It's always late when I leave practice. I don't remember what it's like to take a quick lunch, or a break, or anything resembling a break during practice hours. And practice hours are every day. Sometimes I forget what it's like to feel the sun on my face. And I realize maybe that might sound dramatic, since no one's forcing me to do this. No one's forcing me to embrace the beauty and the horror of my craft with this absurd, narrow-minded focus on being the best and beating the best. No one but myself.
And maybe that's the worst kind of slave contract in the world: the one you sign yourself.
The other dancers have all gone home already. So has our instructor, Miss Suzume. So it's just me in the studio, facing the enormous wall-to-ceiling, unforgiving, painfully honest mirrors and the sprawling expanse of polished hardwood. Me and my sweat and my blood and tears that don't come as quick as they used to, and a little old CD player playing my newest song on repeat.
There's no clock in our dance studio. Miss Suzume tells us it's so we're focused on what we're doing, instead of what time it is. I'm not in any hurry to leave, though. Just in a really big hurry to improve.
I still have so much to do, I think, pausing for a moment. My muscles ache, but that just means I'm getting better. Stronger. Faster, more flexible, more poised. And with so much to do, I can't afford to leave just yet. Even if I can't remember the last time I ate, even if I forget what it's like to take a moment and just relax, even if I'm running on something too diluted to be adrenaline but too indistinguishable to be anything else, I still have work I need to do.
I'm late on my brise' at an integral moment in the piece. I land sloppily, since I'm trying to catch up to the music (and doesn't that just fit my whole life completely? Falling behind, desperately trying to catch up?) So I do what always works for me: I repeat the same move twenty times, until I won't, can't screw it up again.
I make the jump for the nth time, and I move swiftly enough to satisfy myself. The CD player's been playing the same two bars on loop for close to an hour now as I try and execute a masterful performance for the girl spinning and leaping and twirling in the mirror, who is my harshest critic.
When will it be enough for you, girl in the mirror?
"Execution is everything!" I hear Miss Suzume's reedy voice echo throughout the empty studio. "Technique is key, you worthless waste! If you can't keep your toes pointed and your knees straight and your back arched, you might as well get out of this studio and never show your face here again!"
No room for creative interpretation. No room for passion or going with the flow or everything dance used to be to me, as a little girl in a rough neighborhood, dreaming of glamour and renown. Just polishing, refining, honing the basics. Blending into the background. An automaton, programmed to execute move after move on command with startling precision.
And it's what I'm best at. The technical aspect of dance. It's what has won me so many awards, so many trophies and crowns and ribbons and sashes and plaques and certificates and banners from all over the world.
But it's what's destroying me, little by little, every day. This slavish connection I have with music and with ballet, this iron grip of inescapable bondage, this seesaw of love and loathing in the only aspect of my life I ever had any control over, until recently.
I'm Sakura Haruno. I'm seventeen, a student at Konoha Performing Arts Academy, and the principal dancer in the KPAA Student Ballet.
And that's all there is to me, I think.
All you need to know, anyway.
Ino tells me I'm a robot.
I tell her she's a sellout.
She's my best friend.
After I leave the studio, I meet her for a quick workout in the student gym. She knows I've been practicing in the studio for the past six hours, knows the healthiest thing I can do right now is get some food in me and go to sleep so I can start this whole miserable cycle over again in the morning, but she doesn't question me anymore. Not seriously, anyway. She knows I won't listen.
"I kept screwing up my blise'," I tell her, venting my frustration on her and on the elliptical I'm traversing, summoning nonexistent energy to the muscles burning like fire in my thighs. "Stupid fucking mistake after stupid fucking mistake. There's no way they'll accept me at KCA next year, not if I keep fucking up the fundamentals like this!"
"Relax, Forehead," Ino drawls, her long blonde ponytail whipping back and forth as she charges her machine to go slightly faster than mine; despite my exhaustion, I will not be outdone, and I up the speed on mine as well. "Miss Suzume's in your head, you know. You're the best dancer in the school and everyone knows it."
