. And yet, I can see her dancing, and she has certainly made similarly delightfully honest observations.