Wednesday, March 3, 2010

REACHING FOR THE STARS--Fictional Short Story

I wrote the following fictional story in the late nineties, before there were plus-sized dancers on TV much. It was a 3000 word assignment for fiction in the writing course I was taking at the time. It came close to being published a couple of times, and I used it as the basis for a novel in the novel writing course I took last year that I've never finished. I decided to share it on Scribbles with you. I love the two characters and hope you do too. They are not based on anyone in particular, but are a composite of people that I love. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)



Sharon Prater-Pope

“Fedora Isabella Quintana, you’re next, please,” called a voice from the doorway.

Fedora, whom everyone called Fizzy, froze. Her legs refused to move. She had never been to an audition before, and it had been a long, nerve-wracking morning. They had already watched thirty-six other hopefuls, out of forty-seven, go and come back through that door.

“I can’t do this! What was I thinking?” she said to Dana, her best friend and moral support.

“Yes you can, Fizzy. This is what you’ve wanted your whole life. If you don’t take the chance, you’ll always wonder ‘what if’. You have to at least try. I believe in you. Believe in yourself and reach for the stars!” Dana gave her a quick hug, then a little push. “Go get ‘em, Fizzy!”

The studio was a large room with hardwood floors. Mirrors and warm-up bars lined one wall. Fizzy stood in the middle of the floor, heart pounding and perspiration beading her face, while the two middle-aged ladies seated behind the table looked over her application. Once dancers on Broadway, they were now overweight instructors, who had decided to start their own troupe.

At 230 pounds and thirty years of age, Fizzy was the smallest and youngest to audition. She felt conspicuous in her black and yellow jogging suit, with its matching yellow shoes. The long chiffon scarf, which she was nervously twisting in her hands, had belonged to her grandmother. It was also yellow, her lucky color. She was sure she looked like a big bumblebee amidst the others in their black leotards and tights. She didn’t even know leotards came in her size.

“Hello, Fizzy.” The red-haired lady smiled at her. “I’m Renna, and this is Tanzy.”

Fizzy forced a smile. Her knees shook so hard that she was sure she would fall before she got to dance. She tried to remember that dance was her one true passion, and that she felt more alive when she danced than any other time. But she hadn’t danced in front of anyone except Dana since a middle-school party, which had turned into a nightmare. The boys wouldn’t dance with them, so they danced together. This made them the butt of many cruel jokes, she being short, dark, and heavy, and Dana being tall, blonde, and bony. An odd looking pair, they had stuck together through thick and thin from then on.

“According to your application, you’ve had no formal training. Where did you learn to dance?” Renna asked.

Fizzy fought panic. “I’m self taught. I grew up in a tiny rural town where the emphasis was on sports, not the arts. Instructors in other towns wouldn’t take me because of my weight. Dancing is as necessary as breathing to me, and I’ve made up dance steps in my head for as long as I can remember. I studied and learned from every book and video I could find, and since I love all kinds of music and dance, I learned to improvise different movements to express my feelings to whatever music I was in the mood for. I had a lot of time to practice.”

“You are to present an original, three-minute routine for this audition.” Tanzy was speaking now. “When everyone has finished, there will be a break, during which we’ll cut the applicants by half. The remaining twenty-four will do a brief impromptu routine to music of our choice. From these, we’ll pick the final twelve. Let’s see what you can do.” She looked doubtful.

While the lively classical selection she had brought was being put on the CD player, Fizzy closed her eyes, took deep breaths to center herself, and silently prayed, “Please, God, help me to do my very best, and don’t let me fall down.”

Keeping her eyes closed as the music washed over her, Fizzy began to feel it in every fiber of her being. She forgot about the video camera and her potential employers. She forgot about her bumblebee suit and her weight as she glided gracefully and effortlessly over the floor, imagining herself as Isodora Duncan, thin, free-spirited, and sensuous. The chiffon scarf swirled about her as she ran, twirled, and leapt, using her body to express the joy in the music. Ending in a curtsy, head bowed, she whispered a prayer of thanks. She had done well, without stumbling once.

“Thank you, Fedora.” Renna was scribbling something on a paper.

Fizzy couldn’t tell by their expressionless faces what they thought, but she had triumphed over her fear and she felt great.

The whole thing had taken only a few minutes, but to Dana, waiting in the hall, it had seemed an eternity. She was a nervous wreck.

“How did it go?” she asked, meeting Fizzy at the door.

“You wouldn’t believe how scared I was. I wanted desperately to run, but my feet felt rooted to the floor. Then the music started, so I pretended that I was alone and put my heart and soul into it. I don’t know what they thought, but I know that I did my best, and even if I don’t make the troupe, I’m glad I gave it a shot. Thank you for coming with me. I couldn’t have done it without you.

“Now we have some time to kill before the next audition and I’m starved. Let’s go get something to eat.”

Dana looked surprised. “What next audition? You mean we have to go through this again today?”

