LIVE FOR THE DANCE
She was sweaty and tired, her skin pulsing with the happiness she felt inside. A feeling she felt often when she went to the studio. Her dad came out of the study to greet her, her mother scolded her for being late for dinner. It was getting really late outside and she thought back about Patricia, their maid, with the beautiful black skin yet worn from years of hard work. She had hardly looked at Elizabeth when she passed her outside at the gate. She stood there waiting for something, worry in the crease between her brows. She asked her parents while look out the window — she was still there — what was wrong. Her mother yapped on about her asking for a ride home after hearing the buses weren’t driving that day because of a political strike. She asked her mother why she didn’t give her the ride and she snorted and spat out, “she could walk. It’s not that far.” Elizabeth didn’t say anything, even though she knew it was very far from their neighborhood. She knew the real reason her mother didn’t take her was that, for her, it simply wouldn’t do for a rich woman to enter a rundown low class gangster filled neighborhood in the middle of the night to drive her maid that she underpaid greatly and worked to death even more. She asked her dad if he could take her home and her mother interrupted her and said she forbid him. Her dad didn’t say a word but sighed. She knew her dad wouldn’t stand up against her mother, either out of fear for her or out of his hate for conflict. “I’m going to take her home,” Elizabeth announced. Her mother argued that she wouldn’t give her, her car keys then. This caused her father to hand her his eyes. She saw her mother’s mouth drop and anger fill her eyes. She felt sorry to leave her father to endure another telling off that would probably last the whole night. Her mother hadn’t always been that way. Once she was a beautifully kind person that cared for others and got excited over the Sunday’s her father bought on hot summer days with the few extra money he could afford and her nose in a book because they couldn’t afford a television like her school friends. She missed her, she had known her once as a five year. She still remembered watching her comb her hair in the bedroom as she admired her and she sang softly an old eighties song she used to love.
Elizabeth took the keys and went outside and walked up to Patricia. “I’ll take you home now,” she said. Patricia wanted to decline, she could sense it, it was only what any good human did, but she patted her hand, stained with old age marks, and lead her to the car that was parked in the driveway. Patricia sat quietly in the seat next to her. And as they drove she saw the familiar views of her lavish neighbourhood disappear slowly. Until it became the broken, dark remains of a worn-down place, old houses, dry lawns, paint chips and broken fences. But she didn’t pull up her nose. Instead she asked her if anyone was waiting at home and she told her about her children. Elizabeth realized in all the years this woman had been working for them, she had never once had a conversation with her. And she knew as the maid shifted nervously in her seat, as if Elizabeth would give her a bug of some kind, that to people she was only a rich kid and inside she feared perhaps that was true.
Zuhaib came home early that night. He wanted nothing more than to relax after searching for work the whole day again, when he noticed his mother staring worried at the clock now and again while making dinner in the small sparingly decorated kitchen. He realized his brother was again not home for dinner and would probably fall in the door in the late hours of the morning while his mother still lied awake worried about her younger son.
He tried to push the image of his older brother out of his head. He was always late as well. And they all knew how that ended. He didn’t mention his brother but asked how his mother was today. He noticed her hands having little cuts and scrapes from all the washing and burn marks from the broken oven. His heart ached for his mother, once such a beautiful woman now looking older than her years. She told him her day was well and he knew it wasn’t. He knew his mother worried about next month. The government funding wasn’t enough for them to survive on and money was tight for the month to come. He didn’t know how they were going to survive. His mother told him to set the table and he did so. He heard his mother singing from the small kitchen, a song she used to sing when he and his brothers were still young. He swallowed the big lump in his throat and wished he could leave the house and go to the basketball court. He hated being home. He felt guilty for not being able to help his mother, mad at his brothers for not caring enough to keep themselves clean, and guilty for wishing he could be anywhere else but here with his mother. He sat down at the table and tapped his foot, a habit that made him feel calmer in times when he felt troubled. He had to get a job. It didn’t matter what job it was. He would do anything if he could just help somehow. If he didn’t they would forever be stuck in this run-down house in this rundown neighbourhood. And if he didn’t hurry one of these days it might just be him and his mother that’s left.
