1. When you are a small child tell everyone in your family that you absolutely must have a pair of tap shoes, because the magical clicking sound you heard when you watched Singin’ in the Rain filled you with a great passion that you don’t fully understand yet. Demonstrate your raw talent by mimicking the movements you memorized, every fluid motion, every wide-eyed grin. Do this in the kitchen, in the bathroom, outside on the square patio stones. Do it in front of your parents, your grandparents, and your aunts and uncles, anyone who will pay attention, even if it’s only for a minute or two.
2. Ignore them when they pat you on the head and tell you you’re cute or silly or annoying. If you are persistent, they will give in eventually, or at least that’s what you need to believe to keep your dream alive. Even if the shoes never arrive in the form of a birthday present or Christmas surprise, there is nothing stopping you from practicing in front of every mirror in the house. Look at pictures of ballerinas in a book at the library, and study their stance, their form. Do fifty plies each morning when you wake up, and fifty more every night before you go to sleep. Always remember to stretch thoroughly so you can land in the splits when your big break finally occurs.
3. When you realize that your parents can’t afford to put you in dance lessons, stop bringing it up because you certainly don’t want to make them feel bad. Watch Fame reruns on television to absorb every nuance you can, but only practice your moves in your bedroom when no one else is around. At school, act like you don’t care when the other girls talk about their upcoming recital or describe their gorgeous, sparkling costumes in great detail. They don’t know how badly you want to be one of them, and you need to keep it that way.
4. If two of your seventh-grade classmates ask you to be a back-up dancer in their act for the school talent show, say sure, why not, because this way you can learn some new techniques from them during rehearsals, and also acquire some real experience performing. They will make snide comments about your lack of knowledge and/or talent, but take it in stride and give it everything you’ve got. If you vomit five minutes before the MC calls your group’s name, don’t sweat it because as they say, the show must go on.
5. In high school, join the cheerleading team. It’s not exactly dancing but it’s free and it’s physical and requires some similar skills. The girls will be catty and sometimes mean. The guys that volunteer to do the lifts will only be in it for cheap feels, but this will toughen you up and aid in adapting your sensitive brain to the competitive world. You may develop body dysmorphia and possibly an eating disorder — it comes with the territory. You’ll quit the team eventually, after a year at best, but you will pick up some valuable lessons about teamwork and good posture and how to lose a quick five pounds in a pinch.
6. The summer after graduation go to see a professional performance of Swan Lake in which your best friend’s older sister dances the part of Odette. Cry silently during the entire thing, because the grace and beauty of the production will, quite frankly, completely overwhelm you. Push away thoughts about how it could’ve been you up there if only this or if only that. Not everything is about you! The sooner you accept this the better.
7. In your twenties, convince yourself that dancing is pointless. If you go to a club or a party, sit in a dark corner and avoid talking about your own interests. Over the years, this will get easier, and eventually become second nature. The occasional conga line at a wedding is permissible, but don’t let yourself get carried away, because you will regret looking foolish when you think about it in the days to come. Accept your destiny, embrace the facts and if you find your mind obsessing over fantasies in which you are Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, be sure to monitor them so they don’t get out of control.
8. Over the next decade you’ll be too busy raising a family to think about trivial matters like jazz or tap or ballet. Even so, be sure to enroll your daughter at the local dance academy and feel a strange mix of disappointment and relief when she tells you she doesn’t like it. Sleep well knowing that you provided her with the opportunity, and secretly thank your lucky stars that you don’t need to get a second job to support such a wildly expensive hobby.
9. By the time you reach your forties, you may be mature enough to realize that sometimes, it can be about you, and that you can, in fact, do whatever you want. Google ballet lessons for adults but brace yourself because they are possibly more expensive than the ones for children. Conduct more research to discover that barre classes are free on YouTube, and all you need is a yoga mat and a chair. Briefly consider how different your life would have been if the internet existed in the eighties but do remember that there’s no sense in dwelling on the past.
10. Lock yourself in your bedroom to practice just as you did when you were a young girl, but rest assured that by now you entertain no illusions or delusions of grandeur. Try to be comfortable with your body, to appreciate your reflection, and you will experience an epiphany of sorts. Increase your self-esteem, tone your thighs but don’t expect your abs to coöperate, that ship has sailed. Note that abs don’t matter. If you meditate every day, breathe deeply, and clear your mind of negativity, you may well find the joy in learning to dance for no other reason than because you love doing it.
Sara Dobbie is a writer from Southern Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in Bending Genres, Ligeia Magazine, Ghost Parachute, Flash Frog, Sledgehammer Lit and elsewhere. Her fiction collection Flight Instinct is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in 2022, and her stories have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Follow her on Twitter at @sbdobbie, and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites