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Pas De Deux

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They say each step of his is accompanied with a deeply engraved footprint. The snow-covered path behind him indented with the pattern of his boots. Every ridge neatly outlined.

Chuuya avoids the eyes of his fellow dancers as they pass him in their fancy cars, shielded from the cold. There used to be a time when he was jealous of their warmth and comfort, but the years have mellowed his envy, helping him come to terms with reality.

A reality in which a Japanese college student demolishes all expectations of him and runs away to Russia to become a ballet dancer. A reality in which money is hard to come by regardless of scholarships from ballet academies and numerous part-time jobs that drain all the time out of his day. A reality in which loneliness has seeped into his bones and become an integral part of him; where parents disown their son and Chuuya can’t meet eyes with any man for too long lest he arouses suspicion. Thinking about it still sends a chill down his spine that scares him much more than any blizzard ever could.

Chuuya is thankful that the soles of his boots have escaped the wrath of Saint Petersburg winters, but he wishes he could say the same about the rest. A gaping hole that lets his sock covered toe peek out is growing to be more of a nuisance as December progresses. The icy wetness is like an unwelcome intruder on most days, but there’s just something about the quality of snow today that irks him to no end. It’s like Mother Nature is seeking revenge on him for betraying his home in Japan, despite it already being 4 years.

Chuuya pulls his hat down even more to cover the tips of his ears. The biting wind is unforgiving and his academy, even more so. A city-wide shutdown and yet, classes are still in session at the PM Academy of Russian Ballet. Its sepia exterior is imposing yet elegant; fitting architecture, in his opinion. But no one really cares about his opinion anyway so he likes to keep it to himself unless explicitly asked.

The thought of being one step closer to dancing today spurs him on to shake off the cold and the insults directed at him as he makes his way to his locker. His ears tune out the repeated callings of ‘hatrack’ and ‘midget’, not rising to the bait like he had a few years ago.

It’s a long walk to the dingy dead-end corridor with rusted lockers. The last thing he needs to pay extra for are pristine ones so good old locker A5158 has become his trusted storage companion. The piercing screech it makes on opening drowns out the remaining stragglers sticking around to squeeze in their daily insults. Chuuya wonders how successful they would be if they redirected their efforts to dancing instead. He hides his smirk by toeing off his boots facing away from them.

As he shrugs off his coat, he takes the time to admire his silhouette in the smudged mirror stuck to the nearby wall. The form-fitting black shirt and matching tights cast a shadow-like outline against his figure. He leaves the wet sock to dry on a nearby radiator and grabs his ballet shoes.

The pink glossy outside of the shoes is long gone; now a muted matte nude. Years of wear and tear have taken a toll on the singular pair of ballet shoes Chuuya owns. The ribbons alone had fallen off multiple times, forcing Chuuya to learn to sew in order to continue wearing them. The toes of his shoes had especially suffered; the pressure put on the material there causing layers of the shoe to shred off. Chuuya resorted to using any parts of spare cloth he could find to fix them, resulting in perpetual patches around the area. Thankfully, he usually dances on his tiptoes, so the ghastly amalgamation of cloth remains hidden for the most part.

The shoes serve their purpose well enough, allowing him to use the money on more essential things, like taking care of his skin and hair. The recent auditions for The Nutcracker Ballet had forced him to spend all his funds on looking the part in addition to dancing it. His only regret is that the shoes aren’t black, to match the rest of his dancing attire. The colour stands out against his legs, the ribbons winding up his calf are clearly visible.

Holding a few bobby pins in his mouth, he sets out towards the studio. He smooths down his auburn hair before rolling it up into a loose bun, using the bobby pins to secure it in place. A stray lock falls in front of his face like it does every day, but Chuuya just tucks it behind his ear, unbothered by it. He can already hear Madam Kouyou lecturing him about ‘proper ballet hairstyles’ but it can’t be helped.

As he steps inside the studio, the familiar walls of ivory and mirrors greet him; the cool-toned colour never failing to ignite warmth in him. Like a matchstick to a candle. A light that slowly eats away at him. Even as his body aches and bruises with all his training, even if he leaves a deteriorated stump of a candle, there’s nowhere he’d rather be than in the studio, and maybe one day, on the stage. Dancing away to his heart’s content.

Students dressed in various shades of white, nude and pink wander around. From stretching, to practicing, and chatting about dance techniques, everyone’s preoccupied as they await Madam Kouyou and her special guest. The atmosphere in the room is tense and filled with an air of apprehension and Chuuya treads lightly hoping not to tick anyone off especially when they’re all strung so high.

“Hey midget! You actually made it? And here I was, hoping you got buried under all that snow,” a spiky-haired man around his age with a band-aid on his nose calls out. His voice ricochets off the walls, silencing the others and in turn, causing all eyes to land on Chuuya.

