Discover more from Core Imagination
Quaking, Mia lifted her head from the floor, her wispy gold hair falling into her eyes.
She heaved a heavy sigh. She had fallen. She had fallen again.
Then a voice cried out in horror.
It was her mother. “Mia!”
The next thing she knew, Mrs. Finley had rushed to her in panic and reached out a hand to help her up.
“I’m okay,” Mia said softly, trying to push herself up.
“It’s okay. I’m-- I’m okay.” Mia gradually rose to a stand, swaying unsteadily.
Her mother clutched her thin shoulders, concern in her eyes. “What happened?”
Mia bit her lip, her eyes downcast.
“I fell,” the teen mumbled.
“How? What happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s not an answer. What happened?”
“It doesn’t matter--”
“Oh, no, don’t pull that with me, young lady,” her mother said, sharply but not unkindly. “Tell me why you fell?”
Mia lifted her head dejectedly. “I was just practicing. I thought if I worked a little harder...”
Her words died away, her sentence unfinished and forgotten as a hope for a dream.
Mrs. Finley stared at her.
Her eyes were filled not with anger, not with worry, but with pity.
Mia hated when she did that. She hated it when others did that. Every time anyone looked at her, it was always nothing but pity.
“Baby,” her mother whispered, putting her hands on her shoulders. “Don’t you think. . .” A pause, then a swallow. “Don’t you think that it might be best that you don’t do this anymore?”
“What?” Mia had an idea of what she was saying, but still, maybe, maybe, she could be wrong. Please, please, don’t say it.
But then Mrs. Finley sighed and brushed away a golden wisp from Mia’s eyes and with it, Mia’s hope. “It’s just… with someone in your position-- it’s a little too hard to make it into ballet school. Maybe… you should try something else.”
Someone in your position. The words rang in Mia’s ears like a deafening scream. It had been several months, but still, Mia had not come to accept the truth until now. Mia’s whole self quivered, and her fists clenched in defiance as she found it suddenly hard to breathe. No, she could not accept it. She did not want to. If she did, then all her dreams, her whole world would fall apart.
“I know, I didn’t want to say it. I’m sorry, Mia,” Mrs. Finley said, and she truly was.
But Mia pulled back, shaking off her mother’s hands. “I just have to try harder. I can do it, I can,” she insisted. “I’ve danced for years, I can do it again.”
“But, Mia, that was before. Now, things are different.”
“But I’ve practiced,” said Mia, beggingly. “Miss Bella said there are only winter auditions for ballet school. If I miss the audition, then I can’t go in the spring. And there aren’t any other schools near us that’ll take me. I’m almost fifteen, Mom.”
“I know, but Mia, you can’t--”
“But I can, Mom.”
“Mia, you can’t.”
“Mom, please!” Mia’s voice rose almost into a desperate shriek. “I just want to be a ballerina, that’s all I want. I need this chance, please, just give me this chance. I’ve got four months, I’ll be healed by then.”
But her mother gave a sad smile. “Sweetheart, you won’t heal if you’re exerting yourself like this. I don’t want you to hurt yourself anymore than you already are. Before, I would have said yes, but now--”
“I just need to get back into it--” Mia began, but Mrs. Finley cut her off.
“Mia,” she said. “There is no going back. As your mother, I have to think about what is best for you. And, sadly, that means no more ballet.”
Mia took a wobbly step back, shaking her head. She wanted to scream, to run away, to fight with everything in her. But in the end, she just stood there, frozen, stuck, imprisoned.
“Honey, I’m not trying to be mean, I hope you know that. I just want you to understand that it’s not right with you this soon in recovery. Do you understand?” said Mrs. Finley.
“No.” In her frustration, Mia wiped away the single tear on her cheek. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand why this had to happen. Everything ruined just because of one stupid mishap. It’s just… it’s not fair.”
Mrs. Finley opened her mouth to say something else, Mia did not want to hear anymore. She had had enough. She turned around and walked away, slowly, unsteadily, with her head hung in shame and dejection. When she reached the end of the hallway to her room--thank goodness their house was one story--she shut the door.
For what felt like eternity, she just stood there frozen. The only thought that played over and over in her head was “it’s not fair.” And it wasn’t. How could it be?
