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Yvetta's Dance

It had been at least two hundred years since a young lady's prospects in life were greatly improved by prowess at a cotillion. Yet, little girls the world over are still carted off to dancing lessons, a fact not lost on the proprietrix of Portersville Academie de Dance, Madame Zoia.

Yvetta's parents hadn't planned on sending her to ballet classes, but like several families in the neighbourhood, they responded to the 25% off coupon left under the windscreen wiper of their car that long, dry summer. For her part, Madame Zoia didn't normally run a summer school but she knew a business opportunity when she saw one.

It was nearing the end of June and there'd been no rain for forty-seven days. Portersville and nearby towns had closed their outdoor swimming pools and set limited hours for indoor sports to save water. Closer to home backyard sprinklers remained off and paddling pools stayed uninflated in downstairs cupboards. Summer camps and walking clubs suspended activities to prevent fires in the parched countryside. Farmers saw ruin. Madame Zoia pictured parents desperate for somewhere to park bored, restless little bodies every weekday for four weeks. It worked.

Madame Zoia was a bona fide retired Russian ballerina. No one knew for certain how she landed in Portersville but whatever ended her balletic career had left her with a walking

stick and an abhorrence of weakness. As a teacher she was fierce and compassion-less. During the lessons her cane became a perfect prop for threatening gestures and frightening sound effects. Together with barking and hissing commands in French, she sounded less like a dance mistress than someone trying to train up a platoon of tiny pink marines.

Sadly Yvetta's talents were not naturally inclined to either swan-like poses or amphibious assault. She struggled with everything. She couldn't get her leg up to the bar without grabbing her thigh and hoisting it there manually which meant hopping on the other one to stop wobbling. Her knees stayed straight when they should have bent, and bent when they should have stayed straight. She often missed two or three counts of the music, lost her place and had to stand waiting for a part she recognised. Madame Zoia always noticed and would thwack the end of her cane on the hard, polished floor until she had enough of Yvetta's attention to shriek corrections across the room.

It was a Tuesday when Yvetta scampered over to Leanne's and pulled open the screen door of the kitchen to knock. The parents took turns driving their budding ballerinas to class and this round was Leanne's. Yvetta and Leanne always met a bit early to share news and play a few games of their current digital favourite Dragongirl. But it was Leanne's mom and little brother, Edward, who opened the door instead. Leanne wasn't back from her dentist appointment yet so her mom suggested that Yvetta go sit with Nana Mo till Leanne and her dad got back. It was an honour.

Nana Mo was Leanne's grandmother and the wisest person Yvetta had ever met in real life. She had a soft lilting accent but Yvetta never did find out from where. Nana Mo was the type of person who settled into serene contentment anywhere she came to rest, but not one thing be it a gnat buzzing around in the wrong season or good news delivered with a fleeting half-frown ever escaped her attention.

"What's wrong dear?" Nana Mo demanded when Yvetta went quiet at the mention of dancing class.

Yvetta dropped her gaze to the floor and shook her head. "I can't dance right." she sighed.

"Nonsense, Yvetta," scoffed Nana Mo. "That's just not your kind of dancing. You see dancing comes in all shapes and flavours. There's dancing to be pretty, dancing to tell stories, and dancing to get close to a boy you like. There's dancing because you feel good, or because you want to feel good. Then there's Old Dancing. That's dancing you do to fix something that's not right. Those are the best dancers." "Momma!" shouted Leanne's mom from the kitchen, "You're not filling Yvetta's head with hocus-pocus, are you?"

Nana Mo glanced towards the kitchen before lowering her face right down to meet Yvetta's and put her finger to her lips.

"Do you do Old Dancing Nana Mo?" Yvetta whispered.

Nana Mo nodded. "I use to. I'm too old and stiff now, though."

"Will you teach me?" For the first time ever, Yvetta was excited by the idea of dancing, but it didn't last.

"No, honey. I can't. It's not something you can be taught. The Dance has to call to you. Sometimes it calls and sometimes it doesn't. You just need to listen for it... in here" and she gave the centre of Yvetta's chest a gentle prod.

At that moment Leanne skipped in to fetch Yvetta and they ran out to the car. En route to the academy, Yvetta tried to remember the different types of dance Nana Mo mentioned by counting on her fingers but she only recalled pretty, The Old Dance, and something about boys. The session at Madame Zoia's was much as it always was except that everyone was told to start getting their costumes ready for the big recital or preferably select one from L'Academie's fine line of tutus to buy or rent.

Madame Zoia was able to secure the Town Hall auditorium for free by touting the performance as something to brighten unhappy times and bring the community together. In

reality, though, few families affected by the drought took up her offer to spend money on dance lessons which only added to the developing rifts that had already seen a vegetable grower and golf-course owner come to blows.