After dropping Patricia at her house, Elizabeth makes her way home. She notices a group of guys at the basketball court she drives by. One of the guys is dancing while the other four guys look on. Her eyes become fixated on every move, the concentration in his face, the quick moves of his feet and she’s impressed. You can really see he loves dancing. It looks like he’s lost in the music and for that moment his body moves in unison to the beat. It’s a feeling she’s felt countless times while dancing in the studio and she pulls over outside the court. She notices one of the guys turning of the music. They stare at her while she walks up to them and she feels her nervousness growing but she tries to calm herself down. They’re just like her, they wouldn’t hurt her. Her mother is wrong about the people in this neighbourhood. She greets them and they nod in a greeting, eyeing her curiously. The guy she saw dancing towering in front of her, his shoulder muscles tensing. She looks up into his eyes, cocking her head up just to reach them. Even though he had a powerful stance his face looked much younger and much kinder. She felt confidence grow in her just by looking at him. He seemed like an easy smiler, a little shy, perhaps trying to act tough but actually a scared little kid behind that concentrated daring gaze. She compliments him on his dancing and she can see colour rising to his cheeks in embarrassment. This makes her smile and she tells him about the dance studio she dances at. Finally, she does what she came to do and invites him to come to the dance studio because she thinks he’d love to dance there. He’s really gifted and she thinks he’s got a shot at making it big. The guys are all quiet and staring at her dumbfounded and she shifts from one foot to the other. He turns down her offer and tries to make an excuse about it being late and that he has to go when she pushes a piece of paper in his hand. She tells him it’s a brochure for the studio and that if he changes his mind he can come any time. She really thinks he shouldn’t let this chance slip by. She says good bye and turns around to walk back to her car. She hears snickers from behind her and she sighs in disappointment. He’s not going to come. They think she’s a joke. Their reaction is something she’s seen a lot of times when she tries to do something good. “oh, look the little rich girl thinks I need her help” a girl once said when she offered to buy her lunch at school. She climbed in her car and drove off leaving the basketball court, the neighbourhood and the memory of the boy that danced for a moment right into her heart, behind her.
Even though it was already late, he still went to the court to meet up with his friends. To him they were more than friends, they were brothers. Every so often they’d escape from the worries and go to the basketball court to dance. When he danced he got lost in the motion. It was like nothing around him existed. That’s why he didn’t notice the girl walking up to the court until the music stopped. She didn’t fit in, a stranger for sure. Her clothes were too expensive, her walk to upright and the car in the background that she parked outside the court was one of those new models he’d seen in a magazine. His friend made a comment. “probably looking to do her good deed of the day” and another said, “she’s probably gonna give us some candy” followed by snickers. His eyes didn’t leave hers and she stopped in front of him. She greeted and he nodded his head, not knowing what to say to her. She looked so innocent, not like any girl he’d ever met in this neighbourhood. She looked quiet but he sensed when she wanted to, she could talk a lot. She probably had a loud laugh that embarrassed her most of the times. She complimented him on his dancing and he was surprised. Did she come all this way to tell him he danced well? He hoped he wasn’t showing his shock on his face. She smiled and he realized he must’ve. She told him she was a dance student and that she danced at, he couldn’t remember the name, some kind of dance studio. She invited him to come to the studio. He couldn’t believe it. This was the biggest thing that ever happened to him. To be surrounded with professional dancers, in a place specially built for dancing. Not having to dance to a noisy cd player but dancing to clear music. Everything in him wanted to say yes. How could he not? But he remembered his friends were watching. He couldn’t say yes. They’d make fun of him, or worse, they’d think he thought he was better than them. If he lost their friendship, he’d have nothing left. And there was no guarantee this girl was telling the truth. It could be some sick lie, he didn’t know what rich people were capable of doing. He declined but she interrupted him by pushing something in his hand. He looked down at the pamphlet, a picture of a dancer on the front. She invited him one last time before leaving. He wished he could tell her not to go. But he stayed quiet while his friends burst out laughing. It probably didn’t seem like a big deal, he thought, but he couldn’t help feeling like he had just given up his only chance of ever getting out of here.
