Apologies for the long hiatus, life has gotten very busy for me lately and I'm having a week off at the moment and taking the time to update fics and catch up on what I've missed (haven't watched any new Steven Universe since Jasper was corrupted, so I have quite a bit to do.) I wanted to get this little ficlet out of the way first.
"Dance, dance... otherwise we are lost."
"All I ever needed was the music and the mirror, and the chance to dance..."
-A Chorus Line
On Homeworld, all but the most broken and damaged of pearls are able to dance on their toes. It's near effortless for them, part of their design, requires no real strength or even coherent thought. They are nearly weightless anyway, compared to regular Gems, so it's merely a case of demonstrating how perfectly balanced they are. A well-made pearl should be able to hold impeccable balance on the barest tip of their toe even when the ground is crumbling around them.
Losing their balance is usually a sign that the pearl has some internal gem damage, causing them to list off to the side instead of ramrod straight, and dropping down to the surface of their feet out of turn is a sign that their mass is frayed. Both of these could be fixed, but most Gems simply sold their damaged pearls and purchased a new one.
On Earth, Pearl adopted the toe-stance without thinking a lot of the time. It came naturally to her, as breathing does to the humans, and when she is danced it happened organically. It seemed wrong to her, somehow, to stay flat on her feet.
Humans had many dances, and she had witnessed a number of them, even as they took themselves away from human society for longer and longer spells. There was something compelling about the way they moved. It was, of course, not as effortless as Gem dances, but just how much power and feeling they could express by a simple shift in their muscles was quite incredible.
For the longest time, the closest any human came to matching a pearl for control and balance was the Shirabyoshi dancer Shizuka, though her work was slow it was methodical and never less than perfect. It was a privilege to watch her dance. Once Shirabyoshi was replaced by Noh theatre, it did seem to lose something of its perfection, though the work was similarly methodical. She never took to court dancing in the 17th century, popular as it was, it all seemed a bit messy and somewhat hysterical.
She gave France a wide berth in the aftermath of the revolution, but when Rose needed to consult with Napoleon's advisors she brought Pearl along, and Pearl found herself loitering in the Opera de Paris while Rose chased Napoleon's supply trail across Europe.
"Goodness, that's very pretty!"
The girl who had cried out reminded Pearl that she had, in fact, been standing on her toes at the mirror, absently stepping back and forth to the piano music. The girl was looking at her like he had performed some amazing feat of skill (and, to a human, she supposed she had.)
Her name was Genevieve, her entire family were involved in the ballet, and Pearl's apparent weightlessness on her toes had thrilled her. She wanted this technique for herself, and begged Pearl to teach her. But she was human, and she could not stay on her toes for any longer than a minute without agony.
For all their clumsiness, humans were nothing if not tenacious. Pearl left France and when she returned, Genevieve had been dancing on her toes with the help of a 'flying machine', a rig of pulleys and cables that helped her simulate the weightlessness she had so admired in Pearl. Sadly, Pearl only got to hear about this second-hand, for Genevieve had died not long after her performance.
A young up-and-coming danseuse named Marie Taglioni carried on from where Genevieve had left off,
in a ballet that had been created to display her talent called La Sylphide. Known as en pointe from then on (Gems had never defined it as a technique nor given it a name, barely gave it a second thought) it spread throughout Europe, was refined in Italy and Russia and codified by Anna Pavlova in the early 20th century. By this time the Crystal Gems were making trips outside of their settlement once a decade, and though Pearl heard of how beautifully Pavlova danced she never got to see for herself.
She tried to understand what drove humans to adopt her way of dancing, and mostly came up with nothing. Trying to mimic what came naturally to pearls wreaked havoc on the human body. They destroyed their feet by forcing so much weight onto them when pearls had no real weight to carry. They tensed and flexed their muscles until they were always visibly bulging when pearls had no muscle mass to keep them upright. They injured and re-injured themselves chasing a perfection that wasn't human, and when it was all finished they had danced for what was, to a Gem, the blink of an eye. Why?
She asked Rose one time, out of confusion, to see if Rose could offer any explanation. Rose supposed that the difference was that humans danced for themselves, to express their love, their sadness, to tell a story, to display a strong and vital body in strength. Pearls danced because they were made to, and ordered to.
It made her sad, then, to think that the humans experienced a joy in their dancing that she would never possess that was worth the pain and risk of harm. On the other hand, she still danced when there was no-one around to order it, so who was to say she wouldn't find the joy eventually the same way the humans had eventually danced on their toes as she did?