“We can’t all have what we wish for Tachihara,” a girl replies. Her blond hair is tied up in a much tighter and higher bun than Chuuya’s. Laughter erupts around the studio. The noise should grate on Chuuya’s nerves and it would if he was actually listening. Well-timed earbuds always saved him high blood pressure and today is no different.

‘Pas De Deux - Intrada’ by Tchaikovsky plays in his ears; the violins, harps and flutes harmoniously blending with each other in the piece masterfully fiddle with his own heartstrings as he proceeds to stretch at the ballet bar across the room.

Oh, how he loves classical music. He can listen to it for hours on end. Eyes closed, in his own magical winter wonderland where the snow only makes everything prettier; where snowflakes adorn his hair like diamond head ornaments. Each one special and unique, just like him. In a land far away from judgement and prejudice.

As the piece picks up, he lifts one leg up high in the air, keeping the other planted firmly on the wooden floor. He stretches it as high as it can go, toes pointing towards the ceiling, effortlessly performing a vertical split.

A quick peek in the mirror reveals a backdrop of jealousy, but Chuuya can only focus on straightening his posture to the best of his ability. The brass kicks in as a cue for him to switch to a first arabesque. Arms stretching out horizontally on either side as his raised leg lowers to be parallel to the floor. He looks straight into the mirror, vivid azure eyes staring back at him in defiance as he holds the pose for another 15 seconds.

He sees a scared little boy hiding in the shadows, afraid of being bitten by the long leather snake that belonged to his father. He sees an insecure teenager enamoured with the student council president and his radiant smile, confused about what he’s feeling. He sees a depressed college student sneaking away at night to drown himself in alcohol and sex with faceless men to forget his self-hatred. But all that blurs out to show a strong young man whose talents speak for themselves even before the music starts playing, a man who moves with all the grace of a swan and power of a lion. A man with unyielding potential who is learning to love himself more and more every day.

“Alright my students, settle down.”

Madam Kouyou’s words immediately silence the studio and put a halt to his train of thought. Chuuya relaxes from his position instantly. Her presence is one of authority and timeless elegance, even when she doesn’t wear her hair up in a bun, like today. Her tough love is exactly why he’s grown so much as a dancer. She was always the first one to nominate him for a scholarship and constantly pushed him to strive for excellence. Chuuya may even go so far as to call her a friend if she wasn’t so adamant on keeping her professional life separate from her private one.

“As you all know, the ADA Theatre just recently concluded their final performance of The Nutcracker Ballet for the year,” she says, clasping her hands together. Her red lipstick accentuates the outline of her lips as she speaks, pink eyeshadow on display every time she blinks. “They came to us, looking for fresh talent to take on the lead dancer role of the Nutcracker in next year’s play since the current dancer is retiring.”

Chuuya moves to take a seat in the corner — half listening — far away from the enraptured crowd of students fighting to be the closest. He’s already been conditioned to rejection from theatres and disappointment in himself so this role should be no different.

“The results of the audition held two weeks ago have returned. And Madam Yosano,” Kouyou gestures to the dark-haired woman beside her, “is here to relay the decision the board has come to. She’s a very busy woman so that’s why we decided to call you in today despite the storm.”

Chuuya clenches his fist at the last sentence. To wade through piles of snow in his thin and tattered winter wear just to hear the results for a role he’ll probably never get — especially since it’s a lead role and he’s only been training professionally for 3 years — instead of getting the chance to dance, is preposterous. His feet are still partially numb from the intense cold that’s seeped into them and all he’s here for is to watch a bully stand up and bow with a shit-eating grin on their face for the umpteenth time when they get the lead role. It annoys him immensely, but he closes his eyes and refrains from tuning the conversation out in favour of Tchaikovsky.

“Hello everyone,” Madam Yosano says. Her voice holds the same level of authority as Kouyou’s, laced with the slightest bit of ferocity. Chuuya remembers her from the audition. Her fierce and stern gaze had only fueled him to work even harder to win the role. “I see some familiar faces in the crowd from the auditions. It’s been an absolute pleasure watching you all dance, but there can only be one Nutcracker.”

Despite doing everything in his power to not be invested, Chuuya can’t help but cross his fingers and hope. Being the Nutcracker was far more than just a lead role. Never before had he resonated this much with a character. A broken, discarded wooden man transformed into a prince all because someone chose to believe in him. In his heart, there was nothing he wished for more than this.

“And after careful deliberation and thorough analysis of each of your performances, the majority of the votes from the board were, surprisingly, unanimous.”

The thump thump thump in his ears grows louder by the second. The anticipation eating away at him from the inside out. A hundred butterflies flutter around in his stomach as nails dig deep crescents into his palms. He just needs to know for certain that it won’t be him. That’s all. That’s all. That’s why he’s still listening.

“I’d like to offer a hearty congratulations to our newest lead dancer for The Nutcracker Ballet…”

Oh God. He’s never going to be able to enjoy Tchaikovsky ever again after this.

“Mr. Chuuya Nakahara.”