"Not the way I've been performing lately." I raise one hand from the handlebars to brush stubborn pink bangs out of my eyes, and I glance over at the clock on the gym wall that tells me it's 10 o'clock, six hours after dance rehearsal and 18 hours since I ate anything. "And I put on two pounds since last week. Miss Suzume's gonna kill me."
"Not before you kill yourself," Ino scolds me harshly. "Why don't you join me in the hip-hop class, huh? That way you can embrace that gorgeous figure of yours, rather than try and hide it."
She points to my chest, which is heavily bound with tape; ballerinas typically develop late, thanks to such a constantly strenuous workout regimen, but at seventeen, I'm horrified, horrified to finally…blossom, so to speak. Miss Suzume recommends (orders) chest-oriented exercises to try and flatten my breasts, shrink them, harden them, whatever she can do to get rid of them, but they're here to stay.
And really. What seventeen-year-old girl is horrified to finally have a set of 34C's that anyone else would be proud of?
This is my life. These are the sacrifices I make. Little and insignificant at first, but slowly blowing up into something I can't predict or control, until every single facet of my life becomes something to fear, something to correct. Right down to my physical development.
"I'll leave the booty-popping to you," I sigh. "I think Miss Suzume hates me for even talking to you, after you quit ballet last year."
Ino and I were ballerinas together throughout our whole lives. Bitter rivals, better friends, pushing each other faster and harder until one day, in practice last year, Ino just snapped. Told Miss Suzume where to shove her baton and stalked out of the ballet studio never to return. That same day, she joined the hiphop dance team under Miss Kurenai, and hasn't looked back.
I wonder if she's happy. It's hard to say, since Ino's the kind of girl who smiles and laughs and titters and giggles and swoons even when she's sad. But I think of the look on her face that day she quit, the way her blue eyes were full of this crazy kind of fire, this life I hadn't seen in her throughout every arabesque, every plie, every jete. Like she was taking command of her life, taking control of it, taking it back, even if she was throwing away sixteen years of carefully cultivated work and effort.
I think about how I might feel in that situation, but I tamp it down almost immediately. I love ballet, remember? I love ballet, don't I? I could never turn my back on it now. Not when I'm so close to graduating, so close to becoming someone.
"I don't see how KPAA still lets her teach here," Ino says severely, slowing her elliptical program to a walk. "She's abusive, she's ruthless, she's downright cruel…"
"She just wants us to be the best dancers we can be," I say dully, but the words have a dreary, rehearsed quality to them, even to my own ears. Ino and I have had this discussion before, countless times. Her opinion is the opinion of most of the school, but I can't afford to agree with her.
"There's a difference between wanting you to be a good dancer and wanting you to starve yourself to death. Don't think I haven't noticed, Sakura. When's the last time you ate anything?"
"This morning. Don't worry, I just haven't had time." And it's true. I'm not anorexic. I eat when I can.
I just never seem to be able to, that's all.
I slow my machine down and hop off, fanning myself with my hand. It's never a good idea to drink water immediately after a harsh workout, but I do it anyway. Kind of a punishment for not going as hard as I meant to today. I'll deserve the stomachache in a few minutes, and maybe it'll stave off the hunger until tomorrow.
"You'll make yourself sick!" Ino scolds, but I roll my eyes. I'm done listening to her about this, so I change the subject.
"We have Music Theory first thing tomorrow…did you go over the notes? Mr. Orochimaru practically announced a pop quiz to us, and his are always ruthless."
"Shit," Ino cusses, smacking her forehead. Crisis averted; I know she hasn't looked at the notes yet. Not now that she has a boyfriend (Sai, a really odd but very cute painter in the advanced class), she doesn't seem to have time for much else. Without me and Hinata to nag her every day, she'd never get any schoolwork done. "Fuck me, I totally forgot. I was over at Sai's, and…"
"I know, I know, I know," I drawl. "Come on, let's get changed and head back to our rooms. I need a fucking shower and some sleep."
"And some food," Ino adds severely. She snatches her gym bag from the locker room, plunges her hand inside, and withdraws a juicy red apple. Red Delicious. The sweetest kind. My mouth waters, and she presses it into my hands. Looks at me expectantly.
