To Be a Prima Ballerina Assoluta

This is a short story that I wrote for my mother for Christmas. If you like it, love it, or think that I should never be let near a Word processor again, leave a comment!

To Be a Prima Ballerina Assoluta


You are enveloped in pink. Perfectly girly. And you stand. Awkwardly on one foot with your knuckle in your mouth. Your ponytail is askew and one of your slippers is untied, but you are there. There learning how to be weightless and graceful. You pretend to be a falling leaf when the teacher plays Vivaldi on the black stereo in the corner of the room.


Now you stand there, legs crossed this time. Your hair is perfectly pulled back. Shoulders back, butt tucked under, peacock tail feathers pointed towards the floor. Point your toes. First. Second. Third. You’re still slump shouldered and your tail feathers are fanned. The teacher calls up your mother and asks you not to come back. You cry so hard in the bathroom that you end up throwing up your lunch all down your front. Like when you were six and got food poisoning. Your mother blames the pretzel with mustard from the corner of 82nd and Park. You thank God for cold water and foundation and just nod your head.


You stride into the class. You take yoga every Thursday at seven and Pilates at five a.m. on Tuesdays. The leotard, the tights, the little skirt make you feel sexy. They cling to you the way that your stretch pants and tank tops don’t. Your boyfriend, maybe fiancée, hopefully soon, laughs at you when you leave your apartment. But you can feel him appraising you as you moved around looking for your bag. You swing your hips a little on your way out the door. You’ve filled out a bit since you were fourteen. Ten years. Your shoulders aren’t so boney; your leotard has a shelf bra; the Pilates and yoga have given you a strong back with shoulders that point forward when you think about it, and your tail feathers always point towards the floor.

First. Second. Third. You remember the feet. Sliding them is easy. The rhythm isn’t. You’re behind and then ahead again. At the bar, you’re more flexible than everyone, but you can’t lean and point on the beat. You leave the studio and walk past the door to your Pilates class. You change your registration to a Wednesday evening jazz dance. Tight black dance clothes sound nice. Maybe you’ll be able to keep up. You walk home feeling silly in your outfit. You look like you’re a teenager when you so desperately want everyone to see you as an adult. You go home and peel it all off of you and only put it on for Halloween when you dress up as a “clumsy ballerina”. Your friends laugh. You pop your knuckle in your mouth.


You’ve been searching for something to do. Your husband died ten years ago, and your house is lonely. You’ve been persistent, ignoring your niece’s pleas to move to Florida and buy one of those cookie-cutter patio homes in an old people’s community. You can still move with relative ease. Your glasses may be almost an inch thick, and you may go to bed at eight p.m., but you’re wholly alive. You won’t let anyone forget it. You thank God again, even though you don’t believe in him, for sparing you children. Less people to hover over you. You can do almost anything for yourself. You’re the strongest in your water-aerobics class. You still practice yoga. A year ago, you traveled to India with your grandnephew to visit your guru’s ashram for the tenth time.

You sign up for the class on whim of defiance towards the old picture of your sulky fourteen-year old self in ballet class, wearing a jacket with a hood pulled so far forward that it rivals the Grim Reaper’s cloak. The new leotard hugs you the way it always did, making you feel both awkward and beautiful. You glance at yourself in the mirror. You’re still thin, but your body seems to want to succumb to gravity and let the skin sag all the way to the parquet. But that new leotard holds your torso up, like physics-defying inertia.

You slowly walk into the studio, the same one you’ve been visiting for years. The receptionist is new. She tells you that she wishes that she could look like you when she’s 70. You proudly whisper that you’re 79, and that “it’s the Pilates and yoga”. You feel like the clichés that you’ve been running away from ever since you were twelve. Hesitating on the threshold, you step forward, and move slowly towards the other “seniors” sitting in chairs.

And the class starts, it’s Vivaldi again and everyone is leaning heavily on the bar as they move through the positions. You can still balance with only your right hand lightly grasping the wood. Your feet can still turn out without too much pain. The hour passes quickly this time. You’re the only one with good posture. The only one with tail feathers tucked under. You’re the only one whose feet move in the right directions. There is no rhythm, just a bunch of women willing their bodies to be elegant again, and you are the most graceful one there.

7 thoughts on “To Be a Prima Ballerina Assoluta

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