With a despairing sigh, she sank onto her bed mattress, then bending over, she unlaced her ballet slippers. As she held them in her hands, the scene began to play over in her head. The darkness of the street as she and Mrs. Finley were driving home. Then the sudden blinding light, and the blaring noise. The deafening crash right before the utter blackness.
Mia’s gaze wandered from the pink slippers in her hands down to the place where her prosthetic feet dangled over the side.
It had been five months since she had woken up, very sore, to the beeping and whirring beside her hospital bed. After her eyes had blinked open, the first thing that she had perceived was that she was not in her room. She was not even in her own bed.
Mia had tried to stretch and flex her toes as she had done several times. To her horror, she had found that she could not.
She could not feel her toes. She could not feel her feet. What was going on? And where was her mother?
The doctor had walked in just seconds later after Mia had seen that the place where her feet usually stuck up under the blankets was unoccupied. The doctor came in, a gentle, kind smile on her face.
Two teenagers had been racing. One of them ran a red light just as Mia’s mom and her had been turning. They had gone spinning out of control until the rear end of the car was impaled, the side where Mia had been sitting.
Presently, Mia swiped a tear off her cheek.
It was not fair. To have the one thing she really wanted snatched away from her in the blink of an eye, it did not make any sense. If only they had taken the longer way home. If only Mia had not gone to ballet that day. If only those stupid, no-brained teenagers hadn’t decided to go racing.
If only, if only, if only.
It was not fair.
It was not fair at all.
And Mia could not change that.
Mia’s teacher, Miss Bella, was coming over for dinner that Saturday. It had become a regular custom during Mia’s recovery that she would visit every Saturday or Sunday just to check up on her favorite student. Since then, she had practically become family.
That evening, it was a roast beef night. Mia was not finicky. In fact, roast beef was actually a favorite of hers, but she could not bring herself to eat. She simply sat there, prodding at the meat, pushing the roasted potatoes with her fork. Her mother noticed but she said nothing. It was pointless to try and coax her.
While Mr. and Mrs. Finley were cleaning up the dishes, Miss Bella sat next to Mia who was alone on the sofa. Mia always found it hard to look into her teacher’s bright emerald eyes, so she often looked away. Now, she was looking completely down, her head hung.
“Hi,” Miss Bella asked, a smile in her voice. “You’re pretty quiet today.”
Mia chewed on a piece of hair. “I’m fine.”
“Then why didn’t you touch your dinner?”
Mia shrugged. “Not hungry.”
Bella hummed and nodded a little. “How has it been? Recovering?”
Mia wanted to laugh whenever others used that word, as if she were sick. She was anything but ill, and it was not like she would ever get back or “recover” what she had lost.
Mia pretended to not hear her, but Miss Bella pressed on.
“Your mom told me you’re getting better at walking again. That’s encouraging.”
“Yeah,” mumbled Mia. “Sure.”
“You’ve been trying to dance again, haven’t you?”
Mia’s heart all but stopped, and her head shot up. “What? I didn’t-- did my mom--”
“She didn’t say anything about it,” Miss Bella replied.
“Then how did you know?”
Her teacher shrugged lightly. “Because I’ve seen you; you don’t give up. I’ve seen it time and again.”
Mia felt her chest tighten. Memories of practicing, dancing for hours upon hours, played in her head. She remembered how many times she had fallen or stumbled when practicing a pirouette and when she was still struggling to keep her balance. It was not easy, yet she kept on trying because she wanted to dance. Dancing was her life. But now that it had been taken from her. . .
“Miss Bella…” Mia’s words caught for a moment, and then came the words that she never thought she would utter. “I can’t audition for school.”
Bella said nothing for a while. Then staring at Mia, she asked, “Why do you think that?”
“Because I. . . Because I. . .”
Mia tried to formulate a full sentence, but she kept hitching on those two words. She did not want to finish the sentence. She did not want to say the reason aloud; then it made it real.
But she did. “Because I can’t.”
“You mean you can’t dance anymore?” Miss Bella asked, a pitying tone in her voice that made Mia snap.
“Of course not! I can’t run. I can barely walk. How am I supposed to dance and twirl when I have trouble even standing? And it’s all because of-- these!”
Mia gestured to her prosthetics with a vicious point. She hated those plastic things. She would not bring herself to call them feet.