“Only if I don’t get cut with the first half.” Fizzy grinned.

“I don’t know if I can take another audition or not,” Dana said.

They laughed as they stepped outside into the bright sunshine. It was a warm spring Saturday and the first hurdle had been jumped.

There was a restaurant up the street, and as they went in, some of the other dancers motioned for them to join them around a large table toward the back.

As they walked by the other tables Fizzy heard someone giggle and say, “Must be a fat convention in town.” Laughter rang out behind them.

It hurt, but Fizzy refused to let them ruin her day. Besides, her mother had always told her that people who made fun of other people were lacking in themselves.

“Hello, I’m Fedora, but everyone calls me Fizzy,” she said, as they sat down.

A woman named Cheryl was tearfully recounting how she had fallen during her number, but that she had kept going.

“I know I blew it,” she said. The others tried to console and encourage her.

Time went by quickly as the women ate, got acquainted, and discussed how their auditions went. They hurried back to the studio together to see if any of them had gotten a call back.

The list for the second audition was posted in the hall. There were shouts of joy and tears of disappointment as the women looked for their names.

“You made it, Fizzy!” Dana squealed, as they found her name listed. “I knew you

Fizzy was a little stunned. They had picked her over formally trained dancers?

The remaining women, and any support partners, were called into the studio together and told to assemble along the walls.

Renna and Tanzy were now standing with clipboards in their hands. The table had been pushed against the wall.

“Congratulations for making this cut,” Renna began. “For this tryout we want to see how you respond to music that’s different from what you used before and how an audience affects you. Just go with the music and dance what you feel. We’ve been to many auditions ourselves, so we understand, and allow for, nervousness. Ready?”

Fizzy was near the last to be called, and by the time she had watched all the others try out, her newly found confidence was waning. Even Cheryl, who had also been given a second chance, was amazing.

“They’re all so good. I might as well go home now, “she said to Dana, as they watched. “I can’t compete with these women. They’re all professionals.”

“So were the twenty-three they sent home.” Dana always viewed the cup half full instead of half empty.

“Fedora, you’re next. In contrast to the classical piece you did before, we’re going to play you a pop number by Michael Jackson. Okay?”

Fizzy nodded. She might as well get it over with.

“The Way You Make Me Feel” blasted over the speakers.

Ah! This was a feel good song, made to strut to!

Fizzy assumed an attitude, and let the beat fill her senses as she strutted around the room, allowing her body to freely express what the music and words made her feel, which was sheer joy at the moment. Her short dark hair bounced and her green eyes sparkled, as she cavorted around the room, becoming unaware of all those watching, until the music ended abruptly.

She blushed.

“You were wonderful!” Dana exclaimed, as Fizzy rejoined her.

When the last five had finished, Renna stepped forward. “We’re sorry to have kept you so late.” she said. “You were all much better than we expected, and it was difficult to choose only twelve. In addition to technical ability, we looked for adaptability, expressiveness, and most of all passion. To those of you who didn’t make it this time, it wasn’t because you weren’t good. Unfortunately, we only have a limited number of slots available, but we have your tapes, and should we need a replacement, or decide to expand the troupe, we’ll be in touch. Thank you for auditioning.

“Now, it’s been a long day, but if you can wait another few minutes for us to compare notes, we’ll call the names that we’ve chosen.”

Fizzy shifted from one foot to the other as she waited anxiously. She and Dana clasped each other’s hands as they heard eleven names called, and watched the excited women laughing and hugging in the center of the floor.

Fizzy’s heart sank. She hadn’t realized how truly disappointed she would be if she wasn’t chosen. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“And the final name to be added is Fedora Quintana,” called Tanzy.

Fizzy’s heart felt like it did a triple somersault. She was laughing and crying at the same time as she joined the others on the floor.

“Congratulations, ladies. You now make up the Dance Troupe Rubenesque. You have a lot of hard work ahead of you, so we’ll see you back here in two weeks to begin rehearsals. Good night.”

“What does Rubenesque mean?” asked Dana, as they left the studio.

“You know. It’s like the women in the Rubens paintings, full-bodied, voluptuous, colorful, sensual…….,” Fizzy explained.

“That description definitely fits this group.” They both laughed.

It was so late that Fizzy and Dana got a motel room for the night, rather than make the two-hour drive back to Riverview, the tiny riverbank town they had both grown up in. It had been a long day, full of endless waiting and roller-coaster emotions. They were both exhausted, but sleep didn’t come easily to Fizzy. Her mind buzzed with all the changes that were about to be made in her life.

The next two weeks were a blur. Fizzy quit her job at the day care center, bought proper clothes to rehearse in, packed, and found a place to live in the city. She was glad she had lived with her parents all these years. It had allowed her to accumulate a nice bank account.

