The first year Mal auditioned she wasn't chosen for as many dances as she would have liked. As a freshman her style and work were a mystery to that year's seniors, and running to see the cast list for every piece she tried out for she would be let down more than not. "Be patient," I said, "you're time will come."
How she got to be such a passionate, beautiful dancer is a mystery to us. When I was growing up I wasn't even aware you could take dance lessons let alone know anyone who did. Like her sister before her, though, I enrolled Mal in dance because someone else's mom suggested it to me so we could carpool. It seemed better than standing on the sidelines of a soccer field (although there were years of that, too), and so I'd take my turn driving and write a check at the beginning of each month. When recital or competition time came the checks would have more zeros after it and I would often question just how long we could keep this expense up.
Many times, after sitting in darkened auditoriums for hours at a time in order to see five minutes of Mal dance, I could have easily traded places with the soccer mom for some sunlight, fresh air and a checkbook with a better bottom line.
It has been a long time since we sat through those frequent recitals and competitions. If you told me then that I would miss it I would have laughed. Now our only opportunity to see her dance is the annual show for seniors and this group did not disappoint. Talented, beautiful and provocative, each dancer plied, arabesqued and piroutted their hearts out. A parting gift to the school that has taught them the art of dance for the past four years.
Mal and some friends stood in the wings and watched their friend perform for the last time. A small sob at the end of the performance would be mistaken as coming from the dancer herself, but rather it was from the friends off-stage.
On the way out to the parking lot we would pass one of the senior male dancers whose performance gave me chills. Scraping the snow and ice from his windshield, he was a solitary man on a cold night after what must have been the highlight of his life thus far.
"You were incredible," I wanted to shout but didn't because that kind of thing has a way of embarrassing my introverted dance child. Instead I asked the universe to give him a very big life and career, one where the wings were far too small of a place for all he had to offer.
It is the same request I make over and over for our Tiny Dancer whose time has come in so many ways.