She finally had her shower. While the water trickled down her back, she thought about the boy once more. He felt like a kindred spirit. She’d met a lot of dancers in her time. But none of them were as real and as sincere about dancing as that guy. You could see he loved it. That’s why it was so strange to her when he said no. How could he say no to a chance of a lifetime? True, she still had to ask her teacher, but she was sure he wouldn’t mind. Clive had helped more people than most to enter the dance industry. She knew he would be proud of her for helping this guy. But if he could say no so quickly it meant he wasn’t as serious about it as she thought. She had always been good at judgement calls. Perhaps this time her intuition had let her down. She was still going to tell Clive about him. She’d forgotten to ask his name, she thought, mentally slapping herself for being so stupid. What if he arrived at the studio and she wasn’t there. They wouldn’t let him in without knowing who he was. But he wouldn’t show anyway, she thought. She turned off the hot and cold water, a little bit of cold water trickling down on her making her shiver, and pulled down the towel to dry herself off. She really hoped he would show. For some reason, he had climbed right into her mind and she couldn’t get him out. Or maybe she didn’t want to.
He stared at the ceiling, forming images in his mind with the mold stains. He couldn’t stop thinking of her. He didn’t know why. She was a beautiful girl, long curly — probably easily tangled — hair, an open smiling face. She looked like the type that would bite her pencil while thinking. He pushed the images out of his head. He was silly for thinking about that. He still felt stupid for saying no. A part of him wanted to show up at the studio still. Most of him wanted to hide away from the world. What would happen if he showed up there? A poor kid with no money to spare. They’d probably wipe the place down as soon as he left. It probably sounded dumb but he couldn’t help always feeling worthless around rich people. She probably thought of him as some good deed she achieved. But did it really matter what she thought or what any of them thought? This was his chance to get out of the neighbourhood and get his family to a better place. No one mattered more than his family. Even if he had to humiliate himself around people that knew absolutely nothing about him and didn’t care to, it meant he could finally do what he always promised he would. The night his dad was gone he promised his mom he’d help her somehow one day. That day could be nearer than he thought. He had kept the pamphlet. In his heart, he knew he couldn’t let this go. He would show up at the studio. The opening times were written on the pamphlet. He’d show up an hour later after opening. He didn’t want to be there when everyone arrived. She’d be there, he thought. Did that excite him or make him nervous? He’s grateful for what she did but he needs to ignore her. He knows what she thinks about him. Just like everyone ever did. It would be a waste of time and energy to think of her any more than what is needed. But when he closed his eyes, she appeared in front of him again, this time dancing like a little ballerina to the music in his mind.
Elizabeth arrived at the studio an hour and a half ago. They were now practicing a routine — some of the dancers had been having trouble with dancing it — and her feet were getting sore in a delightful way. In thought she glanced towards the window, noticing someone. Her heartbeat raced as she remembered those intense eyes. She didn’t want to make a scene and embarrass him so she slowly walked up to Clive, her dance instructor and told him the guy she mentioned was outside. By now the other students had noticed him as well. She was afraid he would leave and made her way towards the door before that could happen. She had finally gotten him to come to the studio, she couldn’t let him go now. She opened the door, the little bell ringing — Clive loved the sound, he loved sounds in general — and called for him. As she suspected he was making his way to go. She invited him in, excitement still running through her veins and he nodded again — something she was used to by now — and followed her in. He looked embarrassed and shy as he stood in the doorway and every eye followed him. His teacher introduced him to everyone and she finally found out his name, Zuhaib. She made a mental note to search it up later to find out what it meant. When Clive turned to turn the music on, she heard someone make a comment under their breath that he wasn’t dressed for dancing and another saying he talked funny. She ignored them and told him that they were busy doing a dance routine and that he could watch first before they showed him the moves. ¬they danced and he watched. It wasn’t long before someone messed up the routine again and when they finished, Clive with a sigh stopped the music again. He turned to Zuhaib and asked if he wanted him to show him the moves while he stood next to him, that he’d do it slowly so he could catch on. Elizabeth felt so nervous for him, not wanting him to embarrass himself in front of anyone and be scared off. But she was surprised to see how he caught on immediately and moved in unison to Clive. Clive stopped in the middle of showing him, walked to the front and turned on the music. He tapped “1, 2, 3” and everyone started dancing. Zuhaib executed the moves perfectly from the front. Elizabeth concentrated so closely that she almost lost her footing. When they completed the dance, Clive turned off the music and clapped for Zuhaib, followed by a few of the girls clapping as well. “amazing, simply amazing”, Clive said. Zuhaib looked embarrassed. “you just caught on before I even showed you. Now if I had a class with your skills, I would be out of a job.” Elizabeth felt so proud of him as if he had just won a medallion and smiled at him. He caught her smile and looked down. They tried to routine three times before the class ended. Elizabeth couldn’t help wondering about this guy after class her teacher thanked him for coming and told him that in the class they paired up with each other as dance mates. “I’ve decided since you know each other already and I feel you’d feel more comfortable, to pair you two up from now on.”
