I am running a few minutes late. Never mind that I live two blocks from the dance studio, or that others come from all over the city and are already parked and warming up. We (mostly) know one another only from this space, where we gather every Sunday to move and sweat and leave our weekday identities. Here we are not moms or hair stylists or writers or social workers. Here, for two hours, we are dancers.
Ken ties the laces on his immaculate high-top kicks, turns up the volume, and takes his place in the front of class, facing the mirror. He gives a wicked smile, and we know what we have signed up for: good-natured abuse. Legs wide, we follow as his arms sweep from hips to sky. He models the quality of energy he wants us to give and we count on him to pull it out of us. Our ecstatic priest of boogie.
We reach the last movement. “Genuflect,” he says, just like he said the week before, and the weeks and years before that. “Thank your classmates for a good class. For showing up.” En masse, we step to our right, sweep our left leg behind us, stand tall with our arms extended, one toward the lobby and the other to the scuffed ceiling. We melt our bodies forward, crowns of heads bowing to wood floor, imagining ourselves princess swans. We lift our bodies, face our reflections in the mirror, and complete the movement on our left side. We stretch out the final moment; we make it last.
Walking home under the mellowing influence of my own body’s dopamine, not late for anything, I have no idea that this will be the last class. It is March 8, 2020. The e-mail comes the following week. Class cancelled.
We have all had so many “lasts” this year — last days of school and last ball games. Last words and last breaths.
For me on Sunday mornings now, I open my laptop to stream a dance class. “Shit, what’s wrong with the WiFi?” “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” Then I snap at my would-be helper, “I’m fine! Sorry. Thank you. It’s working.” Unfamiliar music plays in the background, and three dancers warm up on a black stage lit by white lights. They are barefoot, playful, and younger than me by half. In the top left corner of the screen, a number ticks up…750…800…1100…others streaming this right now. I push the square coffee table against the couch to make room. I push down my longing for the wood floor and mirror and camaraderie of real life dancers. I look at the screen, and at the tangerine trees outside my window. I reach left, then right, then close my eyes so I don’t see where I am, but only feel my movement. I imagine other people dancing alone in their living rooms, sobbing for what is missing.
Not the physical. My breath gives out sooner than it used to. Muscles that did not used to cramp do not forgive me for at least a week.
What lasts? The memories, until they don’t. The photos, until they fade.
What lasts is the love for what — and who — we are missing. What lasts is the hope that they will return, even in some other form. What lasts is our miraculous human ability to adapt to what is, and keep going.