KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Memoir: 936 words


by Gavin Larsen

You are in an embrace, so tightly wound that your two bodies’ weights have become one. But the outline of your shape is unusual, and oddly discordant, disrupting the impression of tenderness. This is how the pas de deux begins.

He walks forward, looking out over your head, far beyond at something in the distance; you’ve snaked your arms around his waist, laid your cheek on his chest, eyes half-closed as if praying, but actually watching the floor. He strides ahead, carelessly oblivious to your heaviness hanging from his body. You’re clinging to him, trying to resist his steps, but with each one he shoves you as carelessly as a shopping cart.

The music, if it were visible, would be the deepest, darkest blood red, warning of what lies ahead, streaked with a mournful pity for you both. You love him, but he is preoccupied with greater, loftier thoughts and cannot notice you.

By the time you arrive on the center mark, having lurched there together from upstage left, the buzz of motion in the studio is quieting. A dozen dancers who’ve just finished the powerful, driving, pyrotechnic scherzo are finding their water bottles and pulling on sweatpants as their heart rates slowly descend and they begin to breathe normally again. Some stay standing, stretching, but others don’t hesitate to slide to the floor. They squeeze into spots around the room, in the corners, under the barres along the walls, even beneath the grand piano in an alcove near the front. The only chairs in the room are placed front and center, facing you as the audience will. There, two people sit, one with notepad and pencil, watching, waiting, silently recording every critique.

Now, you start pleading with him, grasping for his hands, wrapping his arms around you, but he shakes you off. He’s irritated, but not angry—to him, you’re a fly and need to be swatted away.

But. He is supporting you. As you pull on him, leaning away in an arabesque, he reacts—retracting you towards his body, he flips you around, his palms securely on your hipbones, his long legs planted in a deep lunge. You are reclining against him now—uncomfortably—your back flush against his chest, reaching your arms blindly behind you to find and cradle his head. Your leg, unfolded in a long developpe front, aims upwards to the studio’s corner, completing the diagonal line running from his back leg, braced into the floor and supporting you both, through your bodies, and out beyond your pointed foot. The tip of your pointe shoe is an arrow, urging you onward, together.

And you do go on, just not in that direction. Throughout the pas de deux, tension keeps you close. He’s reluctant to acknowledge you, but won’t, or can’t, quite leave you. He responds with elasticity to every move you make—he throws you away, but with a natural rebound that recoils you back.

Finally, one throw does separate you—it is strong and harsh; now, he is getting angry at this insect that won’t go away. He broods in one corner. You, overwhelmed, tired, and self-pitying, dance a few quiet steps alone, and summon up your courage and resolve. You meet again on center, face-to-face; he fiercely grabs your upper arms, threatening violence. Being so close and seeing such genuine intensity in his eyes does scare you—into a moment of doubt. He whips you around, en pointe, using your shoulders as levers, trying to physically wear you down. You look for an escape, but with each leap you take away from him, he throws you down and slaps you into dizziness. Again and’re trapped, now.

This is the climax. The studio is dead silent.


The pianist’s heart is in every note of Mendelssohn’s rich, soulful melody; in fact, she is dancing, too. She loves you both, and grows teary-eyed to witness such anger, such pain, such drama. She plays with you—not for you—and you can feel it.

Warm sunlight beams into the studio. You’re very near the end of the pas de deux. You’ve both quieted your emotions—his anger has faded to disgust and dismissal; turning your momentary fear into resignation. With little hope, you make one last attempt to entice repeat the opening steps, at a slower tempo, and the crowded room’s silence intensifies. The presence of penetrating eyes, framing you on three sides, somehow makes you feel even more alone.

You’ve come to the end. He’s leaving you, wandering offstage in a distracted reverie, and you’re left standing there, reaching out as if trying to call his name but unable to make a sound. In truth, you’ve been talking to each other since you entered, five minutes ago, but words were really never needed. The amount of tension, resistance, pressure, and impetus each of you exerts, the exact degree of each lean, the inches and centimeters of distance between you at every moment, the split-second coordination of your preparation before he lifts you off your legs—these are your words. You and he have a secret—a secret language of your own, made up of those words and millions of others. You can’t translate it, but you both understand it innately and speak it fluently.

The last notes...they’re fading away, and you wish they wouldn’t end. The usual smattering of supportive applause breaks out from your colleagues lining the room like wallpaper. The air’s pressure normalizes, and the notepad is set aside.

Excellent. That was excellent.


You’ve only heard that once before, and it was a long time ago.


—From a manuscript in progress

Gavin Larsen
Issue 6, Fall 2016

is a former professional ballet dancer. Over the course of her 18-year dance career, she performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Alberta Ballet, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theatre. She retired in 2010 to focus on teaching and writing about dance. Her articles and essays have appeared in Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, From the Green Room (Dance USA’s journal), Threepenny Review, and Page & Spine. In 2015 she was a fellow in residence at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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