“If I hadn’t been in the car, then none of this would have happened, but now, any chance I had of becoming a ballerina is gone.”
Falling silent, Mia turned her back on her teacher. A pinprick of sadness jabbed at her when she realized what she had done. It was something she never thought herself capable of doing.
She had yelled at her teacher.
She had yelled at a friend.
Mia was always praised for being kind and sweet and keeping her temper, but ever since the accident, all that was good about her had been warped and turned rotten.
She was bitter, angry, and despairing.
She had lost herself.
It was all her own fault.
“I understand where you’re coming from.”
Mia bit her lip at those six words from Miss Bella. How? How could she possibly understand? Had she lost her legs? Had she lost her ability to do what she loved?
No, this was not understanding. This was what she got from everyone.
“I’m sorry,” they would say over and over. “I’m sorry that you have to deal with this.”
“But Mia,” continued Miss Bella, and the little girl wondered what on earth more she could have to say. “There is still a chance.”
Mia twisted her head around. “What?”
“There’s still a chance,” she repeated.
“But-- there’s not-- you can’t be serious,” Mia stammered. “I can’t anymore, I told you. Auditions are in two months, and I’ve tried practicing. But I just can’t keep my balance.”
Miss Bella’s eyes bore into her questioningly. “Are you sure it’s because of your feet?”
“Of course it is!” Mia snapped. “Do you think I’m trying to fall?”
“No,” said Bella. “I just think you need to remember that you can stand.”
Mia sighed brokenheartedly. “Look, Miss Bella, I wish I could, and I appreciate you trying to help me, I do, but… I can’t. Even if my mom did say yes--”
“Your mom doesn’t want you to try out?” interrupted Miss Bella.
Mia nodded as she held back tears.
Miss Bella exhaled. She twisted the end of her messy auburn braid, something she did when thinking hard.
“Well, that does make things a little difficult. If I could convince her, maybe…”
“But it’s too late,” Mia interrupted. “I’ve only got two months till tryouts, and even if she did say yes--”
“It’ll be fine.” Miss Bella slipped Mia’s slippers into her tiny hands. “I can convince your mom. And as for the steps, I can help you. You just have to trust me, alright?”
Mia was astounded when her mother actually conceded. It was hesitant and uncertain, but she said yes all the same.
Miss Bella would teach Mia privately at the building fifteen minutes away from her house where she used to have lessons. She came immediately after ballet classes. Each time she hid in the hall until the students filtered out. It would be a nightmare if the teenage girls she had gone to class with saw her now, a husk of her former self, crippled yet trying to dance again.
It’s still pointless, Mia thought as she walked into the building. I can’t dance. I’ll just fall again. And again. And again. Miss Bella will see that soon enough.
“Well,” she said, her voice that of quiet excitement, “do you have a routine in mind for tryouts?”
Mia nodded. She had one figured out for months, even before the accident. Whether she could perform her routine, that was another question.
Miss Bella’s gaze fell downward. “Where are your shoes?”
Mia cast a glance over her shoulder at her little drawstring bag which contained her slippers. She slipped it off her thin shoulder and sitting down, slipped her sneakers off those detestable plastic things that doctors dared call “legs.”
“You know you can’t dance without them,” said Miss Bella lightly.
“I can’t dance anyhow,” Mia mumbled.
“You don’t actually believe that, do you?”
“Yes. It’s too hard.”
Sinking down, Miss Bella held Mia’s gaze. “Has that ever stopped you before?”
“Before I had balance,” Mia countered.
Miss Bella handed Mia her pearl pink slippers. “Because you built it up. You can do that again. It just takes practice. You do want this, don’t you?”
Mia glanced down at her slippers. Visions of her future flashed through her mind. Dancing on the stage, twirling around, leaping in the air, performing Swan Lake, Camelot, Nutcracker. Applause reverberating from the audience, crashing and swelling like waves from the sea. But the most spectacular thing was that she was living her dream as a ballerina. Her life was not just full of dancing; it was a dance.
Mia nodded and began lacing up her shoes. She had been wanting this her whole life. She just hoped she was able to still do it, even now.
