A Day in the Life of a Ballet Seamstress – Friday Fictioneers

Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting the Friday Fictioneers, a group of writers who gather to compose a 100-word story based on a photo prompt. This week’s photo was brought to us by Sandra Crook. Sandra, thanks for the inspiration.

When I look at a sewing machine, I think of costumes. My story is a tribute to all the costume makers out there. They work hard and, of course, there’s always drama!

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook
PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

(100 words)

A Day in the Life of a Ballet Seamstress

Reza didn’t look up as she pumped the foot plate of her sewing machine.

Marilyn entered with a notebook pressed to her chest, “Alain wants the birds blue, not green, and not so shiny.”

“So, we’ll throw some powder on them,” Reza said, and then squinted at her.

In the corner, a sea of tulle swallowed Liliana’s tiny frame. Her tutu hung on her like a potato sack. “What happened to my costume!”

“Again! Just eat already,” Reza said.

Liliana erupted, her body shaking with tears, and dropped her head on Reza’s shoulder.

“There, there. Of course, I’ll fix it.” 


For more stories from the Fictioneers, click here.


Dancing with my Hair Down

When I was small, I danced for hours in the foyer of my house. Most of the house was carpeted, including the kitchen and two bathrooms, but not in this white square speckled with black dots. It was years before tile would replace some of that carpet. In the meantime, that 12 x 12 square feet of space was all I ever needed.

I danced for hours in solitude in this square, and into the space extending into the living room, twirling, composing, tapping, pretending, the music my guide. The music was enchanting. I don’t know where it came it from, what it was called or where it went. It seemed to disappear from my life. I never bothered to know what that music was; I never needed to know. I’ve never heard it since, but I would know if I were ever to hear it again. Still, the memory of it is faint in my head.

I can hear the piano, but it wasn’t necessarily classical. It was scratchy, schmultzy, waltzy, melodic and ethereal. If I had to place it, I’d say it’s the kind of music you might hear in a Parisian cafe with a river running through it. Although that doesn’t describe it at all. The music breathed steps to me and I listened. I danced like no one was watching, because no one was.

My parents had thrown big pool parties back then with lots of activity and drunkenness. They were great fun. After dinner, my mother might lightly encourage me to perform a dance. I was painfully shy, but I was taking lessons, so sometimes I gave it a go.

I might perform for a few moments, looking down at the floor, horrified with all the smiling, googly-eyes on me and the expectation to entertain my drunken audience. I knew my mother would be happy with anything I did. Still, so serious, I would make a feeble attempt and run away. The girl who had once danced with not a care in the world was nowhere.

My childhood dream to dance the Arabian role in The Nutcracker became a reality, marked by tears; I cried before and after the performance because my shoes were too tight and I was too young to know better. My poor prince. He didn’t know what to make of it all.

A moment of calm. Oh, how I loved this costume.

In college, I danced and I wrote. I was an English major, taking all the technique classes for dance majors. I had the load of a double major, easily. In one modern dance class, we were graced with the presence of a teacher who had been a former dancer with the renowned José Limón Dance Company. We all wanted to impress her. One day, she stopped the pianist and told all the dancers in the room to take their hair down. Astonished, we complied willingly; taking out our ponies, our pins, and our bobbies.

“Try it again,” she said, motioning us to dance the combination across the floor.

You might think it was a moment of bliss, a group of serious dancers in a very serious class asked to dance with their hair down. Not so. Perhaps because I felt it should be this magical moment that I should let loose and dance like the wind, I felt caught instead: first, by my hair in my face and my worry that I might run into a fellow, untamed dancer; second, that I should feel so moved by the permission to be free that my steps would now be executed to my teacher’s satisfaction.

After going across the floor again and again, the energy in the room changed. Sure, we still tried to dance the steps, but a strange thing happened.

Letting our hair down wasn’t an invitation to wildness as it turned out. I found myself turning inward, and I felt all the energy in the room becoming more internalized. We weren’t dancing for her anymore; we were dancing for ourselves. We were still dancing her steps. The difference was exploring what those steps meant.

I asked myself what did I have to say with those steps and why should anyone care? How could I make those steps translate what I felt, because if they didn’t mean anything to me, they sure as hell wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.

