His lover pulls and stretches him. He can hear that voice echoing still, after all these years.
“Extension, boy, extension!”
He knew it then, a boy of six, standing there in tights and ’tard, slipper footed, when he saw his teacher’s face his first time at the barre. He was better than the others, though it wouldn’t have been hard to be better than the nonexistent other boys. But he was better than the girls.
His teacher watched him for a year or more, demanding more and more from him, and always getting it. When he was eight, she shook her head and said, “I’ve done all I can. I’ve got you a spot with Rodolpho. Take it all the way, David.” And then she was pushing him, before he knew what was happening, her hand in the small of his back. She left him there at the door she’d knocked on.
The door opened and there he stood, Rodolpho, the name they whispered when the spotlights hit as he made as a rare appearance.
“So, you’re this boy, this talented boy, that I’m supposed to make into a dancer?” The eyes looked him over. “Well, I suppose you’ll do.”
David decided then and there to be much more than “you’ll do,” just to show him.
Years of torture, of never being quite good enough, of never seeing that awestruck look as he hit the mark precisely, perfectly.
“Extension, boy, extension!”
“I am extending, you old fool!” he muttered under his breath, time and time again.
And he was. It’s no good unless it hurts. He’d learned long ago that extension doesn’t mean holding your arms, your legs at the limit of their reach. Extension means pushing beyond, stretching an extra inch, even if it pulls your tendons till they threaten to snap. And you have to do it all the time. Not sometimes, not when you feel like it. All the time. Every move. Even outside the studio or stage, so it ‘comes natural’. What was so beautiful about it looking ‘natural’?
He figured that out one day, no longer a boy, not quite a man, still under the daily tutelage of the old fool. He’d walked in to find Rodolpho dancing, as he hadn’t done in years. The big screen at one end was filled with … Nureyev? The old man was dancing with Nureyev?
David set his bag down quietly as Rodolpho’s ancient creaking bones moved in perfect unison with the idol projected on the screen. He’d seen Rodolpho slow down over the years, grow old and stiff. What made the old man think he could dance like Nureyev for god’s sake? His mother’d named him after Nureyev, Rodolpho had told him once, long before he’d needed his first shave. Dancing with his idol? The fool was more of a fool than David had thought.
His joints were too stiff, his muscles too out of practice. He couldn’t leap like that — if he’d ever been able to “jump into the air and stay there for a while before I come back down” as David had heard Nureyev had once said. And yet … it was there, in that leap, in that perfect pose, in that jeté battu. Despite the fact that his feet would hardly leave the floor, his arms barely lift to proper height. The extension, the form, the … drive — all of that was there, encased in arthritic bones and underused muscle.
David watched — saw him for the first time, and then he joined the familiar dance, his eyes on Rodolpho at first, then on Nureyev, then … on himself.
He felt the call then, the fluttering stuttering call stirring his very being, and surrendered, gave himself completely to his lover, to Terpsichore, to dance.