It was only until I felt the thump of the car hitting the pavement of a driveway when I realized that we weren't home. Just as I was about to ask my grandma where we were, I spotted her house at the end of it. Ah, I guess that made sense. Her home was only a couple of blocks away from the store we had just left and much closer to the gym than our one were.
“It'll be easier to pick up your sisters from here, and it's where I have those tapes we'll be watching.”
She lived alone so nobody else would be there, and if this meant that my lesson would be longer, I was all for it. I was actually quite eager to get started. Now that I had the proper attire for it, I was keen on putting it to use. As she had said, it would have been a waste otherwise.
“I'll go and find those tapes. Why don't you try on your skirt and tights while you're waiting?” she said as we entered.
I hadn't wanted to wear either of these, especially the skirt, but it was the least I could do for her after all this. Like my leotard, I suppose that it would have been wasteful not to try them on at least once.
As she left the room, I placed the bag down on her table and began to undress down to my new leotard. It felt very liberating to free myself from my other clothes although I couldn't help but feel a little ashamed as well. Would this feeling ever disappear? It was a bit disappointing to find that it was still affecting me. It was safe to say that my grandma didn't mind in the least, in fact she was probably enjoying this.
I shook it off. If she was enjoying this, I should be too, and now that I had this as my own, perhaps the more I wore it, the more that this feeling would fade and eventually disappear.
I opened up the bag to retrieve those tights, tearing apart its wrapping. They were white. A good contrast to go with my mostly black leotard, I guess. Taking them in one hand, I was surprised as they dangled from it. I had always thought tights were similar to socks, only longer and weren't as thick, making them see through. Instead of two separate pieces though, it was only one, merging together at the top.
Because of this, they looked difficult to get into. I then actually realized that in order to wear these correctly, I would need to put them on first, before my leotard. Come to think of it, if they weren't like this, they wouldn't look right and probably wouldn't stay up. Just like entering that bathing suit for the first time, not knowing how to put it on, it was a new experience for me, something that I probably otherwise would have never thought of. Even before my lesson had started, it was surprising how much I was learning.
Knowing that I would have to strip to wear these, I walked over to her vacant bedroom, closing its door behind me. Pulling my hands through each of my leotard's straps, I then pulled it down and stepped out of it. I was quite pleased with myself as it was very swift, unlike previous times when I often fumbled with it. It was a sign that I was becoming used to it.
Sitting on the end of her bed, I held the tights in my hand and attempted to put them on. Now these, needless to say, I wasn't used to. When putting on socks, I would normally have my legs wide apart. With these though, I was forced to keep them together for the most part, making the tights very tricky to pull up.
It took me a number of attempts. On my first one, as my feet didn't seem to fit right, I discovered that they had a front and a back. With this corrected, I still spent a minute or so tugging at them, trying to pull them up all the way. I ended up having to start over, stretching them as much as I could from the very bottom. Finally, I was able get the top, which contained an elastic band, around my waist, snapping it into place.
With them now on, I looked down at them. It was astonishing at how long they could stretch. Just a moment ago they were in a packet smaller than an envelope and now they were covering almost half of me. They weren't as transparent as I thought they would be. If someone were to see them at a couple of meters away, they would probably appear as solid white.
As for how they felt, exactly as their name, they were tight, although not to a point of being uncomfortable. I got up and donned my leotard over top of them. As they weren't very thick, it was impossible to know where the top of the tights reached my waist without seeing them. Like my leotard, they could be described as a second skin. I felt naked because of it and yet I was perfectly covered.
All that was left was the skirt. This, thankfully, was simple to put on, requiring no fumbling about with, however that feeling of shame was greatly amplified now that I was wearing it.
I got up and slowly walked over to the door. I stood there, holding its knob in my hand for some time, hesitant to open it. After a sigh, I turned and pulled it open knowing that my grandma wasn't the kind to laugh.
She was waiting for me, sitting in one of the table's chairs. As the door squeaked open, she looked up at me and smiled. A smile that was much more energetic than I would have liked. It confirmed my suspicion that she was enjoying this.
“Wow, Sam. If only if your hair was a bit longer, you could probably pass as a girl.”
…was that supposed to be a compliment?! Before I could even begin to put together a sentence to respond to her, she got up and took my hand.
“Have you seen yourself?”
With the liveliness of taking a new puppy for its first walk, she hastily pulled me over to her guest bedroom. In the corner of it was a large full body antique mirror. I really didn't want to see myself this way as I was sure that it would do nothing to help the embarrassment that I was feeling, but in a blink of an eye, she had positioned me in front of it with her hands on my shoulders, standing behind me.
