Daughter dancing 

A story for my daughter: A few years ago, I saw you dance. I was visiting your college, all the way across America. In a light-filled dance studio, on an unusually warm spring afternoon, I watched as you lifted another woman, thicker and heavier than you, onto your narrow back.

You never wavered. When you raised your head, your eyes were clear, your breath even. It was a thrill seeing you there, so strong and healthy.

You didn't know it, but once upon a time, I had a very short adventure as a dancer.

When I was 17, I was cast in the lead role of a community theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, a role I had auditioned for on a bet. Before then, I had never danced except to foxtrot atop my daddy's feet, twist on the shag rug to tunes on my best friend's hi-fi, or cavort in a chaotic mass at a high-school dance. The director signed me up for ballet class and ballroom dancing instruction -- a crash course to prepare me for the big waltz with the prince, a bleached-blond boy with jutting hipbones who wore fingernail polish and mascara.

Your father was my boyfriend then, and that winter we opened our hearts to dance in the way that only 17-year-olds can, when they first see something beautiful that feels as though it will forever change their lives.

We saw Rudolf Nureyev perform and every night your dad practiced leaps and Russian splits on the pavement outside his house, beneath streetlights.

Just four years later, when I was 22, you began to dance inside me. I felt strong and unafraid, a hand against my belly monitoring your weightless flips and jumps.

For many years then, I only danced occasionally, in a hotel ballroom in a dress borrowed for the night, to a cheesy band, among people who looked cagey, rigid and vaguely embarrassed to be moving together in public. I chided your father for not leading. He gazed past my shoulder, straining toward the end of the dance.

When you were our only child, your father and I took you every week to Meadow Muffins on Colorado Springs' Westside where you danced beneath the disco ball with strangers while we ate hamburgers and sipped beers.

When you became the older sister to three little brothers, you danced at home with your chubby baby brothers, teaching them to raise their arms and thrust their hips to the sounds of U2 on the radio. One Christmas you dressed as a boy and danced opposite Clara in The Nutcracker, your long hair tucked into a tweed beret.

When you were 17, working hard to gather beauty all around you, I was 40 and divorcing. One evening I watched a silly Australian romantic comedy called Strictly Ballroom, then wept when I saw a couple who had no doubt just left the movie, dancing a florid tango behind the glass display case windows of Hibbard's department store, oblivious to the world around, wrapped in each other's arms.

You danced that year, taking class and performing at school, but I was too sad to watch.

A few summers later, your father danced before family and friends with his new wife, a dancer, at his wedding reception. The same week, a beautiful man waltzed me across the dance floor of The Broadmoor hotel. I moved unselfconsciously, my feet remembering the motions.

Then, your senior year in college, your father and I traveled separately to Rhode Island to see you in a play. You were magnificent -- a vengeful god casting spells and wreaking havoc, demanding the obeisance of mortals. At the cast party afterward, in the apartment you shared with four friends, amid jugs of cheap wine and gin, your father and I watched your shining face across the room as you accepted greetings and hugs of congratulation.

Gradually, the front room began to pulsate with bobbing heads and bodies. You waved me over. I danced in a circle with you and your friends, whirling about in celebration of your far-away life. Across the circle, your father rocked, twisted and laughed. He looked so young, so much like you.

The next day, we watched you dance. You stretched and swayed, then listened for the choreographer's instruction. You rose and fell. You turned, extended and raised a woman bigger and heavier than you up onto your straight, long back. You didn't falter.

When you raised your beautiful head, your eyes were clear, your breath even.

I was completely, unforgettably swept away.

-- kathryn@csindy.com


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