The dancer bends over her foot, tying the pink ribbons around her ankle. Positioned against the pale blue wall, wearing a filmy white tutu, she looks like a painting by Degas.
Belinda snaps one photograph after another, fuming to herself. Why has she been given this trite assignment, when Amy, with half her experience, is over at Grenador Hall, recording a truly avant-garde event? Hasn’t the world seen enough photos of skinny ballerinas in fairy outfits?
“Turn slightly towards me,” Belinda orders, “and up a little. That’s it.”
Click, click, she uses up half a roll of film, then orders the girl, for she is just slip of a girl, even if she is the star of this show, to stand and hold some poses with one leg high in the air. She has to admit that she herself could never do the splits, even on the ground, let alone like this, but photographing it is all so done and trivial.
She reorganizes the light, changes cameras, and shoots fast. She zooms in close because at least this ballet star — what is her name — Oh, yes, Zelda — has an interesting, long, narrow face, and an arrogant air. This makes the assignment slightly less annoying. Most ballet stars have, in Belinda’s experience, overly pretty faces to go with their overly pretty bodies and poses.
“You are bored. We do some radical moves in this piece,” Zelda speaks for the first time, her accent thick. “They aren’t so pretty.”
Belinda tries to recall where Zelda is from. Russia perhaps? She should have paid more attention when her boss gave her the background for this afternoon’s session. It is an important event, she remembers that much. A premier.
“Show me a little,” she says.
“I’ll dance a bit. Stop me when you see something you like, okay?” Zelda says.
“Fine.” Belinda walks over to lean against the wall. She’s photographed lots of dancers, but rarely gets to see them in action.
Zelda goes into the center of the room and stands very still, in fourth position. Belinda yawns. Nothing radical in that. The first few turns and leaps look like any other ballet, she thinks. But then Zelda surprises her by jerking into a position with her legs wide apart, her knees bent, still up on her toes. She swings forward onto one leg, almost looking broken, turns quickly, and slumps onto the ground. This is no normal ballet, Belinda realizes. Her interest is piqued. She leans forward, watching carefully, as the dancer lifts herself off the ground, swinging her legs wildly, leaving the skirt of her tutu on the floor, to reveal fushia-colored gym shorts.
Without even realizing she’d raised it to her eye, the camera, so much a part of her, is clicking. This is good stuff. She can’t ask Zelda to stop; she could never capture all this energy and madness in a pose. Zelda is still on point, falling and catching herself. Her hair loosens out of her bun, covering her shoulders with thick black curls; she rips her bodice off to reveal a black tank top, a tattoo painted on her upper back. The running shorts come off, leaving her in tight black lycra shorts. She’s a pop star now, still in pink point shoes, still throwing in a ballet move or two.
Sweat pouring off of her, Belinda doesn’t let herself think, she has to become one with this dazzling creature if she wants to capture her on film. She runs, chasing Zelda and the light.
It’s over. Zelda, like some creature of the night, prances off the stage, except it wasn’t the stage, only the dance studio. She returns, panting, to where Belinda holds her cramped stomach, trying to catch her breath.
“You okay?” Zelda asks.
Belinda moans. She promises herself that she will start working out. Tomorrow.
When she can breathe easily again, Zelda hands her a cup of water. She gulps it quickly. “Where did you learn to do that? I thought you were a ballerina?”
Zelda shakes her head. “That was contemporary ballet. You liked it?”
Belinda nods. “It was fabulous. Amy is going to be so jealous. Don’t worry.” She clasps her camera to her chest. “I got what I need.”
“Good. Too bad Charles and the rest aren’t here. It’s much better with the other dancers.”
“They all dance like that?”
“At times. It’s wonderful. But you should see the entire piece performed on the stage. I’ll comp you tickets.”
“Oh, thank you. But I don’t just want to see it. I want to learn how to do it.”
“You almost did.” Zelda laughs. The sound is surprisingly deep but sweet.
Belinda studies her. Zelda’s older than she’d realized, perhaps mid-thirties. Her narrow face shows expressions easily, quickly ranging from joy to seriousness. A series of portraits flashes through Belinda’s mind. They would make a wonderful addition to her portfolio.
“Could I take some close-ups of you?” she asks. “Your face is so interesting.”
“No, that is not allowed.”
“We only use the authorized portrait for me, taken five years ago.”
“I could hire you for a photo shoot. I wouldn’t show anyone else.”
Zelda holds up her hand. “No. I have a contract; I cannot do something professional unless the ballet authorizes it, and they would never say yes.”
Belinda takes her camera off and unscrews the lens. Time to go. “What’s the dance about?”
“What do you think?”
“Women coming into their own. No longer being pretty objects for men to admire.”
“Women’s power.” Zelda nods. “Although, believe me, traditional ballet is much more difficult to perform. It takes more strength and skill to look like dust fluff and do everything perfect than to look strong and do unusual moves. In this piece, we can make small mistakes and no one knows.”
“I would never guess that.”
“Have what you need for your magazine?”
“Yes, yes, I think so.”
“Good. Well, I look forward to the article. Two tickets enough? Opening night?”
Belinda nods. “Thanks.”
Clearly dismissing her, Zelda goes to the bar and bends over it in a way which looks unnatural. She’s ridiculously flexible.
Belinda packs up her lights and cameras, then realizes she has another question.
“Where could I learn to dance like that? I mean, not that, but just a little something like it?”
“Tomorrow morning at eight. Beginning modern for adults.”
“Are you teaching?”
“No, but the instructor is excellent. It’s good you are a true beginner. No bad habits to fix.”
Belinda nods, before heading to the car. She’ll look fat in her workout clothes, but she cannot betray the ache that started in her chest when Zelda jerked into that first, non-ballet-like position.