I was so fucking proud of myself today. I mean, DAMN man, that shit was hot. I was on FIRE on that stage. All the judges thought so too. That hot chick – I forgot her name – she was like man, I can FEEL ya. Okay so maybe she didn’t say it that way but I mean, seriously, there was a vibe goin on in there tonight, and it was all cuz of me. I neva knew I could move my body that way. I never knew the power of expression in my limbs, in my leg extensions, in my spins, twirls, and leaps. Hell, my dad thought I was trippin or high or something every time I practiced in front of him. “Contemporary…is a piece of SHIT” he would tell me. “You ain’t no white kid son. You livin in the ghettos you gotta stop doing this shit.”
But nobody understood me. Nobody knew the..axxilleration I got from my dancing. When I heard the music, that beat just runs through me and my arms and legs synchronize themselves and just move. They move to the beat, and my entire body begins leaping. My face reflects the song, but my eyes reflec the ecstasy and joy of dancing. “You have a real sparkle in you. You’ve got heart,” another judge told me tonight. She told me that, and I thought to myself “I gotta have heard. I’m from the ghetto. You ain’t got heart here, you’re dead.”
“You were loyal to the piece, you’re going to go very far Adé”
I started crying when she said that to me, great big tears of pride and satisfaction. I had fought real hard to get there too, so it was only fair that I finally got some respect for putting everything that I thought was normal for this. I wasn’t playing bball in the streets all day, I wasn’t getting hammered..as much. So what if I don’t like guns and knives, so what if I was born n the ghetto. My heart fucking soars when I leap; I live for the music. Going to the downtown New York City studio was my escape. When I got on that train and left Brooklyn for downtown New York City, I was escaping. I left behind Brooklyn’s streets, the rules of the ghetto, and the stereotypes – I shed my outer skin. So I went there for the five free lessons at first – there was a coupon we’d gotten in the mail but my dad threw it out before he thought I could see. But I saw and grabbed it outta the trash later. Even then, he hated how much I liked dance. He thought music was fine – tonsa famous rich black singers, he said, but there ain’t no black singers ever on the news. I didn’t care though. This was my ticket to equality. I’m finally gonna do it, and I’m gonna get outta this shithole too.
It wasn’t hard to get to the actual studio, I mean, my dad didn’t expect me to stay at home all day. Hell, he was prolly glad I was breaking curfew and staying out late and shit. All his friends had sons that were already juvenile delinquites – he told me often enough that I wasn’t troublesome enough. But I mean, he don’t know nothing about what it means to live. I don’t need no gang to represent myself, I just need to dance. I tried hip-hop when I got there, it seemed like a lot more people did that and still got rep for bein cool, but it wasn’t for me. It was too harsh, my dance needed to be fluid because my life wasn’t. I mean seriously, life in “the hood” is all about rules, and the lethal consequences of not memorizing and abiding by them. Can’t be nice to nobody in one neighborhood, can’t speak at all down the block unless I wanna get shot up or hurt real bad. It was just too much, but here in New York City, all that was miles away, and dance was more important.
The studio gave me free lessons but I loved the place, I wanted more. After the first three lessons I walked in early once and saw this bombshell of a girl. She was all butt and boobs, but pretty good at dancing. She did what they told me was contemporary – you moved how the music told you to. She did it like it was all acrobatics and tricks. That’s all I saw that first time – some wack girl doing cartwheels, flips, jumping all over the place, and acting weird. I thought she was just goofin off because she didn’t think I was here but then I saw that there was an instructor there and she looked pretty happy with what she saw. I walked in and she told me I should try this too – said I had the right build; I’d make a real good contemporary dancer. I tried it with her and I felt like I was flying! I was so caught up in the feel of the music, I felt my arms and legs expanding and leaping all by themselves when the music got faster or louder, and my entire body contracted itself into a finite dance space when the music seemed to slow down and condense itself. There was a pause and I swear I wasn’t fucking planning it at all, but my entire body just froze right after a flip I’d done, and it was stock still for an instant before I sprang back into another leap that turned into a front flip when the music suddenly soared to new heights. I loved this. This was what my body had been craving all this time.
The studio was $240 a month for unlimited lessons. I had to take a break for three weeks while I planned this all out. Damn, those three weeks without any lessons to look forward to were hell. I mean I ended up getting hammered with my friends – we were totally twisted and I felt like shit the next day, which means it was an awesome night, but it just didn’t feel as fun or relaxing as dancing did now that I had a real taste of it. So after those three weeks I was like, “shit man, I really need to keep dancing.” Math was never my favorite subject, but I took out my rusting calculator and told myself that I was gonna start up a proper budget and stick to it.
