By Mary Lou Sanelli

It would seem funny to write about something other than dance, since June pretty much is considered recital month all over the country.

Dance studios provide something everyone wants: confidence. That’s all a studio is, really. A place to practice confidence. Generally, I know what I want to say about dance before I get started. Other times, it’s only once I begin that I can see what, or who, lies at the heart of my story.

Today it’s Lisa. I remember the day Lisa found her way to my adult class. After it was over, I was gazing out the window and I noticed her sitting on the front step. I went over and opened the door. She looked up and said, “You don’t recognize me, do you?”

I looked at her more closely, studied her eyes, and there she was: the Lisa I knew in high school.

“My doctor said I can talk about losing weight all I want, but I should actually do something about it. But I was afraid to come to a dance class.”

I sat down beside her.

“Because, well, look at me.” “You just need to get back in shape, it won’t take long.”

“I don’t know,” she rolled her eyes. “You have the quintessential dancer body. I hate you.”

I thought how no one had ever called me a quintessential anything before. And that I must be doing a pretty good job of hiding all of my insecurities. I snuck a sidelong glance of her body. Something I hadn’t seen in class came into focus, a dancer’s body, rusty, yes, but definitely visible. I imagined her concentration narrowing as she rolled up her spine before executing, absolutely killing, a pirouette. I wanted to say as much. But I decided to wait a few classes.

Wait! My insides protested, why hold back the compliment? One sincere compliment can do wonders for a student’s confidence. “What kind of work do you do?” I said.

“I’m a vet.”

“Afghanistan? Iraq?”

“No, silly, a veterinarian.”

I was so embarrassed.

“Do you mind if I ask you something? Did you ever study dance?”

“How can you tell? I mean, by the looks of me now.”

“I can see it, it’s there.” She scooted a little closer, “I took ballet for nine years. But I’ve gained, like, a hundred pounds since then. It’s going to be an upward battle.”

“It’s a battle you can win.” She didn’t say anything for a moment. I didn’t either. But we were both clearly, openly there.

“Thank you,” she said. She stood up, stretched her arms over her head, and I noticed that until that moment, she’d appeared taller to me than she really was. Maybe because she is one of those people who makes you feel that only your best, truest self will do.

“You’re welcome.” But she didn’t hear me. She was walking away toward her car. I thought how her work had become helping animals and mine helping students, and how we both must have learned at a very young age how much easier getting through the rotten, as well as the wonderful, things would be, if we tried to make things better for others along the way.