Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina one day. Ballerinas are beautiful, graceful, and they get to twirl in pretty, flowing skirts. For some girls, it becomes their way of life and they go on to make a career out of dancing. For most girls though, it remains a childhood endeavor, remembered fondly and bringing a sense of pride and accomplishment that carries through to other aspects of their lives.
I played piano for a ballet recital in a large church basement with a linoleum floor for a stage and hundreds of parents and friends in metal folding chairs for the audience. The recital consisted of 7 different classes varying in age and skill. Some groups danced to piano music while others danced to a recording and I had not yet seen all the performances when the recital began on that Sunday afternoon.
They went through, class after class, dancing in graceful, fluid unison. Each girl displayed a perfect bun in her hair, with great care taken to ensure all stray strands were both bobby pinned and hair sprayed. Prior to the show, the mothers of the girls no doubt dabbed a spot of blush on their cheeks and a touch of gloss on their lips. Before each group of dancers walked on stage, they rolled their shoulders, shook out their nerves, and took a deep breath. After each performance they beamed with triumph and pride.
Finally the last performance of the day came and my job was done. I traded my seat at the piano for a metal folding chair as I prepared to watch the last dance. Five small chairs were set up in the middle of the stage. And then five older ballerinas dressed in black leotards who had already performed earlier that day, walked onto the stage. Each one carried a little girl, dressed in pink from her body suit and flowing tutu, to her pink tights and toe shoes. The older girls sat the younger girls in their respective chairs and then took their place behind them, still using their hands to support the little girls in their chairs. That’s when I realized, the little girls couldn’t walk.
Not only couldn’t they walk, but some little girls couldn’t control their hand or arm muscles. One little girl fought to control each breath she took, breathing easily for a while and then suddenly gasping for air as if she were under water for minutes and finally able to inhale. It took a long time for the little girls to situate in their chairs. Some began to cry at the sight of the audience and the older ballerina would come around to the front and tenderly stroke her face, whispering words of encouragement and comfort. Finally the music began.
The music was a deep, soothing cello and soon the audience was entranced, swaying unconsciously and smiling with a tear in each eye. The older ballerinas helped each little ballerina move her arms to the choreographed dance. They fluttered them up and down like butterflies, opened and closed them like a flower, while their faces shown with the radiance of the sunshine.
When they were finished, they received the longest, most heartfelt applause of any performance. Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina one day. And today was their day.