The first day, Miss Bella and Mia focused on regaining balance. They did the usual beginning exercises at the balance bar, going up on your toes, then down, and repeating the session. Mia had made significant progress at physical therapy so it was not so hard to perform this exercise as it had been. However, when they began to perform the tiny jumps, Mia would slip and almost let go of the bar. Miss Bella offered words of encouragement unceasingly, telling her to keep trying and that it was okay to mess up sometimes. Mia was not sure she believed that, though.
The next week Mia went to the building where Miss Bella had taught her lessons. She had reserved the room at late hours for private practices. They stretched and did warm-ups as usual, then when Mia felt ready, they began working on her routine.
Mia had to go very, very slowly when beginning, else she would fall face first. Many of the moves she had originally put in there were impossible for her to execute.
“You just need to build up to it,” Miss Bella kept on reminding her, but Mia found that hard to believe when she kept on stumbling when she turned a pirouette or made a high kick.
For hours and hours, day and night, Mia kept on practicing. She practiced at home in her room. She got up early and practiced balancing. She practiced small jumps at the bar during physical therapy. She attempted --but usually failed-- quick runs and spins. She did sit-ups, push-ups, anything and everything she could think of that would improve her core, make her a stronger dancer, make up for that vital part of her she had lost.
As days soon turned to weeks and a month soon passed, Mia’s doubts began to arise. What if she did not get to the point she was before her accident? What if the day of auditions came and she was not ready? What if she never got back to where she was? What if what she was striving for was an impossible goal?
It was a week before the audition, and Mia was more nervous than ever before. It could have been that she was coming especially early today because of an errand Mrs. Finley needed to run. What if the other girls saw her. She did not want to be seen.
As Mia shut the car door, her mother called to her, “I’ll pick you up in two hours!”
Mia pushed open the glass door and walked into the building. She ambled anxiously through the corridors, being careful not to be seen. She did not want to be seen by anyone.
But to her horror, she heard the chatter and pounding footfalls of the other students. They were heading right towards her.
Ashamed and blushing in fear, she shrunk behind the corner to the left of the water fountain. She pressed her back against the wall, her heart pounding.
Please, please, please, she thought. Please don’t let them see me.
She held her breath, willing herself to be invisible, willing herself to vanish into thin air. Her eyes followed as the path of girls drifted out into the night. She waited and waited and waited. Then, after what seemed like an eternity but what was really ten minutes, the girls had cleared out.
At least, most of them had, as Mia soon found when she turned around the corner and was face-to-face with the one girl she was trying to avoid.
Mia gulped. It was Janet, who hated Mia more than anything. Janet was the perfect ballet dancer: tall, slender, pale, blue-eyed with silky black hair and natural grace and energy in her step. Because of her hard work, however, Mia quickly had become competition and thus, the object of her bullying.
“Who let you in?” Janet laughed disdainfully. “I thought you had quit or--”
Janet halted mid-sentence as her icy eyes drifted downwards. Mia’s stomach turned. She had seen her prosthetics. She had seen those things.
She had seen her handicap.
“What happened to you? What are those?”
Mia put one prosthetic behind the other, though this did not hide anything in retrospect.
Janet then looked up and spotted the drawstring slung over Mia’s shoulder. She gave a mocking scoff. “Are you seriously gonna try ballet again?”
These words hit like a slap in the face. After a moment, Mia found her voice. “I’ve been practicing for a while now.”
Janet raised an eyebrow. “Have you?”
“Yes. For almost two months. I’m going to be auditioning for ballet school, the same one you’re auditioning for.”
“Oh.” Janet looked astounded for a moment before she regained herself and asked, “You think that’s enough to get back into dancing?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Well, practice is great, but--” Janet frowned in mock sympathy. “It won’t be enough to get you into ballet school.”
“That’s not true,” Mia argued quickly. “Miss Bella said that--”
“Oh, Mia, I’m sorry, but ballet school is competitive enough for girls who are normal. You may have had a chance before, but now, it’s impossible. I mean, let’s face it, that--” Janet pointed to her prosthetics. “is a handicap. And ballerinas don’t have handicaps, do they?”
Each word stuck like an arrow in Mia’s heart. Normal. Impossible. Ballerinas don’t have handicaps. Was it true? Was it impossible? After all, she had just mastered balance again. She had been making steady progress. Was it for nothing?
Her fists clenched, fire burned in her chest.
