I waited in the wings. My heart abused the inside of my chest with a relentless pounding. My view of the stage swirled and spun, but I hadn’t started dancing yet. I looked down at my feet. The pink satin was faded and torn from countless rehearsals, but kept much of its pale shine; my pointe shoes were broken-in, but not dead. I carefully bent down to readjust my ribbons for the eighth time since I tied them in the first place. Every detail had to be perfect. My tutu was slightly too big around my waist, the old elastic was brittle and lazy so I punished it with safety pins, holding it to my leotard. I twisted myself, stretching and bending, rolling through my feet. I could feel yesterday’s show. My blistered toes screamed at me and my hamstrings moaned with a dull soreness. I loved the feeling. That was not a sarcastic comment. Even now, as I write this, my toes swell and throb, my muscles ache. I’ve just finished class. This pain is what matters. It’s evidence of my hard work.
I watched the ghostly figures swarm to the stage. The corps de ballet gathered for their pre-show rituals. We all have crazy things we do before we perform. I heard them chanting “merde” in whispered, anticipatory voices. Saying this to each other before we dance is our version of good luck. The point is to get rid of all the “shit” that could happen before the show starts. I moved out of the wings, onto the stage, and arranged myself into my familiar starting position. My insides demanded my attention, churning around like the waves of a stormy sea; this was way worse than butterflies in my stomach. I obsessed over the choreography, trying desperately to remember the movements as if I somehow forgot that as soon as the music started, my body would already know it. An eternity went by in the next minute as the spotlights began to glow, and the curtain slowly began to open, revealing me to the audience.