Cynthia Garvin


“Bend from hip Layla, even further. No, further!” Layla’s Russian ballet teacher could always bark commands loud enough to make the glass of the chandelier in the studio tinkle with fright. It was 4:36 in the afternoon and Layla’s ballet class had only just begun. Adorned in the standard black leotard, pink tights, and a bun on top of her head so tight that she had a splitting headache, Layla continued the warm up with the rest of the girls. Layla had been a ballerina since she could remember. She loved dancing and being on stage. The bright light on her face made the audience blur into a mosaic mass.

Layla always believed she was a pretty good dancer. Not a fabulous dancer of course, not bound for the Russian ballet, but she clearly showed some talent. Unfortunately, as of late, Layla had been getting yelled at more and more, sometimes for her posture, sometimes for her turn-out, and sometimes for every move she made. On the other hand, when many girls were chastised for “not having the proper shape of a ballerina,” a euphemism for “you’re too fat to be a ballerina,” Layla was always complimented on her sinewy figure, long brown hair, and unblemished fair skin. She enjoyed the compliments, but often times, when out with friends, wished for a few of their curves. When they were out at the hottest clubs with the most gorgeous people in Manhattan, she wished she had something more to shake than her rib cage. But despite her distinctive figure, she couldn’t help but notice that her instructor seemed to dislike her dancing more and more.

When class was over, Layla took her time gathering her water bottle and slippers in an attempt to meet with Olga, her teacher, in private.

“Um, hey, Olga do you have a minute?” Layla began.

“Yes, but very small minute,” she replied.

“Well, I just wanted to talk about my dancing and where I’m going with this. I can’t help but notice that you haven’t seemed too pleased with me lately. Is there something wrong?” Layla inquired.

With a sigh, her teacher said, “Layla, lovely, you have beautiful figure, but your dancing, is…how you say, rhythm-less. We will work on it, yeah?” And with that she watched Olga walk out of the studio leaving the teen hurt and confused.

That night Layla mulled over her teacher’s words. She had always felt that she had rhythm, great rhythm in fact! But if Olga had said it, then it was undeniable. If it weren’t for the fact that Layla and her best friend Janie were leaving for South Beach tomorrow for spring break, then she would have spent the night bawling her eyes out. Instead she picked up her bright red Verizon cell phone and punched in the number two, which was her speed-dial for Janie. She picked up on the second ring.

“Hola amiga! You ready to hit South Beach tomorrow? Cause I sure know I am!” Janie squealed into the phone. Layla’s spirits were immediately lifted. Janie always had that effect on her. The effervescent Janie with her spiky blonde hair could lift anyone out of the doldrums. They talked for an hour about what shoes to bring, how many pairs of underwear would be needed, and which trendy club they’d be hitting first. Once Layla got off the phone she felt more relaxed but still a bit peeved that Olga had told her her rhythm sucked. She decided to tuck it into the back of her mind and head to bed. She’d need a lot of sleep that night because she certainly wouldn’t be getting any for the next week in South Beach.

Sixteen hours, one plane trip, and a short taxi ride later, Layla and Janie pulled up to the Colony Hotel, situated in South Beach’s most happening area - the corner of Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive. They checked into the hotel just in time to put on their swimsuits and catch the last rays of the sinking Florida sun. As they waltzed out of their room arm in arm, Layla caught her foot with the edge of her flip flop and fell head first onto the banister of the stairwell. Janie erupted with laughter.

“Hahaha, that was graceful, man. Walk much Lay?”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny, ouch, that really hurt.” Layla retorted as she righted herself and went to retrieve her flip flop. They continued walking out through the lobby to the beach, but Layla wasn’t thinking about the sand or surf. She couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that what had just occurred was totally clumsy, totally inept, totally…without rhythm. Her spirits began to sink again. What if Olga had been right? What if she really wasn’t cut out to be a ballerina? No, that was ridiculous, she thought, it was just a little mistake. Layla once again pushed her worries to the back of her mind and focused on having fun. This wasn’t time for ballet class, this was time for partying!