Elizabeth felt flustered, especially when she saw the horror on Zuhaib’s face. But she said cheerfully, “that’s great. I’ll have to better my skills while dancing with this one.” Clive laughed but inside she was screaming. Outside the studio, she offered to give him a ride but he said he’d take the bus. And with that he left in a hurry.
Zuhaib can’t believe he’s doing this. He’s a few steps outside of the dance studio according to the address. His heart is beating fast. Should he do this? He walks closer and can see them dancing through the glass. When the dancers notice him his heart jolts and he feels like running away. And the door opens and the girl from the other day rushes towards him and invites him in. While everything inside him screams no, he can’t help but follow her in. He’s embarrassed to meet everyone and they seem nice until he hears a comment someone made about his clothes and the way he talks but she makes him feel so comfortable that for some reason he’s able to not freak out about that comment. He studies their dancing, concentrating on each move, each bend of the legs and in his mind he mimics it. When the teacher tries to show him the moves he’s able to copy it, hopefully as best he can. He takes in his breath when the teacher suddenly stops and turns on the music. Had he made him mad. He was used to people getting mad at him enough to worry about what the teacher would do now. But the teacher waved a hand to him, gesturing for him to fall in suite with the dancers and Zuhaib had never felt as free as when he danced to the bright music that day with all the other dancers in unison. He felt proud when the teacher clapped and praised him for his skills, then chastised himself for feeling that way. He wasn’t any better than them. The teacher was just being kind, since he knew this kid didn’t belong there. He didn’t belong there. The teacher probably thought he’d play along for the day. But Zuhaib was caught off guard when the teacher announced in front of the girl that invited him that he was pairing them together for the next classes. He hadn’t even agreed to come again. But he didn’t say anything and simply said good bye to the teacher and walked outside, followed by the girl. Outside he didn’t know what to say to her and she asked to give him a ride. He declined, not being able to look her straight in the eye. He didn’t know why but a part of him felt a bit attracted to her. It could be just because she helped him but he felt this nervous yet excited feeling as soon as he saw her. And when she smiled at him during the lesson it was like she took the breath out of him. Just before he left she asked if he’d be coming back. He turned around. He couldn’t help wanting to smile at the excited, anticipating look on her face. And he says yes. He knew he’d regret saying that and as he sat on the bus he still couldn’t believe he said that. But at nine o clock at night sitting on a bus that’s half empty he smiled to his reflection in the bus window, excitement building up inside him.
Her father asks her why she seems so happy today. She admits to him she had a good dancing practice. When he enquires why it was so good she tells him about the guy she met and how she helped him go the studio and how she didn’t expect him to show but he did. She also tells him about how good he is and how proud she is of him. That he’s not at all how her mother said people from that neighbourhood are and that she knows he’d like him a lot. He tells her he doesn’t think her mother would be happy about them dating and she quickly tells him they’re not dating and that they never will. She mumbles that besides he’d never be interested in her anyway. She’s just another rich kid in his eyes. He tells her he wouldn’t have shown up if she was just another rich kid. He tells her about how when he met her mother he just knew he didn’t want to be around anyone else again. That feelings causes you to go beyond your better judgment. He looks unhappy and she feels bad for him again. Things haven’t been good between him and her mother. He tells her, “don’t let your judgement interfere with how you feel. It can lead you down the safe road but the safe road is travelled by many fools.” He pats her hand and tells her he’s off to bed. She watches him go and thinks about the boy again. She did find him attractive. He had really thick beautiful black hair. Her fingers wanted to run through it so badly. When he smiled his eyes did the same. They were piercing as if he thought a million thoughts per minute just looking at you.