I needed to find the little girl underneath, tapping to her heart’s delight in the foyer to that enchanted music not heard since. Where is she? How can I find her? She was buried deep under layers of indecision, doubt, bad decisions, insecurity, and criticism.

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I felt her presence when I danced as the “Wind” in  Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Dancing with friends is a gift.

Dancers’ steps are more than a strand of movements committed to muscle memory. Their bodies respond to music. Steps flow through them so that they don’t look like steps anymore, and they’re not. Their movement comes from a deeper place, from a reservoir of time and patience, of knowing their limits and how far they can fly; it’s a combination of concentration and abandon, of technical finesse blended with emotional physicality. It’s what I strove for, but was lucky to feel at all.

Watching an accomplished dancer is a glorious thing. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. It is artistic expression beyond oneself; it touches an audience’s sensibilities and resides in their minds to be recalled long after the experience is over.

My sons joining me in a slow-motion street performance. Everything has been worth it for this moment alone. A treasure.

Answers you seek, the purpose for your steps, they must come from within. Living with myself all these years has taught me to accept my shortcomings, and I’ve learned I have something to give. That inner child once buried deep is not so deep anymore. She sits beside me now and reminds me she’s still here. The invitation to dance is always open.

What’s your name again?

My ability to hold names inside my brain has reached its maximum capacity. I may recognize you, but it’s likely I won’t remember your actual name. If I make an attempt to call you by your name, there’s a high probability that I will get it wrong. I will call you “Lisa” when your real name is “Linda.” It’s in the ballpark, right? No?

Blogging friends, I appreciate that your name is written down for me. Thank you. Truly. I feel safe and successful here in the blogosphere because, even if I don’t know your actual name, I know I can call you by your written name and there’s a good chance you’ll accept it. In real life, things are not so black and white.

How did I get here? My husband would say that it all began with the birth of my first child. When my placenta left my body my brain went along with it. Oh, friends, this did not happen! This is false! However, he may have a point. Names flooded my brain at the same time that I was deprived of precious sleep. If you don’t have kids and have trouble recalling names, don’t worry. I’m sure you have your own story and I want to hear all about it. I know we’re not alone.

My story goes something like this. With my first child, I belonged to a mommy group where it was necessary to remember not only the child’s name, but the parent’s name…and one more step…connect them together. Now I was masterful at this, even when I had a screaming child on my arm. Fast forward to child #2 and the amount of names you must remember grows exponentially. Now it’s child #1…child #2…parent…connect. Things are getting fuzzy.

Enter children in elementary school and major slippage happens. My brain regains control with a school roster. That helps. Yet, I’m walking on the fault line when my kids play sports, and especially if these sports overlap, as they do. Do I know Johnny from baseball…or is it basketball?

Name recalling reached new lows when I began substitute teaching at the local dance studio, sometimes four or five classes in a night. In any one class, I might encounter the following names: ASHLEY, AUBREY, AUDREY, ALEXIS, ALEXA, ALEX, ALYSSA, and ARIANNA. This is only letter A. I’m not making this stuff up. Not to mention that they all wore the same leotard outfit and bunhead hairdo.

Same outfit, same hair, same moves...you understand.
Same outfit, same hair, same moves…you understand.

These girls smiled sweetly at me up, to a point. After months of trying in earnest, I do believe they turned their bunhead heads on me. For the first time, it became abundantly clear why substitute dance teachers of my youth were so aloof. Here, I had thought some teacher was a pompous prick and full of himself. No, no…this was about self-preservation.

There’s got to be an App for remembering names, right?  iName, iFriend, or WhoRU? I know what you’re thinking. I can practice, just try harder. I can say their name three times after meeting them. I can rhyme their name, create a mental picture of them in my head. Now, if I’ve already met them four times, this is tricky. Either you go on not remembering and continue your smiling and nodding or reveal the obvious and say “I’ve forgotten your name.” This usually works to clear the air.

You feel better if you both forget, don’t you? You are caught in that blank stare with each other and there’s that moment of pure clarity. You know. You breathe a little sigh of relief and say, “I’m sorry. What is your name again?” You both laugh, promise, and hope not to forget for the next time.

Do you have trouble remembering names? Is it a sign of the times? Are we too self-absorbed or distracted? Bad listeners? What do you think?

photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina} via photopin cc