Chapter 6 – Disbanded (Baltimore)
When we enter the classroom and I look out at the large windows and tall pillars with bated breath, I still can’t believe that he’s here. Along with many other students, including Andie and her seem-to-be boyfriend, Moose and I walked into the center of the huge room. Then, behind the group, a tall man comes in, as tall as a stake. His profile reminds me of an eagle, but I press my lips and refrain from saying anything out loud. I don’t overlook the fact, though, that Moose tenses and swallows as soon as he sees him appear.
“Good morning and welcome to this school for another year, MSA students” ―his way of speaking is elegant and polite, but with a pedantic tone that suggests to me that we may not get along shortly―. “As some of you already know, I am Principal Collins. Last year some of you left the course with excellent grades in my subjects; and, of course, I hope that will be repeated.”
Is it just me, or did your gaze drop more than it should have on Moose and Andie as he spoke? I need to find out what those two have been up to last year, but the thought of it makes me feel an involuntary pang of jealousy in my stomach, something I try to dismiss immediately―jealous? Of Moose? Well, for that I’d have to feel something else about him, wouldn’t I?
At that moment, at a signal from the director, I park my brain whirlwind to the side while we all sit down and put our bags on the floor next to each other as one. This makes me suspect for a terrible moment what kind of discipline is being practiced at the Maryland School of the Arts.
“Although we are in technique class, we will start with improvisation,” says Collins in his clear British-style voice. “I want you old-timers to show the newcomers” ―now he’s staring at me and I can hardly hold his gaze, those light blue irises that give me an immediate shiver. I forget, though, as soon as I notice Moose turning over in his place― “what we are capable of doing.” He takes a look at his list and says, “Chase Collins.”
Collins? I’m speechless when I see the guy Andie used to kiss so enthusiastically come forward. Same last name as the principal? That can’t be a coincidence―and, as soon as the music sounds and he moves, clearly he has dancing printed on his genes. With a style that is at once classic and modern, he performs drier hip-hop movements combined with more fluid ones, typical of the contemporary dance. Yes, I admit: Nora and Tyler didn’t just instruct me on a practical level. And their understanding of styles, which would seem to be opposite, has been a plus. Or at least, that’s what I want to think.
Next up is Andie, who maintains a very streetwise and less refined style than Chase. But then when they call Moose and he starts moving, I’m bowled over. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him dance, I must say. It’s something I’ve known about him since we were kids, almost since I met him. But that way of moving, of taking popping to another level and disarticulating his body as if it were a puppet in perfect control, makes me want, for a moment, to be like him. And I immediately panic―if he can do these wonders, what can I offer?
However, I’m shocked when I hear the heron Collins say:
“You know I appreciate your style, Moose. But I was hoping…” ―he pauses and makes my hair stand on end― “something new for this year”
He checks his papers again and without looking up, he asks:
“Are you in Choreography this year?”
With my heart in a fist, I can see Moose gulping again as he reaches into his pockets and discreetly squeezes the fabric.
At that moment, he raises his head and, without smiling, makes a conforming gesture and sends him back to the group. When Moose returns, Andie is the first to try to cheer him up and I, for a moment, don’t know what to do. Unfortunately, the next name is mine. No more veterans as it seems… But Collins immediately takes care of clearing up my doubts. No, that’s not exactly why I’m so early…
“I think we have Tyler Gage’s sister in this class this year”
Is it amusement what I hear in his voice or am I imagining it? I don’t know because, all of a sudden, it’s like my legs don’t respond to me. Just a slight nudge from Moose, who seems to have regained some color in his paler than usual face, brings me back to reality and makes me slowly get up and move forward to the front. The mirrors give me back the image of a skinny girl, without too many visible female attributes, sixteen years old, brown skin, straight brown hair, and a straight fringe that almost reaches the eyebrows. Then, as if in the distance, I hear Collins’ voice again.
“Anytime then, Miss Gage.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath as the music plays.
‘Everybody see’s it’s you
I’m the one that lost the view
Everybody says we’re through
I hope you haven’t said it too…’
I recognize the song. Crawl, by Chris Brown. One of his most recent songs.
Think, Camille. Remember what Nora taught you.
To imagine, to see what I wanted to do and be one with the song―Basically, to tell a story with my body. The story I thought that song told.
So, almost without looking for it, my body goes backward while my arms are parallel to the ground. I turn, move my arms in a curve to the side and up, remembering the ballet poses that Nora forced me to learn. Then, in a spin to the floor, I can’t resist doing one of Tyler’s favorite tricks: we call it the worm. My body arches on the polished wooden floor, my hands propel it and I jump backward, go to my knees and turn towards the mirror with my arms as if I were going to throw with an arch.
And that’s when I hear it. Well, me and everyone else here―a slamming door reminiscent of vibrating glass. Director Collins, who had turned around immediately, regains his composure in a breath and congratulates me on my flawless performance, adding something like no lie to those who said I came with a flawless line-up.
But I don’t listen to him anymore. Because I just checked to see who’s missing from the room.
Next to my bag, Moose’s hole’s empty.