After class one night she asks him if he wants to grab a coffee and a doughnut with her. He agrees to her surprise and they walk in silence to the shop. She offers to pay for him but he pushes her hand down with her credit card and takes out the money to buy for both of them. This is the first time anyone has ever done such a thing. All her life with friends she’s always been the one buying, boyfriends always let her pay for things. He was a guy that she knows needs that money but yet he wanted to spend that money on her tonight to buy her a coffee and a doughnut. A part of her felt like crying. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her. But she smiled and thanked him and they drank their coffee while she shared with him that she secretly always wanted to be a dance teacher one day. He shares with her that he had never seen a dance recital, she can’t believe he’s never seen it and tells him she’s taking him to see it.
Zuhaib has already made up his mind that she just sees him as a poor kid on the bad side of the tracks. She’d never be intersted in him and probably just feels sorry for him. But when one of the students in the class give him a hard time after class after seeing on the form he filled in his address, she stands up for him and defends him against the guy. He realizes that this is completely against the character he thought she was. She walks with him to the bus stop, taking a bus today and before when she’s about to get off at her stop, which he notices is a rich area, he tells her briefly thank you. She smiles and tells him that guy was a jerk and she always hated him. He smiles and watches as she disappears as the bus drives on.
Zuhaib arranges for her to teach a dance class when he gets the neighbourhood kids, ages 7 to up to 16 to meet up at the basketball court. She ends up teaching them how to dance and she has fun. The kids are great and excited about dancing. She even notices one kid that is actually pretty good. Afterwards she talks to him and she tells him that she had never had that much fun in her life. And she thanked him that he showed that you don’t need gear, you don’t need a studio, you don’t need stage, you just need a passion to dance.
Elizabeth ends up taking him to a dance recital which she keeps secret at first. He’s overwhelmingly excited especially when he finds out one of the first dancers he saw in the newspaper when he was young was actually going to dance that night. He catches her staring him a lot during the recital. And he notices even in the dark of the theatre she still looks breathtaking. Afterwards they grab a coffee and he thanks her for the night. She tells him she’s never met anyone that was as excited about dancing as she and he tells her that’s exactly how it feels for him as well.
They walk towards the bridge, she rubs her hands against each other and comments that it’s really cold. As they watch the water over the bridge they share their backstories, their fears and their love for dancing.
Somehow she starts telling him about herself.
She’s half Lebanese and half white. She has some family that’s Muslim but she is Catholic Christian her family was really poor when they came to America but her father managed to build himself up in a business of his own (he couldn’t get work because they didn’t think he was qualified and had to start his own business to survive). Her father was able to build up a sort of empire and now they’re rich and living in a rich area, have maids, her father is still down to earth but her mother has become so used to being rich that she’s kind of forgotten to be humble. She’s substantially older than her two sisters and they’ve grown up knowing wealth where she knew how it felt to be poor because her dad wasn’t rich when she was young until she was ten.
She went to a normal public school and was for most of her life one of the only rich kids at her schools. She struggled to make friends because she didn’t enjoy being with the spoiled rich kids but she also never had acceptance from the middle class to poor kids who felt she was stuck up and spoiledd rude. She grew up knowing that as soon as people found out her background they wouldn’t want to know her anymore.
Then she fell in love with a normal guy that wasn’t completely rich and wasn’t completely poor. But he ended up being a flake when it turned out he was only in the relationship for her money.
That was the first time she realized someone could actually use her for her background.
She has difficulty trusting men and making friends because of this.
