It was Swan Lake. Of course. Everyone’s first ballet, the one that set them all on this mad career course. Oh sure, a few claimed it was Giselle, but she knew better. Giselle, with its ghosts in white, was cute, but Swan Lake is the one that ropes everyone into thinking they can someday dance Odette or Siegfried or maybe even the Evil Genius who creates Odille to confuse Siegfried into leaving Odette. Her first Swan Lake was a birthday present, when she turned six. Her parents laughed when she said she wanted to be a ballet dancer — after all, last week she wanted to be an astronaut and the week before that a librarian. Convinced she would quit after a few days, they registered her in a class. Three years later she was performing her first recital solo, something she still vividly remembered. It was one she choreographed herself, set to a short piece by Offenbach. The applause set her career path in granite.
She looked at her reflection; had it really been twenty years ago? Was that even possible? Easing into the relentless routine of stretches (forward, back, side, forward, back, side), she tried to wrap her head around the fact that her fellow members of the corps werent even born when she danced that little piece. She began dancing professionally at sixteen, in the corps de ballet. She was a snowflake. A Spanish villager. An anonymous emerald, set third from the left. It wasnt Odette, but at the very least she was dancing, and that was all that mattered. Her attention to technique was flawless. She had the remarkable ability to set her arms and legs in exactly the same position every single time, a guide for every member of the corp to follow.
It was a closing night party for a successful production of Rite of Spring, in which she was Second Russian Village Girl from the Right. The choreographer (for whom she had developed more than a professional admiration) had imbibed a few too many. Through a gin-laden mist, he told her she was stunning to watch, that her body was built for dance, but he couldnt even fathom the possibility of taking her to bed.
“Why not?” she asked, half from curiosity, half from the sting of rejection.
“Love, you have no passion. You know the moves, you dance them brilliantly. But you are a machine, my dear. Not a dancer. I will not bed a machine.”
She left the party moments later and drove to the rehearsal hall. By the time she’d arrived, she’d stopped crying. She stared at her reflection for a moment… and danced. She critically assessed every move, every gesture, every step. And she realized he was right: she was a beautiful, perfect dancing machine… but a machine nevertheless.
Enraged, she tore her eyes from the mirror and crumpled to the hardwood floor. She would never be Odette. She would never be the Sacrificial Bridesmaid. She would never be the Nutcracker’s Queen. Instead, she would forever be the Snowflake. Or the Spanish Villager. Or the Third Anonymous Emerald. And if she wanted to continue as a dancer, she would have to settle for that.
She looked once more at the mirror and, to her amazement, saw herself dancing.
But at the same time it wasnt her. Her reflection was technically perfect, of course, but it danced as though on fire, literally throwing itself from move to gesture to step. It danced with a near righteous fury that sailed across the glass.
Then the reflection stopped. It looked at her. And waited.
She got to uncertain feet. The reflection smiled, tapped a four count, and raised one arm. She followed the gesture. The reflection followed with a small step; she followed in suit. Within moments, the two were dancing the length of the rehearsal hall, she struggling to keep up and yet feeling — knowing! — that something inside had been… unleashed. Fifteen exhausting minutes later, they sat on the floor, laughing at the sheer mad delight of it all. The reflection then stopped, smiled, nodded… and disappeared. What gazed back from the mirror now was… just her.
The following week, the company announced it was adding Swan Lake to the repertory. Emboldened, she auditioned for the role of Odette. The choreographer, smiling uneasily, shook his head, and she retreated to the security of the rehearsal hall…
… where her reflection stood. Waiting. Tapping a four count as it raised one arm…