They walked over to the closest beach which was riddled with spring breakers playing volleyball, tanning, and running through the waves. The oldest person there, Layla mused, must have been about twenty-seven. After a mere two hours of sun bathing, Janie declared that it was time for them to head back to the hotel to get ready for their first big night out. They gathered their beach things, not bothering to put on their flip flops, and hustled back to the Colony.

By 9:34 the girls were South Beach-ready. Janie had on stilettos that would stun a stripper, with a skirt far too short for her own good. Layla herself donned a white sundress to complement the bit of color she had gotten that day. The moment they walked out of the hotel and out into South Beach night life, the transformation was incredible. Every hotel on the trip was glowing with fluorescent neon lights advertising their flashy interiors. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper as groups of spring breakers showed off their cars and yelled friendly banter to one another. Layla couldn’t help but notice a young blonde woman dripping in diamonds step into a stretch limo with a much older man.

“Clearly,” Layla began, as she pointed out the couple, “South Beach has some strange status dynamic to it.” Janie giggled half heartedly at Layla’s musings as she gave most of her attention to a group of frat guys yelling her way from a blood-red Mustang. Layla looked toward the Mustang. The cute driver, with his floppy blonde hair and deep tanned skin, caught her eye. She gave a flirtatious smile and was about to wave when all of a sudden a hurried rollerblader flew by throwing her off balance. Before Layla knew it, she grabbed onto Janie for support and brought Janie down with her as she flew back into a bush from the force of the rollerblader’s wake.

“Watch where you’re going buddy!” Layla yelled after the guy, completely stunned and embarrassed. His only response was the raising of his right hand to give her the bird. Layla looked back to where she had fallen and saw Janie still sitting there giving her a death-glare. Layla walked over to apologize for the terrible scene but Janie started in before she could begin.

“What is with you lately? First you fall flat on your butt in the hotel and now you totally humiliate us in front of those gorgeous guys?” she spat, “It’s like you suddenly have two left feet!” That stung Layla badly. She looked back to where the Mustang still sat, now with all five of the guys laughing hysterically and pointing in their direction.           

Layla hadn’t expected for Janie’s reaction to be quite so harsh. Janie usually understood her downfalls but when it came to guys, she was not one to tolerate ineptness. She quickly apologized to Janie and chalked it up to it being their first night in Florida and just being so excited to get to the clubs. Janie’s expression changed immediately at the mention of going to a club.

“Than obviously we need to get to the clubs! This is silly, let’s stop wasting time. How bout we hit that fab looking one over there? What’s that say - Paradiso?” Janie’s personality was bi-polar like that. One second she was fuming in the corner and the next, at the mention of having fun, she was ready to be best buds again. Although Janie might have quickly forgotten about the Mustang incident, Layla couldn’t shake it. Janie’s words had hit her harder than the rollerblader had. At first Layla could write of Olga’s words as just ranting, but if her best friend thought the same thing? Layla couldn’t stand the anxiety. She needed something to get her mind off the reel that was playing over and over in her head. Being in a club would help her forget. Dim lights, smoky atmosphere, hundreds of people pressed together for the music; it was Layla’s favorite medication. Careful not to trip on the curb, she ran to catch up with Janie who was already trotting over to the row of clubs.

“Water, I need water!” Janie shouted for the third time over the blasting hip-hop music. The two girls sidled up to the bar to catch their breath. They were sitting in a large open club called Mango’s which had a jungle theme to it. The walls were painted with elaborate flowers and wild animals. From the ceiling hung vines which were home to large parrots who viewed the dance floor from above. Three dancers, dressed in a strange faux-cheetah-zebra-leopard getup, were dancing provocatively on the center tables. Janie ordered two water bottles. She handed one to Layla, then proceeded to drink only a sip of hers and dump the rest of the bottle’s contents onto her head. When she was finished she shook like a wet dog to get the excess off.

