(as seen in Degas’ painting, The Dance Class, 1873-76)
He knew everything about ballet,
and if his old, cracking voice couldn’t speak over our noise,
he’d rap his stick on the floorboards
until we turned to him in various positions,
our skirts swishing against each other as we waited
for him to lean on his stick and reveal some secret
that would place our heads and arms and toes
in line with our souls.
His stick straightened our backs while we practiced,
and it pointed from here to there as we moved across the floor,
but when it rapped until even our skirts stopped rustling
and the quiet hung from the high ceilings like music about to begin,
then he propped both hands on the stick, stood perfectly straight,
and moved his head in a semi-circle to examine each of us,
–the great owl, the professor, the wise one–
to see if we were worthy of him. And we were not;
we were only thoughtless girls who liked to dance.
But he pretended not to notice, and his sandpaper voice growled,
You are dancers, my girls, standing all around this room, but
(and here he paused, rapped, gleamed his eye at us)
can you dance all around me
and lift this decaying body from its gray oldness
to a moment in time where it feels only life–
beautiful, necessary life.
Always now, when we dance on stage, in the lights,
even when he no longer watches,
my body, and maybe theirs too, lends itself to sustain his life,
or a moment of it,
each fluid movement blessing
him with the exacting stick and the old, gruff grace.
–by Amy Krohn