Exemplary

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exemplary*

  1. deserving imitation especially because of excellence: commendable
  2. serving as a warning: monitory
  3. serving as an example, instance, or illustration

Even after three straight hours of practice, she could feel her instructors eyes boring into her tired limbs with disapproval. When he reprimanded her, his voice was light, but his words were cold and sharp. He never yelled, only berated.

Her turns weren’t tight enough, her arms too stiff and not “graceful like the wind,” whatever that meant. Her lines needed to be smoother, her turnout more perfect.

“You have it, Natasha,” Sergei would say with his Russian accent lilting his words, “I don’t know why you must waste your time with such poor execution.”

She was Natasha–the ballerina all the little girls looked up to and the one all the older girls glared at with hardened, glazed eyes. Unbeknownst to her, her arrival had silently signaled their demise. Sergei’s full attention had been placed on her as he ushered every opportunity and solo her way. She was his bright, shining star, but only in front of the public. In their four-hour practices, she struggled to meet his expectations.

With every new choreographed piece came additional hours of practice and an unexpected shift to her view of dancing.  The change had happened gradually, but at some point dance had stopped being fun. It no longer felt freeing. Instead it felt as if she were dancing her way into a dangerously dark hole of deeper isolation and torment.  She no longer had time for friends or life.

“That’s not important,” her mother often said. “Think of all we sacrifice for you to be here.”

It was true, her mother had done unimaginable things to move them to America just so Natasha could dance. She was grateful, but some days she wished they’d never left Russia, that she’d never done so well in her early classes or been such an exemplary student.

She wondered what life would be like.

“Once more Natasha,” Sergei prompted, motioning to his assistant at the piano. “Only this time, please dance like you are trained ballerina with talent.”

Natasha repositioned herself on the floor in the middle of the room between Sergei and the wall-length mirrors. Her muscles ached and her feet begged for mercy. The pain killers she’d taken an hour ago weren’t working and she would need them if she were going to meet Sergei’s standards for this new piece by tonight.

She was going to be the principal for his latest work choreographed to a poem that someone would recite. Natasha was not quite familiar with the poem, but with her arms high above her and sweat gliding down her back, she decided that if she got home before midnight tonight, she would do some research and find out why a caged bird was still able to sing. Maybe what she would find would keep her dancing just a little bit longer.

*This post was inspired by Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day.

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