In the anteroom, dancers silently cluster into group of similar costumes in the dark. They practice plees and tondues at the bar to warm up, kill time, kill nerves. They adjust each other's costumes, untwisting leotard straps and fluffing tutus. The weight of the world outside the studio in sitting on my shoulders and so I can ignore the nervous ball in the pit of my stomach for now. I need to shake this off. Plee, rond de jambe, arabesque... A fellow dancer taps me on the shoulder. She marks through a few steps from our piece and pauses with an eyebrow raised in silent question. Does the pirouette go left or right? We mark through it together. We know this piece. The second guessing comes from the long wait in the dark.
We can hear the music from the stage through the door. Dancers silently marking through their own pieces automatically adjust their rhythm to the music whispering through the room, be it ballet, jazz, or modern. My group is lined up in our formation waiting for the current piece to end so that we can enter. My own concerns and sorrows, far away from the here and now of the stage, are pressing down on me. I don't look at my friend standing next to me, shoulder to shoulder in the wings. If she sees the tears trying to escape my eyes and looks at me with concern, I'm going to lose it. I look up. Blinking away tears that threaten my eyeliner. Hold it together, Shannon. Focus on what you're doing and get through the next 4 minutes.
The music starts and we enter on stage in formation. Despite the glare of the lights, I can see the audience seating, all empty save two seats front and center, my dance instructor and the head of our studio. My dance teacher is smiling at us. Stop thinking, Shannon. Dance. Raise your chin, point your foot. Just pour yourself into it and forget everything else. To my surprise, I find I can. I fall into a pas de bourrée and let my heart lighten with it. For a few moments, everything is okay. I can crawl into the music and stay there.
Pieces that you have rehearsed over and over again, that seem so long in the classroom, always go by quickly on stage. The music ends. We run off stage and file into the dressing room, crowded with dancers getting in and out of costumes. Somewhere in the 20 yards between the stage and this room, the stage rush wears off. I peel off my costume and pull on my troubles. Stuffing my tattered ballet slippers into my bag, I slip outside into the parking lot and let the eyeliner smear.