“What do you think?”
Instead of turning red as a turnip, I stood there staring at myself in disbelief and shock. Was that really me I was seeing?! She was absolutely right; if only the mirror was shorter to not show my face, there was no way to know that behind this skirt, leotard, and tights that there was a body of a boy. Thanks to the skirt, my crotch was completely hidden, removing all traces of my boyishness.
“...I look like a girl.” slipped out of my mouth.
I probably should have taken in a great deal of shame about this but somehow I couldn't. As I stared at my reflection, a small part of me watched in horror as I found my expression unwillingly made its way into a smile.
It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, but not in the way of shame or anger, but more of a way of laughter, as if I was wearing a girl's Halloween costume as a joke or as part of a friend’s dare.
“Do you like it?” my grandma asked.
Looking up at her reflection, I could see that she had noticed my smile as well. I guess that there was no denying it now, although I was positive that she had known my feelings regarding it from long ago.
“Yes, it's fun.”
“Well, you're in store for a great deal more.” she replied in tune. “We haven't started ballet yet.”
A moment or so later, she was in the kitchen making us each a drink while I was working the VCR, rewinding the tape to get it ready. My sisters and I were probably the only ones in our school who knew how to operate one of these. We had stayed here before and had watched a number of old cartoons that she had from it. It made me wonder how old this ballet tape was.
Written on its label in black marker were the words; 'Swan Lake'. From the kitchen she told me that it was a story about a prince and princess, the latter being under a curse making her a swan by day.
Her description had only increased my confusion about ballet. I thought that this was supposed to be dancing, not a play, but as I was about to see it for myself, I didn't bother asking her for the specifics.
Just as the VCR made its clunking noise to signal that it had reached the start of the tape, my grandma came in with our drinks; hot chocolate for me and tea for her.
“This won't be an actual lesson, Sam. More of an introduction to show you what ballet is. However, feel free to try out what you see. I'm sure that you're eager to put your new uniform to use.”
Looking down at it, I was still wearing the skirt and tights. The tights in particular, now that I had them on, would have been too much of an effort to remove. The skirt on the other hand, wouldn't have been any trouble at all, yet here I was, still wearing it.
I would have liked to have convinced myself, and my grandma too for that matter, that as she had already seen me in these, there would be no point in going through the trouble of removing them, however if I were to be completely sincere, I knew that wasn't entirely truthful. There was a small part of me that found this to be fun, in a silly kind of way that I couldn't fully explain.
I hit the VCR's play button and joined my grandma on the sofa, picking up my drink in the process.
As I had expected, the video quality wasn't as good as a DVD but it was still watchable nonetheless. It started out with an introduction on the history of Swan Lake although I was still left wondering if this would be more of a play or a dance as it described itself simply as a ballet, nothing more.
It was clearly a professional act put on in an impressive theatre in front of a live audience. As my grandma mentioned that she had done ballet when she was younger, I had half expected this to be a tape with her in it. I hadn't noticed a year to state when this was produced but it appeared to be too modern for that.
It quickly became apparent that ballet was a hybrid of a play and a dance. While there wasn't a single spoken word, it did have characters, sets, and acts. Words were substituted for pieces of classical music, most of which I found to be fantastic and that's not even taking in account the excellent performance that went along with it.
When it had first started off, I was a bit unnerved to find that the performers weren't wearing leotards but actual costumes, although I did notice that they were wearing tights, the men included. I had guessed that perhaps leotards were something only worn in practice, however it wasn't long until I saw one, a much more dazzling one than mine I must add.
It was pure white with jewels covering it which sparkled in the limelight as she performed. It looked to be strapless, unless its straps were very thin or transparent, probably both. Along with it was a skirt, a tutu to be specific. Unlike mine which was loose, falling down under the effects of gravity, her one was mostly flat and was much larger, extending out to about half of her arm's length. It was made up of countless layers cut in to long narrow shapes that reminded me of feathers, which I then realized was probably the intended effect.
Like me, she was wearing plain white tights. Upon her head was a tiara which sported feathers, or possibly some material to look like them. I couldn't be sure due to the quality of the footage.
It was the costume for Odette, the princess, when she was in her swan form, my grandma told me. That much was clear although I was thankful that she was providing commentary as some parts were vague and difficult to comprehend. This was the minority though, which was saying a lot since not a single word had yet been spoken.
Although her uniform was stunning, the most noticeable part was her feet, her shoes in particular. During her performance, she was often standing upon the tips of them. My grandma told me that they were called pointe shoes. The pointe technique was when a ballerina supported her entire body on the tips of her fully extended feet, she went on.
“That looks painful, and difficult.” I couldn't help but say.
