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Winning an impossible situation
- Melody Singh, Iowa

February 12, 2007

(Melody Singh won Honorary Mention and Kuchipudi Ranga Pravesam DVD & CD Boxset in the Dance Essay Competition conducted by Cultural Centre of India, OH, on the topic "Why is being a dancer important to me.")

Miss Monica taps her short wooden stick on her block to keep the difficult seven-count rhythm in time. The voices on the tape fill the studio, along with six pairs of feet stamping the beat in unison. "Stretch those arms! Deeper araimandi, Munmun." I bend my knees while trying to maintain the 180 degree angle of my feet. It is difficult to believe I am a dancer of one of India's oldest art forms. Bharatanatyam requires years of dedication to master; I am in my fifth year. As the tempo speeds up and Miss Monica's tapping accelerates, our footwork falls apart. Most of the girls stop, but I continue. Miss Monica taps the block furiously, egging me on to the end. Finally, I am finished. The tape clicks off: "Good footwork, Munmun!" I smile through shallow breaths, exhausted and proud. "But you still need a deeper araimandi." I groan inwardly. After class I am anxious to go home and practice, this time with a proper araimandi. By next week it should be mastered.

Instead, I am lying in a hospital bed the entire next week. My nervous system has shut down. I am no longer able to move my arms or legs. Doctors perform tests to determine a diagnosis. They diagnose me with Multiple Sclerosis; later they reconsider, thinking I have Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis. My doctor gently explains to me that I cannot dance for a few months. I begin to sob. The situation seems surreal and impossible. Annual Day is three weeks away. I have toiled too hard and too long for it to be over in just a week. It does not matter that I am physically incapable. I resolve to dance in the recital, no matter what.

A week later I return to class. My legs are weak and shaky. They threaten to collapse at any given moment, yet I have surprised everyone, including the doctors. When Annual Day arrives, I am ready. While on stage, my bare feet stamp the warm wooden floor. Determination courses through my thin legs. My feet are sweaty, slippery, and work hard to grip the floor. I am already exhausted and nowhere close to completing the routine. My slender arms sting and my muscles throb in agony. My neck aches under the sagging weight of jewelry and the long plait tugging at my nape. I glance down to the front row where Miss Monica sits. Her eyes and broad smile spell praise. I straighten my back. I bow deeper at my knees. I forget the pain and focus on what I know and feel by heart.

My feet no longer feel as though I am dragging sacks of potatoes, but are weightless. I lift my chin higher while tightening and stretching my fingers. I bend my elbows just so and listen to the cheerful clinking of bangles and bells that call attention to the rhythm of the movements. Finally, the end. I bow to the audience, especially Miss Monica. In spite of my exhaustion, I have never felt so powerful.

Melody Singh is a student of 12th grade at West High in Iowa City, USA. She learns Bharatanatyam from Monica Cooley, Kala Nivedanam.

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