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The Dance

By Nicholas Kladky


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So here she was again.


Michelle often wondered why she kept coming back to this God-awful

place. She couldn't possibly need the money this bad.  There had to be

other work out there. Other places had to at least be offering the same

work for about the same amount of money. Even the same work at a

different place would've been something. At least her mind wouldn't feel

smothered by the same humdrum practice over and over again. Then again,

Michelle was pushing forty now, not a young woman anymore. Most places

don't like to hire old female janitors who never graduated high school.

Best to just let it go. Let it go.


Michelle punched the time clock, remembering to hold her card just so

(thing was broken again), and headed to the closet to get her bucket. As

she passed the front desk, Carrie, the young clerk, looked up from her

book to smile and say hi to her. Michelle gave a slight half smile and

waved back. Michelle liked Carrie well enough. She had always been nice

to her, unlike Mr. Ross, the head of maintenance for the hotel. Mr. Ross

seemed to always be ready to jump on Michelle for something, which was

very convenient since Mr. Ross didn't come in until six each morning,

missing Michelle's entire graveyard shift. Michelle just didn't like to

get involved with others, in any case. Relationships weren't really her

strong point.


Michelle started on the hall. The lobby had been first last week, so now

it was the halls, to keep from becoming routine and driving her stir

crazy. She rang out her mop and watched it hit the floor. She swung back

and forth with the mop ever so gracefully. Back and forth. Back and

forth. The halls were very narrow and there was no room to move but back

and forth. When Michelle reached the lobby, however, she would fly. It

would be a ballroom dance. She would spin, sway and move to the music in

her head with her hands around her own wooden Fred Astaire. This she

would do as she mopped up the footprints of guests coming in from the



She remembered days long ago when she danced all the time. That was a

different life, she felt at times. She used to love the feel of the

stage under her feet as she swayed like a flower or spun round on her

toes. She remembers the crowd applauding, begging for more, praising her

great talent. Those were the days when Michelle thought she would dance



Traveling with the University of Kansas City Dance Troupe had opened her

eyes to wonders she had never dreamed of. Her family had always been

poor. Michelle remembered leaving school to work at the department store

down the street when she was seventeen. When this young girl helped a

customer named Mrs. Conyers one night, Mrs. Conyers saw a bright girl

with no business working in a department store the rest of her life.

Mrs. Conyers, it turned out, was a professor with the Arts department at

University of Kansas City. She was also the head of the UKC Dancing

Troupe there. She saw a bright young girl with a good dancing figure and

tons of potential. The next few weeks went by in a haze, getting the

GED, receiving a dance scholarship to University of KC, and joining the

Troupe. Michelle felt as if she would soar!


Suddenly, there they were. A group of kids touring all over the country!

The grandest cities and the smallest hamlets. They performed for people

of all walks of life. Michelle loved the South. It had the familiarity

of the Midwest and the flavor of older times. The people were so

wonderful to perform for. They were so hungry for a taste of culture and

art. Michelle realized in Hilton Head, South Carolina that we take for

granted the many opportunities we have. New Yorkers had been critical of

the Troupe for the most part, and why not? There were a dozen troupes in

the city that were as good as them, or better. New York took them for

granted. The people in the South, though, really seemed to appreciate

the ray of light the troupe had to share as they performed their ballet.

This was one of many lessons Michelle never forgot.


Well, she thought, time to do the ballroom. The mopping had gone faster

than usual. She couldn't really say felt sorry about that. Even the

dance couldn't keep out the monotony for very long. It was time to

switch. She took the mop and bucket back to the closet and took out the

buffer. She hated that thing. It had taken a week for her to get used to

it. It always looked so easy when Dave, the evening guy, was training

her on it.  But, then again, Dave weighed 250 pounds easy. Even at her

age, she barely made 125. The problem with being so light was that the

machine went everywhere unless you controlled it with your strength.

Unlike the broom, the buffer always tried to lead, but that was her job.

Sometimes, swinging with the buffer reminded her of Bill Hagan.


Bill came on with the troupe the same time as her. He was a country boy

from Philadelphia, Mississippi, was three years her senior, and strong,

the way she had always thought men should be when she was a little girl.

Besides Mrs. Conyers, he had had the most impact on her. In some ways,

he had more. He had a fire in his breast that both intimidated and

attracted Michelle all at once. He was the one who truly showed her the

dance. He showed her what it was and what it could become. He was the

most awesome dancer ever.  He could've been anything. When they danced

together on the stage, Michelle would melt into him each and every time.

She watched as he took her to places and dreams she'd never known.


After rehearsal in Manhattan in September of '84, they'd taken a walk

together to Central Park. A trio of jazz musicians, guitar, flute and

clarinet, had gathered to play for change. Most people in the park never

took notice of such things, but Bill was mesmerized by it. Being a small

town boy, such sights and sounds were treats to his senses. He listened

for ten minutes before he took Michelle in his arms.


"Care to dance?" he asked in that drawl she could never resist.


She was surprised at first, but the magic of his touch soon overtook her

and she nodded nervously. They danced through the park, over benches and

through bushes, laughing all the way at the near stumbles. When they

reached the walkway again, he spun Michelle before taking her into the

air as she spread her arms for balance. She closed her eyes and took in

the cool autumn air that blew through her hair. Bill set her down then,

put his hands to her face, and gently kissed her as she wrapped her arms

around him.




