The first time I fell in love with flowers, I stood on a stage, at the young age of five. A glittering butterfly costume with so many sequins it made me dizzy. Tiny, tiny pink ballet slippers. Wooden, resin-dusted stage in front of the largest audience my young eyes had ever seen. Bright lights that I distinctly remember warming my face like the sun. The feeling of makeup on my face for the first time, a little heavy, a little waxy. The smell of the old auditorium seats, a little dusty, a little moldy, very formal.
And the sound of music coming from speakers that were taller than me, enveloping not only my ears, but my chest, my arms, my feet, my lungs. The experience was all-consuming and it hooked me for life. I still love it. I still feel my most alive when I’m on a stage, with that waxy makeup and the hot lights and the moldy theater seats and the chaos of backstage and the ability to focus the attention of a thousand people onto one thing. In the same way, on that first day on the stage, in the dazzle of the spectacle, one thing captured my attention, as I stood, tiny, in the front row of the final formation of the final bow of the finale. The flowers.
The “big girls,” the Advanced Dancers, the older ones, the Principals, came to the front of the group, to the edge of the stage, and the dancers who were a few years older than me presented them with beautiful bouquets of flowers. They were colorful and fragrant and contoured so that they could be cradled in the dancers arms like Miss America. I wasn’t expecting them. I didn’t know that was part of it. And I loved it.
Those dancers were so beautiful, so pretty in their maturity, so graceful in their grown-up costumes, with such beautiful sculpted feet in their fresh pink pointe shoes. And they looked so proud and so gloriously exhausted as they held those bouquets. I wanted to be them.
A few years later, after I’d been in the school long enough to form an idol, I got to be one of the young ladies who had the honor of presenting the “older girls,” mere seniors in high school, but heroines to me, with one of those bouquets. We ran off stage, as they assembled in the front line, and we were each handed a bouquet by one of the backstage mothers. “Go!” came the command, and we ran out in our tutus and slippers, to stand in front of our assigned Principal. A choreographed curtsy and we handed off those flowers.
My idol smiled, and winked at me, and my heart exploded. It was the purest love of an ideal that had yet to be tarnished or diluted. I ran with my group to the back line and stood in “B-Plus,” the signature ballerina “At Ease,” and watched the graduating seniors complete their farewell interviews. It may as well have been the Grand March of the New York City Ballet. I wanted to be them.
Ahead of me were years of toil and thousands of hours of sweat and correction, pain and stretch, glory and failure and the mastery of a few things, paired with the acceptance of an inability in some other things. And each year, each show, I moved closer and closer to that front row, and those flowers.
That last night, that penultimate show, I’d earned that grown up dressing room space with the lights around the mirror, and the Pas de Deux I’d worked so hard for, for so long. And when I took that final bow, I took my time. I savored. I paused in the bottom of my deep curtsy, my Reverance, illegally resting my knee for a moment on the resin-dusted stage, under the hot, hot lights, and took a deep breath of audience air and life. I savored the completion of something long-labored, feeling like the Queen of the world, like a Fairy Princess, like Miss America.
When that young lady brought my long awaited bouquet, I cradled it the way I’d seen the generations do, and I smiled and winked at her. And so, the tradition carried on. And I still love flowers. If I have nothing else in my home, I still have flowers, and that one day that I was someone’s unblemished ideal.