Backstage is chaos barely contained. My ballet shoes are heavy at the toes, holding me fast to the ground. I stand in the wings, a flurry of nerves at my back and a stillness of expectation before me.
The orchestra is tuning up, starting in a single wail that’s seized by others and taken down separate paths. My heart goes with them, racing to keep up. The strands of noise and music climb until I think they might lift me into the rafters, bursting with everything they hold.
Then it stops, and all I can hear is the pounding in my ears.
Silence drapes over me.
I’m holding my breath. I think everyone is. This isn’t a pause of calm, it’s the numbness of excitement.
And it shatters with thunderous applause.
I shift my weight from one foot to the other, my eyes fixed on the stage. Waiting. Waiting for the curtains to part, for the music to begin, for the dance to start. My nerves are tying themselves into knots, giddy and panicked and wild.
The thunder dies down, and there’s another pulse of silence.
I feel it shudder through me.
Fluttering notes rise from the orchestra pit, and the curtains sway as they are pulled apart. It is time. I take a deep breath and draw myself up, up, up, until I am gliding onto the stage.
Before me are the shadowed forms of my audience. Scattered throughout the seats, blank glasses reflect the glare of the stage lights, staring at me like owls in the dark.
With pointed toes, lifted chin, and smooth movements, I let the music sink into my bones. The nerves are gone, the excitement has settled, the chaos is dissolving into order as I bend and leap to the swell of strings.
This is home.
Soft melodies give way to charged notes, instruments chasing each other round and round as the stage fills. There are other dancers fluttering around me, colors and music tangling together as we take the stage by storm.
The beat holds us together, never faltering, always poised. My breathing grows heavy and sweat forms under my makeup. The points of my shoes thump softly when I land, my toes are burning inside.
I have lost myself to time, my heartbeat rising as the end approaches. The orchestra is racing to the close, its drums hurling me towards the finish. The dancers blur around me as I pull myself into my last pose. The music is stringing out its final notes. Holding, holding, holding . . .
Then everything stills.
A beat of silence, then crashing applause.
My lungs heave for air as I lower myself in a bow. A smile sneaks over my face. Before every performance, I wonder what moments will stay with me. In the end, there is one that always remains clear in my mind. The blinding lights, the deafening applause, the exhilaration pounding through my veins . . .
This is the moment that stays forever.