As she opened the ballroom doors, the end all came back to her. Michelle

recalled her mother writing her that her father had become very sick and

she had to come home to Kansas City. She promised Mrs. Conyers she would

meet back up with them there when they came around. When she got home,

things became worse. Her father took a bad turn and Michelle became his

unofficial nursemaid. No one else seemed to want to go near him.  Her

mother seemed too distracted to deal with any such things, as always. It

probably wasn't like that at all, she thought now. Michelle remembered

sitting up with her father wheezing himself to sleep and hearing soft

sobs coming from her mother's room. After the funeral, it seemed

important to find work and help support her mother. Her two brothers had

families of their own now, and her mother needed her. Michelle, ever the

good daughter, forgot all about those nonsense dreams of hers and found

work mopping floors at the high school.


Michelle remembered getting message after message from Mrs. Conyers

after that. She just couldn't bring herself to tell her. When she

finally did, it wasn't in her to keep from bawling. She was so sorry.

She wished she could be there with all the others.  Mrs. Conyers said

that she understood, and don't be upset, it was okay. No, it wasn't.

She wanted so much to be with the others. She saw them all in her mind,

dancing in front of packed houses. Dancing for empty theaters. The girls

would be trading steps in the dressing rooms. And Bill.  Bill.  She

couldn't face nor speak to him. He would want to come and be with her,

and that just wasn't right. He had to share himself. That was more

important than her. If nothing else, she knew how to sacrifice for

others. He tried to call her every night, but she wouldn't pick up. How

could she hurt him? It killed her to listen to his messages, his voice

cracking in that wonderful drawl as he almost cried to her. Somehow, he

always maintained his dignity on the phone. He never pleaded or

blubbered, but only said he wished she would talk to him and that he

loved her. Mercifully, the calls finally stopped.


Less than ten years later, Michelle watched as the nursing drama was

played out a second time, this time with her mother. She was in her

thirties by that time, a has-been in dance. All there was now was to

keep working, as she had been. She didn't have any education now. There

was nothing for her but laboring. She kept at it well in to the next

decade. The dream was all but forgotten.


She did run across Becky just the other day. She was a dancer from KC

too, and she and Michelle had been close during the Troupe's tour. They

got to talking about the others. Some of them went on to choreography

while others got degrees in business or law. Becky was a choreographer

herself for a troupe out in Jeff City. It was nothing fancy, and they

were only starting out, but if Michelle was interested.No. It's been too

long. Michelle insisted that she take her business card anyway, so she

did. What ever happened to Bill Hagan? Michelle asked. The last Becky

had heard, Bill had gone back to his hometown and was teaching dance

there. Michelle felt herself envying the dance students of Philadelphia.


Michelle looked through the open doors to the ballroom. It was a large,

beautiful room the hotel kept up for special occasions. She remembered

the mess she'd cleaned up after the New Year's Party that year. It was

clean now. Nothing but the piano and chairs stacked in the corner.

Michelle looked around and out in to the lobby. Carrie was still stuck

in her book and no one else was around. She left the buffer next to the

door and walked to the middle of the room.


Then she took a stance.


It was a classical ballet stance, often the first and most common

starting point for ballerinas. She had wanted to do this since she'd

first laid eyes on the ballroom. It was perfect. She spun slowly at

first, and then quickly. She began to glide along the floor, feeling for

the grove. And then it was there. She heard the orchestra start up in

her mind and she was gone. The dance was taking her to the places she

had all but forgotten about. She remembered the feeling she always got

from the jazz and modern dances, but she had always loved ballet the

best. She flew around the room, lost in the dance and the memory. She

became the swan again. She flew through clouds and danced through mist

as she made her way across the ethereal floor.


If only I could really describe Michelle when she dances, but words are

unfit to do so. It would almost be easier to describe what love looks

like, or what happiness feels like when you touch it. The man who could

describe the dance is wiser than I am. If that someone really exists, I

can only hope he will one day write his version of this story. Michelle

danced on in to the night before she stopped, spun, and heard the



She thought at first that it was in her head. She thought she was

hearing the crowd in Hilton Head crying for an encore, but she was

wrong. It was a group of night owl guests, two young men, an older man,

and a young woman with a little boy, who had gathered at the door and

watch the performance. They had been entranced by it. Michelle smiled

shyly and made a curtsy. The group dispersed, and Michelle closed the

door, took up the buffer, and began polishing the floor.


It was the end of her shift. Michelle watched out the front window as

the sun came up outside. The storm was over. She felt around in her

pockets and found some change, some gum, a brush.and there it was. She

pulled out a piece of square card from her pocket and read it:






15 Collier Avenue


Jefferson City, MO 65111


(573) 656-0000


Manager and Choreographer:

Rebecca Moorehead


Nothing fancy, she thought. God, she couldn't wait!


6 AM had finally arrived. When Mr. Ross came in, she very calmly gave

him her two weeks and headed for the lobby. She was smiling all the way

up. Within three weeks, she would be driving to Jeff City. She was sure

she could find somewhere to stay in the next few weeks until she found a

permanent place out there. She would be dancing. On a stage. It would be

in a small rented hall, but so what? She would meet others and start

learning and getting better. She would be dancing again. She couldn't

wait to start making the arrangements. She almost rushed out the door to

her car, when she saw the pay phone.


Michelle stared at that phone for nearly five minutes before she walked

over to it. She decided it was worth a try. She put in all the change

she had, and dialed 1411. She waited nervously as the operator picked



"What city, please?"


Michelle took a deep breath and said:


"Philadelphia, Mississippi."