“The shoes are designed for it. It's not painful but you're correct in that it's difficult. It took me and my friends many classes to finally be able to do that, although I doubt that I'll be able to pull it off today.”
“We'll start off with the basic movements first so you won't need your own shoes just yet.” she added.
This didn't trouble me. No matter how many lessons were ahead of me, I couldn't see myself good enough to be able to do that. It was the leotard that was the most important item anyway, to which I was now a proud owner of.
Along with providing commentary for the story and characters, she pointed out each dance move as it was performed. Couru, Pas de Bourrée, Pas de Chat, Passé, and many, many more. There were so many that I eventually lost track and it didn't help that some had very similar names, all of which were foreign.
As my mug was almost empty, I took the final sip of it and placed it down on the table beside me with a light tap.
“Now that your drink's finished, why not go give it a try, Sam?” my grandma asked a few seconds later.
I felt well outside the league of the performers on screen but I still wanted to give it a go, mostly to put my leotard to its intended use which I had eagerly been awaiting ever since we had left its store.
Lifting myself up, I walked over to the middle of the room. Needless to say, it was far smaller than the stage we were watching so I wouldn't be able to attempt the huge leaps that some of the dancers were making. Actually, I probably should avoid any jumps altogether as her home was littered with China ornaments and other fragile decorations that may fall and break with my thumping.
I decided to stick with the simple moves, acting them out from the screen. It didn't feel that I was even close to doing them justice but that didn't stop my grandma from providing me with plenty of praise.
I started off very timidly, doing the most basics of moves that I could see. Although I had wanted to do this, I was a bit uncomfortable with her eyeing me as I pranced about in a skirt. Her compliments had helped a great deal though and it wasn't long until this feeling vanished entirely. After that, every time I received her praise, it made me stride to do better.
Now and then she also politely pointed out problems with my form such as my feet, legs, or back wasn't straight or high enough. I was sure that she wasn't being as pedantic as she could have been, likely because it was my very first lesson, which I appreciated.
As we continued, I did feel that I was getting better. I didn't stumble as often and felt my movements flowed naturally from one to the next, which was a key element of ballet, my grandma had said.
It was funny actually. This began as I had wanted to make use of my leotard as it was designed for but after twenty minutes or so, I was so absorbed in my dancing that I had completely forgotten that I was wearing it, along with the skirt and tights. It made me reminisce back to my day at the beach. Although I started off so unbearably ashamed about wearing that bathing suit, like this, after only a short amount of time, I was enjoying myself so much that I became entirely unaware of it.
It was only until I performed my first pirouette, a one-legged spin, when this realization came back to me. As I span, I noticed my skirt flowed out with me. It was something that was unmistakably girlish but for some reason I didn't take a single pinch of shame in doing it, in fact it was such a pleasant discovery that I couldn't help but to repeat it several more times, all while looking down at it as it flared up.
I stopped sharply on my third or fourth spin. As my grandma was sitting behind me and hadn't said anything for some time, I completely overlooked that she had been observing me.
She was smiling at me, clearly noticing that I had made a new discovery. I opened my mouth to say something but as I hadn't formed it yet, nothing came out.
“Ah, how could I forget? I haven't taught you one of the most important things; how to révérence, to curtsey.”
“Begin in first position, Sam. Put your right foot behind the other, lifting it up, pointing it towards the floor.”
A curtsey? I was sure that it was primary a girl's gesture but I suppose like wearing tights, it may have been something done by both sexes in ballet. Although on the other hand, I was wearing a girl's uniform... Could it be that because of this, she was training me as a girl? I didn't want to think about it, and since we've been having such a good time, I didn't want to harm it by bringing up such an awkward question.
I obediently followed her instructions, doing a few. As it was a gesture, not a dance move, it didn't involve a lot of movement, making them very simple to do and easy to master.
“Very good. That's a ballet curtsey but there are several others. When doing a standard curtsey, you would gently take the sides of your skirt in each hand, holding it up as you bend down.”
I couldn't help but try a few of those as well. Like when doing a pirouette, it was enjoyable interacting with my skirt, the only part of my uniform that I could since the rest of it was skin tight. I felt a bit worrisome though. Why did she tell me about a standard curtsey? As I was only doing ballet, had she expected me to use it? No, I was thinking too much into it. She had only brought up this gesture as it had involved the skirt which I had reminded her of.
“It's traditional to do a curtsey to your teacher after each lesson as a sign of respect, Sam.”
Although she hadn't implied it, I turned towards her, performing one as best as I could. For all that she had done for me so far, she had deserved at least this in return. As I raised myself back up, I looked at her expecting to see a smile in return. I was taken aback to find her mouth was open it terror. Had I offended her?!
