I was seven years old when my ma took me to the theater. I’ve never been there before but whenever I had a real bad toothache, my ma would drive us to the doctor’s office, and I would gaze up at the oval shaped building with roguish stone pillars and cobblestone stairs. It was my birthday and she told me that we were going to pick up flour for my cake but instead of parking at the grocers she stopped in front of the oval shaped building with roguish stone pillars and cobblestone stairs.
“Ma, this isn’t the grocers. Why’d we stop?”
“Happy Birthday, Tamia. I’m taking you to see a concert. Now stop staring at me and let’s head inside.”
As a child, I knew of four places in our entire town. The grocers, the doctor’s office, my school, and our church. All with meager and ordinary architecture and I was mystified by the interior of the theater. Oak wood flooring and vibrant glass windows made the setting sun’s rays a variety of colors along the floor. I believed that it was the workings of God because I had never seen a building quite as beautiful. I strayed away from the line up my ma and I were waiting in to get our tickets and hopped from color to color, balancing my clumsy toes on the beams.
“No Negroes in the theater. I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Please sir, it’s my daughter’s birthday. I’ve been saving my paycheck for a month, please.”
“Fine. You’re standing in the back. If anyone complains, then you’re out. Do you understand?”
“Thank you, sir”
“Tamia, baby, c’mon the show is going to start soon”
She held my hand as she guided me to the back of the auditorium with her head bowed.
“Ma, I can’t see the stage at all. Ma, I-“
“Shhh, baby, come up on mama’s shoulders and then you can see the entire theater”
I rested atop her shoulders, her curls intertwining against my fingers; and I saw everything. The lights strung on the ceiling, violin players warming up in the orchestra pit, burgundy curtains swaying as they concealed the stage. The lights began to dim until we were in utter darkness and with the flick of the conductor’s baton the instruments banded together which triggered the curtains to reveal an empty space. As the orchestra continued playing, ballerinas started to appear glissading across the floor, spinning and leaping to the steady tune of the song. With a sudden crash from the percussion more and more dancers glided onto the stage which commenced the climax of the dance. I was utterly entranced. My eyes gazed at their long strong arms and graceful feet pranced rapidly. My body wanted to move just like that and by the time the show ended I was obsessed with the idea of dancing.
The walk to the car was no walk for me. My young mind had already registered the steps the ballerinas took and I twirled and frolicked around my ma. She was giggling and let me grab her hands and spun with me.
“Ma, I want to be a dancer! Ma! Ma! A ballerina! Can I be a ballerina, ma?”
“Of course you can, baby. Of course you can.”
After that day I couldn’t stop dancing. I learned to jive, swing, tap, but my favorite was ballet. For my thirteenth birthday my ma made me my very own tutu and she took leather and sewn a pair of slippers for me. I wore them the very next day to school, expecting everyone to gasp and ask me to dance for them.
Entering the school I received gawks and baffled glares, as I sprung into my classroom. My teacher gave me one look and grasped me by the arm.
“What do you think you’re wearing?”
“My costume, Miss. I want to be a ballerina.”
“Tamia, look at yourself. You are darker than the swine mud. It’s not right for a girl like you to be moving like that. It’s absolutely blasphemous. Go home this instant and change.”
“I will not teach someone who does not know their place in this world, now go.”
My classmates laughed and called out “Swine mud” and “Maid girl”. Unable to produce a noise other than I helpless whimper, I left the room. They’re right, aren’t they? All the pictures and movies about ballerinas featured girls who did not look like me. Pink skin, perfect waist, soft hair; I had none of this. As I neared home, I realized that the sharp rocks and dirt were scrubbing at my slippers which left grey scars. Trembling, I glanced at the row of shacks that my people called houses and I felt a certain despair stir within my stomach. No matter how talented of a dancer I am, no one will be able to appreciate the dedication and work I apply to my art. They will only see the uneven, discolored skin that I wear. Despite my hesitation, I faced the sun, ceased walking and extended my leg into the air and danced for the last time. I was too afraid to wear my tutu again and avoided provoking my body to dance or even move to any tune. I soon understood that people like me are not accepted in a world like this. No matter how many times my mother attempted to convince me that I can be a ballerina, I did not believe her. And I continued through my life swaying to the constricted rhythm of my heart.