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Break the Chain

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All platitudes to the contrary, Emily was used to being on her own.

She may have grown up in hotels, but she was educated in boarding schools, just like every other motherless child of wealth she knew. Every summer she met her father in a different city, a different country, and they'd spend any time off he had exploring San Francisco, Montreal, Singapore.

Dance was, at first, something all the girls did in school, part of poise and exercise and the shiny brochure for prospective parents. But Emily grew to love it, loved the technique of ballet and the emotion of jazz. She lost herself in it, in the pound and flutter of her heartbeat, in the surety of her center of gravity. The school accommodated her talent, bringing in tutors and scheduling performances. Her father only came the one time, but sometimes the applause felt like acceptance.

She only went to college because of a deal she made with her father, opening part of her trust fund to give her more autonomy in exchange for starting a business degree. He wanted her to take over the company someday, she knew that; in every look he gave her, every approving discussion about her grades, she saw he was grooming her to continue Anderson Global. She wanted nothing of it; but she couldn't break her father's heart.

She chose NYU, though he wanted her at Wharton; having her own money meant she could enroll in Tisch's dance program and he'd be none the wiser. She took course after course, class after class, learning salsa and the foxtrot and hip-hop and anything she could get her hands on. She felt fluid, like water, picking up styles and moves and concepts and carrying them into her next piece.

After a year of plodding through econ classes, rattling off definitions and examples from her father's work, she'd had enough. She didn't want this, this compromise, when she could be dancing on stage. All the dance classes weren't enough--she wanted more. She wanted to perform, to be a danseuse, and even knowing she was going to disappoint her father wasn't enough to keep her from it. She was 19; she knew how many dancers didn't make it as a professional, how many dancers peaked when they were sixteen, how many suffered inthe chorus waving a rose back and forth. When Emily looked in the mirror every morning she saw time ticking away, and missing her chance to be good enough for the stage.

She had never done the audition circuit that so many of the girls and boys did. It was out of the question when she was at boarding school, and trying to juggle a freshman academic load at NYU and spending every other waking moment in a dance studio made anything more impossible. Besides, she'd heard enough horror stories that she was certain trying to break in as an unknown in the New York scene, with no resume, not even a headshot, would get her laughed out of the studio before she could stretch out. The Cooper Nielson Company, which all the ABA kids still talked up like it was a golden ticket, held auditions the week before she was supposed to visit her father in Miami, spend the summer with him and his new acquisition. She got as far as the door, and looking at all of the dancers waiting to try out, their determination and their fearlessness, made her heart pound as fiercely as any African jazz routine ever had. She left, the crowd of people overwhelming, before she got to the sign-in table.

She told herself that the Cooper Nielson Company had always been too focused on contemporary ballet for her tastes anyway, but on the plane for hours with nothing to do but think, she knew it for a lie and hid a few bitter tears in a first-class cocktail napkin.

She hated feeling like this. She hated lying to her father, she hated the conversation they were inevitably going to have about her dropping out of school. It didn't matter, she told herself. She'd make a new plan. She wouldn't let the fear run her down.

By the time the plane had landed in Miami, she had a list of companies in the area. She'd been surprised at how how much dance was in the city. She'd been there before, of course; by the time she was fifteen she'd been to nearly every major city in the country. But she'd never looked at it with anything more than a glance before.

Miami had six weeks of dance programs around National Dance Week, and a dozen or more companies in the metro area. Some of it was more ballroom and Latin focused than she was really interested in; she preferred the group, or the solo, but it was always smart to cross-train. There was a City Ballet, and she was willing to bet her father had already purchased tickets for the summer season in advance of her arrival. And there were more nightclubs, studios, and colleges offering classes than she could even count.

But there was one company that had stood out, one that had on the very front of their webpage that their were accepting applications to audition for an apprenticeship with the company. And that, at the end of the summer, that apprenticeship could turn into a spot in the company, a company that was small but established. It was a path that an unknown could break into, could make it, and then--anything. She'd be able to audition for anywhere she wanted, knowing that she was good enough to get in once, that she hadn't peaked yet. She could escape the path her father had planned for her, and he couldn't even use money against her because she'd have a job.

Wynwood and Olivia Michaels waited for her. Emily knew she had the technique, and the diversity of styles behind her. All she had to do was make it through to the apprenticeship and she knew she would make it.

When she stepped out of the airport, looking for the Town Car she knew her father would have sent, the humid air hit her face; she could tell her hair was going to curl down here. She gripped the handle of her suitcase, plastered a smile on her face, and went to work for her dream.