“Oh, my. I’ve completely forgotten about your sisters.”
Although it was relieving to hear that I wasn't responsible for her shock, turning to her clock, I was also stunned to find that we were meant to pick them up over half an hour ago! Looking out the window, it was really starting to get dark. We must have been so absorbed in ballet that we simply hadn't noticed.
“We better hurry. Get dressed and ready to go, Sam.”
With that said, I guess that meant my first lesson was now over. I was a bit disappointed as we hadn't gotten all the way through that tape so I hoped that it wouldn't be my last one either. As I would only be doing this if my sisters had enjoyed their gymnastics, it'll be all up to them if I continued or not, and I suspect that our tardiness wouldn't be doing any favours in this area.
Rushing back to her bedroom, I hastily threw my top layer of clothing back on. It was uncanny that I had elected to wear pants today, rather than shorts, unlike every other day this summer, which thankfully covered up my tights so I didn't have to spend the time removing them. I didn't bother taking off my skirt either. Although it may have fitted into my pants' pocket, I didn't want to crease it, but just in case, I couldn't help spending a few seconds or so to make sure it was tucked in, hidden from view. With it secure, I proceeded to the car, meeting her there.
“So what did you think of ballet, Sam? Enjoyed it?” she said as we were on our way.
“Yea, although I doubt I'll ever be as good as the dancers in that video.”
“Don't say that. Practice makes perfect. I hope that your sisters had enjoyed their gymnastics as well so we'll be able to continue with it, although I may be able to arrange something if not.”
It was clear that her enthusiasm was just as high as mine, probably even higher. Her support had been overwhelming so far and now it had reached a new level in that she was willing to continue this even if my sisters didn't want to. Although I was extremely pleased to have it, I did feel a bit troubled by this. What did she mean by an arrangement? Doesn't that imply that someone else was to be involved? I didn't want to think about it and if I were lucky, I wouldn't have to.
“Thanks.” was all I could say in response.
“How are you finding your uniform? Do you like your skirt and tights?”
I knew this was coming. She had seen me performing my first twirl and I could clearly recall that smile she was wearing when I had noticed this, so I was positive that she already knew what I felt about it. She probably just wanted to hear it from me. Although I was still a bit embarrassed about it, it wasn't enough to lie about.
“Yes, I like them. Wearing that skirt was actually fun.”
Gah, that last sentence felt so wrong to say as it left my mouth. I wish I could have taken it back but as much as I didn't like admitting to it, it was entirely true.
“You don't mind, do you?” I added.
This hadn't come out as I had intended it to. What I had meant to say was to ask her if she thought it was unusual. I was about to expand on it but she replied before I was able to.
“Absolutely not, but it wouldn't matter if I did. If you're enjoying something and it's not harming others, you shouldn't concern yourself about what others think of you, Sam.”
“I had recently read an article which had listed the biggest regrets of terminal ill patients. Guess what the leading one was? 'I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.'”
The way she had emphasized the quote told me that it was one she lived by. Even before that day at the beach when this had all started, I had kind of already known this but it was made much clearer when put into a single sentence.
Although I hadn't expected anything less from her, it still did raise my spirits to hear this as it meant that there was no reason that I should be feeling embarrassed or ashamed about wearing my leotard or bathing suit, or anything else for that matter, in front of her. I would remember this for our next lesson.
As comforting as that was though, it didn't apply to my sisters, friends, or classmates. It was painful enough just thinking about how devastating it would be if any of them were to find out about this. The amount of risks I had already taken was concerning.
Wanting to cast those thoughts aside, I turned the topic back to ballet, asking her how I had done so far. Like when I was doing it, she provided a lot of praise and was pleased at how energetic I had been about it, although she advised that it was my form and posture that needed work. Since I was still in my uniform, I decided that I'll keep practising when we got home, in the privacy of my own room of course.
She must have been speeding as the next time I looked up I could see the gymnasium just ahead of us. I had expected to see my sisters at the entrance with faces of disapproval due to our lateness, however they weren't there, nor was anyone else, but its door was still open.
“They must still be inside. Do you want to come in?” my grandma asked.
I left the car with her to find them although my primary motivation for doing so was to satisfy my curiosity of seeing exactly what they were doing. I suspected that their class had finished though.
As we walked through its doors, I was quite surprised at how vast the place was. Although it was large on the outside, it somehow seemed even bigger within. There was a small office area at the entrance but outside of that, it was made up of one very large room which needed a number of support pillars to hold up its ceiling.
