Backstage before a show is my favorite place to be. We all file in the door and swarm onto the dark stage. We are louder than we should be, forgetting that the only means of division between us and the audience is a red velvet curtain. We aren’t in their world anymore. Backstage everyone hugs and laughs and moves through their individual good luck rituals. Everyone hugs everyone else even though on Tuesday veronica cried because shannon was making her crazy. I smile and laugh even though I cried this week too because sometimes everything just feels like it’s ending. The black floor sparkles and our costumes glisten. Someone jumps and their pointe shoes bang too loud on the ground. Then one of the little boys makes a girl squeal and we all get yelled at and scatter into the wings.
As the music starts and the curtain opens, the distance between our worlds grows bigger. I look at the way the stage lights filter dust against the black of the audience. I think about how last night I lay on the hood of my car and looked up at the star filled sky. The specks of dust twinkle and fall like the stars did. This is real, we all know this is real. When it is over we all hug again. We cry too. It feels like loss. We have to rejoin the other world, where stars are stars and not dust dancing around in the light. Everyone is all sad and happy and glowing. The whole room is glowing like the filament in an old lightbulb. We are addicted to it. To the lights and the music and our world. We are addicted to the rush. Later I pray that it will never end all the way, that I won’t forget that feeling. When you’re older you realize that one day it really will be the last time and then it’s all you can do to not think about that every time that curtain opens.
Janet was the Sugar Plum fairy of my youth. I grew up watching her walk the hallways of dancing school with the same ethereal presence she held on the stage. This year she bowed for the last time in front of 2,000 people and amidst falling rose petals. Years ago I stayed up one night thinking about what it would be like for her to stop. No one at all dances like she does. After the curtain closed that night she lay down right there on the warm stage. Her family, students, and countless admirers surrounded her to offer sincere congratulations. I slipped back to the dressing room alone though. Later she found me and asked me to unhook her tutu. As I undid I hesitated, not wanting to watch that ending, but then I thought about the rose petals and the 2,000 people and her standing at the front of the stage and how that was our life and I decided that we actually might never have to join the real world again after all.