Copyright 2014 Camille Leone

This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by
the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to
actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means
without the prior written consent of the author.

It was a cattle call of over three hundred dancers, the last chance for many who‟d never
received an offer of a contract for the ballet season. Lining up in two groups of ten, the
remaining fifty or so students were competing for three student scholarships with the Graham
Dance Company. After the numbers and names of those who‟d made it were announced, dancers
stood around, some dejected, others hugging familiar faces, while still others exchanged
information on the next audition in another city.
Imani Fairchild‟s number hadn‟t been called, so she said goodbye to the people who‟d made
it this far with her and congratulated those who‟d been selected. With the auditions over it
seemed everyone was in a hurry to leave.
Everyone except Meredith Culp, the artistic director designate of the company. Holding her
finger in the air, she shuffled resumes and pictures with the other hand, calling out one more
number. “Two fifty one. Don‟t leave just yet. Two fifty one, Imani Sojourner Fairchild-”
Meredith felt another sneeze coming on so she searched for a tissue that had been used so often it
was almost a cotton ball. With short salt and pepper hair doing nothing to soften her thin, angular
face, Meredith wore a floppy hat to hide a severe haircut that was simply a regrettable whim.

When Meredith raised her head, Imani‟s anxiously moving toes were the first thing she saw.
Imani Fairchild wasn‟t a short, petite ballerina, but she wasn‟t tall either. More on the lanky side
but thankfully not super skinny. With ankles that appeared too fragile for her calves, the bottom
portion of her physique didn‟t quite match the top. If she wasn‟t moving then the well-toned
lines of her body weren‟t as defined. Meredith squinted, realizing the girl almost looked
androgynous right now. Imani stood in the fifth position as though it was her natural resting
state. With a face that a makeup artist would love, she was blessed with full, cupie doll lips and
high cheekbones. Meredith noted the girl was cross between a Barbie doll and a Tonka truck
when she danced, displaying both delicacy and exceptional athleticism.
“You were recently in the corps de ballet with the Tsarskoye Karlov Grand Ballet,”
Meredith finally said as she continued to inspect the girl, both on paper and in person. “Tell me
how that went.”
“I was very grateful for the experience, though I was only there for a year and a half.” The
smile never left Imani‟s face. “I think I made the right decision to leave.”
“I don‟t see any of your solo student performances on here. Why not?”
“That‟s because I didn‟t have any.”
“None?” Meredith‟s voice rose in disbelief. “Were you injured or ill?”
“Well then why? . . .” Meredith waited for Imani to fill in the gap on her résumé.
“That‟s just how it turned out for me. For others, the experience was different.”
“Yet you stayed-”
“I stayed because it was the Karlov. Because it was an honor and a privilege to be there. I
made a number of Russian friends, and I hung out with a great group of dancers from other
countries. But I never got picked for a role in my almost two years there. I was in the corps line
and nothing more.” Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, the pointe shoes dangling
around Imani‟s neck were close to her own copper complexion.
“Did the director give you a reason?”
For the first time the girl‟s tone was flat. “She said . . . she said it was tradition. And that
with me being an American, a-and black, well . . . she came right out and said that diversity
didn‟t trump history, even if I had the funds to pay for a spot onstage like they asked some of the

others to do. And she said the audiences weren‟t fond of change but I shouldn‟t despair, because
listing the Karlov on my resume was enough.”
Meredith didn‟t know what to say. “How many auditions have you been on?”
“I-I don‟t know.”
“You don‟t keep track?”
“I do. But if I tell you how many you might think something‟s wrong with me. And I think I
dance just fine.”
“You‟re better than just a fine dancer. You‟re very good. Hasn‟t anyone ever told you that?”
“Yes. My family and my friends, and my former dance instructor tell me all the time. That‟s
what keeps me going. Because they believe in me, so it helps me believe in myself . . . no matter
what anyone else says.”
After their exchange, silence settled over the theater. The kind of silence that old buildings
with long histories were known for, as if the seats were filled with the ghostly forms of audiences
past and present, quietly observing. Imani watched Meredith‟s head bob up as if she had
something else to ask, but then changed her mind. Her hand waved, as if she was signaling for
Imani to go, so the girl quietly left center stage, grabbing her bag on the floor, just right of the
“No, wait a moment. You weren‟t being dismissed. I‟ve been wrestling with myself over
this.” Meredith‟s voice floated across the expanse of the theater. “I‟m going to offer you a spot at
our school.”
Imani‟s step faltered, as if she couldn‟t believe what she‟d just heard. The little table lamp
was off so the area beneath the stage was now dark, and all she heard was the honk of Meredith
blowing her nose.
“Be at the studio by 10:00am sharp on the 19th,” Meredith sniffed, adding, “If you‟re late I
will rescind the offer.”
Skipping back to the stage area, Imani grinned down at her. “I won‟t be late. And thank you.
Thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity!”
“Don‟t thank me just yet. Once you meet the Artistic Director of the company, you just
might want to wring my neck.”

