Hank stopped by the window to peer in at the dancers in the old garage-turned-rehearsal studio. He enjoyed taking this particular path through his daily routine because it felt like such an indulgence to take even just a few moments to still himself and watch.
Sometimes the pain rose with the memories as he watched. But he pushed them back to where he had kept them buried for so many years. The corners of his mouth stretched down with the effort.
Today the choreographer seemed to be swimming in his own mind, moving through the space to show the dancers what to do, simultaneously immersed in and unaware of their movements as the routine spilled out of his imagination. He would look up, reaching for the next idea, stretching his arm as the company members followed haphazardly, filtering and assembling the sequences that he would piece together from his own thoughts and in response to their stumbles, twists, inspirations. The dancers, in turn, watched him, looking tentative at the end of each phrase that he threw to them, waiting for the next, stringing them all together from stranded fragments into a thread of story.
Then they stopped, and the choreographer started the music.
Hank could hear the funk beat thudding, even though it was muted on this side of the brick and glass. The dancers paced through what they had just learned, trying to build a sense of the whole, sometimes in sync, sometimes out of it. Supple musculature tightened, relaxed, stretched as the company worked their routine, building the story from the ground up. That was always Hank’s favorite part of the process. It was the creation, the exploration. He stood entranced by the unfolding. He was impressed by how quickly the patterns would come together. He always had been.
A skater whizzed by, bumping Hank so that he had to struggle to keep balance, causing him to drop the bag that had been hanging precariously from his shoulder. The worn shoes tumbled out from under the top flap just as one of the dancers, a tiny but muscular woman with short bobbed blond hair pulled back in two barrettes, pivoted toward the glass in the middle of a pirouette. He noticed her striking eyes—deep pools of brown with sparkling gold flecks—as they first fell on him and then flitted down to the shoes. She smiled at him, surprise lighting her expression. She held out her hand toward him, and his heart beat faster, just for a moment. Then he saw that the other dancers were doing the same.
Just part of the routine. Hank’s eyes fell, a little, fluttering toward the shoes on the sidewalk.
Unexpected movement on the other side of the glass brought his gaze back up and, startled, he realized the blonde dancer had released her pose and turned to face the window. She was still looking his way. In fact, he noticed that they had all stopped, even though the music still pulsed around them. Some of the others were now looking at Hank, some were looking at each other, various expressions of interest or confusion or humor on their faces. The blonde dancer was still staring through the window at the shoes where they had fallen on the sidewalk. Old, worn dance shoes. Hank stared back at her, until her eyes rose to meet his. She smiled again, turning to look at the choreographer. Hank waited, half poised to grab his bag and walk away, but anchored by curiosity.
Then the blonde dancer faced Hank again, extending her hand and waving him in, using her other hand to point toward the door that was right next to the wide window.
Hank hesitated. He couldn’t believe the gesture was for him. He glanced around, slowly drawing his fingertip up to his chest, his face a question. She nodded, and the choreographer’s head echoed the move, bobbing slightly out of time with hers or with the music. Hank crouched, unsure as he picked up his shoes with his left hand and yanked his bag onto his right shoulder. He moved before he could think enough to talk himself out of it, opening the door and walking in.
As he stepped in, smiling faces approached him, reaching hands to shake his, welcoming him. The music still pounded around them, much louder than it had been outside, making it difficult for Hank to hear their words as they spoke. He held up his hand to his ear, smiling and shrugging. Mouths opened in silent laughter as the dancers looked back to the stereo. One of them started toward it to turn it down, but Hank impulsively reached and grabbed his arm. He smiled at the questioning look he got in response, and quickly kicked off his street shoes, beginning to pull his tattered dance shoes on.
The dancers got the idea before he was finished, and moved onto the floor space to start the routine again. As they moved into their poses, shifting from one move to another, Hank joined them, standing off to one side to follow.
Taking the first steps, Hank stumbled a bit. His mind was a bit hazy, his body a bit rusty, but it didn’t take him long. His muscles remembered before his brain, and his feet and legs began to echo what the other dancers were doing. Shaky, tentative steps became more sure. He smiled, realizing he had taken this routine into his mind as quickly as he always had. It was true… you never really forgot.
Memory flooded back to him, images from the many years he had spent in a studio just like this one. The days when he was Henry… the hard, aching years of training, the long, weary weeks of rehearsals, the anxiety of auditioning, of working until his toenails turned black and fell off, at times. And the great triumph, when he finally got into a large company, was that he was able to live his dream for a little while.
As he dreamed his memories, the group reached the end of their routine, but Hank was inspired now. He couldn’t stop. He fell into improvisation, and was delighted to notice several of the dancers follow him, taking the risk to play and experiment. The choreographer watched, unconcerned, his face filling with inspiration as the other dancers joined into a cascade of arms and legs moving, synchronizing and falling away into their own patterns.
Hank was drawn to the center of this gathering that swirled and eddied around him like a brook in spring tripping around rocks and stones. It was eclectic and exciting, and as the music rose in pitch, so did the fever of the dance, with Hank spinning and stepping in the middle of the joyful whirlpool around him. Before he realized it, the blond dancer was in his arms, and as the others moved back slightly in their movements, she and Hank danced a passionate, jazzy duet that made his mind grow hot, his movements becoming more urgent and elated.
This was what Hank loved. He was Henry again. This was what he had always been, and he couldn’t describe the emotion of being back in it, allowing the past that he had hidden from himself for so long to bubble up through the pounding rhythm and the pounding of his own feet. He looked up, lifting his partner securely as she stretched to an arabesque in his steady hands, her thorough trust in him bringing the tears to his eyes. As he brought her back down, the blond dancer laughed and smiled at him as they spun faster and faster, the other dancers moving back in again, a loose jumble of elated movement and music whirling toward a climax…
The music stopped, and Hank blinked twice, startled by the sun that was now reflecting off of the glass into his eyes. The dream broken, he found himself still standing outside the window, staring into the studio as the dancers gathered their bags and water bottles and wandered out, their work day ended. It took Hank a moment to regain his bearings, before he turned and looked down at his shoes, still lying on the sidewalk where they had fallen.
Hank rubbed his eyes. He had never felt a dream to be so real. He felt the wetness on his cheek, even felt the familiar tension and excitement in his muscles that would have been there after a good, intense rehearsal. Then he shook his head. Impossible. He must be more tired than he thought. He could never have danced like that now. Not anymore; not since… How could he have believed a dream that had been so unreal?
Realizing he was now late for the evening meal at the soup kitchen, he turned awkwardly and attempted to bend to pick up the shoes and the bag. Unable to balance properly, he tried to get a more secure stance on his shuddering legs, but before he could, he saw other hands reaching down, grasping the shoes. As he followed the muscular arms to their source, he saw bobbed blond hair in two barrettes, which, as the hands lifted the shoes from the ground, rose to reveal a smiling face looking into his.
The deep brown eyes with gold flecks danced as she handed him his shoes, lifted his bag onto his shoulder for him. She grasped his hands and squeezed them around the shoes, gazing at him. Hank couldn’t help but smile back, and as he did, one of the eyes winked at him. Then, with one more squeeze of his hands, she turned and walked away.
With wonder in his heart, Hank watched her go for a few moments before he turned the other way, hobbling on twisted legs toward the homeless shelter on the next block, his heart inexplicably light. Yes, this was a memory he could hold on to—one that filled him with a hope he hadn’t had for years before stopping at that window. He began to whistle on his way, his heart dancing again.
Original article can be found on the EAP Magazine blog