Sometimes I'm strong enough to avoid the temptation. Sometimes I'm able to put the apple away, throw it out, pretend to eat it but forget about it completely, because even healthy fruit has calories and calories make you fat and the fat dancers don't jump as high, Sakura.
Tonight, though, I succumb to the allure, and I take a bite. It's as good as its exterior promised to be, sweet and crunchy, no holes, no bruises, nothing but deliciousness.
And it tastes like failure, too, but I don't tell Ino that.
"You need a boyfriend, Sakura," Ino tells me that night, after we're both showered and dressed for bed. I sit on her bed with our Music Theory text opened between us as we review the last chapter.
"Like I have time for that," I scoff immediately. I don't even entertain the thought. I'm a dance student. A ballerina. A competitive dancer and my entire life is dedicated to my craft. I barely have time to spend with any of my friends outside of the gym or the classroom. How could I possibly pencil in a boy?
"You should make time. You're missing out on so much, you know. You're seventeen, and you…"
"Ino, enough," I say, sharp as I always am with her, as we always are with each other. I clip my damp bangs back out of my face, and return to my reading. "I just…I really need this scholarship. To KCA. Okay? It has to be my number one priority."
"You're gonna get it, Forehead. You're the best dancer in the school, you have the highest grades, you live, breathe, and eat ballet like it's already your career…but Jesus, do you even like it anymore?"
"Of course I do!" I insist.
Right? I like it. I love it. It's my thing. My only thing, the only thing I can do. So I have to like it. Right?
"I just don't get it, man. I really don't. I feel like…like you're gonna wake up two years from now locked into this situation you can't get out of, and…"
"Ino you're being fucking ridiculous, you know that, right?" I interject.
I KNOW you don't get it, Ino. I'm already locked into this situation I can't get out of. I haven't even gotten into Konoha College of the Arts yet, but already, my entire future is laid out before me. And it's my dream, sort of, so I have no right to feel this way. So…discontent. Unfulfilled. Like something's missing.
And because I have no right, I'm not gonna fucking talk about it. I'm not gonna fucking acknowledge it in any way. I'm gonna double and redouble my efforts, really polish this piece I'm working on for the end-of-year student concert. Because if I can pull that off, I'll nail that scholarship to KCA for sure. And then maybe I'll be able to breathe.
But until then, this has to be my life.
An early morning run. Class until three. Dance until ten. Another workout, homework, and sleep. Seeing my friends when I can, but only if it's brief, because there are other girls, remember, Sakura? Ones who don't bother with their friends, ones who give 110% while you only give 100. And they're gonna get it before you because you don't want it enough, remember?
Well, fuck that.
This is my life for right now. I'm Sakura. I'm 17, I'm a ballet student, and I don't know if I'm doing what I love anymore.
And that's all there is to me, I think.
And if things keep up this way, that's all there ever will be.
Maybe I am a robot. And maybe it doesn't matter anymore.
note.. hello, my beauties! before you break out the pitchforks and scream at me for making another story instead of finishing my old ones, keep this in mind: i have to have a lot going on at once to keep myself interested. if i HAVE to write a particular story, i lose inspiration and interest and motivation and forget about it completely. having a diverse amount of stories to work with keeps me involved in my own writing. so i won't apologize, because i promised i'd finish all my stories eventually and i mean it.
this story is partially based on my experiences with dance, which means it's a) gonna be a bit darker than things i normally write and b) not the standard to which you should hold all dancers or dance-oriented stories. everyone has a different experience, and for as difficult and consuming as it was for me at times, it's also one of my biggest passions in life, and a beautiful, gorgeous, brilliant art form that i love being a part of. kind of a sell-your-soul kind of deal. ballet especially. but every style of dance is extremely difficult to master, and i have a HUGE respect for dancers of any skill level. it's also about art and expression in other mediums, and how true art is left to interpretation.
it's gonna be written in first person, alternating between sakura and sasuke each chapter, as you'll see coming up. i hope you stick around and that you enjoy this new jinnyskeans jawn. and keep a weather eye on the horizon for other updates from me (i won't leave my other jawns hanging just because i have this shiny new toy i want to play with right away.) pinky swear.
that was a long note. i am a blowhard. BOO.
what'd you think?
hope you had a marvelous new years!