Standing next to an interpreter who barely reached the shoulders of the dancer simply
known as “Hui” and another man who could double as a body guard, Le Jong Hui answered the
reporter‟s questions with great care.
Yes, he was excited to perform in America. Of course his parents were proud of his
accomplishments, but most of all how he‟d brought honor and recognition to his homeland of
North Korea and his adopted country of South Korea. When the reporter‟s next question veered
into the strained relationship between both countries, a man who was just as tall but much wider
than Le Jong Hui put his hands up, stating that the interview was over. The other dancers in the
visiting South Korean troupe stood quietly and respectfully, seemingly oblivious to the crowd of
American dancers watching them.
Taek-hyun, a soloist with the South Korean National Ballet folded his arms across his chest,
inwardly seething at the attention being given to a man whose glamorous background was
completely fabricated. For as far as he could remember the competition between the two
longtime friends had strained their relationship. First it was during their performances on North
Korean TV when they were children. Taek-hyun was the favorite and Hui was lesser known.
Shortly after Taek-hyun‟s much too brief brush with fame, his parents smuggled both boys into
South Korea. Now adults, Taek-hyun and Hui performed in the same ballet company, where
Hui‟s clean, elegant lines, explosive jumps and commanding stage presence had eclipsed Taekhyun‟s child star fame. But the biggest point of unfairness came from the fact that Hui didn‟t
want this. He didn‟t want the acclaim or the pressure that came with it.
Dancers with the Graham Company were getting restless just milling around. Not only was
this photo-op cutting into their practice time, but the young students were feeling the anxiety of
securing an apprentice position.
“What da fuck, is this guy Justin Bieber or something?” Victor groused. A former soloist
who‟d returned after an injury, Victor wasn‟t showing any love for their guests.
Julio, a lithe dancer from Brazil smirked before asking, “Who?”

“I said, is he some kind of Korean Justin Beiber?”
“Who?” Julio said, pretending he couldn‟t place the name. “Why are you cussing at me?”
“I‟m not - oh, I get it.” Victor sighed, placing an arm around Imani‟s shoulders as she
squeezed between the two of them. “Long as he brings the crowds, that‟s all I care. Guess we‟re
not exotic enough, huh Julio?”
“Ai, Poppi.”
“Ah, there you go again, flirting and giving me hope.”
“Shhh! I‟m trying to listen,” Imani told them. “He looks younger in person.”
“I wonder if they‟ll roll out the carpet for us once we get to South Korea,” Victor said.
Julio nodded. “Shit yeah, Dennis Rodman got to hang with the president.”
Imani jumped in to add, “He got to hang with the head of North Korea because he‟s Dennis
Rodman, who used to play for the Chicago Bulls. But if we go they‟ll probably look at us just
like we‟re gawking at them right now.” Thinking her voice carried louder than she‟d meant it to,
Imani giggled when Hui glanced in her direction.
“I saw that,” Julio said. “Did you see that?”
Victor looked from Imani to Julio. “What? What just happened?”
“He gave Imani the look.”
That surprised the shit out of her, because their eye contract barely lasted a second. “He
“Yeah, dude was checking out the junk in your trunk.”
When her laughter caused most of the troupe to turn her way, she mouthed “sorry” as Dame
Edith Culp, the Artistic Director Emerita directed a cold glare at the trio.
“There are several pieces we have in mind to highlight members of your renowned
company,” Dame Culp said, regaining her train of thought. “And there‟s an original piece we‟ve
commissioned from one of the best choreographers in the country as a way to build relations
between your nation and ours.”
As her words were translated, smiles and thank-you‟s abounded. The photographer from
Reuters asked for another picture, so Dame Culp suggested the group take the photo in the
atrium. Only Hui and Ming-ju, a beautiful soloist with the South Korean troupe were invited to
pose for the photo, along with a few American dancers who were Dame Culp‟s favorites in the

As the other dancers resumed practicing under the guidance of Ballet Master Pew, polite
smiles and nods were exchanged with their remaining visitors.
When the men lined up to practice their jumps, Taek-hyun leisurely strolled over to join
them. He‟d practically taken over the practice barre, providing unintentional giggles from the
American students watching him strut his stuff. Even his warm up had been overly dramatic.
“Can you say high maintenance?” Imani muttered to Julio.
“I dunno. I kinda like demanding divas,” Julio said, sizing Taek-hyun up, from the man‟s
powerfully built chest and legs, to his handsome scowl that seemed to say, bring it on.
“Okay, you show me yours and I might show you mine,” Victor said, stepping aside so
Taek-hyun could go first. As the students lined each wall to give him space, Taek-hyun went
airborne with a 540 Battement en Rond. Impressive and difficult as hell. Taek-hyun motioned for
Victor to take the floor after the applause died down. “Oh, I would Mister T, but I‟m just coming
off a strained tendon. Julio, do you want some of this?”
Juilo shook his head. “Nope. I‟m good.”
Taek-hyun‟s arms rose as he prodded members of his troupe to continue clapping for him.
There was a smattering of applause from the American dancers and students leaning on the ballet
barres. As Taek-hyun took a victory lap around the room, Victor whistled, and Taek-hyun turned
to see Imani in a corner, readying for a jump.
After an eye-roll, Victor dryly said, “See, over here in „Murica, we‟ve got men and women
who can do those same jumps. Check out my girl Imani.”
Spinning twice to gain speed, Imani vaulted off the floor in a butterfly, floating toward the
ceiling on one count, descending to the ground on the next. Once landing, she sank to a knee as if
she were a suitor proposing marriage, capping it off with an imploring arm stretch just like the
male danseurs. Grinning at Taek-hyun, Imani rose, gathering enough strength to attempt a tour
en l'air, or turn in the air while using Julio‟s big smile to spot the jump. Starting in a demi-plié
and keeping her center tight during the lightning quick rotation, she focused on speed, the
placement of her arms and keeping her shoulders open in order to execute a clean jump. After
landing in the fifth position with her feet reversed, she gave an impish grin to the crowd,
extending her arms, palms up, in order to catch her breath for the next leap, switching out a
single revolution for two. She‟d just completed a double tour en l'air when Dame Culp returned.

“IMANI!” Dame Culp screamed, and all activity ceased. Victor and Julio cringed for their
roommate, as Dame Culp clapped her hands together then flicked her wrist, ordering Imani to
leave the room immediately.

End of Excerpt

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