Click, clack, sounded the dancer’s feet, echoing out in the auditorium. The smooth piano accompanied her and the audience and judges looked very pleased with the performance. I took a deep breath behind the thick velvet curtain. I was up next. My heart thudded louder than marching drums. I had spent months and months practicing to get this far. I was in the National Level Dancing Team. I breezed through the community and state competitions, but the Nationals were a whole different story. I patted my tight bun and smoothed my tutu out. I was a ballerina.
Other dancers around me were quickly reviewing their routine. I was too jittery to do anything. I hoped I would relax once onstage. I was competing with a lot of serious dancers and I had to admit they were looking pretty sharp. The dancer on stage right now was Opal Vasnull. She was a very talented tap dancer. I breathed slowly and tried to soothe my mind by listening to the rhythmic beat of Opal’s performance. I needed to relax.
All of a sudden my mom rushed in. “Mom! What are you doing here? I thought you would be in the audience,” I said.
“Yes, hon, I just needed to check on you. Are you all right? After this piece there will be a short intermission and you will be next.”
I looked at her grimly. “Mom, Opal is really good. How am I supposed to beat her? I can’t possibly polish up my dancing until I’ve calmed my nerves!” My mom gave me a quizzical look. “You’ve never been worried about any of the other dance com- petitions before. Maybe you should take a breather. You know, to freshen up a bit and relax and maybe practice.”
I nodded shakily.
My mom patted my shoulder and went back to the audience. I peeked out of the curtains one more time. Opal was clicking away as the piano pounded her finale. I closed the curtain. Butterflies were having a party in my stomach. One of the other contestants named Suzy Roo came up to me and asked, “Are you nervous?”
I shrugged, even though inside I was saying, “Yes, yes!”
Suzy smiled and said, “If I were you I would go outside for a bit to cool out during intermission.”
I nodded, too anxious to reply.
My mom and Suzy had both told me to go outside. I quickly walked out of the crowded backstage area and out the door. A blast of fresh air greeted me. Somehow this made me feel a little more relaxed, but I would need more than that if I were to beat Opal. I walked around the building and stood in a patch of grass. I looked up. Stars glittered everywhere, but the moon wasn’t to be seen. I sighed and sat down. I had so many ribbons from dance competitions and all my friends and family expected me to bring back another blue ribbon this time. This wasn’t helping to ease my nerves. Maybe stretching would help. I got up and at once my legs turned to jelly and started shaking. Great, I couldn’t even stand up. I sat down again and put my head between my legs.
The worst thing that could happen would be if I totally goofed and got last place. At least my mom would still give me the roses that she tried to hide in the car. I put my head up and listened. I heard nothing except for my racing heart beating. Everyone was inside and the animals outside were asleep. It was very still. The world outside the competition seemed frozen, as if waiting for me to perform. I gulped down a flock of butterflies, but they kept fluttering back up.
I looked down at the dark lush grass below me. Then I noticed a glimmer of light on the grass. I peered at it. This was odd. Then I looked up. The moon had peeked out behind the dark clouds ever so slightly, directing its powerful moonlight right onto where I was sitting. No, not where I was sitting, it was on me. It was my spotlight just on me. Somehow this relaxed my bubbling thoughts and eased my anxiety. I realized the moon would always be there. No matter what competition I was at, the moon may not be visible, but it is always there. Win or lose tonight the moon will still shine upon me. Win or lose and the beautiful outside world was going to stay the same.
Suddenly my mind was brought back to when I was a little girl. My very favorite uncle had brought his music player over to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. I remember so clearly my excited little shrills and squeaks when he turned it on and classical music poured out. My small six-year-old feet instantly began to move as I twirled in my flowing pink dress. My parents clapped and cheered when I was finished. I remember the feeling of pride so big inside of me that my cheeks had glowed. My parents said that was when I first showed my love for ballet. It made their hearts warm at the sight of their dancing baby girl. They also said that was the best Thanksgiving we ever had.
Now, seven years down the road, here I was on Thanksgiving Day again, completely nervous and jostled by a National Dancing Competition in Kentucky. I danced for the ribbons and glory. I realized with a jolt trickling down my spine that I was not the little six-year-old dancing for the love it. Now it seemed I just loved competing. This had to change. I didn’t need to try to make it happen. It happened by itself. As if on queue birds started to chirp and squirrels began to chatter. I got up and breathed. Then I danced. I danced like I had never danced before. My feet pattered delicately on the frost-covered grass as I twirled. Whatever happened in the competition, I was ready. Win or lose I was ready. I had never felt happier in my entire life than when I danced in the sliver of moonlight.