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1-and-a, 2-and-a, 3-and-a, 4-and-a… The rhythm pulses through me. I love this rhythm, I am addicted to it.

Dancing is a passion, a deep passion that I love with the blood of my heart.

My green jig shoes pound across the floor—heels clicking, feet stomping, the next moment airborne. I swish my jig skirt with the rhythm.

I am telling a story with this dance; it’s the story of a washerwoman angry with her husband for coming home late. This is the only dance I don’t have to smile in; I love this dance, pasted smiles seem fake. I hate anything fake. I am not fake—dancing is not fake. It’s who I am.

The bagpipes fill me with all the energy I need. The dancers on either side of me provide me with competition, which drives me to do my absolute best. My back is as straight as an arrow, my head raised in determination; the light of battle in my eyes. With a final leap forward I pose, holding the position in perfect practiced balance, then I curtsy like a lady, smile, and return my feet to 1st position—heels together, feet angled outward in an elegant V.

Next comes the Sword Dance. The swords we use are basket-hilted broadswords. The hilt encompasses my hand in patterned gold; I can feel the red fabric within against my hand—traditionally taken from the English Red Coats in battle. I set the sword down, crossing it with another like it. I stand at the hilt, facing myself in the mirror across from me in dance class. I feel like a warrior.

And I love it.

The bagpipes begin with their usual clamor. The Sword Dance is the second dance that most Beginner level dancers learn—I’ve been doing this dance for seven years, I am a premiere dancer. I have competed with champions; competing with other premiers that have been that level for years, some much older than me. I rarely win; though lately I’ve begun to place a bit. I will keep dancing until I reach their level—I will not give up; I am a determined young lady.

I dance over the crossed swords, one foot in a light half-point, the other high on the ball of the foot. I am flying; gravity holds little sway over me. My arms change positions on the precise beat—my fingers in a shape like a stage’s antlers.

The dance comes to an end and I bow.

Dance class is nearly over.

We slowly cool down with slow exercises, and lastly it is time for stretches.

Touch toes, stretch hamstrings, stretch calves.

Slow, slow, feel your breath mellow, feel your heart’s rhythm return to normal.

I melt into the splitz next, feeling my muscles loosen into the position I’ve accustomed them to. One leg is forward, the other stretches behind me—I am horizontal with the floor at last.

I relax, letting me upper body slowly bend forward until my forehead is resting on my leg. I have bent completely in half—I have done the impossible. My breathing slows further; I can feel my heart beating.

I am an athlete; to breathe is to be alive.