When the big day finally arrived, it began with the under 5's interpretation of the Willy Wonka theme song "Candy Man". This consisted of running in a circle (but not too quickly), stopping on cue, arching one arm over your head, raising the other up to meet it and bring them both down outstretched as though reaching for a hug. The piece went reasonably well but for one lost soul in a chequered head ribbon who became transfixed by all the people, and Emily Wilson's little sister who got mixed up and cried because her friends kept going without her.

Yvetta's squad, the 6-9's, was up next. While Mrs. Simpson was retrieving their Waltz of the Flowers from the night's musical line-up, Madame Zoia called the troupe to the side of the stage for an intimidating little pep talk. Yvetta had learned to tune her out by then and spent most of the talk with her head swivelled round to see who was in the audience. Leanne's parents were there but without Nana Mo who was off visiting her other daughter at the time. The mistress was winding up her spiel when her last sentence yanked Yvetta back with a start.

"... and if there's anything wrong I want you to fix it!" warned La Madame pointedly.

"That's it!" Yvetta thought with wonder and pride. She remembered that self-same phrase from Nana Mo's explanation of The Old Dance. "The Dance just called me!".

Mrs. Simpson hit "play" and the music started. The girls ran out in single file, as they were told to, then peeled off to the left or right to take their positions and curtsey. Yvetta, placed sensibly at the back, reached her mark and looked up at the ceiling light for further instruction. To her surprise, it came.

While her fellows earnestly tippy-toed and squatted to Tchaikowski, Yvetta's legs wanted to bounce. She bobbed up and down for a minute until she knew she needed to walk.

Next, she felt her shoulders leaning from side to side as if rocking on a boat. So there she was bouncing, taking small steps in a circle and swaying with no relationship to the music whatsoever. The Dance was talking directly to her body while she remained a happy bystander. The Dance brought the backs of her hands together to form a heart-shape that she knew stood for "big" then explosively split them apart. It threw her into lance-like formation and swung her around by her extended arm. Finally, the dance raised her arms straight up above her head and wiggled her wrists and fingers as they fluttered down. The Dance then repeated itself again and again.

Movement at the back of the stage that was definitely not Waltz of the Flowers caught the attention of some teenage siblings and titters began to flash around the hall. This drew even more focus onto the unusual display. A father or grandfather could be heard to mutter disapproval of "modern dance." Posher parents wondered if it symbolised the clash between conformity and self-expression. Yvetta simply went with the flow.

It was clear that her own choreography was being upstaged so Madame Zoia stormed onto the platform to regain the audience's attention. She swept her arms to the side in exaggerated presentation of Felice Morbry, whose pirouettes were the star turn. But all eyes remained fixed on the strange child twisting and gesturing in the background like something from a 1930's anthropology newsreel.

At long last Waltz of the Flowers came to an end and seven little tutu's scurried offstage. The eighth was still finishing the last of her arm-flutters. When it was over she, too scampered off to play run-up-every-other aisle with Amy Holstetter. From a distance, however, she caught sight of a heated exchange between Madame Zoia and her mother.

The next thing Yvetta knew her mother was rushing her up the central aisle too quickly for her short legs with Yvetta's father trying to keep up. Parents and daughter came to rest in the small lobby outside the auditorium, which served as a cloak room. Her mother was fuming about paying good money and they were only children for goodness sake. Yvetta

and her parents had been turfed out of the Portersville Academie de Dance recital and ordered never to set foot in the school again either.

Yvetta's mother then rounded on her.

"What on earth were you doing up there?" she cried. There was no danger of their being heard in the hall as Madame Zoia had turned up the volume of the next groups' music to hamper further discussion of the 6-to-9's. The only sound in the cloak room was a faint "shhhhh" noise" coming from a small skylight above them.

"At least it's the summer." her mother continued, "Do you have any idea how they'd tease you about something like that if it were school time? This is a small town, Yvetta. It could be years before you live it down. Your father and I have never been thrown out of anywhere in our lives!" She groaned and glanced at the skylight.

"And if that weren't enough, we've only brought sweaters. Look at that, we're going to get...."

Yvetta's mother stopped mid-sentence. Her back shot up straight and her eyes flew

open as she realised what she was about to say.

".... soaked," she finished in a whisper.

Yvetta's dad threw open the entrance door and Yvetta squealed with delight.

"Look, mom, I did it! I finally did a dance right!" she beamed and pointed as the three of them stood in the doorway gaping at the inaugural downpour of what was to become a long, steady rain.


Adele Gregory turned her hand to fiction in 2018 after producing training and self-help materials for over fifteen years and had her first short story published in 2020. She produced articles on psychology, counselling and workplace performance for the content site Helium from 2004 to 2011. Adele is originally from San Jose, California but now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland where she also exhibits paintings and drawings.

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