What is a Sugarplum, Anyway?

My daughter asked me this through a mouthful of Peak-Freans (after biting carefully around the edges to avoid the offending jam).  I stuffed her wooden Nutcracker back into my bag, and set her juice box down among the Alberta Ballet pins and Christmas glitter.  Dozens of princesses milled about, alighting briefly near tables – stopping a moment to do some colouring, build a mask, perfect a paper crown.  Their grownups did their best to keep track.  Indulging the girls' chatter and bottomless, breathless excitement.

I said, "I think it's a kind of candy.  We'll look it up when we get home, okay?"

She glanced up from her juice box to nod assent and spotted the rack of actual authentic ballet costumes just beyond me.  Watched carefully.  Looked down at her hands and up again.  Hoping hard.

Smiling:  "I think we're allowed to go try those on, sweetheart.  Would you like to?"

"Oh, Mum!"

My princess, in her purple leggings and purple dress and purple Mardi Gras beads and hot pink headband, just glowed as an actual authentic ballerina held out a gown once worn in The Dance of the Flowers.  Danica stepped in among the satin and tulle.  Stood still while the kind women closed the clasps at the back.  Walked over to the floor length mirror and gave a little spin.

She looked at me, all four feet of her somehow all grown up and heartbreaking.  "Mum?  Are you okay?"

Weakly:  "Yup.  Just a little sniffly.  You're beautiful, you know."

"I know.  All princesses are beautiful."

Of course.

When I was eighteen, living in my Mum's basement in Calgary and working my first real job as a bank teller, I would listen to jazz music late at night, practice yoga, study wicca, read politics and otherwise seek to subvert my conservative rural upbringing.  Ballet was for people who were different than us.  Theatre was for people who had more money.  A waste of time.  An irresponsible use of resources.  I mean, can't you just watch it on video?

No.

We lived there briefly, only four or five months, before returning to the place I didn't belong.  But in that time, I discovered that there is almost always a single seat available – front row, centre – and that people like me are perfectly capable of exchanging money for ticket and sitting in that seat.

I saw West Side Story and had to remind myself to breathe.

I saw the Alberta Ballet perform Mozart's Requiem and lived the pain and joy, the loss and release, and cried silently by myself one metre from the orchestra pit because it was just that amazing.

People like us stand and cheer, lead the ovation, and clap with bruised hands because we can taste the effort behind the performance.  Because we're here and we've realized, finally, that we are not all that different.

My daughter in her paper princess crown waved down at the musicians, stepped back just a few feet to climb up into her booster seat, and watched – rapt – as the dancers told their story without a single word.

Hand-in-hand, we strolled out for intermission.  We glimpsed performers rushing off for costume changes as the stage door slid closed.  Danica raised her hands to her face, staring after them, then blurted a dozen more questions about toe shoes and set mechanics than I had answers.

"We'll look that up, too, right, Mum?"

"As soon as we get home."

"Okay."  Sitting on a stair and chewing a Kit Kat.  Lost in thought.

And then she saw her.  The Snow Queen was right there, seated amid a sea of little girls clutching pens and programs.

Graciously, the ballerina nodded at my daughter.  Danica stood and smiled.  She carefully crossed her ankles, grasped the edges of her skirt, and curtsied so deeply the tip of her paper crown touched the floor.  Regal and ridiculous, purple from head to toe.

"Mum?  Are you okay?"

Life List item number 27?  Oh, hell yeah.

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