It was Friday night. Rehearsal ended at about six. We were exhausted. Only one rehearsal tomorrow and the rest of the weekend was mine and mine alone. What I had planned was to wash out all my leotards and tights tonight and tidy up my room. Tomorrow after the rehearsal I would head into the Village to browse endlessly through the bins of used books. Searching for that one treasure that I could afford out of my meager budget. For a couple of dollars including the coffee I could read an entire afternoon and bring a book home with me. Life was uncomplicated and very complete.
The weather was so much warmer now. A real treat not having to wear coat over sweater, lots of socks and boots to get from the Center to the house. Tania and Marie walked home with me, we chatted about everything to do with rehearsal. At rehearsal we were silent, dancers did not speak. We listened and danced, any more than that meant moving up a rank to soloist. Soloists were on occasion allowed to speak. We were agreed on our contempt for the choreographer. After all, starting every sequence with the left foot was just plainly unnatural. There should be something in the rules about it. On the bright side my pirouettes were just as good to my left as they were to my right thanks to him. We could all agree we hated him and his little stupid yappy dog too.
My muscles ached, nothing new there, they always ached more when weekend was near. Muscles know that’s when they can spend a little time to repair. Mrs. M. had made a delicious casserole for us by the time we got home. This was above and beyond the call of duty for her. We were her little dancers, she was the communal grandmother. She was good to us., We ate well, she checked our feet, and she made sure each of us had a gun.
Dancers did not earn much money, what we had often was turned right back into dance shoes, leotards and lessons. If it was not for her we probably would not eat so well, or so often. She checked out feet at night and dressed the blisters so we could dance on them without to much pain the next day. We kept her supplied in wool, which kept us in return in leg warmers and shrugs.
After the casserole we did what we did every Friday night after dinner, we cleaned our guns.. Some sight all those tiny dancers cleaning guns on a Friday night. None of us had ever needed to use it, but we walked home very late at night from rehearsal or performances, and our tiny bodies were no match for what lurked in the dark. When I had first moved into the house Mrs. M. had asked if I had a gun. I was stunned that she’d ask, and said no. Half assuming she was just kidding and maybe thought I was some sort of misfit. to my surprise she reached up to a box in the cupboard and pulled out an old biscuit tin, from it she took a small Derringer. “Now you have gun” she said. She showed me how to use it, safety on, safety off, keep it in my purse, shoot through the purse and run.
We had no social lives, it had not been too difficult to keep our virginity, we were too tired for dating. The ritual of gun cleaning was important, it was the one time all week that we were relaxed and in the same room, we chatted, about dance, and dancers, and letters from home. We could bitch about those Russian dances who threatened to take our jobs away. Mrs. M. would jump in as the one Russian among us, but her defection had been many years earlier, in the thirties when the best companies were in Europe and dancers ended up in New York as a second choice.
Dancers who defected were all soloists and we were nowhere near that status, yet. Mrs. M. would share her tips on training like a Russian, she was a gold mine that lady. The grit of rosin on our little pale hands was replaced by gun oil. Now it smelled like weekend. Our muscles relaxed,the chatter increased, we laughed until we were too tired. One by one we’d go upstairs to wash our dance clothes and get ready for bed. Even all these many years later, Fridays still trigger the smell of gun oil and rosin.