Dana helped her move to Nashville and settle into a tiny furnished apartment not too far from the studio. She noticed that Fizzy looked a little down, as she was preparing to leave for home. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m scared,” Fizzy said. “I’ve never been on my own before. How will I ever make it without you?”

“You’re going to be fine, Fizzy,” Dana answered, with a cheerfulness that she didn’t feel. “Think of the adventures that lay ahead of you. I’m going to miss you terribly, but I’m so happy for you. Call me. Okay?”

Hugs were exchanged before Dana got into her car. “Break a leg!” she called as she drove out onto the street.

Fizzy felt lost and alone. They both knew that although they would always be friends, their lives were about to go in opposite directions.

The first day of rehearsals was spent getting to know one another, discussing choreography and costumes, and finding out what was planned for the troupe. The amphitheater in Centennial Park had already been reserved for a free recital, a trial run, in six weeks.

The troupe consisted of women from different ethnic backgrounds, married and single, ranging from thirty to fifty-five years of age, 230 to 250 pounds, and 5’5” to 5’9” in height. They were not a stereotypical group of dancers. The common thread was a passion for dancing.

Renna and Tanzy wanted to prove that there should be no barriers to achieving a dream, and that one didn’t have to look a certain way, be a certain age, or fit a particular mold, to do anything that they wanted to do badly enough.

Rehearsals were long and tedious as the women struggled to learn new steps and incorporate them into the routines Renna and Tanzy had worked out. They were also encouraged to offer their own suggestions. It was truly to be a team effort.

When they weren’t rehearsing, they were being fitted for costumes and taught about makeup and wigs.

Fizzy never wore makeup and she had always had short bowl-shaped hair. The male species had never noticed her, so what was the point? She couldn’t believe that the beautiful woman with the shoulder length hair and made up face staring back at her in the mirror was actually her.

There was no time or energy to be homesick. Fizzy fell into bed bone tired every night, but it was a good tired. Dreams are only achieved with commitment, sacrifice, and hard work, so it was worth it. But she wondered if they would ever be ready for the recital.

By the fourth week they had learned the routines, and synchronization and timing became the main focus. Costumes were almost ready, and the women had formed a strong bond of friendship, determined to make the troupe work as a unit.

Flyers were posted everywhere promoting the show, and the local cable channel ran it in the community news segments. They had had a number of dress rehearsals, and the day of the recital finally arrived, a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

Now it was real. The dancers huddled together off stage.

“What if nobody shows up? What if we’re not ready? What if nobody likes us? We’ve put in all this hard work for nothing!” Fizzy was wrought with anxiety and talking to no one in particular. “What if I mess up? I wish Dana were here.”

It was time. The women wished each other luck and lined up to go on stage. They were all twittering with nerves and excitement.

“You’re all going to do fine, and everything will be great. Don’t worry. Just do your best. Tanzy and I are so proud of you. You’ve worked very hard for this; now just go out there and have fun. If you’re enjoying it, the audience will too,” Renna told them.

“Please welcome the newly formed Dance Troupe Rubenesque!” Tanzy raised her voice to cue them, after she had the audience’s attention.

The women filed onto the stage and assumed their positions for a classical number, their long Grecian style gowns flowing softly around their bodies. Their long curled hair glistened in the sunlight, as they waited for the music to begin. They surveyed the fairly large audience before them.

“Should have called them the old elephant dance troupe. They’ll never be able to move them big old butts, let alone dance,” a skinny teenager in front, who obviously didn’t want to be there, said a little too loudly to the woman next to him. She looked mortified and people around them laughed.

Fizzy’s eyes stung with tears. “Oh, no! It’s the school dance all over again,” she thought. She briefly considered running off stage, but she couldn’t do that to the others. They were a team.

Then her eyes found her parents and Dana.

Dana, who seemed startled by the new Fizzy, gave her a big smile and a thumbs-up sign. Fizzy relaxed. It was going to be okay.

The music came up and the recital began.

The show was choreographed to allow each dancer to be featured in a number. They performed everything from ballet (minus the toe standing), to tap, jazz, Broadway, big-band, classical interpretation, reggae, and rock.

Quick changing costumes had become an art in itself, as they donned poodle skirts and saddle oxfords for the finale, which was a medley of “oldies but goodies” fifties and sixties numbers. The last song was “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)”, by the Dave Clark Five, which ended the evening on a highly energized, positive note.

The boy who had made the elephant remarks looked dumbfounded.

With arms intertwined, they took a bow. The clapping grew louder. They were being given a standing ovation!

There was no other feeling like this. Everything that they had endured during the last six weeks had paid off. Their performance had gone off with only a few minor glitches. The audience, which had grown larger as the recital progressed, had been won over by the gracefulness and agility that these large women displayed. They loved them, and this was only the beginning. Anything was possible now!

Fizzy smiled as they rose from another bow. She was no longer just plain, shy, intimidated little Fizzy with a dream. She was now Fedora-- the dancer.

Not bad for a country girl named after a hat.