“They want someone who can actually dance without tripping,” Janet continued. “Someone who’s not been ripped apart. Someone who won’t break.”
Mia shuddered, boiling tears welled up in her eyes. Her nails dug into the palms of her hands. She did not believe it. She did not want to believe it.
“Stop it,” Mia whispered. “Please stop it.”
“Do you honestly think that all the practice in the world is going to help you?” Janet continued. “Or that stepping up on the stage will automatically earn you a place in school? I mean, I don’t know if they want a handicapped ballerina.”
Janet leaned in and whispered in Mia’s ear. “Why don’t you go home, save yourself the heartbreak? Make it easier for yourself.”
Janet’s light footsteps receded, and Mia was left standing alone and completely still. Janet’s words bounced around on the inside of her skull like a call in a deep cave.
They don’t want a handicapped ballerina.
A handicapped ballerina. They don’t want you.
They don’t want you.
They don’t want you.
Toxic doubt crept in. Mia wondered, what if she was not good enough? Not anymore? She had not reached her old level of dancing. What if that was because it was impossible? What if it was because she could not?
What if it was because of her legs?
Mia finally got up and trudged to the classroom, her vigor dampened. Miss Bella stood there as usual, tall and slender in her leotard with her curly locks twisted into a high bun. She looked celestial, like the perfect dancer. She was someone Mia would never match, not even now.
Instantly, Mia’s teacher gave an apprehensive look. “You look so down. Did something happen?”
Mia slung her drawstring bag off her shoulder and placed it against the wall. She was not going to say anything about Janet.
“Mia, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” lied Mia. “I’m just not where I’m supposed to be, Miss Bella. I don’t know if I’ll be ready in time.”
“Come on,” Miss Bella smiled at her. “You’ve come so far. Your balance is better. You’ll be ready, I know it. You just have to keep practicing. Now, try your routine again.”
Acquiescing, Mia took a measured breath in preparation. She extended her arms in front of her in the shape of an arc. She swept one foot behind her, then went up on her toes. She bent down into a graceful bow. She did a quick pirouette to the left, Then extended her right leg out. She pirouetted forward, then grapevined to right, then kicked her left foot up.
Usually when she danced, she found herself getting lost in the music. The whole would fall away as she danced and twirled and spun. She became weightless and flew through the air, lost in the sound of music and the feeling of dancing on clouds.
But now, all she could think of was falling. Please don’t fall, she thought over and over. Please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall.
She did a small jump and kicked up. She stiffly twirled and twirled and twirled to the side. She was chasséing back, back, back. She lifted her arms up, getting ready to leap forward--
But her prosthetics inexplicably tangled up with one another, and she tripped.
She fell, and her cheek hit squarely against the smooth, wooden floor. Her body quivered in agony as pain shot through her entire little body and the shock vibrated through every limb.
Miss Bella rushed forward and helped her up. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“It happened again.” Mia broke from her teacher’s hold with a frustrated sigh. “It’s no use, I’m hopeless.”
“No, don’t say that,” soothed Miss Bella, pushing a wisp of blond hair out of Mia’s discouraged eyes. “You just have to keep trying--”
That was all Miss Bella had been saying these past few weeks. Mia exploded.
“That’s what I’ve been doing, and it’s not enough. I’ve tried so hard. I’ve been practicing every waking moment, and for what? I have to be perfect for the audition next Monday, and I can’t even get through my routine without tripping. If--” she stopped herself suddenly, her heart in her throat.
She almost said, “If I still had feet, this would not be a problem.” After all, that was the problem.
She was handicapped. Her ability to dance had been stripped away the day of the accident. And she could never get it back. She was done. Her dream was gone.
Mia wondered why on earth she had not accepted that sooner. She did not understand why she did not accept that she could not dance instead of wasting all this time, going through all this pain.
Janet was right.
She gave a bitter chuckle as she rose, walked away and snatched up her drawstring bag holding her dance stuff. She started towards the door, her jaw clenched as she tried not to cry.
But Miss Bella stopped her. “Wait, Mia. You can’t just quit. You’ve worked so hard.”
Mia’s feet--her prosthetics-- stopped. “And I can’t do it anymore,” she whispered, hating herself for letting a tear fall.
“Why? Why can’t you? You’ve wanted this all your life--”
“I still do!” Mia spun around, tears streaming down her face. “That’s why I’m so, so angry! Because I want this so badly, but I can’t do it!”
Miss Bella looked pained, not because Mia was screaming at her, but because Mia was hurting. “I don’t understand. You can do anything you want to. You just have to believe that you can do this.”
“But I can’t dance! Not anymore! Without my-- without my--” Mia was choking on the words, but she still forced them out. “Without my feet, I can’t ever be a dancer.”
Silence reigned for the longest time. Then, Miss Bella gave a small smile.
“Mia--” she said in a low voice. “Dancers aren’t feet. They’re people.”
Mia blinked, confused.
“What if I told you something? What if I told you that it doesn’t matter? That your handicap--” Miss Bella gestured to the prostheses. “it doesn’t matter? It doesn’t change who you are.”
Mia pursed her lips, saying nothing.
“You can still dance. You may be falling a few times, but we all do when we first start. And you know who that makes you like?”
With a shrug, Mia mumbled, “I dunno.”
“No less than anyone else.”
The girl lifted her downcast eyes. She kept her mouth wrenched shut, and Miss Bella walked towards her.
“Mia, you’re not different from any other girl trying out. They’re all facing the same thing you are in some way. Now if you want to stop, we can do that, if you want.” Miss Bella clasped her hand. “I’ll still be proud of you.”
For the longest moment, Mia did not know what to say. Her head was spinning. Nothing her teacher had said made any sense. What on earth did she mean? Facing the same thing? How could they? And how on earth was she just like anyone else?
Mia did not understand. She did not even think it was possible that she had any chance against the other girls, especially Janet.
Yet, despite all that, Mia dropped her bag on the ground. She was not quitting today.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Mia hissed.
She was sitting backstage with Miss Bella in a line, waiting to be called next for auditions. Mia’s heart pounded against her chest wall, her sweaty palms were shaking. She remembered something like this happening every time before a big dance recital. She would get butterflies in her stomach, and she couldn’t sit still in her chair. Pre-performance jitters were always agonizing, but this was by far the worst she had ever had.
“It’s going to be fine,” smiled Miss Bella, grasping Mia’s hand in reassurance. “You’ve got this; I believe in you.”
Mia said nothing and cast down her eyes at her slippers tightly laced up on her prostheses. She was doubtful they would be enough to dance her way into school. She doubted she would be enough to pass.
Glancing around, she saw several other girls in leotards, some chatting in hushed tones with one another, others stretching and practicing moves. One girl, in particular, she noticed was standing off in the corner, performing a fouetté over and over. She was doing excellently until she stumbled from loss of balance and hung her head with a disappointed sigh before taking a measured breath and continuing her practice.
The word’s of Miss Bella echoed in her ears as Mia stared at this girl, then around the room at all the others. They’re all facing the same thing you are in some way. All these girls, they were dealing with the same troubles Mia was-- fear, anxiety, stumbling with moves, just like she was. Maybe it was different measurements and in different ways, but they were all struggling through similar troubles, nonetheless.
Can I ever be as good as them? she wondered despairingly.
In a moment of fear, she recoiled in her chair when she saw Janet pass by, but she was too busy strutting proudly in her aquamarine leotard. She must have done well in her audition.
A hand touched Mia’s shoulder lightly, making her head turn in the direction of her teacher.
“You’re on. You ready?”
Mia gulped. Her stomach was in knots. She could not do this, she could not. She would fail, she knew it. She wanted to run, to go as fast and far away as her little synthetic feet could go. But, strangely, a quiet, small part of her made her hesitate from bolting out of the theater then and there. Some voice that was telling her --compelling her-- to stay, to see it through, to get on that stage.
Yes, she was scared. It was a scary thing to do, to try. But she knew, if she left, she would regret it for the rest of her life. So, even though her heart was racing and her legs were jelly, she rose and slowly but determinedly walked out onto the stage.
She blinked away the blinding white light as she stepped out so she could see her audience. Glancing up at her from the dim theater seats were two women, one with a stringent bespectacled stare, the other with a puffy, tinseled updo and a round, cheerful face. Both women’s eyes grew round; they had noticed the little girl dressed in downy white, standing on prosthetics.
Mia gulped, but managed a small smile. “Hello.”
