That summer I lived with Alan, and I remember it didn’t rain. I would hear him at dawn on the balcony, through the open window near my bed, talking on the phone in French with a tired voice. I remember thinking his tired voice was faster than his normal voice. Or it just seemed faster because I can’t understand French. His voice is always fast. He would come inside after a call with exaggerated quietness. He smirked because he knew I was awake and watching his performance, but he continued the routine.
He is a performer. Before we were friends I knew him for his improvised dances: pops, free movements, smirks. I admired this about him. I had danced long before I started dance classes. Somewhere in my controlled and easily embarrassed body, there is a desire to perform. I performed for the frightening examiners from the Royal Academy of Dance. I performed for my parents the routines I choreographed in my room to Josh Groban songs. I performed for blacked-out recital audiences.
Alan and I decided to take dance classes together. We went to a studio on Commercial Drive, a kitsch, Italian area of Vancouver, a recommendation from his friend who was a dancer at a gay on nightclub Davie Street.
We took ballet and contemporary. The yellow-walled buildings on Commercial Drive intensified the sun. Cups of gelato seemed to ruin faster if you stood close to them. The studio didn’t have air conditioning and even the slow exercises made us sweat. On our sides with a cheek to the floor, we would draw a hand from our chests until it was extended in front of us, then continue to draw it around our heads, arms limp on the floor, until it was stretched behind us, and back over our chests. A few rotations. Reverse. We would reach the hand behind us, over our heads until it was stretched in front again, and then drag the hand across the floor back to our chests. My sweaty shoulder blades slid on the floor as I moved my arms in this wilted port de bras.
I went to one of the classes alone two years later. Alan had moved to Berlin and our instructor had been sending me emails for months encouraging me to come without him. It was a late weeknight class, and although the summer heat had passed, the studio seemed to hold several classes worth of body heat. There were half moons of sweat on the sides of my tank top when we were finished barre.
The partner exercise was two extended steps together across the floor, with his hands secured in my armpits, and then I would leap, his arms suspending my leap longer than otherwise possible, allowing my arms an additional moment of fourth position. It was an exercise in common grace. His hands gripped my armpits tighter so they wouldn’t slip, and this allowed me the freedom to complete my lines before we landed.
Eileen Myles wrote, “You can actually learn to have grace, and that’s heaven.” For me, that heaven is in dance. I don’t remember when I became interested in the concept of grace. I had studied it before I could even call it a concept. Grace was positioning my thin adolescent elbows and cushioning my leaps with bended knees.