She always loved dancing. She took a dance class when she was younger but her mother took her out of the class to partake in debutant events. When she was in high school she ended up becoming a party girl and hanging out with the rich kids because she felt that was what people expected from her so she gave in and she was lonely and wanted friends. But one night after a night of partying she got in the car with her friend who was driving and ended up in a car accident. The friend was intoxicated. She almost lost the ability to ever walk again and it was while lying in the hospital alone at night that she realized this meant she would never be able to dance. Even though she didn’t go to dance class anymore she regularly still loved to dance and she realized she would miss it more than walking. That’s when she realized she wanted to become a dancer and she became determined to make that dream a reality and worked hard to get her legs to work again. A year later, by miracle she was able to walk again and dance again. She decided to enroll in a dance school, she didn’t get in and started dancing at the local dance studio with jean paul, a african french man that was a well known respected dancer turned teacher as her mentor. Dancing makes her feel like she belongs. It’s sounds strange because dancing is inanimate but dancing is the onlly thing that doesn’t judge you. You can be from any background, any colour, any personality but when you dance it doesn’t matter who or what you are, all that matters is how good you dance.
“I understand what you mean,” Zuhaib says.
And tells her about himself.
When he was young his family lived in a very middle class neighbourhood and home then his dad lost his job, got a very low paying job and they had to move and were basically thrown out of their house. They moved to a very ganster filled poor neighbourhood because it was all they could afford. He remembered being a young kid about 5 years old and seeing how stressed his parents were but still having a normal life with his two brothers and being a happy kid. Then his dad started getting involved with the wrong people. He was desperate to make money to take care of his family and started dealing with drugs. It didn’t last long because his dad was arrested when he tried to sell drugs to three police officers who were doing a sting operation. His dad is still in jail after coming out again and comitting more crimes. He hasn’t talked to his dad in years, hasn’t seen him, he just doesn’t want that negativity in his life. His brothers unfortunately very soon after their dad went to jail started hanging out with the wrong crowd smoking at a young age, drinking and doing terrible petty crimes. His one brother is a drug addict and his other brother died from an overdose. He always felt like everyone always expected him to become what his father and brothers had become. He started developing this fear that what if he’d lose control and end up like them. He had a teacher in high school that he told about his passion for dancing, something that could get him bullied.
He left all the comfort of a high middle class life to spend his life teaching kids that were less fortunate, that seemed like they had no future. His wife left him because she couldn’t handle living in the neighbourhood but he felt he had a duty towards those kids, kids like Zuhaib to continue his work.
The teacher encouraged him and it was the first time someone told him they believed in him. His mother had to work hard and wasn’t always available. When he reached high school he met a group of guys that danced after school at the basketball field in the neighbourhood. These guys were seen as cool and different and talented. He wanted to be like them. He started watching them, he has this thing where he can watch someone dance and then perfectly copy the move and do it himself. So he started watching them and then one day he just danced with them. They thought he was good and ever since he’s been dancing with them. Dancing makes him feel like he’s more than just a poor kid with a bad history. His dream is to persue dancing but he never thought he would ever get the chance. When he dances he doesn’t dance for the world or anyone around him, it’s just him and the beat.
He met a girl that always came to the neighbourhood to help people in need with her mother. Her mother was always involved with charity work. They became close and started dating. But she started avoiding him when she found out about his father and brothers. She told him she wanted to focus on her schooling instead of having a boyfriend but he knew it was because she realized he wasn’t good enough for her.
The stay silent for a moment, gazing into each others eyes. Somehow it feels comfortable. The most comfortable she has ever felt.
He brushes hair out of her eye and they just stare at each other, she mentions how it looks like a million thoughts are running through his mind and he whisper says in a hoarse voice that maybe they are.
She breaks the silence when she jokes about how the one dancer that night had gotten his routine wrong and how she felt so bad for him in that moment. He adds that the other dancer, the one he admired since being young had swooped in and saved him from embarrassment and made it look like it was part of the show. He says he wishes he can be as talented as him. She adds I know you can be. Then she laughs. Though I can’t really see you in see through tights prancing around like a ballerina. He laughs as well and asks why. Because you’re built so broad and muscly. Is that a bad thing he asks. No, I mean I don’t usually like muscles on a guy, some guys take it a bit too far, but it suits you. He blushes and she laughs again saying she’s going to get nightmares now cause all she can imagine is his tippy toe dancing in tights. They make their way to the bus stop since it’s late and she links her arm in his and suddenly they don’t feel the cold as much.