“Hello,” replied the grey-haired woman politely. “What’s your name?”
“Mia,” said Mia, then swallowed hard. “Mia Elinor Hope Finley.”
The woman with the glasses jotted down something in her binder, but said nothing. Mia was worrying whether she should have given her full name or not when the elder woman gave a warm smile.
“Nice to meet you, Mia. And how old are you?”
“Fourteen,” came the spectacled woman’s barely audible murmur.
“I’m turning fifteen in March,” mentioned Mia impulsively, but this only made the grey-haired woman smile even more.
“Sarah, put in three quarters. Well, how long have you been dancing?”
“Since I was six,” responded Mia, then closed her mouth promptly. She shifted her weight back and forth.
“And what will you be dancing to today?”
Mia fiddled with the MP3 player in her hands, fingering the sleek, black edges. “The Swan Theme from Swan Lake.”
“Well, whenever you’re ready,” said the woman serenely.
Mia walked forward, each step trembling and hesitant. Bending over, she placed the MP3 player on the edge of the stage and pressed the play button. She walked to the center.
She glanced out at her audience. The two pairs of eyes seemed to stare into her very soul. There was nothing but silence and the beating of Mia’s racing heart.
Thump-thump. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
She closed her eyes. She took a measured breath. The music sang out. Mia opened her eyes. And she began to dance.
Mia extended her arms in front of her in the shape of an arc. She swept one foot behind her, then went up on her toes. She bent down into a graceful bow. Lightly, quickly, she stepped further back, then turned her arms blossoming out like wings. She did a quick pirouette to the left, then extended her right leg out. She pirouetted forward, then grapevined to right, then kicked her left foot up.
She trembled, quivering with fear as she executed each move. Memories flashed through her mind of all those nights, all those practices, all those failed attempts and falls. But as she danced on and on, she seemed to lose all perception of gravity, of matter, of time. The music swelled, filling her senses. The floor was gone. She had left the earth behind. She had sprouted wings, taken flight. She was gliding on air. She had become the swan.
She chasséd right, right, right. She readied herself, and she leapt into the air. Her feet gracefully touched the ground.
She spread out her arms, going rigid as if struck by lightning. She rushed back, back, back, as if being chased. She twirled, twirled, twirled, faster, faster, faster, then gradually slowing, she kicked her leg up.
She spun left, once, then twice, then slowly, slowly, she sank down onto the ground, as if languishing, wasting away. She reached out one hand towards the heavens, then lay on the stage, limp.
The music stopped. Mia lifted her head and exhaled sharply. She hardly believed it. She had done it. She had danced-- without a single fall! With muscles aching from exertion and excitement, she rose to her feet and bowed low. She glanced at the two women. They said nothing.
Mia shifted her weight awkwardly. “Uh, thank you.”
The gray-haired woman smiled, shaking her head. “Beautiful. Just beautiful.”
Mia beamed, her heart fluttering in jubilee.
“Now, you should expect to get a letter in a week saying whether or not--”
Sarah, however, turned to her colleague, eying her questioningly. “Anne, are you sure that’s necessary?”
Mia watched as both teachers glanced at one another, then at her. Anne, then, spoke.
“Classes start January eighth.”
Mia rushed backstage, straight into the arms of her teacher.
“I got in!” Mia squealed. “I really got in!”
Miss Bella hugged her tight. “I knew you would.”
Mia beamed up at her. “Thank you. Thank you so much for everything.”
But Miss Bella shook her head. “It wasn’t me. It was all you.”
Mia raised an eyebrow, confused. What on earth did she mean? Then, her eyes fell down upon her prosthetics, and she realized.
For so long, she had thought they were holding her back. After all, ballerinas needed feet to dance, and that was something she did not have anymore. Yet, when she was up on the stage, she still executed each and every move. It was more difficult, absolutely, but she still did it. Losing her feet did not make her any less of a dancer than she was before. If anything, it had just been another bump in the road, another obstacle she had overcome.
Her dancing could have stopped that night of the accident, yet she decided to keep going. She decided to keep pushing forward. She still got into ballet school. She still did what her mother, Janet, even herself, thought was impossible. She could still dance. Mia was still a ballerina, and she would continue to be one.
Prosthetic feet or not.