The Cirque

By: Ryann Kerekes

Chapter 1

I would not cry.

Nope. No way.

I remained stock-still, knowing if I moved, if I so much as drew a deep breath I would lose it. And I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of watching me break down. I’d do that later, once I was alone. Too numb to even form tears, I stared down at my worn-out pointe shoes listening to the company director.

Being dismissed from your contract…understudy will take over your spot.... You’ve lost your passion for dance.

Even as I recognized the truth in his words, they rang empty in my ears. This was who I was, what I did. If you stripped away ballet…what else was there?

I knew the moves as well as anyone else. My pliés were deep and balanced, my pirouettes were smooth and graceful, but there was something missing, and I saw it whenever I caught myself in the mirror. And finally, the company director had seen it too. He’d fiercely studied me in the few months leading up to my high school graduation. When he was watching, I’d lift my chin higher, push my jumps farther. But even so, he’d discovered my secret. I hated ballet. I hated the way it strained my relationship with my mother, took over every inch of my life and left room for nothing else. But most of all I hated that now that it was over, I was empty and lost without it.

Perhaps it wasn’t the tears I feared – they were a natural response to the dismissal. It was the numbness in my chest, the complete and total indifference I felt about leaving ballet school.

I nodded wordlessly and left. There was nothing to be said. His mind was made up, and I wasn’t about to argue with him when I didn’t have a fighting chance in hell. And really, I didn’t want to change his mind.

I needed some air and stepped outside, still dressed in my tutu and tights. I leaned against the side of the building, pondering what to do. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Not Jenna who was probably wondering why I wasn’t in conditioning or my mom who would freak when she heard. No, definitely not my mom. Just imagining the shrill of her voice when I told her sent a shiver over my skin.

I stood watching the traffic pass when, like a sign from above, a colorful flyer carried by the wind dropped down and tangled itself around my ankles. It was an advertisement for auditions at a traveling cirque-style show called Aerial Mystique. I’d stared at the flyer in my hands, a crazy plan forming before I could even comprehend it.


I sat on a cold metal folding chair, clipboard balanced on my knee, and carried on an impossible conversation in my head. I should leave. That much I knew. But I also knew I wouldn’t. Not now. Not after being dismissed this morning. Apparently my fragile ego needed this. Needed to dance, to show someone I was talented and accomplished. To hear someone praise me.

I read over the remaining questions on the application. Backbend from standing? Check. Full one-hundred-and-eighty degree splits? Yup. Free handstand for more than ten seconds? Obviously. The last question stopped me –Are you able to do two shows a day when you’re sick, injured or tired and keep smiling? I hesitated a moment, then darkened an X through the yes box and signed my name at the bottom.

I’d only come to watch the auditions, to get my mind off what happened earlier, but when they assumed I was here to try out – and handed me an application – I didn’t correct anyone. After the way my morning had started, I was in no position to argue, especially about something as absurd as joining the circus. If by some small miracle I made it through these auditions without embarrassing myself, I’d stuff the compliment into my pocket to savor for later to balance against the ballet rejection.

So far, it was just the distraction I needed. The room buzzed with nervous energy. Some auditioning performers paced the room, others stretched on the floor, and a guy with a badly dyed blue mohawk juggled a set of colored balls, swearing under his breath each time he dropped one. I sat glued to my chair. I knew if I stood up I would lose my nerve and leave.

The double doors swung open and a tall thin woman and a short bald man strode in together. He wore a button up shirt and plaid bow tie, and she was in a revealing cocktail dress.

“Welcome,” the man said. “I’m Del, the artistic director for the Aerial Mystique Cirque. Each of you will audition for me and Marta today.” He gestured to the willowy woman at his side. He gathered up the stack of applications and surveyed the room. “You,” he said pointing at me. “Do your parents know you’re here?”

My heart squeezed and I blurted out, “I’m eighteen.” I knew I looked too young for my age. I’d been told my eyes were too big, giving me a look of innocence, and the pink leotard and tutu certainly didn’t help.

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