“Man we’ve only been here forty-five minutes and I’m already dripping in sweat!” Janie guffawed.

“Yeah, kind of gross,” Layla answered glumly.

“And what is the matter with you?” Janie questioned, “You have been nothing but quiet and lack-luster since we’ve arrived. What’s going on?” The truth was Layla was still bugged by the fact that she had managed to make a fool out of both herself and her friend. She didn’t feel right in her own skin anymore. On the dance floor, when usually she was busting a move and dancing with every guy that came along, she had been reserved and unwilling to dance with most suitors. She’d even let a real cutie who’d offered up his number slip away. It felt terrible to be so self-conscious. What was even worse was the fact that someone else’s words and observations were capable of making her feel so blue. Janie began to pick up on her thoughts.

“This is about the whole hotel and Mustang thing, isn’t it? God, Layla this is ridiculous! You are not clumsy, klutzy, or rhythm-less, okay? I’m sorry I said those things I just felt stupid in front of those guys. Please try and loosen up a little? Let’s go dance again.” This time Janie’s words failed to cheer her up. She couldn’t shake that heavy feeling.

“I think I’m just going to sit this one out J. Come meet up with me when you’re done, I’ll be right here.” Layla gave her a smile to assure her that she was alright and then watched her friend trot off into the heaving masses.

“You don’t look so hot,” a voice commented behind Layla. She whipped around and found herself face to face with a gorgeous bartender. She blushed impulsively and looked away.

“Yeah, I guess it’s been a rough night. I won’t bore you with the details.”

“Well, the bar is pretty dead right now, and I’ve got some time, care to share your story?” he asked. Layla wasn’t sure if sharing her deepest problems with a total stranger was the smartest thing to do. Then again, he seemed nice enough and it wouldn’t even matter if he judged her since she’d never see him again. It also helped to sway her decision that he was extremely easy on the eyes.

“Alright, long story short: I’m a dancer. The other day my instructor told me I had zero rhythm and ever since I’ve been so consumed by her comment that I seem to be getting clumsier and clumsier as the hours pass. Just today I’ve tripped down the stairs and pulled my friend and me into a bush!” Layla spewed. The bartender looked concerned but not at all flustered at her story.

“Well why don’t you just let it go?” He offered.

 “Let it go! Are you crazy? I can’t just let it go!” Layla was really starting to get worked up.

“Why not? Those are just other people’s comments. Who says they’re true? I bet you have great rhythm. But more importantly, I bet you know you have great rhythm,” he pushed. Layla couldn’t follow where he was going. These people’s opinions mattered to her; she couldn’t just let them go. If they said it, then there must be some truth to it. But what had he meant by ‘I bet you know you have great rhythm’?

“I’ve always thought I had rhythm but, well, when she said it I started to doubt myself…” Layla trailed off. She was starting to understand what this guy was saying. Why should she care if her instructor said she was a bit off the beat? She knew that she was a great dancer and she had fabulous rhythm. Sure, she could have off days but that didn’t mean that one hundred percent of the time she couldn’t follow the beat! Layla decided right then and there that all her worrying had been ridiculous. The more she had dwelled on her teacher’s criticisms, the more she had begun to deserve them.                              

Layla stood up from the bar without another thought and ran in to the masses of dancers to find Janie. When she finally did she grabbed her friend and gave her a huge hug.

“Uh, good to see you too?” Janie said skeptically.

“Less talking, more dancing!” Layla said as she threw up her arms and began twirling around.                                      

“You’re certainly in a better mood,” Janie noted.

“You could say that,” Layla beamed as she grabbed her friend’s hand and headed deeper into the crowd. The music switched over from a reggae jam to a bass-bumping hip hop song. Janie and Layla continued dancing under the vine-covered ceiling the rest of the night, whatever the song was, they didn’t miss a beat.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.