I've done ballet since I was 5. Mummy was a ballet dancer, not a particularly good one, but a dedicated one. She loved it and when she retired she wanted a girl to encourage and coax. Instead she had me and discovered that the years of training and starving herself had left her with a damaged womb that could only conceive the once. So her boy was sent to ballet instead.
By 8 or 9 I was tired of being made fun of. I was the only boy in my primary school doing ballet – of course I was. Even in the class there were only two of us, Guy was 2 or 3 years older than me and totally dedicated to dance. At 16 I think it was obvious he was gay, but to be honest it wasn't girls or boys he was interested in, it was ballet. Even at 14 I'd seen him reduce a girl to tears because she couldn't get a dance right. But this isn't about him and I'm jumping around a bit.
By 10 Mommy was getting worn down and agreed that when I reached my teens I could give up. At 11 I began to realise there were compensations. We all got changed in the same hall together, Guy and I reduced to our underpants and then got our 'kit' on, always had done, so I never thought much about it. At that age I realised that the girls also got down to their essentials (as my grandmother called them). We did it at opposite ends of the hall ('girls this end, boys that, come on, chop chop' our teacher would say, every week; even when it was only me it was still 'boys that end') but you could see the young teenagers in their knickers and bra. It wasn't as exciting as it could have been because I'd grown up seeing this (from 5 like I said) so this view was just like scenery that you were just coming to appreciate.
This story starts when I was 13 – relax, it isn't some paedo story of underage sex (well, it is, but not that underage ... just read on).
One thing you should know about ballet dancers, they are fit. Not as in good looking fit, though Guy was undoubtedly that. He had the toned body, the shaped muscles and the lithe shape that one can appreciate whatever your sexuality; and I wasn't sure of mine. No, fit as in very, very well trained. We didn't lift weights, we did lift girls, we didn't kick balls, we did kicks that would rupture the average football, rugby or whatever player.
The other thing to know was that Ricky was a bully. Ricky is a bit part in this story, he was a year older, built like someone a year older than that at least, and would pick on people, anybody with a perceived weakness. He had picked on me for a while. "weedy poofta, shirt lifting ballet dancer" that kind of thing. Bullies come in two types, those who try harder if they don't get a response, and those that try harder when they do. Ricky was the latter. I didn't respond. I suspected I might be a shirt lifter, sorry I mean gay. I fancied Guy at this stage. After a while Ricky had run out of his imagination, which didn't extend too far, in insults for ballet dancers. He moved on.
This day he was picking on Tara. Ricky was an equal opportunities bully; girl, boy, gay, straight, black, white, thin, fat, old, young. He wasn't fussy. Tara was Irish, with a 'silly' accent. She was also the blondest girl in the class, same age as Ricky. Most boys fancied her, maybe Ricky did but he wasn't grown up past the throwing stones at girls stage.
In the entrance corridor he was standing by her locker. His mates were nearby. I walked in to collect my stuff to go home and could see she was close to breaking. So could he. Most 'victims' saw another victim being picked on and thanked their stars it wasn't them. So why today? I have no idea.
As a tear started down her face I walked over.
"Leave her alone" it was almost a mumble, I wasn't sure he had heard. Then I was sure
"Leave her alone" More confident sounding now, not more confident feeling, but I'd started and (as our ballet teacher also used to say to no purpose "the show must go on"). It was like that poem 'there was a deathly hush in the close tonight', only this was the corridor. People knew they were going to see me spread around the room like jam. Thing about Ricky-the-bully, he wasn't Ricky-the-coward. That would be nice; but I'd seen him play rugby and charge down a full back twice even his size. He didn't back off anything.
He turned to Tara, with an upper cut starting at his waist he smashed into the books she was holding, sending them flying all over.
"What you gonna do about it Nureyev?" I always wondered how single parent, sink estate Ricky knew who Nureyev was. You should never make assumptions about people.
Last night there had been a nature programme on. I love nature. This one had cameras dotted round a common and filmed the wildlife. There was a stoat and the rabbits. A rabbit can outrun a stoat. What did the stoat do? It played. I rolled and jumped, it chased its tail. The rabbits stopped, froze, then slowly their brains said 'this stoat is loopy, no danger there' and carried on eating. But the camera showed what was happening. Slowly the dance of death brought it closer to a young doe. Slowly, slowly until flash! The rabbit was dead and even the slow motion re-play was barely able to keep up.
That, I decided, was my one chance.
I rose onto my toes (a releve) and then did a saute, then a pirouette, then dropped to the floor, rolled and up with a little jump. The 'audience' was shocked, appalled I think. A friend admitted the next day he thought I'd lost it. Slowly, like a green mamba I thought (no! focus, you are a stoat! You get one chance, ONE CHANCE, of surviving this) I edged closer. When I was one leg length plus three feet away I bent my legs, gave a little jump and landed 3 feet closer. I'm good at standing jumps. As I landed I saw his guard starting to come up; too late. My right leg did a straight kick that ended with it vertical in front of my face; but half way through the foot connected with his chin and his face snapped back. I went into a turn with my leg out and as I came round it kicked out (as if to turn again) but connected with his stomach. He doubled up. Then a little jump again and both feet one after the other caught his head. He went back like a sack of potatoes. The next day it was said I had laid him out. Actually I heard the crack as his head hit the floor. That's what did for him. He was still breathing. Thank God I thought. I didn't want to be responsible for killing the school bully.
Acting cooler than I felt I picked up Tara's books, put my arm round her and walked out with her.
I walked her home, I didn't need to; I kept my arm round her shoulder (which wasn't the best place since she was taller than me, but I was pretty sure her waist would be off limits). As we walked I could see her breathing deeply and her breasts rose and fell, the lacy pattern on her bra straining against her blouse and then disappearing again. At that moment I knew I wasn't gay. I might be bi- I thought, but definitely not gay. Halfway home she said
That was all we said, and at her drive she turned and kissed me. Now, with hindsight, I have no idea if it was on my lips (as my heart wants to believe) or the cheek (as my head suggests it probably was). It didn't matter, this was the first time I understood what walking on air meant.
What? You think this is about me and her? No, Next day I went up to Ricky (a flash of fear on his face, then it disappeared and the mask of insolent hatred came back up, it made me realise I still had the upper hand) and held out my hand. I wasn't some super hero ready to fight all comers to right wrongs. I didn't want a feud where, sometime, someplace I would get caught and flattened by him and his mates. We made our peace, Tara and I were off limits but all the other victims would have to fend for themselves. Tara and I remained friends for a while. She called me over to eat with her friends at lunchtime. They talked about boys and asked my opinion (they clearly thought I was gay too). Slowly we drifted back to our own worlds.
Next session the teacher just walked past me (as I was changing, do you mind!) and said "Ballet is not a martial art!" So she'd heard, but who? Of yes, Marsha and Caley. Two less dedicated and more fulsome girls from my school had let it slip; meaning they had rushed in and told her.
Summer came and went, Guy left the ballet school for the London School of Ballet, came back for the Christmas show so I wasn't the lead. Teacher was ecstatic – her pupil at the London. Girls had gone off before to try their hand at professional ballet, but Guy was a boy, and at the London, and he was good; and he came back to do one last Christmas show for her. He's done alright since hasn't he? Lead in the Swindon Conservatoire. Not bad.
.... There is more of this story ...