Although I don't think that I had ever been inside a gymnasium before, it was everything that I had expected one to be as if I had seen pictures of them somewhere before. At the front there was a very large mat. Scattered around the rest of it were bars, trampolines, rings, a pool full of foam, and a number of other equipment that I couldn't name.
As suspected, there weren't many others here, likely having already left, but we spied my sisters at the back playing on one of the trampolines. There were a few other girls about as well using other equipment. They too were wearing leotards. One of them was walking across a beam in a shiny neon pink and white one that was very eye-catching which was amplified even further due to the spotlights above shining on her.
You would have thought that I had seen enough leotards to last a year today but even now I couldn't help but to continue admiring them. Earlier on at the store, I had dismissed many as they were simply too girlish but after hearing what my grandma had said, it now didn't faze me at all. Even though I now had one as my own, I don't think that I would have hesitated if I got the opportunity to try on one like hers, or any other for that matter.
When I diverted my eyes off the girl, my sisters were skipping over to us, clearly noticing our entry.
“Sorry we're late. Lost track of time.” my grandma said when they were within earshot.
“It's all right. We played on the equipment.” Faye replied.
“So, how did you like it? Would you like to continue?” my grandma asked, getting straight to the point, not wasting any time. This was the million dollar question.
“Yeah, it was great fun.” she replied smiling, bouncing on the balls of her feet. April was nodding, sharing her cheerfulness. Seeing this, I couldn't help but smile myself.
“I'm glad to hear that.” my grandma replied turning her head to face me, smiling as well. “Well, I'll talk to the staff to get you registered.”
While she was in the office area doing this, my sisters told me what they had been doing for the last few hours. It was clear that like me, they had really enjoyed their time. They seemed to have learnt quite a bit already as they pointed out all the equipment, telling me what it was called and how it was used.
While waiting for our grandma, they began doing cartwheels on the mat. I was almost about to try one myself but I stopped abruptly as I realized I was wearing my ballet uniform underneath which would probably become exposed. It clearly wasn't worth the risk.
It made me think though. Had I made the right choice in selecting ballet? Although I had liked it far more than I had ever thought that I would, gymnastics sounded like it would have been good fun as well. Sure, I would have been mocked by my sisters for wearing a leotard but when I wore that bathing suit, it actually hadn't lasted long and more to the point, I was having so much fun that I barely cared anyway.
What troubled me the most though was that if I had chosen to do gymnastics, I would be here with them in a leotard as well, not having to conceal it or the ballet lesson that I had just finished, now and in the future. The part of me that I saw smiling back at myself in the mirror, I could almost hear him screaming at me to simply confess, to get it over and done with. He had a point too; although it would no doubt surprise them, among other things, they would eventually accept it.
With a deep breath, I made up my mind. When we got home, I would tell them. No, make that show them... although it would be best if I lost the skirt.
After a few minutes or so, we were all back in the car. Although it was quite dark now and the air was cooler, my sisters hadn't bothered to get changed. It reminded me of the drive home from the beach. We were all in bathing suits, myself included, and now we were all in leotards, although they weren't aware of mine. It actually made me feel out-of-place, the odd one out, but in only a few minutes time, I would be professing them my secret.
Although my sisters were speaking to us energetically about their class, I was quiet with nervousness. In my head I ran through countless scenarios on how to break this to them but no matter how many times I tried, it was just something I couldn't see working. I was never one to start a conversation and starting one as shocking as this... well, it was difficult to even consider it as an option.
Perhaps it would be better to avoid one altogether? Suppose that after getting home, I would take off my top layer of clothing and just simply go about the rest of the evening as usual. After all, it was the first step that would be the difficult one.
I was so absorbed in thinking about all this that I was barely paying any attention to the conversation that was occurring around me. It was only until I heard the phrase “What were you guys doing?” which had the impact of shattered glass that made me break my silence.
“Watched TV.” I immediately said. This came out louder than I had anticipated, putting a second of silence in the air as it was the first words I had uttered since we had entered the car.
Although I was looking ahead at the wind-shield, I could tell that my grandma had turned towards me, no doubt wearing a frown, feeling a little disappointed with me. It wasn't a lie though, or even a fib. We had watched TV.
To be fair though, if I hadn't interjected I don't think that she would have told my sisters what we had actually been doing. She would have probably said something similar to me, not a lie but a misdirection, as she had made it clear that she wanted me to be the one to tell them.
As I thought of this, it was this that was likely the actual reason why she was disappointed. It was as if I were saying that I didn't trust her. I felt a bit foolish because of it. I would have apologized but I couldn't do that while in my sisters' presence.
When I make my confession though, I'm sure that she'll forgive me.