See, I work at a deli here in Brooklyn. It’s minimum wage but its like seven hours a day and five days a week, plus lunch is on the house. So that was $7.25 an hour times 7 hours a day times 5 days a week times 4 weeks a month. Anyway, I made like over a thousand bucks a month – I could definitely afford spending $250 on the unlimited studio lessons. I was prolly gonna go there every day cuz my dad paid for the unlimited Metrocard I had – I told him I needed it for when I went out to west 4th street for my basketball games with my crew. We weren’t really a crew, just a buncha kids who liked playing sports in the city more than being possibly killed at a park in Brooklyn cuz our ball bounced against the wrong basketball net. I wasn’t gonna be able to drink as much, prolly get hammered every other weekend instead of every other day, but I was bein productive with my life again, and it was healthier for a dancer anyway. I can’t believe I already think of myself as a dancer. I ain’t nobody yet, but I’ll change it, don’t worry.
So I signed up for those lessons and three months later, here I was, walking from the studio to the Christopher street subway station. It wasn’t the closest but the walk through the West Village was always calming. Someday, I was gonna buy myself an apartment here – it was a real pretty neighborhood.
By the time I finally got home taking the most roundabout route you can imagine, it was pretty late. I took out a cigarette, lit it up, and passed it all over my clothes and skin. When I thought I smelled disgusting enough I threw it on the ground, stomped it out, and made my way inside. I didn’t wanna fake alcohol unless I had to but I walked past the living room and walked straight to my room. I walked in ready to collapse in bed after the tiring day but I saw my dad sitting there with a letter in his hand. He looked pretty livid so I told myself I was a fucking retard for coming home this early. Shoulda just let myself in after he went to sleep. He got up and lunged at me, I jumped outta the way and asked him what the hell I’d done wrong now.
He threw that letter in my face.
I read it quickly, my mind only half in it – I was eying my dad cautiously cuz I didn’t wanna get caught unaware. My body was already sore enough from the dance lessons, I didn’t need him beating the shit out of me on top of that. I’d spent the last month preparing for a huge dance competition. Okay well not huge, but all the schools in downtown NYC got together and put on this friendly competition. Those comments I mentioned up in the beginning – that’s what those were from. I came in 10th place but i was fucking proud as hell. I beat over a 100 other dancers to get there, and next year, I was gonna be first no matter what.
The letter was for auditions for an upcoming dance competition. They needed talented dancers like me to try out – if I got in, I was getting a spot in this dance show and the chance to be on TV. My ticket to equality. I have a lot of those; none of them ever go all the way there, but I’m always at least one stop closer. The studio had sent it out to all the students and addressed it as such – my dad was, needless to say, pretty pissed. He didn’t know about my dancing at all, remember. He didn’t think it was manly enough, and didn’t wanna come watch me so I could prove to him how wrong he was.
We fought and I left the home for some fresh air to clear my head. I regretted not actually smoking that cigarette before and took another one out. I was about to light it, had second thoughts, and put it back away. I kept walking and this hobo on the street who’d probably seen me take out my cigarette asked me to help him out and give him a cigarette and light. Now I mean, I work hard to afford my cigarettes and I ain’t about to give them to some nobody lowlife on the streets. I ignored him and kept walking.
“Don’t you dare fucking ignore me nigga,” the hobo yelled out behind me. I kept walking, cursing myself a thousand times over for leaving the house. This was not a good day, and this was not the safe West Village in downtown New York City either. I told him I didn’t have none for him but that was definitely the worst mistake ever cuz now the hobo was freaking following me. I called the home phone hoping my dad would pick up but obviously he was too pissed and probably drinking on the cough, too lazy to get up for the phone. Fuck my life. Fuck.
I quickened my pace and still, he noisily followed me. I was a block away from the main road now, there’s no way this creep was gonna stalk me there. I thought I heard him say something behind me again but I was too busy trying to put as much distance between us as I could. I considered running for it but that was a sure way to get myself into even more deep shit. I kept trying the home phone, still no luck.
“Dude, take a cigarette and get away from here,” I said in desperation. Annoyed, I slowed down and held out a cigarette to the dirty homeless man who was staring at me with a very disconcerting expression. He got closer, muttering about how selfish I was. I bit back my anger and waited for him – he was a few steps away now. I reached for the lighter in my pocket. He thought I was reaching for a gun and leapt those last few steps straight for my throat. And then my world went blank.
He died. The dancer died.