So, You Think You Can’t Dance?

Well, that was bad, I thought as I pulled off my ballet shoes.

I had just finished my dance class, and it was a disaster. I started on the wrong foot—literally—and couldn’t get the steps that other students seemed to do easily. When the class was over, I noticed a few of the other students poking each other and pointing at me. They didn’t think I saw them, but I did.

Worst of all was how alone I felt. I sat packing my bag as four of the students walked out—giggling, yelling, practically bouncing out the door. I got the message: I had no friends, no talent, no point.

Just then, my big sister Julissa arrived. She took one look at me and immediately asked, “What’s wrong, Lakeisha?”

“Nothing,” I said quietly.

“Uh huh,” Julissa replied. “Looks like a bad ‘nothing’ to me, ladybug, so tell me what happened.”

“Well,” I mumbled, “maybe I shouldn’t be taking dance classes? It felt like I was the only one who couldn’t land their pirouettes today.”

Julissa shook her head, sighed, and said, “Let’s get out of here.” I grabbed my bag, water bottle, and foam roller, and followed her out the door.

A block away, Julissa stopped at our favorite frozen yogurt store and bought me a smoothie. “Listen, sis,” she said as we sipped our drinks, “not every day is a great one, and not everything you try is going to work out the way you want. The point is to keep trying. Remember that and you’ll be fine.”

I rolled my eyes, but Julissa gave me a glare back. “I mean it, La. Maybe ballet is not your thing yet, but dance is. I see how you shake and move and groove all the time. There are all kinds of ways to dance, so maybe you just need to find your own style.”

We finished our smoothies and headed to the subway. In the open area near the entrance steps, there were a few swing dancers. Julissa nudged me as we passed them. They were jumping and jiving and tapping joyously to a recording of ‘Take the A Train’ (which was exactly what we were about to do). Their energy was so contagious that a group of people had stopped to watch and snap along. I found myself tip-tip-tapping as I skipped down the stairs after my sister.

The uptown A train roared into the station, and we hopped into a car. We were met by a loud blast of beats. As the train moved, someone shouted “Showtime!,” and two teen boys began break dancing and showing off hip hop moves—contorting, climbing, defying gravity. One acrobatic guy flipped over his arm and grabbed the baseball cap off his head. He spun the hat around, looked right at me, and tossed it onto my head.

Without thinking, I quickly pulled that cap off, turned it inside out, and flipped it right back at him. He ducked just in time for the hat to land neatly on his head. A few passengers clapped, and when I looked at Julissa, she had her right eyebrow raised high.

“You have some moves, kid,” the dancer exclaimed as I dropped a dollar bill into his cap.

The train lurched to a stop, and we exited just as the conductor was saying, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” Julissa and I raced up the subway stairs and began our hike home.

We were approaching a schoolyard when I heard a familiar noise—thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap—accompanied by excited cheers and giggles. “Double Dutch!” I cried.

Two teams of girls were hard at work, but they made their jump-roping look effortless. “Jump in, jump in!” some called to Julissa and me. I just watched as they went step, skip, crisscross, clap under each leg, and spin, jump.

Suddenly, Julissa pushed me and yelled, “Go, girl!” I joined the jumpers—stepping, skipping, crisscrossing, clapping under each leg, and spinning as the ropes whirled around me. Then I jumped out, laughing and yelling, “Check me out!”

“Well, will you look at her?” said Julissa, wagging a finger at me. I grinned and took another step, did a relevé onto my toes, and swept into a graceful turn, making sure to spot before landing. I glanced over and there was my big sister, her smile as wide as a subway platform.

When we arrived at our apartment building’s front door, Julissa threw her arm around my shoulders and said, “Don’t you ever forget, ladybug, that everyone has off days. Even the greatest dancers!”

“Guess that’s true,” I replied. “But they aren’t lucky enough to have you to help them through!”