display | more...
She does not let me watch her practice. When she goes to ballet lessons or even when she is practicing at home, she insists that I not attend. For her it is a matter of both concentration (hers) and overly active curiosity (mine). Samantha has not been in an actual performance since high school, but she stays with it. She says it relaxes her, but you would never know it by looking at the frustration on her face after a lesson that went poorly. She says it keeps her centered, which I don't get at all. All I know is that she really likes going, even though it makes her a little crazy.

Last week, by accident, I got to see her at work. Her car was broken and she had asked a girl friend to drive her to/from her lesson. The friend called me from her cellphone about an hour later, saying that her mother was sick and that she had to leave class early. "Could I go and pick up Samantha?" I could.

I arrived at the studio 5 minutes late, because I knew I was not supposed to get there early and sneak up on her-I knew not to interrupt. Still, she was not at the doorway, so I climbed the stairs to the third floor studio. The door to studio was open and I could hear only the scratchy cassette tape echoing against the high ceiling. There, under bright white lights, was a long sparse room. Chalk white walls above a hardwood floor slick with wax and mirrored walls on two sides. The long thin bar on opposite sides, pine on chrome.

Facing away from me, the only dancer left in the room, was Samantha. She was moving in slow motion, as if in a fog. Not dancing really, she was moving her feet into and then out of the basic positions. One, two, three, then pause-then four and five. I had seen these in one of her books in her car. I asked her why she would practice basic moves if she had been doing this for so long and she just pursed her lips and shook her head. "You don't understand"

That night I knew. I watched her move gracefully in and out of positions-her head and shoulders still, as her center of gravity shifted from front to back and then front again. It was clear she had practiced this with a book on her top of head- she was that calm and smooth. I sat quietly and watched her for 20 minutes or so. When she noticed me she blushed-turned off the tape player and put on her sweats.

It was much too sudden, and too much like closing a music box.