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Through the Looking Glasses

by Jan Hamlett

The young man and the young woman were immeasurably beautiful. He was tall and muscular, blond, with a strong countenance; she was porcelain-perfect, with the dark hair and the lithe figure envied by the other young women at the ballet conservatory. The two dancers were graceful and precise in their movements at the barre. No one observing them would have criticized their form, yet in their own eyes the movements they beheld in the mirror were not good enough. Indeed, they were their own harshest critics.

When they had finished their hours of practice for the day, they gathered up their belongings as they had done a thousand times before and headed down the stairs. Their excited conversation was focused on the arrival of a new student. Rumor had it that she was the rising star, the one who would outshine them all. They had not yet met her and were looking forward to seeing her at a party that very evening, where each dancer would be expected to perform for the others. What would she be like? Would her talent truly exceed that of all the others? Would she be the best of the best? They would see.

The soiree was, as always, a convivial scene. The wine was excellent; the food was satisfying; the camaraderie was warm. Anyone, especially a newcomer, could see that the young artists were very close, yet the competition among them was keen. The “new girl” observed the tight little conversation groups and realized how difficult it would be to cultivate a friend.

As usual, when the wine began to work its magic, someone suggested a friendly little “dance contest,” a vulgar term indeed to use for such a gifted group. Each took his or her turn, showing off movements perfected by hours, months, years of disciplined diligence. Finally, it was “her” turn. They all held their breath as she took the floor. What would they have to fear from this unknown?

The next day, the two friends were once again at the barre beside the mirror, practicing their passion. As they finished and made their way down the familiar stairway, they both made their usual self-deprecating comments and then began chatting about the “new girl” and her performance of the previous evening. Yes, she had indeed measured up to her reputation, they admitted. She was magnificent, they said. In fact, they vowed to work even harder in order to compete. Compared to her performance, they confided to one another, theirs had been completely disappointing. In their estimation, her talent most certainly eclipsed theirs.

In another studio, another dancer was going through her routine. Yes, the new arrival was practicing as well. As she continued, her thoughts turned to the evening before. Puzzled, she was re-playing the numerous compliments she had received. The mirror mimicked her bewildered expression as she moved about the floor. What she saw was a young woman heavy on her feet. The image in front of her was struggling with the intricate steps, as they appeared awkward and imprecise.

The more closely she observed herself, the more conclusively she decided that she was clumsy and immature in her efforts. The reflection she saw in the glass was that of a novice, not the graceful creature that had elicited such awe from the others, especially the tall blond “god” and his friend, the dark-haired beauty, whose talent far surpassed her own.

In yet another studio, the instructor entrusted with the development of each of these three careers sighed the sigh of one who sees possibility that will never be realized. She was thinking of these three young artists who embodied the skill, grace and beauty that held the capability of eliciting the collective awe of any future audience. As she reached for something on her desk and peered pensively into her own mirrored wall, she knew it would not come to pass.

Not one of these lovely dancers would enjoy the exhilaration of success. What a loss for them and for the world that, along with all their shared gifts, they also shared a terrible flaw, one that their teacher recognized all too well. Sadly, for the rest of their lives, before turning toward the looking glass, they would put on their self-prescribed distortion lenses.

Copyright © 2009 by Jan Hamlett

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