“Practice makes perfect,” she said, under her breath.
Again no answer, again no question.
But everyone knew what she meant. She hadn't been perfect. So she must not have practiced hard enough.
In her neighborhood, on street corners, sometimes people would talk about her. A man passing by would ask, do you remember what happened to her?
She had gone away with such high hopes, perfect pliés and that impeccable arabesque. She had come back with a broken heart, and calloused feet that no man would touch.
She hadn't said a thing, but somehow they all knew. Her knees never bent like that again.
And still, practice makes perfect.
She would brush her lips with burgundy and smile at possible suitors. Her eyelashes batted.
They all looked away.
She would twist her arms in impossible ways, palms facing the sky.
Once a little girl asked her, “how do you make your arms look like the dry branches on sycamore trees?”
“Once you've cried enough, it's easy,” she'd answered. Step, one, two, three.
“And why did you cry?”
“Because I danced for an audience that was never there.”
Once in a salon, her nails slick with polish, she confessed softly to the one-eyed lady with the brush. “He looked at me like I was breakable, and so I broke. And then he looked at her.”
The one-eyed lady told someone with two eyes, who told an old lady with four. Versions of this story floated around the streets, down the block, to the school. There, in the evenings, she taught them to forget the throbbing feet beneath them.
So the little girls who dipped into pliés and pirouetted clumsily all knew. If they weren't careful, they could become her.
They had to practice. Otherwise, no matter how far back they bent, they would never be enough.